Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Defending the Temple
from the Outside

For all of us who by God’s grace have been saved and given eternal life, we must remain thoroughly thankful and filled with praise and worship. And when we see how we have grown in the knowledge of Christ and His Word, we again must be humbly grateful. And God has called us to stand firm in His Word and the redemption that is only found in the Lord Jesus. And from time to time we must address, correct, and rebuke those who teach otherwise.
But there are two things that must consume us: The spreading of the gospel message and the formation of the Person of Christ in our lives. These two issues must be our highest calling. The elements that are inherent in our lives are Scripture, evangelism, and worship. And all these elements and their many tributaries must emanate from knowing and loving the Lord Jesus Christ. He must have all the preeminence in our lives. He, personally, must inhabit the supreme place in our hearts, and that place of unequalled prominence must give us a continuing passion to please and obey Him, as well as a life of broken worship always before Him.
When we use the word “temple” in the New Testament we do not mean an earthly building. In fact, we ourselves are the temple of God since Christ, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, inhabits us in a mystery. The temple to which we refer is a place, a spiritual place of the heart and mind, where Christ’s presence is sought and experienced in a way that leads a believer temporarily out from this earthly reality and dimension and into a tabernacle of communion and worship before the Risen Christ. It is a place of faith and brokenness, and it is a wonder and a mystery that once experienced, it will beckon us to return for the rest of our lives.
Inside this temple dwells the eternal richness of Christ’s presence, and within it are many different levels of repentance, worship, praise, change, prayer, and complete brokenness. If you have never been inside this tabernacle then you cannot fully understand that of which I speak. However, if you have been drawn into it even once, you can identify with the feeble descriptions I have given. I realize that there are those believers who eschew and reject any form of experience or mystery, but that is to their own detriment. The Lord has not left us without any means to know and experience His awesome presence here on earth, and although we must not build our faith upon experience, we should incorporate His presence into our spiritual journey.
Our faith is built upon Jesus Christ and His Eternal Word to be sure. Without the Word we would surely be more divided and scattered than we already are, and without the Word we would be wild inventors of all kinds of divergent and false doctrines. Yes, even more false and wild than are being created in these last days. We cannot stray from the Scriptures, and we must dig deeper and deeper into the treasure they contain for us. But the Bible cannot just be some spiritual Algebra book designed to be studied and outlined with a doctrinal coldness that misrepresents its mystery and eternal glory and life changing power. We are not just some religious engineers that create more and more elaborate and detailed systematic theologies and then step back to admire our handiwork. The written Word is the force of God through which He changes us every day, not just has changed us years ago.
Our belief in the clear and orthodox teachings of Scripture must not be our glory. We must not tout our doctrinal orthodoxy as a badge of our own applause and as proof of our love for Christ and His blessing upon us. Our adherence to Biblical truth cannot be the proof of our discipleship or even our regeneration. There are legions of systematic theology books that are considered orthodox and Biblically sound. Does that make those books followers of Jesus or lovers of Christ or imitators of Jesus? Can those books do the works of Jesus? Can theology live as Jesus lives? Can doctrine alone walk as light in the midst of a dark and lost world? And I ask you this: When God has graciously called you into His presence, and while there your soul has been broken and restored, brought low and lifted up, and you have worshiped the Risen Christ in all His glory and splendor, how often in those moments have you thought about different points of doctrine? Doctrine without the presence of Christ is dead, even though God honors His Word in those dead circumstances.
Just because there are false teachings does not mean that there are no authentic and true teachings. And just because some are misusing experience and even incorporating techniques from other religions does not mean that God will not meet with us in a way that can only be described as a sacred experience. The experience is a residual reward for seeking the face and presence of Jesus Christ, and I am sad to inform you that rarely will that occur during a one hour, scripted meeting on Sunday morning. Perhaps the come and go continuum on Sundays that fulfills a religious obligation is enough to make you spiritually content, but it does not please Christ and that sort of obligatory oscillation will not change us. In fact, that structured ecclesiastical format has petrified the church and deceived us into believing that the power of Christ is so limited and so unremarkable that even within a sinful and dark culture such as ours the church is indistinguishable.
And are we to believe that when believers come together to worship the Lord Jesus that His presence is so bland and so ordinary that even a seventh grade soccer game generates more excitement, interest, and emotion than being in the presence of the Creator does? Let me ask you this question. Let us say that you were there when baseball was invented. And over the next five years you watched and played baseball and saw and experienced many exciting games, some that even went into extra innings. You loved to play baseball.
But one day you took a trip overseas to another country and the people asked you if you wanted to play baseball. Of course you accepted that invitation and you were all excited as you rode to the baseball field. Your team was up to bat first and one member of your team went up to the plate. The first pitch was a strike. The second pitch was a strike. After that second pitch the team that was in the field began running toward their dugout and your entire team began collecting all their equipment and headed for the cars. Immediately you asked what was happening and you were told the game was over and everyone had just played baseball.
You were astounded to learn that these people thought that two pitches was the entire game and that this five minutes was considered an entire game. But you knew that what they had just done was not really baseball and was, in fact, a creation of their own culture that greatly misrepresented the genuine game called baseball. When you attempted to inform them as to the game of baseball that was played in its original format they seemed interested but could not see that long, nine inning game being played in their culture. They had grown accustomed to the two pitch variety and had even formed a liking for the kind they practiced. They loved their kind of baseball.
