Coming World Crises --Part 2

Coming World Crises
Part 2

James Gunn

These are the notes of lectures given to the Men’s Bible Class which meets bimonthly during the winter at Central Gospel Hall, 25 Charles St. E., Toronto, Canada.

“Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” As a light shining in a dark place, during these lectures prophecy illuminated areas which to the human mind seem quite obscure:

The Future of the Ecumenical Movement.
The Return and the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The Future of the Nations.
Europe in Prophecy.
Who Is Anti-Christ?
Russia Invades Israel!
Will the Church Go Through the Tribulation?
The Millennial Reign of Christ.
Climax of the Ages.

Ecumenicity is a word that has come into great prominence in recent years, especially in religious circles. A clear understanding of its basic meaning as well as its modern application is necessary to follow this subject.

The Biblical Meaning

The Greek word from which the English is derived occurs fifteen times in the New Testament. Once it is translated earth, and fourteen times, world (Luke 21:26; Matt. 24:14; Luke 2:4-5; Acts 11:28; 17:6 and 31; 19:27; 24:5; Rom. 10:18; Heb. 1:6; 2:5; Rev. 3:10; 12:9; 16:14). In all these references the meaning is purely geographic and refers to the whole world. It bears a universal significance.

The Modern Application

The modern significance and emphasis given to ecumenicity have developed slowly throughout many centuries. In Church history one reads about ecumenical theologians, ecumenical synods, and ecumenical creeds, and understands that all of these are supposed to be world-wide in their extent and importance.

In more modern times a second meaning has been attached to the word; namely, unity. Today a religious ecumenical movement purports to be universal in its scope, and has for its objective unity with every similar movement throughout the entire world. The World Council of Churches is a modern expression of ecumenicity.

It is regretable that some great evangelicals have become so obsessed with the modern ecumenical movement that they practise a policy of co-existence with men who are enemies of the cross of Christ. The Word of God delineates a path of separation from that which is anti-Christian and unbiblical.

An Ancient Ecumenical Movement

In the study of methods of biblical interpretation one has to take into consideration The Law of First Mention. This simple principle states that the first mention of a subject in the Bible presents the matter in germ form; from that point throughout the Scriptures the details develop and increase.

The first ecumenical movement in the biblical records was religious, and was characterized by the ideas of universality and unity, but it was ended under a stroke of divine displeasure.

Let us consider the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9).

To assert that the Tower of Babel was an attempt by man in defiance of God to build a structure higher than the mountains is an over simplification of the whole project. Without doubt man hoped to escape any other deluge, but this was not his purpose in this great project.

Furthermore, to believe that Babel was built as a very high rallying place, a beacon to be seen by all in order that men as they increased not be scattered abroad, is again an over simplification of this effort of the ancients.

The words, “to reach unto heaven,” may mean to represent the heavens. The ruins of a similar tower quite near to where the Tower of Babel probably stood may be seen even today. It is called Bir-Nimrud. It gives an idea of what the Tower of Babel must have been in structure and purpose. Bir-Nimrud is 153 feet high and is built in seven receding stages surmounted by a room on the walls of which are the signs of the Zodiac and other astronomical figures. The receding stages are coloured to represent the different planets. It may have been used as an observation tower in the study of astronomy and astrology. The signs of the Zodiac were made to represent the Babylonian mysteries, and the tower was used for idolatrous worship. The Tower of Babel, as it would seem, was likewise used for idolatrous religious practices.

The overtones in the Genesis narrative are those of, first, universality (v. 1), for all the inhabitants were involved; second, unity, for men feared lest they be scattered (v. 4).

The building of this exceedingly high temple tower was a great ecumenical movement, but God in His displeasure terminated the project by confounding the one known language. His intervention ended the aspirations of the post-deluvians. Is there any indication in God’s dealings with Babel, the first Babylon, of what His treatment will be of the last Babylon? We shall eventually see. Indubitably when the ambitions of the Ecumenical Councils of today are finally realized, God will again manifest His disapproval and destroy united Christendom.

The Church and Ecumenicity

Ecumenicity has as its objective universal religious unity. This is a satanic imitation of the divine oneness of the Body of Christ. All believers in the Lord Jesus are united to Him and through Him to one another. The Apostle Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians deals at length with this subject, and adds this exhortation, “That there should be no schism in the Body” (1 Cor. 12:25). The primative Church in her testimony did express this divine oneness, but her history, subsequent to the days of the Roman Emperor Constantine, is full of schisms, parties and divisions.

The history of the professing Church: The Lord has given in Revelation 2 and 3 an illustration of the Church in her testimony. In the seven letters to the churches of Asia, there is a panoramic view of the professing Church from apostolic times until the rapture.

In the first place, it must be understood that these seven churches in Proconsular Asia were actual, historical, local churches. Furthermore, it must also be accepted that these historical churches were in the spiritual conditions described in the letters addressed to them. Notwithstanding their historicity, there is ample evidence that the Lord chose these seven churches in these seven varying conditions to illustrate the Church in testimony throughout this era.

