Psalm 131 (That darn cat!)

Cat

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a child quieted at its mother’s breast;
like a child that is quieted is my soul.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and for evermore.

Perhaps more than any other Psalm in scripture (and yes, that includes Psalm 23) this has been my help in times of very grave trouble. Although we are given much truth in God’s Word that we can truly apprehend and lay hold of, it doesn’t change the fact that, ultimately, we only ever understand the very tiniest part of what God is doing in our lives at any one time. A man discovers whether he trusts his wife not when he can see what she is doing, but precisely when he can’t see her and has no idea what she is up to. And so it is with the Lord! Through more trials than I could ever recount, and over more years than I care to remember, the Lord has left me significantly and, sometimes, completely, in the dark, so I could learn to actually trust Him, as opposed to merely being able to quote the verses that tell me that I should.

And what this wonderful song from the pages of scripture has confirmed to me again and again is that not only do I not need to understand everything all the time, I can actually snuggle up in peaceful rest in the Lord’s arms and just leave it all to Him. It’s not very manly, I know – but then King David wasn’t exactly a wimp, and he wrote it – but I don’t want to have to just be facing up to this, that and the other all the time, I want to be able to rest in Jesus’ arms when I need to and just know how loved, and therefore safe, I am. But more than that, I want to be that kind of help and sense of safety to others too so they can feel they can snuggle up nice and safe and sound in me until they find out how to do so with the Lord. Paul the apostle wrote, “But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7), and the amazing thing is that in the Greek the language used is that of a mother breast-feeding her infant child. Man, that’s a tender-hearted thing for a guy to say, but Paul said it nevertheless, and I want to be able to say it as well.

So hey, not only is it OK when we need to just snuggle up in the Lord’s arms to find rest, it’s actually important that we become the kind of people whom others can ‘lean on’ for comfort and support in their times of trial. Paul also wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

And yes, the cat is still here…and yes, it’s very definitely a darn one!

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The Parable of the Soldier

One of the most powerful pictures of the importance of fellowship to be found in the Old Testament is in Exodus 17 when Israel is attacked by the Amalekites in the valley of Rephidim. Moses is sent by the Lord to the top of a cliff overlooking the battlefield, and basically what happens is that as long as he holds his rod up – a picture of faith in the Lord – Israel prevailed, but whenever he lets the rod down – a picture of unbelief – Amalek prevailed. So what happens next is that Aaron and Hur firstly find a rock for him to sit on – a picture of our rest in Christ – and then hold his arms up for him so his tiredness doesn’t prevent him doing what is necessary for a full victory over the enemy.

And of course what we have here is a clear picture of the fact that none of us can truly prevail in the Christian life unless others are helping and aiding us, just as others can’t prevail unless we are helping and aiding them. Without each other, without true, genuine, significant and actual fellowship with other believers, none of us can live in the victory over sin and the principalities and powers that the Lord has won for us. I cannot properly follow the Lord unless those with whom I am in close fellowship help me, just as they can never properly live the Christian life without my help.

The tragedy is, though, that there are many believers who, even though in ongoing fellowship, fail to truly step up to the plate in such regard, and leave others to engage in spiritual warfare whilst they stay nice and safe and sound in their comfort zones and spiritual laziness. “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion…” thunders the Old Testament (Amos 6:1), and we do well to pay attention to the ramifications of such a warning.

I am further struck by the incident in the Gospels when the disciples were in the boat and the Lord called Peter to get out of it and walk on the water to Him. And one can just imagine the other disciples, who stayed nice and safe and sound in the security of the boat, castigating him when he got back into it for having sunk when he took his eyes off the Lord. Yet Peter’s failure, of both nerve and faith, only came about as a direct result of his willingness to follow the Lord in a way the other disciples were not, and into dangers and difficulties they were not prepared to risk. We must, of course, be ever open to the correction, and even rebuke, of others, yet there is nevertheless a time when the legitimate response to such might well be, “I think the way I have stepped out of the boat and am following the Lord is better than the way you haven’t!”

There will always, sadly, be those believers who just sit back, doing pretty much nothing of spiritual worth, yet who are ever willing to point out the failures of those who at least try to go the whole hog in following the Lord; and I for one would rather be failing as a result of actually getting out of the boat and walking on the water with the Lord, as opposed to merely having the ‘success’ of those who just remain, nice and safe and sound and secure, in it, and who hit the target merely because they are aiming at pretty much nothing at all.

The sad fact is that, not only has Satan,spiritually speaking, immobilised those believers who won’t dive into the fray of truly serving the Lord, he is actually able to at times immobilise and damage even those who are in the battle precisely because they are not getting the support and help the lazy ones should be giving them. Had Aaron and Hur not found the rock for  Moses to sit on and then held his arms up, Amalek would have prevailed against Israel even though Moses was being as obedient and faithful as he possibly could.

Question: Do we truly have each others backs? Are we actually in the fray, or just sitting around like deadweight possibly even hindering those who are?

I have only once, I believe, been given a parable from the Lord to share, so here it is:

The Parable of the Soldier

During the war a Commanding Officer issued orders to a small group of soldiers to take a hill on which the enemy had placed heavy artillery. Upon receiving their instructions the small rag-tag band of soldiers looked at each other in disbelief. There was little doubt that what they being ordered to do was dangerous in the extreme; in fact, it was obvious to them that there was no way they could accomplish their mission without a significant chance of loss of life.

