Monday, November 02, 2009

Two Thousand Years Later

Here we are, over two thousand years later as followers of Jesus the Christ. In the Spirit, we are eternally bound with every born again believer both here and with Christ. God’s Spirit continues to call sinners to Jesus Christ and men and women, boys and girls, continue to experience the life changing salvation that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. But could it be possible that although sinners still come to Christ in these last days, they enter a practice of Christianity that has strayed dramatically from God’s original design and calling? And is it also possible that some of the most grievous departures from New Testament Christianity are modeled in the west, and especially here in America?

Now if you are offended by investigating a more pure expression of loving and following Jesus, including some uncomfortable intrusions into nationalism, hedonism, doctrine, and personal devotion, then you should cease reading now and spare yourself some heartburn. And if you cannot hear the Spirit from a nobody, then this writing vessel is not the conduit God will use for you. But if you desire for more than you have and more than you are presently, and if you can allow the Spirit to work in areas of your life that you may have thought were settled law, then this post just may be for you.

I have for some time felt a weariness in the Spirit, a grieving as well, but a certain weariness in God’s Spirit as it concerns His church. We as God’s people have far too many plans and aspirations that have little if anything to do with Christ and His kingdom. After the Industrial Revolution, society in the west began to acquire wealth, education, and an aggressive ambition toward the world and toward our own comforts. So much of the church now exhibits a tone and spirit that is completely at odds with the writings of the New Testament and the overall life of our Master. And then there is a part of the church that has left the Scriptures and created a new theology of works rather than of the finished Work.

Much of the western church has systematically constructed its own strategy, driven by the strength of its own cunning and power. It may be sincere, and the Spirit by God’s grace may have reached sinners through it, but it remains in stark contrast to Who Jesus was and is. When a ship pulls away from the shore, it eventually goes beyond the horizon and it can no longer see land. This ship has lost sight of where it began the journey and it must rely on the North Star to navigate. The church can no longer see where she came from and she must either set her own course or find a stationary reference point with which to navigate.

Twenty years ago a Chinese pastor returned to China after his first trip to America to fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. Upon his return his fellow believers asked him what about the American church impressed him. He replied, “I was amazed at how much American believers can do without God.”

There can be only one reference point and that is God’s Word. But I have seen a great divide over this issue, one that generally can be categorized into two main camps. One camp is orthodox and touts the Scriptures as the exclusive arbiter of all matters of faith and life. The other camp views the Scriptures as pliable and sincerely believes they must bend to accommodate the times in which we live. I realize that is a generalization, but for purposes of this post that is how I will address them. There are genuine and loving believers in both camps as well, and we should be restrained and circumspect as we deal with the plight of Christ’s body alive today.

It is very easy to broad brush each camp using the most egregious unchristian and unbiblical projections against them, but as I have said, there are many within each camp who do not fit nicely into any hard and fast mold. And let it be without controversy, that I myself am greatly wanting and have no claim to any spiritually superior status as it concerns these issues, I am a struggling journeyman just “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith”. So are we all, and may God deliver us from any vestige of self righteousness or moral outrage that would ever hint at our own lives as the overarching template for the church at large.

But with that understanding, we must speak those things that God has spoken and in humble love, we must address issues that concern the welfare of God’s people. Let me deal with the camp (euphemism) that seems to dismantle the Scriptures as an inspired template and makes their application bow to the dictates of circumstance, compassion, and the fallen reasonings of men. I cannot judge their sincerity, and I have little doubt that many are painfully sincere and believe with their whole hearts that they are doing God’s will. But sincerity can never be the diving rod for truth, for how much more sincere can one be if he is willing to give his own life by crashing a plane into a building at 400 miles per hour just to make a point? That is a classic revelation of how sincerity, deep and profound sincerity, can lead to hell.

And let us not be diverted into fringe issues, even important fringe issues. There are many issues that make the rounds in the genre God calls the ecclesia (gathering), and some of them are: women preachers, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, inerrancy, eschatology, and many other issues that may be important in some discussions but that pale in the face of one paramount issue, namely, redemption. Many of us are scolded by some as making salvation just some fire insurance, and yet can there be any more important issue than eternal life or eternal death? Please tell me, if you believe in both, what issue do you place as equal to eternity? Did not our Teacher tell us that if we could gain the entire world it would be without profit in the face of our eternal souls? Did He not also tell us not to fear any man but to fear Him who has the power to cast our souls into hell?

