Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Continuing Romance with Orthodoxy


When I became a born again believer in March of 1975 my whole world changed. I did not get saved in a church and I did not know one believer except me. In fact I was so fresh and unlearned that I literally thought I was one of only several thousands who knew Jesus like I knew Him. People looked different to me and I had a love for sinners. My mind was consumed with Jesus, Jesus, and more Jesus. Yes, I was new in the faith.

I bought a Bible and began reading the words in red. Eventually I began to learn the Scriptures. I desired to preach and attended Bible College and was ordained and pastored. But now decades later I see something that happened which chipped away at my spiritual life. When you enter the “church world” you become a part of a system that draws your attention to political issues, national issues, world issues, economic issues, moral issues, community issues, and a literal plethora of Biblical debates ranging from the smallest and irrelevant issue to all kinds of doctrinal issues that were deemed non-negotiable.

Eventually you lose your heart for Jesus. You are a part of the ecclesiastical beast and it is always hungry. You didn’t desire that to happen, but like a giant conveyor belt the church system captures your heart and mind and you leave your first love. You now love your country, your family, your pastor, your fellow church members, your church, your doctrines, and your way of life. What you do not realize is that along the way you left your first love. No, you do not reject and renounce Jesus and you still believe He is the Savior.

There are wives who are separated from their husbands who speak well about their soon to be ex-husbands. They refuse to speak badly about him, and they encourage their children to love and listen to their father, her now ex-husband. When she sees her ex-husband they smile and are very cordial and even appreciate what they once had. The husband is still in love with his wife and he remains hurt because of the divorce. But the wife, although polite and kind and supportive, does not love him anymore. She grew tired of him and now she can live her own life and still have him provide for her and the kids as well as have him be a large part of the children’s lives.

That is what happens through this church system. You are polite and cordial to Jesus. You sing His name on Sundays and you point your children to Him. You appreciate His provision for you and you embrace His redemption. But you have become free to live your own life because somewhere along the way the church system and the cares of this world have led you out of love with Jesus. You honor and praise Him as well you should. You would never speak anything but good about Him, and to you He is Savior. But you do not love Him anymore. You are now living your own life your own way and you believe Jesus is blessing it.

Rev.2: Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

These are people who believe in and serve Jesus. They reject evildoers and they stand against error, heresy, and men who are false teachers. They work and are patient and they persevere for Jesus and His gospel. However they have fallen out of love with Jesus. Think about the implications of what the Spirit is revealing about the Church in Ephesus. Almost every pastor has preached on these passages and made some application. But here is the utterly astounding part of all that. Even churches which replicate the Spirit’s description of the Church of Ephesus preach on these verses without seeing and understanding that they themselves are to whom the Spirit is speaking. In fact, the Church of Ephesus could correctly be called an “orthodox” church. They did not compromise truth and they were not exchanging theatre for worship. They not only rightly divided the Word, but they were discerners as well.

Perhaps some of the members had blogs which accurately addressed false teachers and the battle against error and even apostasy. They stood firm on truth and they preached the true gospel. But in the process something had happened. Now this is so serious that the Spirit records it in God’s Word forever. And the indictment is profound and unnerving and should cause any true believer a great deal of conviction and even distress. Does it matter if we hold to Biblical truth and are faithful to serve Christ and even are bold against error but we no longer love Jesus? You know even the term “love Jesus” seems so hippie-ish and smacks of the Jesus People Movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

You see what has happened? We have become way too sophisticated for that kind of language and our ecclesiastical structure provides for us an atmosphere of self affirmation. You see, we are orthodox! We can smell a heresy coming for miles away. Just mention the name of Joel Osteen and our floodgates will open. Our pastor knows Hebrew and Greek and he preaches expositorally. We do not have stage smoke or strobe lights and we do not sing secular rock songs in our services. Our list of cults is unabridged and our Sunday School material is Biblically sound. You see, we are orthodox!