The situation weighed heavily on them as they discussed the dangers involved, and doubts and uncertainty crept in.

“This is suicide,” one of them finally said, “we haven’t got a chance!”

Silence took hold as, to a man, they realised how right he was.

“I didn’t come here to take stupid risks!” said another. “I’ve got a family and I want to see them again. No way am I going up that hill!”

And one by one they shared their reasons for not carrying out the order they had been given by their Commanding Officer.

But another of their number, one who had not yet spoken, protested that it wasn’t for them to be debating about whether or not they should obey their orders. He argued that they should just simply, and unquestioningly, do whatever it was they had been instructed to do. They were, after all, soldiers, and merely having received their orders ought to settle the matter, irrespective of the risks involved. He also drew their attention to the fact that their chances of successfully carrying out the mission, and surviving, increased precisely to the extent that they stuck together, fighting bravely at each other’s side, each doing their particular bit.

However, the others were not persuaded, and it became clear that this was one band of soldiers who were not going to obey the order they had received from their Commanding Officer.

“Then I have no choice but to take the hill alone,” he said. “I have a wife and children too, and a good life to return to, and I no more want to put myself at risk than the rest of you do; but I have my orders and must do what my Commanding Officer has told me.”

The others remonstrated with him, pointing out that it would be suicide for him to do what he was proposing, and that he would be crazy to try and take the hill on his own. But he was a good soldier who took seriously the fact that he was a man under authority, and that he should therefore obey every order; and thus he remained adamant. And because he remained adamant and obeyed the order they had been given by their Commanding Officer, albeit alone, he was also, within a few minutes, lying dead and bleeding, having made it just fifty yards towards the top of the hill before a hail of bullets found their lone and easy prey.

The others bowed their heads in a confusion of great sadness, but also relief. “We did warn him,” they lamented to each other. “It’s his own fault. We told him he didn’t have a chance, but he didn’t listen! If we’d have gone with him we’d be dead too! We surely made the right decision!”

“Unless…” one of them pondered, somewhat quietly, “…going with him might have made a difference? Perhaps if we had gone with hi  and obeyed orders too then he might not have died, and we would have taken the hill?”

“Best not to think about it!” replied the others. “We’re alive! That’s what counts!”

“I wonder how many men will die because we didn’t take out that artillery?” another thought to himself. But he didn’t dare voice it out loud!

They vanished into the night, grateful at having survived to fight another day!

(Hey, how about that? A short Blog post at last!)

That can’t be Kansas…surely!!!

Kansas

Bethany took this photograph as we flew over Kansas en route from Atlanta to Seattle, and it really is quite a sight. Because we at times both drive through it and fly over it, depending on where we are headed, I gotta tell you…it sure don’t look like that from the ground! It’s simply the fact that the higher you are raised up the different everything looks and the more surprising the view. (I wonder if you can see where I’m going with this!)

As believers we are raised up with Jesus in heavenly places, and it really doesn’t get any higher up than that. And I gotta tell you too…no matter how bad things look from where you’re at on the ground, they look a whole better, and hopeful, and make a whole lot more sense when looking down from Heaven, where the view takes in the whole story of what the Lord is doing, rather than just our totally limited ground-level view.

“In everything God works together for good for them that love Him and are called according to His purposes.” (Romans 8:28) In exactly the same way that you can’t see those Kansas circles when you’re on the ground, neither can you see the eternal good the Lord is working in your life as His child through the circumstances that, from our earthly perspective, seem to suggest that everything is going wrong. Trusting the Lord doesn’t mean you have to necessarily understand what He is doing, any more than standing in Kansas means you should know about those circles which are so ‘invisible’ from ground level; but the circles are still there, and the farmers still know all about them. Indeed, they put them there is the first place! All you need to know is that the Lord knows what He is doing; and in knowing merely that, without needing to know anything more, you will find great peace, rest and assurance.

That can’t be Kansas…surely!!! Ah, but it is!!! This mess life seems to be in can’t be the Lord working out His will in me…surely!!! Ah, but it is!!!

 

On Victory Over Sin!

Belinda, Bethany and I travel a lot and a good bit of it includes long haul flights. And of course those who have experienced such themselves will appreciate the sheer misery entailed. 10 hours trapped in scuzz-class (er, I mean…economy!) at the back of the plane, desperately trying to sleep in a seat with about as much legroom as your average broom cupboard, in a crowded cabin that’s as quiet and peaceful as having a vacuum cleaner strapped to each ear. We have twice been bumped up to Business Class over the years, and man, I gotta tell you, it’s like spending a whole day (or night) in an up-market restaurant! The fine-dining just keeps on coming, and the most strenuous thing you have to do is hold down the button on your seat long enough for it to recline into bed configuration so you can sleep off the last classy meal for a couple of hours in preparation for the next one. (It’s obviously not easy – but hey, someone’s got to do it, so why not me?)

As it happens we just a few days ago arrived in the States having endured yet another such flight (and no, we didn’t get bumped; and no, it’s not fair; and yes, I have repented of discontent!), and I am still aching, still tired and still grateful beyond words not to be in an airplane. The very best thing about flying, or at least in cattle-class (er, I mean economy!) is that at least you eventually get to disembark. And disembarking this particular flight was all the more welcome after a bit of a roller-coaster ride of a landing due to strong side winds and pretty severe turbulence. That the pilot had warned us in advance of all this was, of course, reassuring, so we at least knew weren’t actually crashing (which is what it felt like) but that didn’t stop it from being, to say the least, a bit unpleasant. But we eventually landed safe and sound, such being my personal definition of a great flight. (Can you imagine how frustrating it must be in Business Class if you thought you were going to crash before finishing the canapés and that rather special glass of red? Man, that would be rough! The inconveniences and difficulties all those poor rich people have to face!)

