Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Rising Apostasy

I would like to warn you of a coming apostasy, but I cannot. The apostasy about which I speak is here. We as believers must always attempt to show the widest parameters of grace and love, and the most earnest struggle to understand others without immediately reducing the view of others in the most unflattering light. We should avoid using hyperbolic language that inflames others and is melodramatic in nature. In essence, we should approach all who name the name of Christ with respect and patience, and concerning preachers we should be sure of any evidence we use when condemning their teachings. And most of all, the word “apostasy” must be reserved only for the most egregious and unambiguous examples of abandoning the Christian faith. Only then can the full weight of the word and its impact be understood.

Allow me to more fully unfold the meaning of the word “apostasy”. The Webster’s Dictionary defines it as an “abandonment of a previous loyalty” or a “renunciation of a religious faith”. And the Greek word “apostasia” actually means to stand against something for which you once stood. So the word apostasy, used twice in the New Testament (Acts 21:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:3), is a description of a person, a church, or a teaching that once taught the true faith of Jesus Christ who now teaches something else. Apostasy is the most serious accusation and label that any person, church, or teaching can receive, and it must not be used lightly.

I have used the word apostasy in my title with careful thought and with personal trembling, since I will give an account for such a grave and solemn accusation, however there is no other word that can and must be used in this situation. I can say with the knowledge that the Lord knows my words and my heart that I have over the last three years endeavored to view others in the greatest amount of grace and respect, and I have even rebuked those who I believed used unnecessary invectives that were personal or unwarranted hyperbole. My conscience is clear on this matter and I publicly claim no personal insight from God other than that which is available by His grace to every believer.

During this time that I will now openly address I have fellowshipped with several believers who are considered part of, or sympathetic to, the emergent church movement. I have learned many beneficial things from having interacted with them, as well as learned things about which I was disturbed. And this may be the central tragedy of this present falling away, since it does not just affect those who teach such things, it also ensnares many others who have fallen prey to their words of men’s wisdom. And indeed, many pastors and church leaders are among those who ten years ago would have rejected such teachings, but who now use and teach their material.

The emergent movement began sometime in the 1990’s by a small group of people who were seeking a new and fresh way to experience Christianity, and a new way to understand the teachings of the Bible. This gathering was not meant as a small tack in the current sea of orthodox understanding, this was to be a major shift in the core understanding of Christianity, the gospel itself, and how we are to practice and reveal our faith. This movement would seek common ground with other faiths in an attempt to bring spiritual peace and justice to the entire community of faith, within and without the Christian faith itself.

This new, emergent way of defining Christianity would focus on social issues and would focus on feeding the poor, global warming, injustices, war, and a long list of other human interests, and most disturbing of all would be the noticeable absence of the redemptive gospel of Jesus Christ. In an overview, this new movement would be humanitarian in nature and would begin to eschew the kind gospel preaching and presentation that would normally be heard in an evangelical church. The movement would be defined by deeds rather than faith, and the New Testament conversion construct would be changed to resemble a doctrinally nondescript community who seeks to provide material aid to people rather than the message of the cross.

And what about the doctrinal teachings of this movement, were they completely discarded? No, but they suffered a violent change. The way truth was now going to be discussed was more of round table dialogue where all points of view were valid and much of the teachings were philosophy wrapped in a thin veneer of parsed Biblical language. Musings and fables and extra biblical parables were instruments of communicative truth, and their meanings were leveraged to illustrate whatever the teacher desired them to teach. This interview is an example of what is being heralded as the new Christianity.

Col.2:8 – Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

The foremost and most influential men of this emergent movement are Brian MacLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell. But make no mistake, there are many others and their numbers are increasing. These men speak all over the country, and their teaching materials are voluminous. They are intelligent, sincere, and have a gift for communication that they use most effectively. These men have evangelical backgrounds and were educated in orthodox Bible colleges and seminaries. Brian MacLaren seems to be the pioneer in the emergent church movement, and he has spoken in both Bell’s and Pagitt’s churches. MacLaren is now welcomed in hundreds, if not thousands, of evangelical churches that were once considered mainstream.