In a generally accepted that the word orthodox means that we believe the Bible literally and espouse doctrines that over the centuries were embraced by the church through counsels and study and what most mainstream churches taught as truth. There are fringe issues about which orthodox churches would disagree, and there are Biblical truths which certain churches seem to focus on that others do not. But all in all being orthodox means you adhere to the Scriptures and you do not teach anything that could be considered deviant, diluted, or just plain weird. And aside from differing views about elders or deacons or in some cases women in places of ministry, the orthodox community is tied together by an allegiance to Scripture, sound doctrine, a Biblical church structure, and an unquestioned commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So in light of all these Biblical allegiances it is difficult to understand how we could have left our first love. I guess it is quite necessary to define what we mean by Biblical love as it pertains to Christ. When the Scriptures say “first” it surely means that when we found Christ we were first redeemed and set free. And there is not second. But what does it mean to love Jesus? If you are Biblical in your doctrine and you adherence to truth, does that insure that you love the Lord Jesus.

Matt.22: 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.

Eph.6: 24 Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.

Here we have the word love used in both the Old and the New Testament. So it would seem that strict adherence to Biblical accuracy and an orthodox statement of faith as well as Biblical church practices are good and right but are not enough to qualify as loving the Lord Jesus. In fact, there is a fine line between holding to a Biblical statement of faith with a humble heart and holding that statement of faith with an air of self righteousness. It is possible to embrace doctrinal truth through a spirit of legalism that is reminiscent of the Mosaic Law. Even New Testament truth which is absolute and non-negotiable should not be received in tablets of stone but rather by grace through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They all must be received within the Person and redemptive heart of the Lord Jesus.

But the church in the west has left its first love and love is now way down the list if you ask unbelievers what they think of when asked about evangelical Christians. What? Many still think of love when asked about Jesus, but the evangelical community has so misrepresented Jesus that even His reputation has been sullied in the eyes of unbelievers. It would be absurd to suggest that American believers exhibit love for their enemies. We can hardly muster love for our brothers and sisters in Christ much less our enemies.

But we do have love. Much love. For what? We have a strong love for what we believe and the orthodox doctrines to which we have unquestioned allegiance. We speak them; we repeat them; we teach them; we defend them; we print them; we organize them; we wield them; and in general they are what we suggest reveals Jesus to others. We are of the orthodox tribe and that moniker means more to us than people thinking we are some wishy-washy loving people who speak with meekness and humility. We desire for people to know we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture rather than know us by the way we reveal Scripture in our lives. Yes, we are orthodox!

I hope you realize that talk like this seems like nonsense to many in the orthodox community. Many think that exhorting believers to be more like Jesus instead of focusing on doctrines is an attack on God’s Word.

So we now have an aberration of the faith which can legitimately claim to be orthodox. Does that not seem like an oxymoron? And “orthodox aberration”. What kind of Christianity is that? I mean what kind of strange ecclesiastical animal is that? But unless you look more closely you have been hoodwinked. Let us proceed further into this confusing labyrinth in hopes of revealing the true essence of what it actually means to be “orthodox”.

Webster’s Dictionary:


: accepted as true or correct by most people : supporting or believing what most people think is true

: accepting and closely following the traditional beliefs and customs of a religion

Do you understand the implications of the word “orthodox”? If you look closely you will find that the word itself means that you believe what most people believe and you are following closely the traditions and customs of Christianity that have been established through many centuries. Now, is that what it means to follow Jesus? Are the ecclesiastical traditions of men and the customs and beliefs that have been handed down to us our template? Has all the meditation and praying and studying been already done for us? Does that mean if we nod in agreement with the traditional beliefs we can call ourselves orthodox? Yes, that is exactly what that means. But I suggest then that being orthodox is a significantly flawed and even diabolical moniker which strips us of the spiritual responsibility of searching the Scriptures for ourselves, bathing them in prayer, and setting out along a path that has been laid out by the Spirit rather than man.

So if we truly desire to follow Jesus we must escape the confines of orthodoxy and head to the freedom which searches and searches and searches some more until we see and understand who Jesus was, what He lived, what He taught, and then follow in His steps rather than handing in our doctrines like last night’s homework. You see, to be called orthodox is an embarrassing indictment. Let us desire to be called the “Followers of Jesus”. It is light years easier to be orthodox than it is to be followers of Jesus.

If we lay aside our precious doctrines, even all of them are true, for just a vulnerable moment then we might be able to see just how they have imprisoned us. Is it not a great deceptive feat when truth keeps us from seeing or even seeking deeper truth? Are we to study and embrace doctrines about Jesus or are we to hear Him and follow Him with all of our hearts? Is Jesus the Savior or is He also the Lord? And while we argue about Lordship salvation is Jesus the absolute Lord of everything we do and think? These are penetrating questions that should peal back all the many layers of traditions and culture that have encrusted the faith and made it the benign religious entity it has become.