What the Lord has done for us

But of course I mention all this for purposes other than just trying to generate sympathy at having to fly cattle-class (though obviously feel free to sympathise all you like), and am always struck by what a wonderful picture flying gives us of what the Lord has done for us so that our sins can be not merely forgiven, but actually, to a significant (though not complete) degree, overcome. Think of it like this:

Our sinfulness is like the law of gravity being referred to in scripture as the law of sin and death. It is unwavering and ever present, and like the law of gravity there is absolutely nothing any of us can do to affect it, change it or get rid of it. Sin, like gravity, is simply there, and it works both on us and in us as surely as gravity ensures that if you jump out of a tree then, all things being equal, you will most certainly fall to the ground. Yet there is another law that comes into affect whenever momentum combines with upward thrust, whether because of the presence of wings or rocket propulsion, called the law of aerodynamics; and aerodynamics, as long as the necessary thrust is present, will always trump the law of gravity. In other words, when you have wings you can most surely fly.

What the Lord has done then is to give us wings so we can, spiritually speaking, fly. It’s like a caterpillar that has as much chance of overcoming gravity and flying as I have of being the next James Bond. Yet when it turns into a butterfly with wings, as it eventually does, it instead becomes subject to that higher law of aerodynamics and can fly. Likewise, when we turned to Jesus, His life was placed within us, and because of that, because of this new nature, we now have spiritual wings that, when presented with the necessary momentum, cause us to fly. As a bird overcomes the downward drag of the force of gravity, so believers can overcome likewise downward drag in their lives of the law of sin and death. In other words, the law of the life in Christ Jesus, as scripture calls it, supersedes the law of sin and death in our lives and victory over sin can hence become a reality. Wonderful indeed, yet not the whole story!

What happens though when a bird stops flapping its wings, or when an airplane runs out of fuel and therefore out of forward thrust? Yeah! That’s right! The law of gravity is quickly discovered to have not gone anywhere…and down you go! So it’s not that the law of aerodynamics does away with gravity, merely that it supersedes it to the extent that the necessary power (momentum and upward thrust) is present and active. So too with us and our sinfulness. Just because we know the Lord and have the new nature in His likeness doesn’t mean that our sinfulness has actually gone anywhere. One day we will be rid of it because it resides in our bodies, and we will eventually have glorified ones, but in the meantime, in this life, we remain wretched sinners.

The difference between before were saved and now isn’t, therefore, that we have stopped being sinners, but that we have also become saints and have been given our spiritual wings. But the moment we stop flapping those wings, the moment we lose the momentum and upward thrust of looking to Jesus and hanging on to Him for dear life, the moment we trust ourselves and not Him, then guess what! You got it! Gravity takes back over, so to speak, the law of sin and death exerts itself and our sinfulness, which, just like the law of gravity, is always there, becomes the controlling force in our lives rather than the Lord’s life in us.

And that’s the balance we must both understand and maintain. That’s why the New Testament refers to believers as saints far more than it ever refers to us as sinners, yet also makes clear (through, for example, John’s first letter) that any Christian who thinks they have no sin is merely deceiving themselves. It is also why Paul, in a letter he wrote to Timothy towards the end of his life, refers to himself, in the present tense, as being the chief of sinners! There are Christians who are lax when it comes to their sin, and there are Christians who, by way of contrast, think they are largely free of it. Both are, of course, in a truly sorry state. Perhaps not much needs to be said about those who are just knowingly lax regarding their sins, except that they are a complete disgrace and should be ashamed of themselves; but for those who are, admittedly, doubtless more zealous, yet believe themselves to be largely free of sin, I have this to say.

Any brother who thinks he doesn’t sin much needs to have an honest talk with his wife. Likewise for any sisters who feel the same concerning themselves! If they were to just give them the chance, their husbands would, I guarantee, soon put them right. It is simply the case that, when it comes to answering the question as to how we are doing in our walk with the Lord, self-assessment alone is next to useless. Our hearts are just too deceitful for any of us to trust our own judgment of ourselves, and of course it is primarily ourselves that our hearts are primarily deceiving. No, it’s folk other than ourselves who know whether we are truly in right relationship with the Lord or not, hence the need for ongoing significant fellowship with other believers who can hold us to account, as we likewise do for them.

What is salvation?

So hey, truth of the matter is that we really don’t ever need to sin, and we have no excuse when we do. That we clearly do still sin though scripture makes obvious, and confession and repentance should be both our daily duty and ongoing practice. But that doesn’t change the reality of what Jesus has done both for us and in us. In his letter to the Romans Paul confirms the reality in our lives of this terrible thing he calls the law of sin and death, but extols too the equal and opposite reality of what he calls the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus: and that, and that alone, is why we can know a real and true ongoing and progressive deliverance from the power of sin in our lives. Salvation is basically this:

  • We have been set free from the penalty of sin (Justification – our past salvation!)
  • We are being set free from the power of sin (Sanctification – our present salvation!)
  • We will one day be set free from the very presence of sin (Glorification – our future salvation!)

