What is God’s Recovery?
The material on this page was written in the 1970s to respond to the criticisms of Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and the original “Bible Answer Man.” CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research Institute”). The text of this article is published here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.
From: Answers to the Bible Answer Man – Appendix
In previous articles we have seen the degradation of the historic church. Because the historic church has become so degraded and cannot possibly fulfill God’s eternal purpose, there is the need for the recovery of the church. It is the purpose of this article to clarify the meaning of the word recovery and to give testimony to what the Lord’s recovery is today.
The word “recover” means to obtain again something that has been lost, or to return something to a normal condition. In order for something to be recovered, it must have already been in existence and in a particular condition. When, after it has been lost or damaged, it is returned to its former condition, it is said to be recovered. The noun “recovery” means the restoration or return to a normal condition after a damage or loss has been incurred. To say that God is recovering certain matters means that through the course of church history they have been lost, misused, or corrupted and that God is restoring them to their original state or condition. Simply put, in the eyes of God, recovery means to bring something back to its original condition.
The principle of recovery is seen in Matthew 19:3-8. When the Pharisees asked the Lord Jesus about divorce, He said that at the beginning God made them male and female and that a man would leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife, and that the two would become one flesh. The Lord further pointed out that what God had joined together man should not put asunder. The Pharisees then inquired why Moses allowed a man to give a writing of divorce and put his wife away. To this, the Lord replied, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” Notice the phrases “at the beginning” and “from the beginning.” These phrases imply that the Lord was standing with what God had ordained in the beginning and that He was seeking to bring the present situation regarding marriage back to what it was in the beginning. This is recovery. Because the stubborn ones had become hard of heart, Moses allowed them to put away their wives by writing a bill of divorce. But this was not God’s intention in the beginning.
In order for God to have His recovery, certain of His people must have a heart to care for His intention from the beginning. If we are hard of heart, God may permit us to do certain things not in keeping with His original intention. But the hard of heart cannot fulfill God’s purpose, for they care only for the present situation or for the traditional practice, not for God’s original design. Any who have been used by the Lord in His recovery in the past have been those who cared, not for the present state of things, but for God’s standard as revealed in His Word.
The recovery is related to God’s purpose. God’s eternal purpose is that man should be a corporate entity to express Him with His image and to represent Him with His dominion. In our age the corporate entity intended to fulfill this purpose is the church. Because man fell, he needed to be redeemed. God’s redemption is actually an act of recovery because it restores man to God’s original intention, enabling him once again to fulfill God’s purpose. As far as God is concerned, the goal of redemption is not heaven for the believers when they die; it is the fulfillment of His purpose.
Because the church has become degraded through the many centuries of its history, it needs to be restored to God’s original intention. There are many Christians, however, who disagree with this. They believe that the practice of the church as revealed in the New Testament is merely a historical antecedent, not a norm for church practice in the present day. However, there are a minority of Christians who have seen that the New Testament revelation of the church is not only historical, but also normative, that is, it is intended to govern the practice of the church life in this generation. Regarding the church, God has not left us to our own opinion. His way is made known in His Word. Just as the revelation of the Scripture is normative concerning the gospel, salvation, and the proper Christian life, so it is also with the church. We praise the Lord that Martin Luther stood with the Scriptures, not with the historical church, regarding justification by faith, paving the way for generations to follow to have a clear understanding of biblical requirements for salvation. Likewise, we are thankful for those who have stood with the Scriptures, not with the tradition of the historic church. They have paved the way for us to have in our time the practical experience of the church life according to God’s revelation.
God’s recovery, particularly His recovery of the church, is not suited for man’s convenience; it is to meet God’s need. Some may be offended to hear that God has a need. But as He works in space and in time for the fulfillment of His eternal purpose, He has ordained in His immutable counsel that the church fulfill a specific role and carry out certain responsibilities. God desires to recover the earth as the scene of His expression and dominion. He intends that the church be that organism, living in the reality of the kingdom of heaven, in which God’s will can be done even as it is in heaven. The church, the miniature of the kingdom of heaven, is to prepare the way for the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven in the millennium. The church also is to carry on the work of spiritual warfare, executing Christ’s victory over Satan and all the powers of darkness. Furthermore, the church must be built up as God’s habitation and as the Bride of Christ. What a shame for the Lord Jesus to come back without a Bride prepared! The Lord will neither lower His standard for the church nor neglect His intention concerning the church. The building up of the church in this age is crucial to the fulfillment of God’s purpose; it is required for the termination of this age and the inauguration of the kingdom age. In God’s eyes, the church not only should be according to His revelation; it must be so. Hence, the recovery is of tremendous significance.