I realize any talk of hell is quite unpalatable in today’s ecclesiastical climate that strives to build us up in our own eyes and assuages any hint of pain and suffering, but it is still not the words of men but the words of God that must catch our hearing. I do not suggest that our message must always be with fire and brimstone, but if we refuse the truth about hell, whatever the particulars be they literal or metaphorical, then we have diluted the message and unwittingly diminished Christ’s work on the cross.

I want to admit publicly that the idea of hell is almost impossible to believe and comprehend in the human mind, but to deny it is to deny God’s Word. All of us who believe God’s Word in this area are hypocrites in practice, and those who would suggest our passion is incongruous to our beliefs are profoundly accurate. But that can never change the truth, and instead of using us as the key to the Scriptures, let God speak for Himself. This redemption that Christ offers is more than just fire insurance, but there will come a day in eternity when we will not so easily mock and diminish that aspect of this so great salvation. At the Great White Throne judgment we will think ourselves a thousand fools for ever making eternity subservient to all the other obvious blessings in the atonement.

But this camp has changed the door and passageway that leads to this redemption. And if there is only one door that leads to eternal life, then all other doors lead to eternal death. This is no trifle, this is the sobering issue of salvation. There have been a few times in my 57 years where I have been given directions to a certain location, and I have faithfully followed those directions, only to find that those directions were inaccurate and I did not end up where I thought I would. And that is exactly what we are dealing with here. Some are presenting a false door, and false and misleading directions, that when followed, even when followed sincerely, will lead a person to a destination that they did not desire and were not expecting.

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because many of them, He said, were preventing people from entering the kingdom by their false teachings. That surely suggests that it is still possible that sinners who might have gained eternal life, will be deceived and enter into a false door of eternal death. And if that be so, how great a responsibility do we have when teaching the true and precise gospel of Jesus Christ? And this is not exclusively bestowed upon the ordained, this spiritual responsibility rests upon all who call themselves by His name.

Preachers and teachers who teach that redemption through Christ can be found by works of compassion and philanthropy are false guides and are using a deception that is sometimes difficult to see and confront. Who could be against helping the poor or ministering to the sick or any acts of kindness and compassion? But that is a false dichotomy and confuses the issue itself. All believers should be involved in acts of this kind, and it is to our shame that we do not do more for the earthly sufferings of others. But the ground of faith can never be shared by any human works regardless of how valiant and sacrificial. The only and exclusive door to eternal life is through faith in the finished work of the Lamb of God, slain before the foundations of the world, and resurrected as victorious over sin, death, and the grave.

Faith is the only door, and human works do not just diminish Christ’s work, they make the cross of no effect. Paul makes it clear in his letter to the Galatians that if you bring works into grace, it is no longer grace and Christ is now of “no effect” in your confession. If you bake a pie that is made with 99% wholesome ingredients, but that contains 1% arsenic, it is deadly, especially when the arsenic is described as wholesome.

While some are open with their heresy, others are far more clandestine and slippery with their teachings. Some churches have statements of faith with verbiage that is void of any recognizable heresy handles, but the wording is purposely nebulous and evasive. You can tell these statements are constructed to keep everyone guessing, and those who already like you will read them one way while many with no axe to grind will find them very evanescent. This is not nitpicking, this is contending for the very faith of Jesus Christ. About these issues we must not ever compromise and we must be ever vigilant when it concerns the only way to eternal life.

There is the other camp as well. This is the camp to which I belong, although some would rather not have me as a member. This camp believes that redemption comes through faith alone in Jesus Christ, and they would also agree that some in the other camp teach a false and unbiblical gospel. Many would dot every fundamentalist “i” and cross every fundamentalist “t” in their systematic theology. Many in this camp consider themselves as orthodox as it applies to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the issue of justification by faith alone. We have planted our flag on this hill and are willing to die for it.

However my camp has in large part either downplayed or missed completely the stream of teachings that emanate from both the gospels and the epistles concerning how a believing follower of Christ should manifest his faith in practice. We feel comfortable in standing for Biblical inspiration, or the Trinity, or other primary doctrines, but all too often we fail to address, much less imitate, the other doctrines that teach us about being like Jesus. In fact, some pull out the cleansing of the Temple as the Rosetta Stone of Christlikeness while ignoring the legion of teachings and attributes that suggest humility, grace, and love. And with a basic misunderstanding of the life of Christ and the calling of a disciple, we have constructed some ecclesiastical monstrosities that undermine the very Person of Jesus Christ.