The seven letters seem to fall into two groups. In the first group is seen the letters to Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamos. These three letters correspond to three different conditions which ran consecutively in the early history of the Church. The second group contains the remaining four letters. Apparently the conditions described in these run concurrently, starting at different times, to the return of the Lord. The conditions begin at different times but continue until the end.

The evidence: It is proper that some evidence be produced to substantiate this contention. Let the evidence be examined.

First, the number seven is important in Scripture; it is the number that denotes completeness and perfection. There were other churches in the area, but the Lord chose these because they are not only seven pictures, but they form one complete picture of the whole Church. Second, the word “mystery” (1:20) intimates that in these letters God had a secret. It was not a secret that there were these seven local churches in Proconsular Asia, nor did the Lord consider their spiritual condition any secret. The secret lay in the fact that the Lord had something in these letters that was not obvious. Could the secret not be that the Lord was delineating in these letters the history of the Church in testimony in seven progressive stages? Third: the letters were not intended for only the respective local churches addressed, for each closes with these words, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” May we not assume that the Spirit meant all the churches of this era?

Fourth: if these letters were not for a very important divine purpose, why would the Lord have chosen seven more or less obscure churches (Six of them were very obscure.), and revealed such a variety of spiritual conditions? Surely these conditions lend themselves to the revelation of the different stages of spirituality in the professing Church. Fifth: in chapter 2:19 the Book of the Revelation is divided into three: the things which John had seen, the things that were then in existence and would continue for a while, and things that would be in the future. These church conditions come in between what was in John’s day and what will be in the future. It seems obvious that they are used illustratively.

The picture: The truth that has been stated becomes more evident as one studies Church history. Let us look briefly at the historical picture.

The state of the church at Ephesus corresponds with the condition of the Church at the close of the apostolic days, orthodox but cold. Smyrna refers to the martyr period under the emperors of pagan Rome, Smyrna in Greek is the same as myrrah in Hebrew. It is a resinous gum used in perfumery, medicine, incense. It was used extensively in the art of embalming. It is maintained that there were ten distinct persecutions before the Emperor Diocletian under whose rule this period ended, A.D. 313. Pergamos means marriage, and accords with the popularization of Christianity by Constantine; the time when by him the Church became married to the world, A.D. 131 to 590. Thyatira denotes the rise and development of Romanism. This is pictured by an impure woman who is also a hypocrite. She is idolatrous in her religious practices. This period began in A.D. 590 and continues today. Sardis is related to the Protestant Reformation which began about October 1517 A.D. and continues as the persuasion of very many. The Philadelphian stage of Church history may be dated from the beginning of the 19th century. It was characterized by an acknowledgement of Christ as Lord, a revival of love among Christians, and a definite evangelistic zeal. This state in like manner remains in the present. Laodicea comes last. Her condition was one of pride, materialistic wealth, self-complacency, spiritual luke-warmness and a forsaking of the Lord. From this condition, Christ withdraws Himself and appeals only to the individual, the spiritual among God’s people. Many of God’s people today realize that this is the state of things in which they live.

These seven letters cover the history of the professing Church from about A.D. 65 to the return of the Lord Jesus. Throughout these many centuries there has been a constant serious spiritual deterioration, and until recent years a disintegration. The disunity which developed within the professing Church has left it badly splintered. One great division occured in 1054 A.D. Previously there had been many schisms, but in that year the bishops of Constantinople (Istanbul) refused to recognize the supremacies of the bishops of Rome. There thus came into existence as two separate bodies, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church; from that date onward Christendom was divided. These two large factions remain unto the present.

With the Reformation Christendom lost any appearance of unity. At that time there came into existence several national Churches and various other denominational Churches. Some of these are known by the names of their founders; others, by the form of Church government practised.

At Pentecost the Church of the Living God come into being as the Body of Christ. Paul says of her: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is (the) Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). Soon her doctrine was perverted, her purity soiled, her fellowship broken, her distinctiveness lost, her power annuled, and her testimony marred. Since the day she became married to the world through the Roman Emperor Constantine, she has gradually become more like a mangled corpse than the one Body of Christ.

The present of the professing Church: Early in the twentieth century, churchmen of sagacity and diplomacy, men little concerned with doctrinal and creedal differences, could see the disadvantage of the splintered state of Christendom; therefore, they advocated unity among the denominations. More recently ecumenical councils have been convened in order to heal the old ruptures, and to establish a state of co-existence and practical unity throughout Christendom.

From such endeavours has arisen the World Council of Churches, and in a more limited sphere, the United Church of Canada. There is at present considerable agitation to bring about more similar unions; in fact, there are some Protestant leaders who are advocating a return to Rome, and there are indications that Rome would readily receive them, not as formerly, heretics, but as only prodigal children.