This should indeed make us want to love the Lord with our whole hearts, minds, bodies and strength. It should cause any who are lax concerning their sin to fall on their face in confession and repentance, and it should cause any who think they are doing well on the holiness front to stop assessing themselves by their own pitifully low standard and fall on their face and do likewise. As for me, my Christian life is the seemingly continual process of being wrestled back to the ground by the Lord as I stand up again and again in my own strength in pride and sinfulness.

If any of us have not yet come to that place then we should pray to the Lord that He might humble us and take us there. But if we are among those who consider that they have progressed beyond such a place, then we need to stop deceiving ourselves and get back to where we began our walk with the Lord in the first place, and where we should have never actually strayed from: that is, on our faces in repentance at the foot of the cross!

 

They Call Me Mister Biblical…but I don’t think it’s meant as a compliment!

When I came to know the Lord I very quickly knew from Him that the Bible was His written Word to mankind and therefore our absolute and final authority in all matters. This realisation was all the more powerful given that I was converted from a non-Christian background, having never even read it outside of the occasional Religious Education class at school. However, even knowing this I nevertheless hit big problems as I found myself to be in disagreement with what it taught regarding certain things. It was a dilemma I could have most certainly done without, but one that obviously needed to be resolved, and quite definitively too. And the resolution I came to, however reluctantly, was that concerning certain issues I found myself in disagreement with the very Lord God Who had saved me, and that I was therefore, by very definition, as much in the wrong as it is possible for anyone to be. I therefore, whilst still a young Christian, settled once and for all that, quite irrespective of what the issue might be, the Word of God was right and I was wrong, such being all there was to it. This was all the more remarkable, I think, given that, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise myself to have been an as arrogant and know-it-all a young man as had ever encountered the living God.

Imagine my perplexity then at discovering, over more years than I care to imagine, that a frighteningly large proportion of Christians I got to know either didn’t believe the Bible to be their absolute and final authority, or were just evading, getting round and explaining away whatever aspects of it’s teachings they didn’t like. Further, sharing my own settled approach of just accepting that scripture was right and everyone else was wrong got me labelled as being a divisive extremist, and I do mean by those who were genuine evangelical Bible believing Christians. That I initially shared my burden unwisely and with a certain lack of humility I do not doubt – I was just over midway through my teens when I came to know the Lord – but then that really shouldn’t have come as any great surprise to those with whom I tried to fellowship who were, both biologically and in the Lord, older and more mature than I was. After all, had none of them been proud and foolish when they were my age, or was I the only arrogant teenager who had ever lived? (Perhaps they had just forgotten what they were like when they were young!) Further, should not the dramatic conversion of a demonised hippy have been considered a good and exciting thing? Something to be positively thrilled about, in fact! Well, apparently not! At least not, it would appear, when he was asking questions no one wanted to answer, and especially when those questions concerned why the teaching of the Bible didn’t seem to be holding final sway.

Another of these ‘realisations’ I came to as a new Christian, which I obviously now believe to have been revelations from the Holy Spirit, was that one of the most important things believers should be doing was to stand firm on, clearly and especially, and propound and live out the teaching of scripture at precisely the points where the culture of the day was most in disobedience to it. And it was as clear as day to me that one of the areas Christians therefore needed to be the most exercised about was the whole area of sexual morality, the sanctity of marriage and God’s order for family life. (This was during the first half of the 70’s, so imagine how much more important this is now given how much worse things have become.)

It has to be understood though just how significant these revelations were given my background. Converted hippies are not known for their natural proclivity towards sexual purity, and had it been the case that the Bible endorsed free love then no one would have been more delighted than I. But it didn’t! And not only did it not endorse free love, it demanded the almost ridiculously (to my thinking) high standard of complete sexual abstinence outside of marriage. So because I had already settled in my mind that the Lord was right and I was wrong, I therefore, though somewhat reluctantly, accepted it. Likewise, I could see as clear as day in scripture that the sanctity of marriage was both unquestionable and inviolable, divorce – with, I understand, just a couple of rather extreme exceptions – being totally unacceptable. (I do not by this imply that those who have remarried wrongly should be considered pariahs. You can’t, after all, unscramble eggs. But what I do most positively imply is that Christians should be made subject to church discipline should they be planning to divorce and remarry illegitimately.) But I also saw quite specifically in scripture, and this is one of the things over which I have been getting into trouble with Christians ever since, that God’s order for family was that the husband was the head of the wife, wives being therefore commanded to submit to their husbands, with husbands and wives together being in authority over their children who should be raised to be both obedient and respectful.

And that, for a newly converted hippy from a liberal, socialistic, occult-practising non-Christian background, took some swallowing. But it was what the Bible clearly taught, and so I had to simply surrender to it in my thinking. And just to complete the picture here, no one was more against capital punishment than I was; and what did I discover from the scripture? That not only is the Lord in favour of capital punishment, it was His idea in the fist place, it being actually commanded in the case of murderers. In fact, in the early years of being a Christian there wasn’t much I didn’t have to change my mind about as I read the Bible, and there was much I found really, really hard to swallow. But of course I did! I’m a sinner whose thinking had, at that time, been completely wrong and ungodly my entire life.