The early church gathered together to sing, worship, pray, fellowship, give, and even break bread together. They were not constricted by time and schedule, and their desire for Christ was insatiable. They separated themselves for an entire day just to be with those who believed in and followed Jesus the Christ. Most gatherings were held in people’s houses, and there were no gimmicks or advertisement techniques used to attract people to their gatherings. They had no schedule except to follow the Spirit’s leading. Each Lord’s Day would bring a new and refreshing spirit of love, brotherhood, and worship, and they would leave the gathering changed by the Spirit of God. Many times they met with the knowledge that if they were caught they might lose their lives.
Now go back in time and bring one of those early disciples of Jesus into the church realm of today. As he walks through the door of a palatial building, still burdened by massive debt, he is taken aback by this monstrosity. He hears people speaking of sports and politics, cars and houses, and money and things. As he looks around he does not see any group of people in prayer before their God, and he is handed an order of “service”. He is very uncomfortable as he sits in padded pews, and in a few moments the music begins and the service starts. As the services wades through music and welcomes and announcements, a perfunctory prayer precedes the message. He listens to 30 minutes of polished oratory complete with jokes, relevant stories, and a redundant form of post sermon evangelism which seemed to be out of place given the “How to be a success” theme of the message.
And now I ask you. Would that person consider what had just taken place as a true Christian gathering? If that believer had as his reference his early church gathering, would he believe that what he had just experienced the same thing? And if idol worship is defined as giving your time, efforts, and thoughts to something, what would be the western idol among professing believers? It becomes obvious that we have slowly and not so slowly drifted into a comfortable Christianity that sacrifices very little and still enjoys the emanates and hedonistic lifestyles of her unbelieving neighbors. We have lost our way and are not even looking to, much less desiring to, find our way back to a Christ reflecting life.
And yet we who would embrace the moniker “orthodox” so often feel that our calling is to confront false teachings and heresies, and in that we are drawing closer to Jesus. That is a deception in and of itself. Amidst the growing apostasy there are millions that have taken up the banner of redemptive truth and held it up against the tide of error and compromise, but so many have left it at that. Listen to the preaching, the books, and the conferences and hear orthodox preachers protect the temple of doctrine and castigate the purveyors of error and heresy. But where are the voices crying aloud and sparing not against the sins and the stagnation of we who are orthodox?
Again, we are like Samson who was ignorant of his own condition and assumed that his past would suffice for his present. And while some are attempting to destroy the Temple, we must defend it. But just as the defenders of God’s Temple under Nehemiah, we must also be about building that same Temple in our personal lives. In fact, the devil has stolen much of our spiritual power by having so many obsess over false teachers and become blind to the consistent spiritual drift in the orthodox evangelical community. The elephant in the ecclesiastical room is that the only genuine and effective way to stem the tide of apostasy in the western church is if the remnant of orthodox believers seek God’s face for a massive revival in our own midst. No amount of blog posts or books or conferences will slay the dragon of apostasy in our midst. And if we truly desire repentance for others, and if we are not experiencing a fleshy enjoyment in exposing others, then we must allow the Holy Spirit of God to shine His light of repentance upon us without the diluting distraction of seeing the sins of others.
We are certainly at a crossroads, and we seem to be in the midst of the generation that Jesus spoke about when He asked if He would find faith when He returned. And our own self righteousness has convinced us that we could not possibly be included in that assessment. The apostasy has been identified and will continue to grow, but that cannot be our spiritual mainstay. Our journey, our pursuit, and our passion must be Jesus and His gospel. For too long we have sacrificed the best on the altar of the good, and we ourselves are in desperate need of a deep awakening to our own sin and lethargy and profound compromises.
So as we point out the grievous errors and false teachings by men like Osteen, Bell, McLaren, Warren, and a laundry list of others, the Spirit would agree but with one major caveat. God would say to us, “Those things you confront you do so rightly and with sincerity, but what about you?” Do not assume that defending the Temple is the same as entering the Temple and worshiping the Lord Jesus. The orthodox community has lost its way as well and in a destructive symbiotic relationship we have let the pied pipers of apostasy lead us away from Jesus Christ. Oh we have not joined in their doctrinal heresies, but we have left our first love and we now are married to our systematic theologies, our original language credentials, our Biblical knowledge, and the narcotic affects present in the self congratulatory atmosphere of the “We are orthodox” world.
We have defended the Temple of truth, but we have left the sacrifice. In Genesis 15 God makes a covenant with Abram. God instructs Abram to take a cow and a goat and a ram and a pigeon and turtledove, and Abram divided them in two pieces. God then communicates to Abram in a dream of the things Abram and his people will face and the mighty hand of deliverance that God will extend to this people. But before Abram fell asleep verse 11 tells us that Abram spent some time chasing the birds away from the sacrifice. This was probably necessary, however this was not Abram’s calling. Abram was called to listen to, obey, and worship the Lord his God. Had he spent all his time chasing birds he would have missed what God was saying to him.
There will be much time to identify heretics in the future, but let us return to our Master and allow Him to speak to us about our condition before Him. There are very few interested in hearing God address their own sins, and there are fewer still willing to pay the price for obedience and drawing close to Christ. What did God require of Abraham? A total change of scenery and a complete leaving of his former life. All Abraham had was God’s promises, and that was all the guarantee God would give to him. Even before Abraham arrived in Palestine, he would lose his aged father. And even though God would fulfill His covenant, it would have been much easier for Abraham to remain in Ur.
The church is sleeping. Even the watchmen and town criers are in slumber. Unless we hear the Spirit’s voice we will continue to enjoy our spiritual sleep in many forms. Battling the enemies on the east side of Jordan requires much less sacrifice and brokenness than battling west of the Jordan. Why? Because the enemy of the west side of the Jordan River will also be a formidable and familiar enemy. It will be our own flesh and our own spiritual plans. And God doesn’t just want to deal with Jericho and Ai, He wants to deal with us. So as we come against the Bellites, and the Warrenites, and the McLarenites, and the Osteenites, and the entire array of “ites”, are our ears bent toward hearing God about ourselves?

Judging by our own prayerless armchair perches we have yet to have ears to hear.

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