"Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, that the Lord called Samuel. And he answered, 'Here I am!' So he ran to Eli and said, 'Here I am, for you called me.' And he said, 'I did not call; lie down again ... Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, 'Samuel! Samuel!' And Samuel answered, Speak, Lord, for your servant hears." I Samuel 3.
Eli represented the old order of religion in Israel. That order was God-ordained, genuine, but by Eli's day was surviving wholly on the revelation of its past; it had no fresh word from Heaven, no life-giving inspiration, and had replaced "its first love" with doctrine, formalism, and ritual. The Priests had become carnal and uncaring. Immorality was accepted as a normal standard of behavior. In seeing that circumstance, God said, "It is time to shut down this system and begin a new era." That night, before Samuel could fall into the same spiritual sleep as Eli, God said, "Samuel! Get up! I am making changes!"
Samuel represents God's introduction of new life to Israel. As with renewal in today's church, that life was radically different from the one Israel had known in the past. It was prophetic, challenging, threatening to the Priesthood. Suddenly, the days of uninspired, liturgical worship were ended. That new prophetic-era was confrontational, clashing, conflicting. Times like that are always stressful. Religious people resist such changes. God could care less about our pious-sounding complaints. He wants His Word obeyed.
Note that God did not speak to Eli. He had done that earlier and had been refused. Identically, there are denominational boards, church leaders, and pastors today, to whom God has spoken, been refused, and to whom He will not speak again. As with Eli, He is finished with them. Instead, He may speak to the church janitor, a deacon, or Sunday School teacher, fill that one with the Holy Spirit, excite him with visions and dreams, and use him in power-ministry. Acts 2:17. Such men and women are usually forced out of their church, begin a new congregation, and in time explode in power. I do not have current statistics but a decade ago the 450 fastest growing American churches–out of every 500–were not mainline denominational congregations. In other words, only 50 denominational churches were among the winners. Please be aware that I do not equate success with size. Jesus said “To the angel of the church in Sardis write ... I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” Revelation 3:1-2
What does that tell us about churches today? It says that–like Eli–who is in his chamber sleeping, Samuel is awake and hearing God. The newest, most rapidly expanding church in our part of Florida is pastored by a former football coach who has never been to Bible School. That provides no problem to God; God is more concerned about devotion than Degrees.
Samuel's first reaction to the Voice was to run to Eli for an explanation. In effect, he was asking the "old order" to explain the mystery of God's "new order." That was a mistake. The old order cannot explain what it does not understand. Eli's response was, "I heard no voice. Go back to bed." This is exactly what is happening in the modern church. In many cases, the old church says to its children who have been caught-up in renewal, "You are disturbing my rest. Go back to sleep! Be quiet, remain in the dark, like the rest of us." As an obedient son, Samuel tried to submit to his elder. But the Voice called again. And once more, Samuel returned to Eli. And again, the old man's instruction was, "Go back to sleep!"
The problem is this: When you have heard the voice of God, you cannot “go back to sleep." That was especially true with Samuel. God's word to him was radical and frightening. It spoke of coming judgement on the house of Eli; "his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them." We see that same attitude in today’s major denominations who willingly accept homosexuality in their clergy. Those who disagree are ridiculed as being "unenlightened."
When God's message to Samuel had finished, the boy "lay down until morning and opened the doors of the house of the Lord." Scripture indicates that he did not go back to sleep. At daybreak, Eli said to him, "What is the word that the Lord spoke to you. Please do not hide it from me ..." Vs. 17. Boldly, Samuel told the old man everything--even though it foretold the deaths of Eli, his sons, and his daughter-in-law. 4:11-22. Eli humbled himself and said of the prophecy, "It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him." Vs. 18. Unlike Hezekiah, who, in a similar circumstance "turned his face to the wall and prayed," Eli made no such petition. Faith was gone, fatalism had taken over.
But the issue in many churches and denominations is not about people "making themselves vile." Usually, the resistance to God's voice centers upon pet doctrines, religious hobbies, and iron-hard determination to protect denominational-identity. Hear me carefully: Whether the issue is morality or misappropriation of Scripture, God has not given us the choice to deviate from His Word.
Eli's spiritual-eyes had dimmed with age; his most pressing concern was to be undisturbed and to rest in familiar surroundings of the past. Like modern Christians, he wanted things "left as they were." That deception caused him to ignore God's warning about his sons and Israel's need for spiritual renewal. 3:13. He made the same mistake numerous others have made: Pride would not allow him to admit his reign was inferior to other High Priests. He assumed Israel's spiritual life had always been as it was with him. Millions of Christians today fall into the same trap, naively assuming that they--and their church--still maintains the historic principles of their ancestors. Not so. In some cases, only the name remains unchanged. The chimney is still there but the fire is gone. Almost imperceptibly, many religious movements that begin in glory slide back into coldness and death..
When someone appears on the scene with new, energized-motivation and tries to change that condition, church people usually get very disturbed. They protest loudly, fire the pastor, arrange "block" votes to control the church and keep it in darkness. Such opposition matters not to God. When He says, "I am taking back My church!," believers will do well to step out of His way. The Holy Spirit never causes church disasters–that happens when members override His will and abortively demand their own choice. Such action always brings disaster. In 1517, a new “Samuel” appeared on the church stage–Martin Luther–who changed the course of history by nailing an inconspicuous-looking protest on his church door. The place was Wittenberg, Germany. That day, the Reformation was born. By 1991, more than 30,000 different Christian sects existed worldwide as the result of his hammer. In other words, every year for nearly 500 years an average of 60 new divisions have occurred within the Church. While Luther wanted change, his results in part were catastrophic. Within a short time Protestants burned other Protestants at the stake with the same intolerance that had earlier victimized them.