My early years as a Christian were therefore decidedly tough. Not only did I have to struggle to conform my own life and thinking to scripture, I had to struggle with why other believers not only ignored whole areas of the Bible’s teachings, but also actively disapproved of me for not doing so. Rather than help and encourage me to grow in the Lord, which is what I obviously needed, they continuously put me down to being a divisive troublemaker and distanced themselves from me. I found myself in the ridiculous position of faithfully attending just about every meeting the church had (it was an Anglican church) even though just about everyone else present, and especially the priests, didn’t want me to be there. I knew it was right and biblical to be part of a church, but doing so in the face of being so unwanted by the church I trying to be part of was far from easy, even though I remained convinced it was right for me to continue attending.

But of course as the months passed things just got worse and worse because, as I read the Bible more and more, not only did I understand the whole thing about God’s order for family, I realised that virtually nothing of church life as it was normally experienced was based on scripture and couldn’t, in fact, have been further from it. I saw more and more clearly that a monolithic pattern existed, irrespective of which denomination, or even non-denominational churches, one had in view, that was massively different to what the New Testament taught concerning what churches ought to be like. I saw the contradiction between the New Testament practise of a having numerically small churches meeting informally in houses, without either clergy (or it’s equivalent) or ‘services’, the believers concerned sharing their lives together in a truly open and meaningful way. What I concluded was basically that, biblically speaking, church life was meant to emulate extended family life, and that churches, wherever I looked, and of whatever persuasion they were, were nothing of the kind, being rather mere religious institutional clubs. And of course this explains not only why I am not a feminist, but why I am also an advocate of house churches.

It explains too, though, why, although a house church guy, I further advocate what I call biblical churches, because even though a biblical church (by which I mean a church set up according to the New Testament, thereby replicating what we read in it’s pages) will be a house church, there is more to it than merely that. It is therefore the case that there can be house churches which are unbiblical in other important respects. Indeed, some of the most unbiblical practises and beliefs I have ever encountered have been amongst house church folk, and it underlines the importance of realising the importance of being comprehensively biblical, and not just picking and choosing which parts of scripture one enacts and which one just ignores and goes against.

I therefore, within a couple of years of coming to know the Lord, came to realise how completely at odds much of Christianity was with the teaching of scripture regarding some extremely important matters. Not only did I see Christians caving in left, right and centre to modern culture regarding divorce, feminism and family life in general, I realised that the entire edifice of church life, indeed, it’s very foundations, were other than that which the Bible teaches. I didn’t yet understand from whence all this false teaching concerning church life had come, but I did know more and more that I had to conform to scripture personally as much as possible.

It was also the case that in the first couple of years of me knowing the Lord quite a few folk became Christians as a result. My parents travelled a lot and would be away from home for months at a time, and in the summer of 1973 I had the place to myself. I had a strong conviction from the Lord that He wanted to use the house, but I wasn’t sure as to what for. I therefore got together with the very few number of local Christians who didn’t think I was a nutcase, and we met at the house one night for prayer. We surrendered ourselves to the Lord afresh and prayed that He would do whatever it was He was planning, and that we would be unconditionally available. And what happened was basically that, over the following few weeks, people spontaneously turned up, some not even knowing why they were there, and became Christians. Most came as the result of word of mouth, but there were also some who came who didn’t know any of us involved, and who quite literally had no idea why they came. That is, until they surrendered to the Lord.

Over a couple of months around 40 to 50 people came to know Him in that front room, most being in their late teens and twenties, with some needing demons casting out of them as well. It was a time of joy and amazement beyond words, and what was also so amazing was that although were sharing the Gospel verbally as needed, we were mostly just praying, with those turning up just joining in and spontaneously having a revelation of the Lord and His salvation. Far from us having to work at evangelising these folk, it was rather quite literally the case that we couldn’t stop them coming to the Lord. It was incredible, and I have obviously never forgotten it.

But of course it was also quite exceptional, and the Lord turned the tap off some weeks later as definitely as He had originally turned it on. New people stopped turning up and the conversions ceased. The outpouring of the Spirit, as it had most surely been, was over, and I have never experienced anything like it since. What wasn’t over, however, was the task of looking after and nurturing these folk who were new converts, and to that task I turned my attention, having really no clue as to how to proceed. We met often for prayer and I would do Bible studies too, this being how I discovered that I could teach in a way that people told me was helpful to them. I also found that I could help people with their personal problems, and sort of just knew the best advice to give. Again, people told me over and over that this was a help to them, and I found that the Holy Spirit would lead me clearly in these, and other, regards.

My biggest mistake, however – though made for all the right reasons – was to try and integrate these folk into the church I was attending so they could be part of it as well. We started meeting together on Friday nights in a hall for worship, sharing together and doing Bible study (I knew the church wouldn’t provide such for them) but thought that an influx of new converts might change people’s attitudes in the church and bless them. I couldn’t, however, have been more wrong. It was a complete waste of time and resulted in us being considered, no doubt as a result of people having been freed from evil spirits (as I had been when I became a Christian), to be occultists. Some in the church managed to be a bit more gracious and even tried to help here and there, but with the leadership so set against us they never really had a chance. So even though I continued to attend the church myself I gave up on further attempts at integration, and continued to meet with the new converts completely outside of it.