I will be presenting a post later concerning Doug Pagitt and his upcoming conference called Christianity 21. I will listen to the messages after the conference, but I invite you to go to the link and notice that all the speakers are women and the read the topics of their messages. But for now I want to address the ministry of Rob Bell and with whom he aligns himself. Pastor Bell will be holding a conference called, “Poets, Prophets and Preachers: Recalling the Art of the Sermon”, and it will be held in July. The main speaker for this event will be philosopher Peter Rollins. And just recently Bell had Phyllis Tickle fill his pulpit.

Let us examine who this Phyllis Tickle is and what she believes. She sits on many boards and participates on many interfaith discussions, not in the interest of sharing Christ, but in an attempt to form an amalgam of all religions. One of the most prominent and revealing boards on which she sits is the Exploring Faith organization. This organization is compromised of people from several different faiths, and some are heretical professing Christians such as Marcus Borg. This man, Borg, denies the resurrection and in his book “Meeting Jesus for the First Time Again” he states,

“The gospel of John thus is true to the experience of the early Christians, while not being literally, historically true.”

Rob Bell has referenced Marcus Borg in the past, along with other unbelieving philosophers. There seems to be no respect and love for the cross and the exalted One who died there. Christianity has become a philosophy, a curiosity that every Sunday is discussed as to how it can fit logically in a world of such injustice and financial suffering. And the answer is that Christianity is a religion that is meant to help the world fulfill its destiny, and the followers of Christ are to spread humanitarian deeds at the expense of the gospel narrative.

Listen as Tickle and Rollins wax philosophically eloquent and appear quite taken with each other as they muse about everything but Christ and His gospel. They continue to search for truth while being blind to the fact that they have found dangerous error and called it truth. When Tickle says that the church has to go through these changes about every five hundred years, she is not challenged as to that unsupported statement. She is a reckless as the health and wealth preacher claiming God told him that if you give money God will save your children.

And these are people have been invited to Rob Bell’s church to spread their falsehoods. It is because Rob Bell is a false teacher himself and no less a heretic as are they. If you are reading this you may well hear the Spirit warning your heart about the rise in the current apostasy. I am not being theatrical and melodramatic, this current climate is taking great strides away from Christ and His gospel. There is much wrong with all American evangelical churches, and in fact, we all stand in need of a massive revival that awakens us to the glory of sacrificing our lives for Christ. It is this very condition that makes the church ripe for deception, and even those preachers and bloggers that decry the teachings of men like Bell and Rollins many times do not see their own need of personal revival.

I openly confess that in spite of the glorious salvation that I stand in today by grace, I am not what I should be or even what I could be.
I need a move of God’s Spirit in my own life.
I pray you recognize that as well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

To Be in Love With Jesus

Please do not attempt to wake me up from what seemed like a dream from the very first day. Do not try and wrestle away my simplistic and unsophisticated faith which suggests that Jesus is the way to a place called heaven. I have heard all the new voices and all the new and fresh theologies that call us like sirens to rise above the ancient ideas, and I am a spectator to the ever changing and ever increasing nebulous and intangible faith that is being taught in today’s newer spiritual classroom.

When I became a Christian I experienced one driving emotion that actually consumed me. I fell in love with Jesus. I realize that is so sugary and emotional in today’s higher philosophical discussion, but that is what changed my life. I cannot completely communicate to you what that meant within my spirit and how that emotion travelled with me wherever I went. And when I read all the theologies that suggest you must be pained about your sin, or you must grasp certain doctrinal particulars, or the you must be willing to change your life, I know immediately that it is not always so. I fell in love with Jesus without meeting all those requirements and standards.

I realize you get your test marked wrong when you say accept Jesus, or fall in love with Jesus, or a hundred other statements that are on the unaccepted list, but you may cling tightly to that list if you wish, I must cling to Jesus. Please be advised that there are some of us who believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, and that those who have never heard the gospel stand in danger of eternal separation from Christ. But we are not interested in all the doctrinal minutia that becomes a self righteous feeding frenzy and only adds to the self righteous accumulation. You may know everything and then again, you may think you know everything, but we do not.