Because it is so important to God and to God’s purpose, the recovery has been opposed by Satan since its beginning at the time of the Reformation. The enemy knows that when God’s recovery has been consummated and the practical church life has been fulfilled to God’s satisfaction, he is finished. Even today, the opposition of the spiritual powers against God’s recovery is fierce.
Recovery is not only a New Testament phenomenon. In the Old Testament we see recovery in the history of Israel, a recovery which is a type of what God is doing on earth today. By referring to the Old Testament type of recovery, we are not attempting to prove any doctrinal matters. Rather, we are pointing to a picture as a help to our understanding.
When the children of Israel were about to enter into the good land, the Lord commanded them through Moses not to worship at the place of their choice. Rather, they had to go to the place which the Lord their God would choose out of all their tribes to put His name there (Deut. 12). They were forbidden to do whatever was right in their own eyes. They had no right to choose the place of their corporate worship. They had to go at the appointed times and with the required offerings to the place of God’s choice. This place was Jerusalem. There in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion, the temple was built. However, due to the degradation of the children of Israel, particularly in the matter of idolatry, Jerusalem was given over to the Babylonians, the temple was destroyed, and a great many Israelites were carried away to captivity in Babylon where they remained for seventy years. During these years, Daniel stood before God for the restoration of Jerusalem, praying that the word spoken by Jeremiah the prophet would be fulfilled. In the year Daniel died, the decree was pronounced by Cyrus King of Persia that the children of Israel should return to their land and rebuild the temple. However, as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah make clear, only a remnant, a small minority, returned. Having returned to Jerusalem and having erected the altar of burnt offering, they rebuilt the temple and then the walls of the city, in spite of opposition and threats. That was the recovery of God’s house and city in the Old Testament. God has chosen Jerusalem and He would not abandon it forever. For the fulfillment of His purpose, He wanted the temple built in that city. As Jews around the world recognize even today, they have no right to build a temple at any place other than the chosen site in the city of Jerusalem.
We may apply this picture to today’s situation regarding the church. In the beginning God intended that churches be established and built in various localities. However, after the time of the Apostles, the vision of the church and the practice of the proper church life were gradually lost. Instead of proper churches, all kinds of denominations came into being. However, God has not abandoned His plan for the practical expression of the church in this age. In spite of the degradation of the historic church, He was determined to have a church to satisfy Him. Therefore, throughout the centuries since the time of Martin Luther, God, according to His way, has been carrying on His recovery. He has made certain choices regarding the church and its practice, and He intends that His will be honored and carried out in a practical way. Although the majority of His people will not return to His original intention, God will gain a minority, today’s remnant, who will be for His satisfaction. This is what is meant by recovery. God intended to have a church, the Lord Jesus accomplished everything necessary to bring it into being, and the Apostles established it according to the Lord’s command. The church became degraded and assumed a form vastly different from the Lord’s intention. Nevertheless, He is working to recover the church, to bring it out of everything abnormal back to a normal condition in His sight.