Basically, though I didn’t quite see it in these terms at the time, a new church had come into being that was looking to myself, and one or two others, for leadership, though I was the only one able to publicly teach. Thus I discovered my calling, it being proven and confirmed to me through others saying it had been proven and confirmed to them also. That gathering of those young saints continued for another three years, even though I was gone from the area after just one, and it remains to this day the proving ground of the calling that has become my very life ever since. As a direct result the Lord showed me that scripture, and not the Christian Church, must be the authority upon which I act, and that the future lay not in trying to change something which is ultimately unchangeable, but in bringing onto being something quite new – though like any return to scripture, something actually two thousand years old – that is, biblical family and church life. It was basically the realisation that the burden the Lord was placing on me was to teach the whole counsel of God, as opposed to just some of it, but specifically emphasising and practising precisely those aspects that believers were ignoring and trying to avoid.

I am therefore not only somewhat obsessed with the notion of being biblical in every possible way, such being the only way to gauge our obedience to the Lord, I am perfectly happy to be so. It doesn’t, of course, mean I always get it right, and neither do I for one moment think I am myself comprehensively biblical in every regard. Of course not! No one has a monopoly on biblical truth, and least of all me! But it is nonetheless my deliberate intention to aim for such, irrespective of with whom I end up in trouble as a result, or how unpopular it makes me. In the late seventies I had a good friendship with a guy who was both a Baptist Minister and the eventual President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Though traditional church leaders have obviously never much cared for me, there have been some notable, delightful and greatly appreciated exceptions, and Peter was one of them. He never became convinced of what he would regard as my more radical biblical positions, but he respected me as a young man of God equally as much as I respected him as an older one. There were two occasions when he asked me direct questions to which he wanted an honest answer. The first was when he asked me what I thought my calling was. My reply was simple: to teach the whole counsel of God, but with special emphasis on the parts no one else seemed to be teaching. The second question was asked, if memory serves me correctly, whist he was President of the Union, and it was what I thought the Baptist Union of Great Britain needed to do in order to become biblical. I replied that it should dissolve itself and cease to exist, sell all its buildings and assets and give the money to the poor and bona fide biblically based ministries, and to advise all its affiliated Baptist Churches to do likewise, and for those who attend them to stop being Baptists and just form themselves into a gazillion little biblically based churches meeting in each others homes. He obviously didn’t agree, but he did smile when I said it. But far from being the condescending smile of a big leader pitying a mere un-ordained layman for his sad delusion (he was far too much of a godly and humble man to be so obnoxious) it was a smile of respectful recognition that it was what I truly believe from scripture, and to which I was living accordingly. (Though I have never made much reference to it, I was once head hunted by the Baptist Union to be a Pastor. However, even though both the public profile and money would have been substantial, I nevertheless declined the offer because my conscience would not allow me to so blatantly depart from what I knew to be the teaching of scripture.)

Without a doubt, if there is one thing that four decades of fulfilling my calling has taught me it is that the closer you stick to scripture in teaching and practise the more you will become a target for those Christians who are convicted by the Holy Spirit as a result. The very last thing that believers who aren’t living according to scripture want is to be bothered by those who are, and there is little they won’t do in order to try and silence them. Whether concerning church life, God’s order for family or anything else, whenever there is a choice to be made between going by the Bible or what other people think of you, then it is obedience to scripture that should win out every time. Why? Because obedience to scripture is obedience to the Lord Himself!

I have therefore come under fire many times from Christians over the years, and from church leaders in particular, regarding such issues as church life, Christian leadership, the sanctity of marriage, God ‘s order for family and the necessity of comprehensive obedience to scripture. And what these folks criticism of me actually boils down to, once you get past all the smoke screens, misrepresentations, slander and character assassination, is that they consider me to be far too biblical in my thinking and that I don’t make sufficient concessions to the so-called ‘realities’ of modern life and culture. It is basically that I make the text of scripture, and not pragmatic considerations, the final authority. Or to put it another way, I insist that Christians go by scripture even when the consequences of doing so are unthinkable to them.

The biblical definition of the sin of license is the failure to require from each other as much as scripture does, and the biblical definition of the (equal and opposite) error of legalism is to require of each other more than scripture does. The problem one is therefore up against here is licentiousness, but of course those who are licentious in their thinking define legalism not as the Bible does, that is, requiring more than scripture does, but rather as merely requiring of each other everything that scripture does. Their favourite verse is 2 Corinthians 3v6 where Paul teaches a distinction between the letter and the Spirit, saying that the letter kills whilst the Spirit gives life. The context, however, is a direct comparison between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant pertaining to salvation, but those who teach license, in whatever form, say it rather means there are times when we can ignore certain aspects of scripture should the Holy Spirit lead otherwise.

But of course this is precisely the core deception that so many Christians are under today, the idea that the Holy Spirit sometimes leads contrary to the Bible. If, however, such is the case, then there is ultimately nothing anyone could say is biblically wrong, because on what basis could anyone be challenged should they be claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit? After all, if the Holy Spirit is leading you then you must be right, and anyone who challenges you must be wrong! But if such is the case, then on what basis can any Christian identify anything as being a deception? Well, only by conformity to scripture – and so we come around full circle. Licentious Christians obviously accept that Satan can deceive them, and accept too that scripture is the key to our safety, but the problem is that they consider it to be up to them to decide, purely subjectively, which bits of scripture are binding and which bits aren’t, thus providing them with no protection at all. Whether it’s women being ‘led by the Spirit’ into church leadership, though scripture forbids such, or people being ‘led by the Spirit’ to divorce and remarry in circumstances which scripture teaches are invalid, there is no protection to be had against such deceptions because these believers precisely discount the scriptures that pertain to these things, claiming that the Holy Spirit is leading them otherwise