And yet we are not interested in the emerging movement that openly suggests a startling and new definition of the Christian faith. And the chatter, word parsing, and philosophical gibberish does not interest us; we will dig deeper wells in the same places where we first quenched our thirst. We are sure there is water there. The rushing to and fro of the new streams of Christianity were temporarily exhilarating, but alas, they proved to be nothing more than well intentioned discussions that made the cross an aside and set about to meet the physical needs of people while leaving them fallen shells of lostness. Instead of deepening the stakes and lengthening the cords of the tested gospel tent, they set out to unfold another and separate tent.

One group argues over if faith comes first or regeneration while the other group isn’t concerned with faith at all. You must excuse some of us if we do not find those discussions as especially helpful, and in fact they seem to us as counterproductive and hollow. It’s not that we are not interested in doctrine, or that we do not care about the poor, but we believe that the central message must be Christ and that our calling is to present Him to the lost and present Him continually to ourselves so as to allow us to fall more deeply in love with Him.

We are neither the seeker sensitive nor the purpose driven types, but neither are we called to eviscerate those who are. We are orthodox in theology but we reject the redundant doctrinal evangelism set forth by some Calvinists who seem more concerned with election than seeing people elected. The breed of sectarianism created by many of those doctrinal arguments are a stumblingblock to the gospel message itself, and indeed is driven by systematic theology rather than passionate love, and that genre of Christianity obscures the Risen Christ. There is a difference between presenting Christ as a doctrine verses presenting Him as a passionate reality within your very being.

So if you desire to be a part of endless debates and tortured half truths, and if you feel edified by the harshness and self righteous landscape known as the blog world, then you may have it. If God is a God Who wishes to remain aloof and marks His tests without a curve, then what in the world are we pursuing? If there is no grace, and if grace is empowered by law, then we are all playing a spiritual game. One demands a sinner say “repentance”; another accepts even the mildest acknowledgment; and still others require some sort of ceremony to be considered fully legitimately redemptive. What sort of tortured construct is this where even Calvinists argue with each other and Arminians generally accept anything?

You may have come to believe sifting truth is following Jesus, but I have come to understand that the truth is in Jesus, surely aligning with His Word, but surely not stopping within the pages of Scripture. Devotion to Jesus is not just a devotion to doctrinal truth, and devotion to Christ is not ignoring His written revelations as well. I sincerely believe the move of God’s Spirit is a move of personal revival and devotion. It may render you as odd and somewhat outré spiritual, and you may well be misunderstood, but it will be a small price to pay to draw significantly closer to Jesus by shedding the graveclothes of what has become an unproductive replica of what God had intended to be His living manifestation of the earth. His kingdom was supposed to be lived as much as spoken.

Parse it any way you like, Christianity has become just one of the major religions of the earth with little that could differentiate it from all the rest. Living well within the dictates of western culture and being diffused more and more until we not only are blind to its effects, we in fact have embraced them. And in America we have come to be known by the tenants of morality we speak and support much more than the Person of Christ and His gospel of redemption. We have labeled people as conservative or liberal, Democrats or Republicans, and we feel very comfortable listening to a talk show millionaire ramble on and on, demeaning and attacking, and aggressively attempting to preserve his lifestyle, even suggesting that Christians should be capitalists.

And with all that and more, we have left our first love and have nestled down to enjoy this hedonistic pasture. This beggars the question, “Is there such a truth as walking in an experiential presence of Jesus Himself, or are we to just walk according to some moral commandments?”.

You may desire to be concerned over the economy, or foreign affairs, or elections, or Supreme Court nominees, or liberal and conservatives, or the entire landscape of earthly issues that suck the spiritual life out of you and replace it with an earthly counterfeit. Take it all in, read about it incessantly, speak about it, scour the internet, ingest all the political blogs, and basically be consumed with this world all that happens within it. I am winding down and I am pursuing a surrender much deeper than I have ever known. A surrender that actually affects the way I live and think, and in such a way that people who know me are curious as to what has happened. A surrender that leads daily to a deeper surrender than the day before. I do not believe any massive revival is eminent, but I am convinced that each one of us has available an ocean of fresh oil that God can use to anoint us to a new awakening to the reality of Jesus in our lives. Just a deep, simple, and profound river of life that comes from Christ, drowns us in His presence, and returns to Christ.

