Normative Christianity, The Christianity of the Apostles of the 1st Century

NORMATIVE CHRISTIANITY, THE CHRISTIANITY OF THE APOSTLES OF THE FIRST CENTURY is Lesson 1, the Introduction to my new course, AM350, Prophetic Models For Apostolic Reformation.

AM350 Prophetic Models for Apostolic Reformation is a study of the three great reformations of Old Covenant Israel: the reformation of the holy nation that took place as Joshua replaced Moses, as David replaced Saul as King of Israel, and as Ezra and Nehemiah left Babylon and rebuilt the Temple and the City of Jerusalem. Going way beyond mere revival, this course is a study of the prophetic significance of these three historic reformations for the Lord’s Church today, and will focus on practical strategies for the present apostolic reformation.

In this challenging and prophetically relevant course, I will draw on J. “Ern” Baxter’s prophetic insights from two of his great prophetic series delivered in major apostolic and prophetic conferences in the United Kingdom during the early 70’s: The Kadesh Barnea Crises and The King And His Army. My spiritual father and mentor, Brother Baxter was to the present apostolic movement what John the Baptist was to Jesus and His Apostles in the first century and Brother Ern’s prophetic insights still speak to the Church today of valid patterns and practical strategies for apostolic reformation.

INTRODUCTION: NORMATIVE CHRISTIANITY, THE CHRISTIANITY OF THE APOSTLES OF THE FIRST CENTURY

Proposition: the Christianity of the original Apostles of the Lamb is normative; it is the only true measure of “apostolic” Christianity.

While theologians and scholars have speculated and disputed for centuries whether there ever was such a thing as “normative” or “apostolic” Christianity, and while Church leaders and denominational heads have contended and even fought and made war with each other throughout the ages to establish the legitimacy and superiority of their various form or sect of Christianity (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Reformed, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic, and etc.), the underlying thesis of this course is that after His resurrection Jesus of Nazareth revealed Himself fully to the men He previously had chosen to be the foundations of His Church and stewards of the mysteries of Christ or custodians of true Christianity (See Luke 24: 44-45; Acts 1: 3). This revelation and the testimony of these first apostles, the testimony of Jesus Christ, has been providentially preserved for us in the Canon of the New Testament. This canon alone is the foundation and measure or rule of true Christianity!

Today, there has been much talk about a so-called “apostolic movement” or reformation! In various parts of the world, wild and extravagant claims have been made, and many new groups or denominations have been formed, each claiming to be the authorized version of Christianity! Many, calling themselves apostles, have arisen in nation after nation around the world, claiming divine inspiration for their message, and a mandate from the Lord to heal the present sub-normality in the body of Christ and reform the Lord’s Church. Because of the momentum being gathered, the extravagance and grandeur of the claims being made, and the wide spread confusion being caused, these claims to apostolicity must be carefully evaluated in light of the New Testament and measured by the testimony and ministry of the first apostles. It is foolish, even spiritually reckless and divisive, to talk about apostles and an apostolic movement or reformation without first recovering an accurate understanding of the only true measure or rule of normative Christianity, the message, mandate, and ministry of the first apostles. Being sincere or merely claiming to be an apostle is certainly not enough; it does not make one a true apostle. Jesus praised the Church in Ephesus because, “you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false...” (Revelation 2: 2). Just as there were false apostles in the first century, so there are also today! Ultimately, claims to authenticity and apostolicity in our day must be measured and tested over against the measure or standard of the message, mandate, and ministry of those original apostles, the Apostles of the Lamb. Even the Apostle Paul, the great apostle to the nations had to go up to Jerusalem and submit his revelation, mandate, and ministry to those who were apostles before him. If the church of the 21st century is to experience a true apostolic reformation and succeed in it’s mission to light and disciple the nations, Christian ministers and church leaders must first rediscover the foundations or canons of normative Christianity, the Christianity of the Apostles of the Lamb!

If we are going to recover normative Christianity, the Christianity of the Apostles of the Lamb and the saints of the first century, there are several things we need to understand:

(The following is not intended to be a comprehensive presentation of the revelation of the Apostles, but is intended to merely to summarize their essential message of the Messianic Kingdom, salvation, the Church and it’s mission. For a comprehensive summary of the Christianity of the Apostles or Normative Christianity see my ATS course AD250, a free course, and also my teaching on “The Keys of The Kingdom”.)

I. First we need to understand the promise of God and the hope of Israel:

God promised David, Israel’s King, that in the distant future, or in the “fullness of time”, David would have a Son. David’s Son would also be the incarnate Son of God, who would suffer, die, and descend into hell; as the redeemer King, He would give His life as God’s sacrificial lamb to redeem and deliver the whole world from Satan’s power. The heavenly Father would raise Him from the dead, exalt Him to His own right hand in Heaven, give Him all dominion and power and rule in heaven, earth and under the earth. His Kingdom would be established forever. In His Name would be salvation, authority, dominion, rule, and power.

