Maureen and I were talking about how so much of what we thought we knew about our life in Christ has been turned on its evangelical head over the last few years. It’s like everything we’ve known for decades has been taken apart, redefined and reshaped. it’s almost seems like we’re starting over.
But then I realized, we weren’t actually starting over, we’d been pruned.
God likes to prune.
And He always prunes back to love.
Of course, you probably heard lots of teaching on pruning–usually on a personal level. But I would like to suggest that God also prunes on a macro-level–His Church.
First, let’s look at our favorite pruning passage…
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit,
He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit,
He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2 NASB)
The word for prune (καθαίρω – kathairō) simply means “to clear or cut away what is unproductive.” And the purpose for this pruning is to “bear more fruit.”
Understand that God prunes, not to condemn or reject that which is being pruned, but in order that they be more productive. Like with flowers and bushes, so that they grow fuller and healthier.
In other words, He’s not cutting you away–He’s cutting away what’s unproductive in you so you will grow stronger and healthier. And this is because He’s a loving Father.
So now, let’s look at the big picture with pruning and the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom pruning cycle
First, we need to understand that while God’s Word never changes, we must continue to grow and change. And this must happen on a corporate level as well. In fact, this is the whole purpose of leadership gifts in the Church–until we all come into the unity of the faith, growing up into Christ, having His knowledge and His maturity (See Eph.4:11-16).
I don’t think we’re there yet. But fear not, Jesus is building His Church, and He won’t stop until she looks like Him! So, here we go!
Along these lines, what I’ve noticed is that the Church universal, throughout history, seems to go through pruning cycles. One move of God will set out to reform practices and doctrines held by the previous one, then that move of God will develop unproductive “branches” over time, which will require another reform. It basically looks like this.
Re-form – de-form – re-form
Each reform brings in a fresh wave of the Spirit and understanding of our life in Christ is upgraded. There is a freshness and vitality restored to the Church.
Re-form. God raises up “pruners” who have burning hearts and the gifting to discern the times and see what is good and what need to be cut away from our current understanding. Of course, this is often a messy and unstable shaking out period with excesses and even some doctrinal error. But, overall, there’s an explosion of new creativity and healthy increase and fruitfulness, for a new sound has been released from heaven.
The general feeling among God’s people is joy and freedom–like they’re coming alive for the very first time–hearts burning afresh with heaven’s passion and desire.
De-form. But in subsequent generations, this freshness and vitality begins to get lost as the liquid fire of God’s love that once organically fueled the revolution is replaced by stainless steel assembly lines designed to manufacture the life of Christ, cranking out their humanistic dogma in seminaries in order to teach control rather than empowerment–all in the name of doing things “decently and in order.” This misuse of Scripture has killed more revivals than any other.
Two points come to mind while we’re here.
Karl Marx was right about one thing–religion is an opiate, lulling us to sleep in our comfortable pews with our meticulously fine-tuned meetings where nothing ever gets out of order.
Or to quote the Scarlet Pimpernel, nothing in the world is so bad as something which is “not so bad”!
Re-form. Then God sends new firebrand pruners once again, who know how to deconstruct the prevailing paradigms of the day to find what isn’t bearing fruit, leaving the vibrant “branches,” restoring once again the freedom and life in the Spirit.
At the risk of mixing metaphors, these new pruners, or pioneers, are usually strongly resisted by the “settlers” of the old move of God. They’re often called heretics, false prophets, and the like. It’s always amazed me how easily we throw around these words. Nothing’s changed there.
But understand this. It’s God’s purpose to prune back to love.
Pruning brings increase
It’s important to understand that the new reformation doesn’t bring the Church back to its previously reformed state, something is added. There’s increase and growth in the experiential knowledge of God. The new freedom is a higher heavenly freedom in the sense of fuller revelation of our identity–of Christ and Him crucified in us (1 Cor.2:2).
Pruning doesn’t destroy, it builds on the foundation
Another thing to consider, even though each move brings us up higher, it doesn’t mean that the previous move somehow missed it or they were disobedient. No, they were the frontier of the Kingdom on earth, the fruitful branches of their time.
But to stay where the Church was 500 years ago would be unproductive and unfruitful for us. God’s Kingdom is also a living thing–ever expanding and always advancing (Isa.9:7; Hab.2:14). So we must advance with it. To save time and space here, I will just refer you to three posts I’ve already written on this subject:
- Three Reformations
- New Technology, arrested doctrinal development and the advancing Kingdom of God
- Looking ahead…transition, molting and reformation
A new age is dawning!
I agree with Mark Hendrickson’s recent post. I believe a new age is dawning from heaven. Or to use my analogy, we’ve entered into a new pruning period. And this a good thing, although, sometimes it’s a bit unsettling in the transition.
And while this is so, know that love is the object.
Besides, we certainly don’t want to end up all snarled up and unproductive like the bush beside my house.