I have a long way to go, I must get started.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Refiner's Fire Today

As a backdrop for what I will share in this post you need to watch this.

Both Mrs. Tickle and Peter Rollins are emergent leaders and are friends and guest speakers at Mars Hill Church where Rob Bell is pastor.

Please do not tell me you do not feel it. If you cannot sense that something deeply spiritual is happening than you are not even close to the fire, and in fact you may be oblivious to it all. This move of the Spirit is beneath the surface and has yet to present itself as an observable phenomenon. Those of us that have been touched by the unmistakable calling have been thirsty for some time, and we have seen and heard all the new movements which purport to be the “next” move of God’s Spirit in the church. It cannot be denied that the evangelical church in America has become consumed by western culture and have satisfied their insatiable desire for hedonism by constructing evangelical formats that excite and fulfill a niche in a well rounded western lifestyle.

The evangelical construct has moved substantially away from being Christo-centric in practice and pursuit, to a model that is centered on the fulfillment of our present lives. From politics to family to finances to self esteem, the message of the gospel has become an appendage and not the absolute core. Of course most of the church would strongly suggest that we do place Christ first, but in practice and orthopraxy we have moved substantially away from pursuing Christ and His kingdom in our communities of faith.

Listen to the message themes, read the schedule of weekly activities, and notice what consumes the average believer’s life. Our church houses are prayerless shells that provide a place of meetings and activity, but many times lost in all that are the spiritual disciplines that are essential to spiritual growth and apprehension of Jesus Christ. How is it that the professing body of Christ can live without Him, or even live satisfied with what little they know of Him experientially?

And like pounding the bottom of an empty bottle of ketchup, the church continues to pound and pound the same wineskins hoping to get the last remaining drop of wine from the bottom of the same construct we’ve always used. We have succeeded on some level to cultivate a community of people who have a basic agreement in the Christian faith; however we’ve done it on the strength of organizing, buildings, activities, and the personality of the main preacher. But evangelical churches meet and exist by the scores in almost every city throughout America, tucked away nicely amidst a hedonistic and hollow culture, and yet without making any noticeable impact on their surroundings.

Where is this new and glorious life we say dwells within us? Why did the resurrection life of Jesus Christ overflow through the early apostles, but that life sometimes goes no further than the local church membership roles today? What if 10,000 people were transported to heaven for 5 years and were allowed to worship the Risen Christ and bask in His presence? And what if that same band of saints were given back their earthly bodies and delivered back into our midst again? Do you believe that their testimony and their lives would bear any resemblance to what passes as the church today?

Jesus Christ, the heart of the gospel, has either become a doctrinal issue to be discussed and argued over, or He is to be removed from a place of prominence in the “gospel” message giving way to acts of humanitarianism. Think again on those 10,000 saints that have spent the last five years in the presence of the Risen Christ, what message do you suspect they would preach? Would Jesus be the absolute life force of their preaching and would He be the goal of their living emulation? How is it, how indeed can it be, that millions of people in our communities claim to have the Eternal Savior living and abiding within their very being and yet the substantial revelation of such wondrous truth remains so tepid and unremarkable?

Is the power of Jesus Christ so impotent that His real and actual presence here on earth projects little more than one religion among many? And when the singular life of Jesus in His incarnate revelation was so powerful and so unique that His story continues to be told through the centuries, how can it be that those who claim to be following Him are so ordinary and insignificant within a culture that is devoid of the Spirit of God? Something is wrong, profoundly wrong.

Against that unexceptional reality of the Christian church, many have become disillusioned about continuing in that same hollow vein and they have set out to find deeper meaning to their Christian experiences. And so some have either openly rejected the Biblical truths of the Christian faith or they have instituted such a new and philosophical vocabulary that it is impossible to align it with basic gospel truth and it projects a fresh enigmatic way of saying nothing while pretending to say something. Riddles and parables and stories are at the heart of these new constructs of Christianity while the redemption of the cross of Christ is strikingly absent or at least reduced to an example of sacrifice for the needs of the people of the world. In short these new and emergent teachings have one major commonality, the outright focus away from the redemption provided by Christ’s cross for the sins of the world and the personal message of Christ’s eternal salvation.