The Lord promised David that the Messiah (Anointed One) would in fact be enthroned on the throne of David, a throne that would be exalted to the right hand of God and established in the heaven of the heavens forever; this promised Messiah would reign both as King (Ruler or Judge) of Israel and the nations, and also as Savior, from the right hand of God throughout the ages. The Lamb of God would reign as the Lion of Judah forever!

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob also promised King David that his Son would build God a house or family (many sons and daughters, the household of faith), and that the house that the Messiah would build for God would also be David’s house (the tent of David, Zion, the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Church of Jesus Christ). The Sons of God would also be the Sons of Zion.

There would be one house, one holy nation!

The Lord also revealed to David that the scepter (the authority and power) of the Messiah would extend forth out of this heavenly Zion bringing salvation and establishing the Lord’s righteous government and justice in the earth, and that the people of the Messiah, the sons of God, would volunteer to serve in the heavenly army of the King, riding forth out of Zion in the day of Messiah’s Power. Thus Zion (the Church of Jesus Christ) would be both the instrument and the demonstration or glory of the Messiah’s Kingdom, whose sons would ultimately possess the cities and nations of the world and fill the earth with the glory of God.

David was a great prophet, perhaps the greatest prophet of God in the Old Testament! God gave him a great promise and a great revelation of the fulfillment of the promise. The Messianic promise and the revelation that God gave to the King became the basis of the hope of Israel and the foundation of the revelation and faith of the Apostles and the early Church! Through this covenant promise made to David and the Messianic hope it contained, the predetermined plan and purpose of God to redeem the world, establish the throne of His Christ, and bring many sons to glory was revealed to David and the father’s of Israel and introduced into the history of redemption. (For background reading see: II Samuel 7:8-29; Psalm 2, 16, 22, 45, 68, 110, 118, 122; Isaiah 2, 9, 11, 16, 28, 32, 42, 52, 53, 54, 55, 60; Luke 1: 31, 2: 8-14)

If we are going to understand the Christianity of the Apostles and the saints of the first century,

II. Second, we must understand the Messianic vision of the prophets:

By the Spirit Isaiah also saw Messiah’s day, the day of His power!

2 Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
3 And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.(Isaiah 2: 2-4)

As David before him, and all the prophets who followed him, Isaiah sees Messiah’s Day! While in Chapter 2 Isaiah does not specifically refer to the Messiah, as he does elsewhere throughout his prophecy, caught up in the Spirit, the great prophet sees Zion and Jerusalem raised up and exalted, with the house (household or family) of God established upon it; he sees Messiah’s Kingdom, the heavenly scepter (His authority and power, His righteous law and decrees, and His mighty judgments) stretched forth out of Zion, and the nations joyfully coming to the light of Zion’s rising, as they are being disciplined and brought under the government of God’s Anointed King.

The prophets of Israel saw the nations being converted (disciplined and learning peace) and justice being established through the Church (Zion) in Messiah’s day. (Sadly the modern church with it’s “pessimillenialism” seems to have lost faith in this Messianic vision, but more of problem in the next lesson).

III. Third, if we are going to understand the Christianity of the Apostles and the saints of the first century, we must understand the Messianic mission of Jesus:

Jesus clearly identifies with and references Isaiah’s great Messianic vision in His Sermon on the Mount, declaring to His disciples,

“You are the light of the world. A city (the heavenly Zion of Isaiah’s prophetic vision) set on a hill cannot be hidden...” (Matthew 5: 14-16)

Later, in response to Peter’s apostolic confession, Jesus declared,

“Upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Jesus confidently declares to the twelve who were chosen by Him to be the foundations of the spiritual house He would build for His Father (the heavenly Zion or tent of David) that His Church, unlike Moses’ Church or earthly Zion, would ultimately succeed in conquering the kingdom of darkness, would possess the cities and nations of the world, and fill the earth with the glory of God.

His Church would succeed in its Messianic mission to destroy the works of the Devil, disciple the nations, and fill the earth with justice and peace!

Clearly identifying with Isaiah’s suffering servant (Isaiah 53), Jesus goes on to explain to His disciples that before He could receive His Kingdom, build His Church, and establish righteous government or judgment in the earth, He must first suffer and die.

