Lesson Book, Level 5: The Church—The Vision and Building Up of the Church, by Witness Lee

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[There is a difference between the failures in the churches and the degradation of the church. The failures are not serious in a basic way. Whereas the failures in the churches are not that basic, the degradation of the church is more than basic, for it cuts the root of the life, living, and growth of the church. Unlike failure, degradation not only brings in wrongdoings but cuts the root of the church “tree.’’]

A. As Described in the New Testament

Gnostic Philosophy—[The first aspect of the degradation of the church was the church’s being taken over by the Gnostic philosophy and the elements of the world—the rudimentary teachings of both Jews and Gentiles, consisting of ritualistic observances in such things as meats, drinks, washings, and asceticism (Col. 2:8, 16, 20-22; Titus 1:14-15). Gnosticism is a composition of Greek and Oriental philosophy and Jewish religion. When the church spread to the Gentile world, the church was contaminated by Gnosticism. This contamination became a root problem in the church; it nearly cut off the entire root of the church life. Therefore, Gnosticism was a serious threat to the existence of the church life.]

Different Teaching—[Another aspect of the degradation of the church was the teaching of things different from the economy of God taught by the apostle, resulting in turning away from the apostle’s teaching. Acts 2:42 tells us that all the new believers continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles. What the apostles taught was according to God’s New Testament economy. But at a certain time some teachers began to teach certain biblical things, yet those things were different from the economy of God, that is, different from the teaching of the apostles.] [To teach differently was to teach myths, unending genealogies, and the law (1 Tim. 1:7-8), all of which were vain talking (v. 6), differing from the apostles’ teaching centered upon Christ and the church.] [Eventually this resulted in a turning away from Paul’s teaching (2 Tim. 1:15).]

Base Gain—[In 1 Timothy 6:5b Paul speaks of those who suppose “godliness to be a means of gain.’’ They make godliness a way of gain—material profit, a gain-making trade. The desire for material gain is another reason certain ones teach differently from the economy of God taught by the apostles. Thus, because of pride and the desire for profit, for riches, some are teaching differently. Pride is related to wanting a name and a good reputation, and gain is related to money and material profit.]

Turning Away from the Apostle—[Paul’s Epistles are the completion of the divine revelation concerning God’s eternal purpose and economy (Col. 1:25). His ministry completes the revelation concerning the all-inclusive Christ and His universal Body, the church as His fullness to express Him. Nevertheless, in the degradation of the church, many turned away from Paul’s ministry. “This you know, that all who are in Asia turned away from me’’ (2 Tim. 1:15).] [Those who turned away from Paul’s ministry deviated from God’s complete revelation, the center of which is Christ as the mystery in the saints (Col. 1:27).]

Heresies—[Second Timothy 2:16-18 says, “Avoid profane, vain babblings, for they will advance to more ungodliness, and their word will spread as gangrene, of whom are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who concerning the truth have misaimed, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and overthrow the faith of some.’’ Here Paul refers to those who bring in heresies as gangrene.]

Factious—[Titus 3:10 and 11 say, “A factious man after a first and second admonition refuse, knowing that such a one has been perverted and sins, being self-condemned.’’ A factious man is a heretical, sectarian man who causes divisions by forming parties in the church according to his own opinions. The Gnostic Judaism referred to in the preceding verse must be related to this. The divisiveness is based on differing teachings. This is the reason that verse 10 comes after verse 9. Certain believers may have insisted on the teaching of the law and in so doing became divisive.]

Backsliding to Judaism—[In Hebrews 10:25-29 Paul warns the Hebrew believers not to forsake the church to sin willfully, that is, to go back to Judaism to offer the sacrifice for sin which has been terminated.]

Denying the person of Christ—[First John 2:22 says, “Who is the liar if not he who is denying that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, who is denying the Father and the Son.’’] First John 4:2 says, “In this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses Jesus Christ having come in the flesh is out of God.’’ These verses reveal to us that some did not believe that Jesus Christ is God Himself come in the flesh (John 1:1, 14; 10:30; 20:28; Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:8).

Not Abiding in the Teaching of Christ—[Second John 9 says, “Everyone who goes beyond and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; he who abides in the teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son.’’ Literally, the Greek word translated “goes beyond’’ means to lead forward (in a negative sense), that is, to go further than what is right, to advance beyond the limit of orthodox teaching concerning Christ. This is contrasted with abiding in the teaching of Christ. The Cerinthian Gnostics, who boasted of their supposedly advanced thinking concerning the teaching of Christ, had such a practice. They went beyond the teaching of the divine conception of Christ, thus denying the deity of Christ. Consequently they could not have God in salvation and in life.]

Forsaking the Faith—[In the degradation of the church some forsook the faith. This was the reason Jude wrote, “Beloved, using all diligence to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you, entreating you to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints’’ (Jude 3). The faith in this verse is not subjective; it is objective. It does not refer to our believing, but refers to our belief, to what we believe. The faith denotes the contents of the New Testament as our faith (Acts 6:7; 1 Tim. 1:19; 3:9; 4:1; 5:8; 6:10, 21; 2 Tim. 2:18; 3:8; 4:7; Titus 1:13), in which we believe for our common salvation. This faith, not any doctrine, has been delivered once for all to the saints. For this faith we should contend (1 Tim. 6:12).] There were more points of degradation in Revelation. We will consider those in the next lesson.

(Lesson Book, Level 5: The Church—The Vision and Building Up of the Church, Chapter 10, by Witness Lee)