THE RECOVERY OF THE CHURCH LIFE
This local oneness was damaged and altogether lost by the time the Catholic Church was formed. The emperor Constantine the Great initiated the formation of the Catholic Church early in the fourth century. In A.D. 325 he called a council at Nicaea to settle theological disputes which were a cause of strife throughout his empire. He used his political influence to bring about a certain kind of unity. By the end of the sixth century the Catholic Church was fully formed with the establishment of the papal system. At that time the local oneness was absolutely destroyed and lost.
During the following centuries, a period known as the Dark Ages, the Bible was locked away from the people, and the truth of salvation was obscured. Then with the Reformation the Bible was released in the language of the people, and the truth of justification by faith was recovered. In the matter of justification, Martin Luther was bold. However, in the matter of the church, he was cowardly. He was even instrumental in the formation of the state church in Germany. The first state church was that formed in Germany through the assistance of Luther. Luther not only made such a terrible blunder, but he persecuted those believers who emphasized the experience of life. For example, Schwenckfeld was called a devil. In the decades that followed many faithful ones were persecuted and even martyred for their faith, sometimes at the hand of the state churches that had been established in a number of European countries.
THE RECOVERY IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Early in the eighteenth century, a number of believers fled to Bohemia to escape persecution. Zinzendorf had both the love and the burden to care for these refugees. However, among them there were disputes over doctrine and practice. When these disputes made it impossible for the believers to go on together peacefully, Zinzendorf required all the leaders to sign a statement that they would set aside the differences and live together in oneness. During the next meeting for the Lord’s table, they experienced a mighty outpouring of the Spirit. In this way the practice of the church life was recovered, at least in a beginning way.
THE RECOVERY WITH THE BRETHREN
Another kind of reaction to religious formality and deadness was that of mystics such as Madame Guyon and Fenelon. Although this reaction took place in the seventeenth century, there was no recovery of the church life until the eighteenth century. The practice of the church life under the leadership of Zinzendorf was very good, but it was not adequate. Therefore, early in the nineteenth century the Lord took a further step toward the recovery of the church life with a group of believers in Great Britain, especially those with John Nelson Darby. For approximately twenty-five years, the Brethren under the leadership of Darby experienced a wonderful recovery of the church life, a recovery that was more complete and adequate than that under Zinzendorf a century earlier. However, due to debates over doctrine, the oneness was lost, and the Brethren were divided. As the years went by, they were divided into more than a hundred divisions. Because the oneness was so seriously damaged, the presence of the Lord with them was greatly diminished.
(The Genuine Ground of Oneness, Chapter 10, by Witness Lee)