It is therefore understandable that various segments of the Christian spectrum would find what I teach unpalatable. Whether it be the Evangelical Feminists, the libertarian pragmatists who downgrade the Bible’s teachings, or those who defend the unbiblical church structures, traditions and practices of mainstream Christianity, how could they be anything other than uncomfortable with someone who challenges these things on the pure basis of the teaching of scripture. Further, due to the fact that I am unapologetically baptised with the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues and believe in and minister the gifts of the Spirit, I am somewhat frowned on too by those who teach that such was only for the New Testament era. Yet ironically, because I also deplore the truckload of unbiblical false teachings, practises and so-called ‘ministries’ that abound concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I am also a thorn in the side of charismatic and Pentecostal type Christians. Both the so-called ‘charismatic movement’ and ‘Pentecostalism’ in general is comprised of far more error than it is biblical truth, and I have always seen it as a priority to help believers embrace the Spirit-filled life, and to experience of the spiritual gifts biblically without all the nonsense. So hey, for these, and other, reasons they call me Mister Biblical…but I don’t think they mean it as a compliment!

In more recent years, however, I have been targeted regarding my insistence of being fully biblical in all matters by some who not only claim adhere to the same high view of scripture that I do, but who would also broadly agree with my understanding of biblical church life in general. Indeed, an article appeared and circulated some time ago from precisely these quarters entitled, ‘When Biblical is Bad’, and everyone who knew both myself and the author knew also that, even though my name didn’t actually appear, it was nonetheless written with me in mind.

Now if I taught that we must be biblical in all things and that I alone know what that is, then such condemnation would obviously be fully in order. But of course, not only have I never taught any such thing, the author of the article in question knows full well that I haven’t, and that I have actually always laid great emphasis in my teaching on the fact that no one should accept anything I teach passively, or anything anyone else teaches either, but must test everything for themselves, and to their own satisfaction, against scripture. Indeed, one of the definitions I used of my Christian life is that it is the ongoing process of discovering what I am wrong about, and anyone who has any firsthand knowledge of me at all will readily confirm such as being the case.

So given that my unstinting emphasis is that we should be biblical in all things, and that scripture alone is our final authority, and that neither I nor anyone else has a monopoly on that truth, why on earth should anyone who also believes that scripture is the final authority be accusing me of being wrong for teaching such an emphasis? After all, my mantra is, ‘The Bible, the Whole Bible and Nothing But the Bible!’ so why on earth would any conservative evangelical Bible-believing Christian have a problem with that? Well, the answer is, I think, that there are those who say they believe that the Bible is the final authority, but who actually, without even fully realising it, have other ‘authorities’ that conflict with it, but which are only brought out into the light and exposed when someone dares to suggest that they are actually there.

We have to realise that when we say that the Word of God is our final authority the statement only makes full sense when we also identify whatever things might lay claim to the same status. To say, for instance, that the Bible, and not the Pope, is our final authority is something to which every Protestant believer will give a hearty amen; but if one teaches, as I have done for many years, that systematic theology and theological systems can become to Protestants what Popery is to Catholics, then suddenly the atmosphere changes. To say that scripture is the final authority is a perfectly acceptable statement to many Christians who will then get defensive beyond words at any suggestion that their theological systems might just be more authoritative in their eyes than scripture itself, or that they stand in danger of testing scripture by their theological system as opposed to the other way round. In other words, reading the Bible through the pre-suppositional grid of a theological system, as opposed to testing any theological system such as one adheres to against the touchstone of scripture, is actually a sure-fire way for the devil to replace the bondage of the Catholicism that the Reformation delivered us from with a less obvious, but equally damaging, deception. To replace the authority of the church with the authority of theological systems, creeds or statements of faith is to merely exchange deceptions and to precisely undo a big part of what the Lord did through the period of history we refer to as the Reformation.

Christians who understand the importance and function of scripture and its authority in all matters are rightly saddened at Christians who don’t understand this, and who subsequently end up just going by whatever their preferred ‘teacher’ or ‘prophet’ says, and woe betide anyone who gainsays them. Yet the truth of the matter is that many Christians who do understand the authority of scripture make exactly the same mistake, but just with teachers who are long dead. Whether it be Augustine and the Early Church Fathers, or a Luther or Calvin, one is almost made to feel that to question the teachings of such men, let alone point out their many serious doctrinal errors in order that we might learn from them, is like questioning scripture itself, and to be made to feel one is being, almost by definition, pretentious and arrogant. How dare, it would seem, we presume to question them?

I have even heard it taught by some who say they believe in the final authority of scripture that we can only properly understand it as we submit to the consensus of church history. So I have to ask: what is the difference between the authority of church tradition as taught by the Catholic Church and the notion of the authority of the consensus of church history when embraced by Protestants? Answer: not a lot! And of course one has to also immediately ask; which version of the consensus of church history are you meaning? Is it the Catholic one or the Calvinist one? Or do you mean, maybe, the Arminian one, or perhaps even the Anabaptist one? The idea is irrational in the extreme, just as is Catholicism’s doctrine of the authority of the tradition of the Church, and it ultimately just boils down the ‘experts’ telling the ‘non-experts’ what to believe and what not to believe. Result: the authority of the Bible is replaced with the authority of ‘experts’ telling you what it teaches.