Thus having declared to the disciples His intention to build His Church as the body or instrument of His Kingdom purpose to discipline or govern the nations, Matthew tells us that “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”

IV. Fourth, if we are going to understand normative Christianity, the Christianity of the Apostles and the Christians of the first century, we must understand the message, ministry and mandate of the Apostles of the Lamb:

After the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ disciples on the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up with the eleven and boldly proclaimed to the men of Israel the promise God had made to David that He would seat the Messiah on David’s throne is fulfilled in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says:

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’ (Acts 2:34ff)

Having proclaimed to the men of Israel God’s promise to seat the Messiah on David’s throne fulfilled in the resurrection, exaltation, and ascension of Jesus, Peter quotes Psalm 110,“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Yes, the men of Israel had crucified Him, but God, the Father Almighty, had over-ruled their seditious and rebellious act. Raising Jesus up again, He declared Jesus to be the Son of God with power. The Father not only raised up Jesus, in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth God also raised Zion, moving the throne of David, the seat of David’s government, from earth to heaven, establishing it at God’s right hand, the place of all authority, power, and dominion, enthroning Jesus on the throne of David as David’s Lord and as the promised Savior and King.

This was Peter’s message and the message proclaimed by the apostles of the first century, “the promise made to David is fulfilled in the resurrection, Jesus is Lord and Christ.” Today is Messiah’s Day, the Day of salvation, the Day of Messiah’s power!

Please note that this was not only Peter’s message, but the message of all the apostles, the basis of the faith of the early Christians, and the foundation of the Church’s spiritual, doctrinal and functional unity as one Holy Apostolic Church throughout the Roman Empire.

If we are going to see an apostolic reformation, the message of the King’s dominion must be restored to the Lord’s Church.

V. Fifth, if we are going to understand normative Christianity, the Christianity of the first Apostles and the Christians of the first century, we must understand the Apostles revelation and paradigm of Christ’s Church and its unity:

Not only did the Apostles and early Christians believe that the promise regarding Messiah’s Kingdom to be fulfilled in the resurrection, ascension, enthronement of Jesus, and the outpouring of the Spirit, they also believed that the Lord’s Church was and is the fulfillment of the promise made to David that David’s Son would build God a house, and that house would also be the house of David.

In his first general or catholic epistle, Peter writes to the whole Church scattered throughout the Roman Empire:

"And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For this is contained in Scripture:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,
“The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the very corner stone,”
and,
“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”;
for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.” (I Peter 2: 4-8)

Note here that Peter calls the Church scattered in localities throughout the Roman Empire a single spiritual house, identifying it as the household or family of God. Then quoting Isaiah, he declares the Church is Zion (the restored house or tent of David).

Peter concludes by declaring that the saints are,

”... a chosen race, A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Peter 2: 9, 10)

For Peter, as for Jesus and the entire company of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, Paul, and the Christians of the first century, Christ’s Church was holy nation before it was a local allotment of believers; it was General Assembly before it was local! (See Matthew 16:18, Hebrews 12:18, Ephesians 1: 22, and I Corinthians 1:2.)


Conclusion: Whatever we may personally think about it, whether we agree or disagree with him, in Acts 2 and in I Peter 2, as spokesman for the twelve, Peter clearly demonstrates the pattern or standard for the apostles of the New Testament and for the New Testament Church! This is normative or apostolic Christianity. (As mentioned in the beginning, in this lesson I have chosen not to deal exhaustively with the message, ministry, or mandate of the apostles, or with the whole issue of Kingdom or Christian Initiation which is critically important for a thorough understanding a true apostolic reformation. A detailed study of these matters is beyond the scope of this course dealing with Old Testament models for apostolic reformation. However, for a thorough treatment of these matters, see my free ATS course, AD250 The Non-Negotiables of Apostolic Christianity.)

Throughout the Canon of the New Testament all the apostles without exception proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah (Christ). In His death and resurrection Jesus of Nazareth defeated Satan’s Kingdom and accomplished redemption (salvation) for Israel and for the nations. In His resurrection he was declared to be the Son of God with all authority, dominion, and power. In His ascension, exaltation and enthronement upon David’s throne at the right hand of God in heaven, the ancient promise to David and the fathers of Israel concerning salvation and the establishment of Messiah’s Kingdom was fulfilled (Acts 13:32-34). With one voice they proclaimed today is Messiah’s Day! Today is the day of his power!  The day of salvation! ( Please take note that If Messiah’s Kingdom has not already been established, then there is no salvation. See Acts 2, 3, 7, 13, 28; Romans 1, 16; Ephesians 1; Hebrews 1, 2; Revelation 1, 5, 19)

Finally, Peter, all the Apostles of the Lamb together with Paul and the first century saints fully believed Christ’s Church to be the fulfillment of God’s gracious promise to David that his Son would build God a house, and that house would also be the house of David, the heavenly Zion, the Jerusalem above, the Kingdom of priests, the Holy nation, the true Israel of God. (Acts 15; I Peter 1, 5; James 1:1; Hebrews 12: 18-24; Ephesians 2, 3; Galatians 4, 6; Romans 11; I Timothy 3:15; I Corinthians 12)

This is normative! This alone is true Christianity!

This must be recovered!

If you are interested in enrolling in this strategic course or checking out other courses or degree programs offered by the Apostles Theological Seminary, you can visit the seminary website at www.apostlestheologicalseminary.org .

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