The core of the emergent movement is a transfer of spiritual focus and calling from the actual gospel of Jesus Christ to a new expression of Christianity that is a bloodless ministry to the earthly needs of the world’s sinners. Religious philosophy is their Bible and their spiritual community includes non-Christian religions. Most American evangelicals remain so Biblically illiterate and so spiritually unconcerned that they will not be interested in becoming educated as to what is happening to say nothing of being concerned. For the most part we are concerned with ourselves and the prosperity and safety of the nation in which we live. But the real enemy has come, not in planes and tanks, and not with weapons of mass destruction, but he has come as a spiritual farmer and is busy sowing seeds of deception that grow and are eaten by unsuspecting sinners and saints alike.

And some of those who are deceived are eloquent and sincere, and they speak with a literary prowess that is wrapped in an effervescent philosophy that touches our human sensibilities but remains distant from invading the fields that the Holy Spirit desires to reach and change. The emergent movement has not just changed the approach, they have changed the message. While few would demand a King James verbiage, there must be at least a recognizeable communication of the gospel narrative. And even some who when pressed would utter some involuntary alignment with Biblical Christianity, hide the gospel away from the ears and hearts of those who follow their ministries. And many good men, men of God who sincerely desire to serve Christ, have been blinded to this deception. All this, dramatic and unmistakable, is happening with little notice from the body of Christ.

But what about those who resist these unbiblical intrusions? This is where the battle must begin, but not with whom we might think. It is true that we must expose and confront false teachings, especially in today’s compromised religious landscape, but the real battle will be with us. In some corners they exclude themselves from the spiritual fight, refusing to see their own need since the extensive error in others obscures their vision of self. That is very unfortunate and leaves the work undone.

To combat the mystical onslaught we must not only identify error, we must deepen the stakes and lengthen the cords of our own spiritual tents. To be sure, spiritual revival is significantly more than rearranging the furniture in a worship service; or reinstating some ancient practice; or presenting some avante garde ideas concerning what spirituality looks like today. The silly and ridiculous philosophies are worthless and men like Peter Rollins, who holds a masters degree in philosophy, say nothing in very creative and thought provoking ways. In the end he says nothing that can be remotely considered Biblical.

We are entering a new dark age in Christianity and men like Rob Bell who continue to gain notoriety are providing platforms for teachers like Doug Paggit, Phyllis Tickle, and Peter Rollins. This is not some game and it surely is not to be ignored. Churches all over the nation are watching and listening to these people and are believing they teach a new way to communicate redemptive Christianity. And when questioned about being more clear, they and their supporters strongly defend their words as orthodox and Biblical without the open evidence that would support that defense. Little phrases or obscure sentences still shrouded in uncertainty and doctrinal intangibles are usually what pass for evidence of their belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The way of Jesus” or “Following Jesus” or other nice sounding words have replaced the “Repent and believe the gospel” call for which many in years past have died.

I am not sure what is possible at this late date, but I do know that just rejecting and exposing these false teachers will never stem any tide, and in the end God will require much more at our hands. Perhaps the horse is already out of the barn, however we as individuals can still glorify our Father by a deeper and more passionate devotion to follow Jesus Christ. Exposing error is infinitely easier than living truth. Three years ago I would ask a fellow believer what he thought about the emergent movement and most would not even be aware that there was such a thing. And I would ask about MacLaren or Bell or Paggit and most had never heard of these men. Today mainstream evangelical churches are using Bell’s material and leasing buses to attend his tours.

You may desire to continue to sleep but your faith will be taken from you while you slumber. This end time falling away has been predicted by the Apostle Paul himself, and yet the church seems passive and unconcerned. Our own spiritual lives are so indifferent and undemonstrative, and many consider political involvement as proof of the depth of their discipleship. But we here in America have been devoured by this hedonistic western culture, even from the most orthodox reformed to the most seeker sensitive format. We are more concerned about proving our Calvinistic credentials that we are about all night prayer meetings and extended gatherings of repentance. Many churches are places of entertainment rather than sukkots of God’s presence.