God’s recovery did not begin in the twentieth century. Although it is difficult to fix an exact date for the beginning of the recovery, it is convenient to set it at the time of the Reformation, say 1517. The recovery has gone through certain stages. In the stage of the Reformation, the truth concerning justification by faith was recovered. Furthermore, the Bible was made available in the language of the people. As the epistle to the church in Sardis makes clear (Rev. 3:1-6), the Reformation was not complete in the eyes of the Lord. Instead of thoroughly carrying out God’s intention regarding the church, it stopped short, forming the various Protestant denominations. This forced the Lord to go on. In the eighteenth century the Lord had a partial recovery of the church life in Bohemia under the leadership of Zinzendorf. But this was not adequate. Early in the nineteenth century the Lord took a major step in His recovery by raising up those commonly known as the Plymouth Brethren, under the leadership of John Nelson Darby and others. Especially at the beginning, the Brethren were absolute, coming out of the religious institutions of their day, giving up the vanities of the world, and meeting simply as brothers in the name of the Lord Jesus. The Lord blessed their gathering together in His name, especially by opening to them and recovering through them many precious truths of His Word. However, after a period of time, the Brethren also became degraded and divided because of their excessive preoccupation with the objective, doctrinal truths of the Bible. The Lord reacted to this by raising up certain ones to recover the various truths of the inner life. Among these were Jesse Penn-Lewis and Andrew Murray, who respectively saw the truth of our co-crucifixion with Christ and the matter of Christ as our life. The Lord also reacted to the degradation of the Brethren through the Pentecostal movement. In this century, in China, the Lord raised up Watchman Nee for His recovery. It was through Watchman Nee that the truth of the ground of the church and the boundary of locality was recovered. The truths of the church life were practiced throughout China and the Far East, and hundreds of local churches were raised up. The Lord’s recovery today is not something isolated from His recovery in the past. Rather, we stand upon the shoulders of all those who have gone before us, for the recovery includes all those truths recovered in previous generations.
Now we come to what is the crucial point of this article: a consideration of the recovery today. Although the items of today’s recovery are profound and far-reaching, we can nonetheless express them rather simply. Today the Lord is burdened to recover two things. The first is the enjoyment and experience of the riches of Christ, and the second is the practice of the church life. We praise the Lord for releasing the Bible, for unveiling the truth of justification by faith, for renewing the worldwide preaching of the gospel, for revealing so many precious truths of His word, and for bringing us into a proper understanding of our co-crucifixion with Christ and of Christ’s living in us. But all these precious items cannot in themselves fulfill God’s purpose. They must have a practical issue, and that issue is the church life. What the Lord is recovering today is not mainly the teaching concerning Christ or the doctrine concerning the church. Instead, He is recovering the enjoyment of the riches of Christ and the practice of the proper church life. These two matters go together, for the practical church life is the issue of the enjoyment of the riches of Christ. We in the Lord’s recovery today want to testify to all that Christ is unsearchably rich, that He is the all-inclusive One for our enjoyment. Christ is not only objective, sitting with a body of flesh and bones on the throne far away in the heavens. As the life-giving Spirit, He is also dwelling in us to be our life and our everything. He is wonderful and indescribable, and the enjoyment of His very Person is beyond imagining. However, the subtle enemy, Satan, has diverted countless Christians from Christ to many other things, even good, sound, Scriptural things. But we must be brought back to Christ Himself, and not in the way of mere doctrine, but in the way of daily, inward enjoyment. Thus, the first item of the Lord’s present recovery is the recovery of the enjoyment of the riches of Christ.
Second is the recovery of the practice of the proper church life. No mere doctrine of the church or theory of the church life can satisfy us, much less satisfy the Lord. We praise Him for the blueprint, but the blueprint is not the building itself. What God wants is not just a blueprint, but an actual building for His habitation. Therefore, He has burdened us for the practice of the church life according to His revelation, according to His blueprint. In the practice of the church life, we do not seek to perpetuate the traditions of the historic church. Rather, we seek to walk in the light of God’s revelation in the New Testament, no matter the cost. It is the Lord, not us, who requires the building up of the church in a practical way. It is the Lord, not us, who has ordained that the church be built in localities, with one church with one administration in each locality. It is the Lord, not us, who has initiated the spread of the church life throughout the earth. In spite of intense opposition, the building of the church and the spread of the church go on. In fact, the opposition aids the building and the spread. The Lord will build a church against which the gates of Hades cannot prevail. This is the desire of His heart.
In spite of the degradation of the historic church and in the midst of the confusion of today’s Christendom, the Lord is recovering the church life filled with the enjoyment of the riches of Christ. In the beginning Christ was everything to His believers, and the church life was practiced on the ground of unity in locality. Today, by His mercy and grace, the Lord is bringing us back to the beginning, back to enjoyment of Christ and to the practice of the church life. This is God’s recovery.