Just a cursory reading of the Sermon on the Mount written in three chapters should reveal just how far we have strayed from following Jesus. We believe the narrative of the Sermon on the Mount is inspired; we believe every word of the Sermon on the Mount is inerrant; we believe the Sermon of the Mount was spoken by Jesus; we believe it was recorded by Matthew. Ok, good. But Someone desires to ask us a question.

And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

The church continues to have a self affirming romance with orthodoxy, but it continues to be a form of spiritual infidelity.
I realize that what I have written is unorthodox.
It was supposed to be.


Lorena said...

Thank you Rick, for this post, and for posting it when I think many Pastors would not give a thought to especially at this time of year.

That is how I was when I was saved, couldn't get enough of Jesus. I was reading and studying and searching and lost complete interest in everything else. I knew something had changed. I was just by myself with no other believers around. I was smiling even at people I didn't know and just happy. It was all very unlike me.

Personally, don't want anything to do with the "church world". I don't even believe in the 'creeds' and all that stuff. Couldn't repeat one if someone paid me to.

It is true that the Holy Spirit teaches you. I was able to understand things I never did before, like blinders being removed.

pjmiller said...

Good message brother. And amen.

Anonymous said...

I needed to hear this, and take it to heart. I knew deep deep in my heart that there were so different types of conversions and all didn't happen in a church; however, as soon, as a person would tell their story, similar to Rick's, to a pastor, they'd be told that they had to take other steps to seal the complete redemption, like baptism in water, Spirit, etc.

Each denomination, church, and doctrine, group, have a set manual of how-to's to get saved. It MUST be this or that way, it CAN'T be like that church down the road. We'll hear things like "they only go halfway towards being saved, they don't have ALL the truth", or "these ones preoccupy themselves with too much works", or "that denomination worship 3 gods" or "this denomination are cultish, as they regard the Godhead in a different way" and on and on. Some depend on John 3:15 and others on Acts 2:38. Some can be filled with God's precious Spirit to empower them to walk without an earthly shepherd leading them. Others can't live a christian life without a shepherd leading them. Some have a calling to be leaders, others have a calling to be instant in word and ready for one-on-one individuals. Some never engage with people, but have a special prayer gift where they can pray for the world, others can only pray for one hour, but have gifts that the Lord needs. Everyone in the Body of Christ are unique, fitting together as 'parts'.

Not everyone is an evangelist, or a prayer warrior (though we are all commanded to pray), but not all have a physical body that can endure hard labour prayer, or carry hard spiritual burdens - some can, and those that can't, may have the gift of the Martha's, who are usually given second-rate status by the Mary's. How many women want to be Mary's? All of them, mostly, because we can cut out the elbow-grease work. But, the Lord calls out the Martha's and they are just as relevant as the Mary's. The Martha's are hospitable, open their homes, feed, nurture, encourage people. They plant seeds, while the Mary's learn and get equipped to be available to answer questions and bring the lost to Jesus.

I don't have all the answers. But one thing I know, the confusion and clatter of denominational voices of 'touch not' or 'you are required to do this, or you don't get into heaven' stuff is so thick right now, that it is pushing unbelievers away. And some unbelievers enjoy watching different groups of christians argue and debate and disagree. And the Lord can save us all, through JESUS. And, no one has an excuse not to be saved. And no believer can say with 100% accuracy who is saved and who is not, when they don't even know a person or have lived in that person's shoes. One thing christians should not do, if I'm right or wrong correct me, but they should never be too sure. Only the Lord knows the deep recesses of the heart.


Anonymous said...

I was also saved in March of 1975. All I wanted was Jesus. What you say is so true and identify with it totally. Many years now in the wilderness and feeling alone. Others in the system thinking you are backslid and deceived. But how do you get to that first love status again? The world is so intrusive in so many more ways in this modern society which the sudden increase in knowledge no doubt is the enemy's plan to keep man deceived and the righteous man with a divided heart. We need God's grace so desperately!!

Lorena said...

Amen J.