We need more than harsh words that attack men’s persons; we need more than redundant examples of doctrinal mischief; and we need more than a continuing stream of discernment that beats the same doctrinal horse without ever addressing our own spiritual malnutrition. We need to receive strong rebukes aimed at our own powerless situation that so often exists unnoticed in a godless community. Being politically conservative has proven to be worthless in God’s kingdom, and the relentless drone of talk show hosts have piped a shallow song to which so many believers have danced. These are all childish things that must be rejected in favor of the higher calling of seeking Christ with all our hearts. No longer can we afford to be sidetracked by nationalistic endeavors; the time has come to leave behind our sin and all the unnecessary weights that keep us from running the race to which we’ve been called.

Abortion continues in the millions and the church continues to believe we can stop it with legislation and education when in fact only a sweeping move of God’s eternal Spirit can invade the gospel hardened hearts of American sinners and illuminate them to their sin. And before we wield God’s judgment on lost sinners, let us take inventory among ourselves as we realize that most of the problem must be laid at our evangelical doors. It is us who have lost our saltiness, and it is us who have hidden our lights under political and denominational baskets. It is us who have blended in with the Babylonian culture and it is us who wear the garments of Babylon. It is us who feel so vindicated by preaching against the sins of the lost among us and in that we are comfortably diverted from addressing our own sins. We cannot even hear God’s voice that says to Joshua, “Get up from off your face” because we are not even on our faces. Tens of millions of believers exit the morning gatherings on Sunday with dry eyes and with smiles directed at each other as they make their way to dine sumptuously and perhaps catch the soon beginning sports event. And we claim we have just done business with the Creator God. Who indeed are we fooling?

The world believes this is all there is to Christianity because this is all they’ve seen. And our children have been raised in an atmosphere of playtime and fellowship, but they not only have not seen the power of God move through drastically desperate believers, they do not even realize that such a thing is possible. And should Jesus tarry they will nestle down comfortably within a local assembly and hear beautiful exegetical messages that soothe the conscience and assure that nothing will change. We will continue to draw from the “us verse them” well which nourishes us with the self righteousness we crave. Billions of God’s dollars will continue to flow to secular banks and mortgage companies that support and finance the very institutions we so emphatically say we oppose.

The endless parade of “how to” sermon series will provide a Home Depot format that instructs as to how we can better our cultural existence. Believers will continue to watch more television than they do watch and pray. Night after night the church house will be dark and locked up without a hint of spiritual desperation. Prayer remains a doctrine rather than a way of life and the core of our gatherings. We, like Samson, do not even realize that we have lost our power and we have replaced the Risen Christ with an ecclesiastical mannequin. We can continue and be oblivious to the extent of our own embarrassing commitment and in so doing we pass on a legacy of spiritual impotence that presents a form of godliness but denies the power through contented human shells that dance like marionettes to ecclesiastical constructs, but are neither hot nor cold in God’s penetrating eyes.

The day is well spent and the time is far past. Awaken to the Spirit’s call to modern day Gideons that must both watch the horizon and yet drink from the river of God’s Spirit. Having read this post, or having written this post, what then is our response? Are we challenged or are we changed? Have we been stirred or resurrected? Is our Lord worth defending or is He worth living and dying for? Is our mission one that extends far outside our little evangelical cliques, and if so, where can we receive the power that is necessary to fulfill our commission?

Step into the Refiner’s fire this day and let Him melt you down and remold you completely.

Be advised, though, spiritual pain is part of the process, and humility is the ingredient that will harden your image into a useable servant of the Most High God.

The time must be now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Implications of Grace

At the heart of the Christian gospel is grace. And yet no other word has been so bandied about and so misunderstood than grace, and in fact, to completely understand God's grace is to misunderstand it. The boundaries of God’s redemptive grace can never be fully defined or understood, and to experience that grace only allows another incomplete level of understanding. The fallen comprehension of grace is so often tethered to some form of work, either before or after saving faith. It seems almost impossible for humans to believe completely in the unvarnished and raw definition of grace that stands forever quarantined from any hint of works. And yet grace and works are revelations of life and death, each abiding at opposite ends of redemption, and each mutually exclusive.

