There are two very different ways of looking at Church history. For some, it is a history of an institution that has remained faithful from the days of the apostles to today. For others, it is a history of the corruption of the apostolic churches, followed by a gradual and uneven recovery of truth by a faithful remnant. Roman Catholics and Orthodox usually take the first view, while Evangelicals take the second.
In Revive Thy Work, Watchman Nee, the Chinese theologian, and martyr, took the second view and listed some of what he considered pivotal recoveries of truth in Christian history. He made interesting choices.
- Martin Luther: the recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works (Revive Thy Work, p. 44).
- Francis of Assisi, Count von Zinzendorf, and the Plymouth Brethren: the recovery of voluntary poverty (pp. 46-48).
- The Nonconformists: the recovery of independent churches (p. 50).
- The Anabaptists, Mennonites, and Baptists: the recovery of believer’s baptism (p. 51)
- Madame Guyon, Bishop Fénelon, and the Pietists: the recovery of the inner spiritual life (pp. 51-52).
- The Plymouth Brethren: the recovery of the Church’s heavenly calling (p. 52).
- John Wesley, Robert and Hannah Smith, Evan Hopkins, and the Keswick Convention: the recovery of sanctification by faith (pp. 53-54).
- Jessie Penn-Lewis: the recovery of the crucifixion of the Old Man (pp. 54-55).
- T. Austin Sparks: the recovery of the resurrection for overcoming Christian life (pp. 55-56).
- Welsh Revival: the recovery of kingdom reality, which Nee defines as occupying “geographic territory for God” (pp. 56-59).
- Jessie Penn-Lewis and Evan Roberts: the recovery of spiritual warfare (p. 59).
- T. Austin Sparks: the recovery of the body life of the Church (p. 60).
Isn’t that an interesting list?
Of course, Nee pointed out that most of these recoveries were only partial and often deficient in some way. People recovered some truth, but not all of it, and not all at once. “True, Luther came out of Babylon, but he failed to enter Jerusalem,” Nee explained (Revive Thy Work, p. 49).
And it is to be expected that Nee’s list is subjective—representing issues that were especially important to him but which I found perplexing. For example, I do not understand the connection between the Welsh Revival, “geographic occupation,” and kingdom experience.
Still, Nee’s list made me think about what I consider to be important truths that were recovered in time. In that spirit, let me add just three points of recovery:
- Zane Hodges and Jody Dillow: the recovery of eternal rewards in the kingdom (with kudos to Marty Cauley for coining the term misthology).
- Dietrich von Hildebrand and Pope John Paul II: the recovery of the theology of the body.
- Robert Banks, Roger Gehring, Frank Viola: the recovery of the house church setting of the early church.
- The Free Grace Movement: the re-recovery of salvation by grace through faith.
Those are my subjective choices. Which doctrines and theologians would be on your list?
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.