Numerous groups today make the same claim to being the "correct church". Many are convinced they alone possess the truth. Differences between denominations may be small but the imaginary values placed on them are enormous. The fact is: Centuries after Luther, Protestants are still protesting–this time, against themselves. The question arises: What went wrong? How can so many different Christian bodies make the same claim to "orthodoxy"?
First of all, I greatly appreciate Luther and the tremendous blessing brought by the Reformation. At no point do I denigrate what he accomplished. God used him to bring a genuine spirit of reform to the Church. The problem is that while thousands welcomed the spirit of Reformation, another spirit entered the movement undetected. That was the spirit of rebellion. Rebellion and Reformation seem so much alike that the intrusion of this dark power caused no attention. But we must not let Its’ quiet entrance deceive us about its' violent nature: "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft," I Samuel 15:23. As an aspect of witchcraft, rebellion is dominating, totally unrelenting in its' demand to have control. Once established in the Reformation, it worked as an abortive, counter-revolt against the movement. In the language of warfare, it was the "Fifth Column". Through it, Satan confused issues, lessened the Reformation's power and devastated fellowships. The end result was that the Reformation won freedom to preach the Word at the same time it allowed rebellion to destroy a precious freedom of the Word: Christian unity.
In spite of the Godly brilliance of the Reformers, many unknowingly passed this deadly concept on to their followers. Within a short time, many denominations established themselves along national boundaries. If you were German or Scandinavian, you were Lutheran. If you were Scottish, you were Presbyterian; Dutch, you were Reformed, English, you were Anglican. Spanish, Italian, Polish, etc., you were Catholic. To differ from the State Church often brought political wrath. Religiously and secularly, rebellion controlled. In many areas, Reformed Christianity became as inseparably wed to government as had Catholicism. Long after the fires of Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and others, became embers, this alien spirit continued to enforce its' will over the people. Jesus was obscured in fierce theological battles and good men were sentenced to death at the hands of other Christians who claimed to be more theologically "correct" . At this point, the legitimacy of the Reformation was lost to the damnable spirit of rebellion.
For nearly five centuries this ghost has continued its' menace against the movement it pretended to promote. Its' most effective tool in fostering schism in the Church has been this legitimate sounding claim: "Christian unity must be based on doctrinal agreement." This seems reasonable. Doctrinal agreement is needed. But doctrinal agreement is the wagon, not the horse. By its' very nature, doctrine is not a leader. Religious systems that use their creeds to determine their fellowship produce run-away wagons. Christian history and current reality consistently proves this to be so. Only love is qualified to lead. Christians must accept each other on the basis of Jesus' redemption; all other considerations are secondary. The only instrument that can safely bring Christians into unity is the Holy Spirit; He does that by drawing us first into mutual love for Jesus. There is no exception to this truth. Without the foundation of a mutually-acknowledged redemption there can be no agreement on theology or anything else. Freedom to correct each other's errors depends on a secure relationship. Even the original Apostles disagreed on key issues but maintained unity through the commonality of their redemption in Christ. Hear me: We do not have to be twins to be brothers.
Please know this, I love Bible doctrine; for sixty five years the study of scripture has been one of the great joys of my life. But, I say without hesitation, I love Jesus and His family more than I love religious law. To adore a principle above a person is an insult to the Cross. Jesus came to save sinners, not systems–nor sects. I am not saying that Christians should leave their denominations. That would produce more chaos. Instead, I am saying that Christians must leave those attitudes that divide the Body of Christ. Denominations need to be changed from within. Christians do not realize that by supporting divisions in the Church they are empowering this demon’s reproach of Christ.
Satan does not fear us; he fears the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Far better than we, he knows that unity in the saints releases that power against himself. Fragmenting the Body is therefore his major objective.
He does that by isolating believers from each other, denominationalizing their view of Scripture, and convincing them that the Holy Spirit's power is no longer available. He not only assures each Christian group that their faction is superior to others but simultaneously deafens them to truths which would bring them closer to each other and to correctness. He allows a sect to see itself favorably, through its' own eyes only --- never objectively through the eyes of others. Having achieved that goal, he then proceeds to frustrate each separated group from within. Without exception, he tirelessly presses issues that cause more disintegration. It is important that you hear me carefully: This spirit is not only rebellious but religious. As an "angel of light", he will wear any godly-looking garb that deceives the saints.
It is impossible for Christians who have been overtaken by this spirit to have an unbiased understanding of Scripture. Instead, each group persistently searches for reasons to maintain its' present course. Self-approval becomes the goal. The fact that Christians accept division in the Body of Christ as normal is proof they already have a distorted view of Scripture. Division is disease. It is' disorder. Abnormality. It is in direct opposition to the unity for which Jesus prayed. John 17:21.
Is there hope for restoration? Yes! "A little cloud, as small as a man's hand, is rising out of the sea." I Kings 18:41-45. With it comes the sound of "abundance of rain". Rebellion has been discovered and will be cast out. Be encouraged, better days are ahead for Kingdom unity!
There is no more perfect illustration of church atrophy than with John Wesley. Wesley was a young "Samuel," had the anointing of God, preached in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit, and saw thousands miraculously saved. Tragically, his successors today do not even know his language--much less the power of his flaming period. But, weep not! There is good news. In spite of Eli's declining health, Samuel is alive and doing well. He has refused the old man's order to "go back to sleep." Real rejoicing sounds from his part of Zion. The saints in his care are happy–experiencing the "demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit." If you don't know where Samuel is, find him! Love him. Support him. Be blessed by him. And pray for courageous men and women like him who are hearing God's voice in the night, whose response is, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!" These courageous ones–who will stand before Eli and speak the truth–will bring life back to the church. Hallelujah!