And so we come to an understanding of grace. Not just a simplistic definition that satisfies a Bible college theology test, and not just a pragmatic explanation that transforms grace into a wieldier doctrinal instrument among the ecclesiastical proletariat. Grace, God’s redemptive grace, is the longest journey and the priceless treasure to any seeking soul. How expansive is grace? How deep are the foundations of this grace? How inclusive is this grace? To whom is this grace given and from whom is it withheld?

We who have received of God’s infinite grace are often those who restrict and confine the grace that was bestowed upon us so freely. Our fallen natures refuse to allow a more expansive view of God’s grace built upon the definition of grace itself. We seem so incapable of seeing grace apart from human works of righteousness, either before or after a sinner’s profession of faith. We continue to cling to a ministry of evaluation and inspection that can only come through a prism of subjectivity and self righteousness. Blind to the depths of our own sin, even the damnable accumulation of one day’s transgressions, we suggest we are able to see the sins of others with spiritual clarity and even aided by the discerning ministry of the Paraclete Himself.

It has become fashionable to teach that a sinner cannot be saved and still commit certain sins. One of the most pronounced issues is that of gay sinners who profess Christ. The orthodox suggestion is that if a gay person believes on Christ and becomes born again he or she will most definitely be awakened to their sin and leave their gay lifestyle behind. Many gay people have indeed followed that pattern. But millions of sinners have received Christ, entered a local church, become active in their fellowship, and yet continue to practice their sinful lifestyles.

Some come in with a hatred toward a family member or some other person, and they will live their entire lives practicing that inward hatred. Some have become believers having been consumed with success and wealth, and they will to one degree or another continue in that vein. Millions of professing Christians now follow a sinful theology and lifestyle that suggests that God desires everyone to be rich. Is it possible for a person to be truly saved and continue in that hedonistic lifestyle? Millions of believers overeat and are overweight, is it possible to be saved and continue in that temple destroying lifestyle?

How can we confidently pass such judgments when almost all believers in America live a culturally compromised lifestyle in one way or another? We have projected to the world an “arrived” status, and we collectively pronounce moral judgments and condemnations upon a myriad of sinners from all corners of the sin committing world. But the church, the true spiritual church, must be the living, breathing redemptive life of Jesus Christ. To preach the message of redemption without a living expression of that gospel is hollow. The Chinese language comes forth from a Chinese man, and the gospel should come forth from a living gospel dressed in human flesh. Like touching the hem of His garment to be healed, so should sinners experience the divine healing and forgiveness of Jesus Christ when they are in our presence.

Too often we have touted a message of redemption that is incongruous with our lives, and in so doing we have made the gospel nothing more than religious rhetoric. The influx of morality into the church’s message has been both counterproductive as well as heretical. Grace with a caveat is not grace. The disarming and dangerous message of the gospel is that purely by faith any sinner can have eternal life. For instance, in the abstract no gay man has to relinquish his lifestyle in order for grace to be effective in the same way no sinner has to give up anything to be saved.

And this inspection process by other believers renders them blind to their own predicament of grace. It is necessary to surround yourself with a compliment of human targets so as to insulate yourself from any introspection concerning the depth of your own sin. The same believer who energetically quotes Corinthians concerning homosexuality will explain away the command of Jesus concerning saving up retirement treasures. In the end, much of the church has become a source for self gratification concerning a list of stances against sin and a list of orthodox tenants that we espouse to buoy our self righteousness.

A man rapes and murders your two year old little girl. As you sit in the courtroom waiting to hear the sentence of death on this monster, a man walks forward and tells the judge he will die for him. You are outraged since you demand that this murderer gets what HE DESERVES. You will not agree to any deal that lets the man off the hook.

The greatest compromise in history was the cross. It provides a way for every sinner to “get off the hook”, including you and me. It completely compromises God’s justice and without any restitution it eradicates your guilt. It is called grace, and we have yet to plumb the depths of its power. And yet why can that man, guilty before all, receive that grace and leave a free man, only to use his freedom to castigate other guilty men? Why does that free man of grace find a ministry in reading the indictment of others instead of singing the praises of the One who took his place?

The cross has done away with the law, and let this good news be spread, by faith and faith alone Jesus Christ will save the vilest among us with no past, present, or future strings attached. And if the body of Christ was living and breathing that in everything we do, sinners would run to us, as they did Christ Himself.