Boldness has become a carte blanche for all sorts of demeaning words that so often reference something personal and not doctrinal. And so many hyperbolic invectives redirect the focus and add to an aura of superiority rather than an authentic warning spawned by a humble concern for truth. In short, a battle has been declared that identifies the enemies as human and is blind to the enemies within our own camp, both personal and collective. What I mean is that if we only see others and their teachings as enemies of spiritual truth, and we fail to aggressively investigate our own cache of Biblical contradictions, then we will not just remain spiritually stagnant, but we will be swept downstream into a false revelation of Christ, even while still “contending for the faith” on another level.

We cannot be dismissive and arrogant and still contend for the faith. Brethren, this faith is living, and it is not just defended through words of doctrinal integrity, this faith is infinitely more profound in its revelation and practice. Doctrinal integrity may be the cornerstone, but humble and painfully self denying expressions of Christ must authenticate that cornerstone. Self monikers such as “truth warriors” only complicate the task, and in fact, are distinct examples of unproductive pretentiousness that are at odds with our expressed mission. Truth must not be defended with error, and Christ cannot be communicated through arrogance. All we have is grace or we have nothing.

Another aspect in my camp that has gained a beach head is nationalism. So many orthodox believers have mixed the sacred with the profane and attempted to Christianize politics and project Christ as a moral crusader that is interested in making our surroundings more morally comfortable for His church. The fact is that just the reverse is true in that when immorality rises it constitutes two undeniable truths: the church has lost its light, and the church has an opportunity to rekindle its first love and shine once again.

Politics is a religion that is practiced by those who see progress apart from Christ, but in the words of Jesus we can do nothing without Him. In God’s kingdom there are no liberals or conservatives, and we should never categorize the tares as such which suggests that political views gain any favor with God or that conservative lost people are in less peril than are liberal lost people.

Have we forgotten the blood? And how can we allow our hearts to continue to hear the constant drone of self righteous and mean spirited talk radio and television? I have been there and I know the ungodly emotions that are aroused when we listen to wealthy men and women do nothing but attack others and suggest that they are the “true patriots”. And make no mistake, the election of Barak Obama was the best thing that ever happened to the talk genre, especially the conservative brand. The talk millionaires will only become wealthier.

But all of this is a diversion at best and a falsehood at worst. Nationalism divides people into compartments and makes enemies where none should exist. Our enemy is Satan, and our mission field should be equal in our sight. The blending of Christianity with America has been a major element to seeing the church lose its power and distinctiveness, and it has created a false and detrimental amalgam. We are no longer a peculiar people, and we have slowly but determinately vanished into the mainstream of American life with our faith being little more than an obscure element in our sociological résumé.

I suggest we create another “camp”; one that pursues Christ in doctrine and in practice. One that assumes a position of humble grace, and strives to be bold in a way that draws attention away from us and onto Him. A camp where forgiveness is constant and love is manifested. This group of believers does not just speak correction to those who have strayed doctrinally, but we speak correction to those who misuse doctrine to harm others and elevate themselves. And we must be open and public about our own inconsistencies and sins, and we must always be honest concerning our continuing journey to be like Him.

I ask myself this question: If I was not a believer, would I be drawn to someone like myself? The answer is: sometimes. That is not good enough. I suggest that we have lost our axe head, and what is worse is that we are not even looking for it. Two thousand years ago our Master walked out of death’s tomb and through committed men and women the Spirit changed the world. There is no doubt, if God turned the world upside down before He could do it again. Only a boundless awakening and a personal brokenness will bring about a life that emerges from the faceless crowd called the church. And if per chance many such lives walk out from among the rest, others may follow. And in the end, the world will have to say as they did in Acts, “they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”

But I believe there is one key to it all.
Every one of us must rekindle a passion for secret and protracted prayer.
The battle will be won or lost in the prayer closet.
There is no other way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A resounding, AMEN!, to this post (which will take me to the new year to chew on.) At one time or another in almost 5 decades as a follower of Christ, the world (including family), the flesh (let's not go there), and the devil have conspired to either distract me or get me to bow down outright in idolizing the things you've mentioned. Anything, any means Satan can use he will do so to keep me from fixing my eyes on Jesus Christ Alone and crucifying self. And, oh, are they ever deceptive!

So with that said I leave the computer, the cell phone, the TV, my hobbies, or whatever, for time in the prayer closet. It's not always a comfortable place to be either. But I am learning that I have not been saved for the sake of my comfort. (And the older I get, the harder that gets!)

May the first Love of every believer be rekindled! We can have a big bonfire at "camp." Everyone welcome!

Kim K.