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In Acts 7 a man named Stephen gave a sermon that caused many to donate good-sized stones to his ministry. In that sermon he mentioned in Acts 7:38,
"This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, 'God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren.' This is the one who was in the congregation [church] in the wildernesstogether with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai..."
This tells us that the word "church" is the word for congregation, or assembly. It has nothing to do with an organization or a building. It also shows us that "the church" did not begin in Acts 2, but rather in the book of Exodus. Moses was the founder of the Church of Passover. Jesus, who, as Moses said, was "a prophet like me," was the Founder of the Church of Pentecost. And the day is coming when Jesus will come again to be the Founder of the Church of Tabernacles.
It is all one Church, but it progresses in its anointing with some changes at each stage of development.
Each of the long-term stages of development were also pictured prophetically in the short-term history of Israel under Moses and Joshua. Israel was the Passover Church from Egypt to Sinai. Israel was the Pentecost Church from Sinai to the Promised Land. Israel was the Tabernacles Church after they entered the Promised Land. Of course, these were not perfect types, simply because the people were imperfect and had difficulty playing their roles in this great Play.
And yet, even in their imperfections, they prophesied of imperfections yet to come. For instance, the people worshipped the golden calf in Exodus 32, while Moses was up the mount receiving the Ten Commandments in stone. He was gone 40 days, and the people thought he must be dead. Although they had seen tremendous miracles in Egypt, at the Red Sea, at Marah--and had even heard the voice of God Himself at Sinai--they still did not really know God.
In prophetic type, they had all been justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb at Passover, which allowed them to leave the house of bondage. They had all been baptized under the cloud at the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:2). They had all fed on the manna, which was the body of Christ (John 6:48-51). They all had drunk the water of life from the Rock which was Christ (Ex. 17:6; 1 Cor. 10:3). They had all heard the voice of God speaking the Ten Commandments.
One would think that they would have been nearly perfect by that point. But they continually complained and were afraid of running out of food or water. In other words, their faith in God was minimal. They had the faith to leave Egypt (justifying faith), but they did not have faith that God would actually take care of them in the wilderness. It was not a practical faith. Faith was an experience, but not a way of life.
So it is also in the Church today among genuine Christians. We all trip on this stumbling block at times, some more than others. Moses himself had great faith, but even he stumbled at times. The difficulties of life make us think that God has abandoned us, as the people said at Massah, saying, "Is the Lord among us, or not?" Yet Christians know (in their heads) that "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you" (Heb. 13:5).
It is one thing to believe this as a doctrine; it is quite another to practice it as a way of life. The first is justifying faith; the second is a life of faith. The life of faith is not shaken when troubles come, because we know that all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28), and that God has purpose in all things. God is sovereign, and nothing happens to us without His knowledge. The more we understand this, the greater is our faith.
The things written about Israel in the wilderness were prophetic about the Church under Pentecost, which has been in the "wilderness" of its own for 40 Jubilee cycles. One such story that is of current interest is their worship of the golden calf. Today, few Christians would even consider bowing down to a golden image of a calf and claim it as their god. So we tend to judge the Israelites for doing this, thinking we are absolved of such a sin. But the fact is, we have problems with heart idolatry, and gold merely symbolizes material things and wealth.
When we take a broad look at the visible Church (mostly through television), it is not hard to see the focus on money and wealth. They call it the "prosperity doctrine," and it is merely the golden calf in disguise. "Send me money, and God will give you 100% return on your investment," they say. Donations have been transformed from sacrifices to investments.
Paul tells Timothy about "men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain [profit]." In other words, people do godly things as a way to make a profit, instead of being motivated by love for God.
This is the golden calf. The results are also prophesied in the aftermath of the golden calf. Most people focus on the fact that 3,000 lost their life as the result of this incident (Ex. 32:28). Most are unaware of the more long-term results.
First, God said (Ex. 32:34; 33:3) that His personal presence would no longer lead them, but that they would be led instead by an angel. In other words, they lost "the angel of His presence, or face" (Isaiah 63:9), who is called Peniel, and were given Michael instead. Peniel is the angel of the feast of Tabernacles, who transfigures us so that the glory of God is seen in our face. Michael is the angel of resurrection (Dan. 12:1), presuming that the Church must first die in the wilderness in order to be raised later.
When God removed His personal presence from them, He instructed Moses to move the Ark of the Covenant outside the camp. Exodus 33:7 says,
"And Moses took the tabernacle and pitched it outside the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was outside the camp."
Of course, God is omnipresent, and in that sense, He never left the camp of Israel. However, this detail is not without present-day meaning. It explains why a third of the Christians today in America are no longer members of any denomination. The trend is such that within 15 years two-thirds of Christians will no longer be members of any denomination. Some, of course, just become discouraged or back-slidden. But a great many are the cream of the crop, who have discovered that they are too cramped as denominationalists and must go outside the camp in order to experience the full presence of God.
Having been raised in the Church myself, I was fortunate to have been taught the basics much better than most people were being taught. I greatly appreciate that. But in 1971, while at the University of Minnesota, I began to see truth outside of the denomination and discovered that there was much more that I had not been taught. It was then that I began to venture outside the camp in order to get to know God in a deeper way.
Even so, it was years before I came to see the prophetic pattern in Exodus 33:7. Only then did I realize that I was living in a New Testament way what those Israelites had to do after the golden calf incident.
In a way, this web log itself is a word from the Lord that is outside the camp. Most people will never hear 95% of these things by going to a church building. It is my desire and calling to share freely what I have learned outside the camp. I hope it blesses you as much as it has blessed me.