I am presently juggling many “what ifs” in my pursuit of redemptive truth. If a sinner cannot believe on Jesus Christ and receive eternal forgiveness by grace alone without producing a certain set of works to crystallize that grace, then it is not grace. What sins and how many sins result in either the forfeiture of grace or the revelation of the absence of grace?

Millions upon millions of professing Christians throughout the centuries have practiced sin and taught others to do likewise. Martin Luther was a rabid anti- Semite and actually taught that hating Jews was from God. Was he saved? Most southern believers before the Civil War practiced racism and taught others that it was God’s will for the white man to be superior. Were they saved?

Many if not most American believers save up thousands upon thousands of dollars for their own consumption and use and they teach others that this is God’s will for everyone’s finances. Are they saved? Many if not most American believers attend motion pictures with nudity and vulgarity and watch questionable television and they teach others that God approves. Are they saved?

My point is that many, if not most, believers are blind to some of their sin, even teaching others that the sin they commit is not sin, and they live their entire Christian life deceived about their particular sin. Are they saved? Many believers teach that baptism saves, are they saved? My point is this: If no one can be deceived about some sin in their lives for the duration of their Christian experience then no one will be saved. And if grace cannot cover that deception then it is no longer grace.

Grace is not defined by compliance, it is magnified by disobedience, regardless of what kind of disobedience is approved or disapproved. A practicing gay believer cannot be welcomed forever in a local fellowship, at some point he must be confronted in love. However, a practicing gay man can still be saved. It is curious though that in most American congregation’s believers are practicing hedonists and are actively teaching others to be greedy and pleasure oriented. In fact, many are leaders and preachers.

How many orthodox preachers lead and profit by “Christian cruises” and teach others to spend thousands of dollars on such frivolity while millions starve? Are they saved? They even teach that spending God’s money on such hedonism and overeating is God’s will. Have you any idea how much food is wasted and thrown out on these gigantic cruises that are called “Christian”? Are they saved? I refuse to let homosexuality be the justifying piñata that soothes the conscience of orthodox sinning believers.

If we are going to set man made guidelines based upon the Scriptures then that judgmental net will capture all of us. Without sin grace is meaningless. Without disobedience grace is invisible. Without transgressions grace is without purpose. And grace is not just activated because of our sincere attempt to refrain from sin, for that in itself would be a reward for works and at odds with the essence of grace.

The greatest sin the church has continued to commit is its projection of a grace that is conditioned on anything other than faith. Broken down to its final residue, that is the sin of self righteousness. The fruit inspectors are legion; the fruit bearers are few. Even the most orthodox believers among us would have been considered as compromising and even false brethren by our Puritan forefathers, and yet we quote them and assume they speak to others. In every generation there those believers who stake out the moral and theological higher ground, and from that vantage point they live in a land with many telescopes and no mirrors.

No one can be saved without faith in Jesus Christ. If the New Testament teaches anything it teaches the exclusivity of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins through faith in the cross and resurrection. We are saved by grace through faith. But just how deep and how comprehensive is this grace? Is this grace powerful enough to account for every sin? Is this grace strong enough to withstand the open expressions of a deceptive lifestyle by some who claim Christ as their Savior? The issue of open participation in local assemblies is another issue, but the salvation of sinners who struggle with truth about their own sin must be addressed within the glories of God’s infinite grace. Sin, including our own, cannot be taught as divinely approved, however sinners inside the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ have already been accepted in the beloved, even if they are rebellious children.

And so the implications of grace in Christ Jesus are unsettling to our self righteous natures. But if we are linguistically and theologically honest, and if we are transparent concerning our own experience, we will find that God’s grace remains resistant to our attempts to restrict its power and relentlessly elusive to being captured by our limited earthly perspectives. One day, on a hill outside of Jerusalem, grace was released upon the earth. Religion has tried to arrest it; good works have attempted to replace it; denominations have tried to own it; systematic theology has sought to define it; and believers have attempted to dispense it.
But the grace of God will never allow itself to be captured by the will of men. Its implications are profound and its expanse is beyond our intellectual horizons. In the light of God’s grace, should we not be people of grace?