And so I think I understand why I am in trouble even with these folk. That there is much to be learned from ‘great’ teachers and figures of the past, and from church history itself, is not in dispute. Of course not! What is in dispute though is any idea of such having authority. They don’t! I say again, that there is much to be learned from all this is not in dispute, but it must be only to the extent that we test everything by scripture and reject anything that is not consistent with it. Scripture is our final authority because it alone is the infallible revealed Word of God. In contrast, church history can be learned from, but must never be thought to be authoritative. So too with the ‘great’ figures of the past, though it does have to be said there is an enormous problem regarding such in that Christians don’t actually agree who are the goodies, and baddies, actually are. I know godly and highly intelligent and biblically literate believers who think, for example, that Luther and Calvin are the among the most important and godly Christian figures in church history, whilst others, who are equally as godly, intelligent and biblically literate, think them a blot on the Christian landscape. So too with Augustine! Was he the godliest man to have lived since Paul the Apostle, or was he the most dangerous heretic church history has ever produced? Again, you will find godly men and women, equally intelligent and biblically literate, answering that question oppositely. Personally, I think they were all bit of both, but the point to grasp here is that none of this is as straightforward as some would have you believe. I can understand why there are believers who mix up whatever theological system they hold to with the authority of scripture; after all, they believe their system to be the actual and definitive explanation of what the Bible teaches. But then who needs the Bible? If you have a definitive explanation of it, then it is obviously far simpler for me to comprehend that than scripture itself. The ‘experts’ have done my thinking for me, and surely they know best.

But of course there’s yet another problem here because there are multiple such theological systems, and guess what, they all conflict with each other. And if they all conflict with each other, then they can’t all be right, can they? So are they all wrong, or is one actually right? But if so, how would we know which it is? Is it Augustinianism, Calvinism, Arminianism, Dispensationalism, or one of their infinite variations? How do we know what is right or wrong in such regard? Answer: by testing them against scripture! And so we come full circle! Scripture alone is our final authority, and to claim there is authority in anything else is not just an error biblically speaking, it is nonsense. It is sheer folly and nothing less! (Let me put in here as well that there are many believers in various parts of the world who have never even heard of such a thing as a theological system, yet who seem to be doing just fine in the Lord with just their Bibles. Indeed, I would even say that many of them are doing massively better than those who think their theological systems to be so important and who cling to them so insecurely. The basic problem, I have found, with theological systems in general is that they just won’t let what the Bible teaches get in the way of a good doctrine.)

So do we need input from varying sources in order to better understand scripture? Of course we do! We need to benefit from Bible teachers both dead an alive, and from the genuine experts, who know, translate and explain the original Bible languages, and who do the technical Bible history and stuff. Indeed, we thank the Lord for them, every one! But it is ultimately scripture that we go by, testing everything and everyone else by it. Theological systems, for all their shortcomings, can obviously also be useful as teaching aids, each bringing differing but valuable insights into biblical truth. But just as with Bible teachers, ‘experts’ and church history, all must be tested by scripture, and not the other way round. And if you do you will find that those who have been deceived into thinking that there is a definitive theological system of biblical truth – the one they personally adhere to, of course – will think that you adhere to no theological system at all, when the truth is that you are actually a pick-and-mix synthesis of the best of them all. Or to put it another way, every existing theological system is partly right and partly wrong. They are all partly biblical and partly unbiblical. So how can you know? By testing everything against scripture for yourself. Let me summarize:

Scripture is the final authority, not the Early Church Fathers!

Scripture is the final authority, not Augustine of Hippo!

Scripture is the final authority, not church history!

Scripture is the final authority, not the Catholic Church!

Scripture is the final authority, not the Pope!

Scripture is the final authority, not Martin Luther!

Scripture is the final authority, not John Calvin! (Arguably the first Protestant Pope!)

Scripture is the final authority, not Jacob Arminius! (Arminius was a nicer, kindlier, more gracious, more loving and far godlier and Christ-like man than John Calvin ever was! Even his enemies testified to his tolerance, forbearance and respect towards all. In contrast, however, Calvin’s enemies, or at least those he managed to catch, were forced into exile, imprisoned, tortured or executed.)

Scripture is the final authority, not creeds!

Scripture is the final authority, not statements of faith!

Scripture is the final authority, and not anyone or anything else.

And so I rest my case! Irrespective of my critics, whichever theological wing, or lack of it, they may come from, I remain steadfast in my assertion that our final authority in all matters is scripture alone, and not what anyone says concerning it. Or to use what has virtually become my catchphrase, we must live according to the teaching of the Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible!

Let me sum up thus: the Beatles once sang Chuck Berry’s song, “Rollover Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.” Neither Chuck Berry, nor the Beatles, I think, meant any disrespect to those two great composers, but were simply announcing that something new and different was now coming alongside. In a similar vein I say: Roll over Augustine, and tell John Calvin the news.

Yes, they call me Mister Biblical…but I don’t think they mean it as a compliment!

 

 

A Question of Balance

Balance is everything – and if you don’t believe me just drink too much alcohol and then try to walk somewhere! Or even better, try riding a bike! It’s obvious really, isn’t it? (Not that I have ever done so myself, of course! Or at least, not for a great many years!) Yet many Christians fail to realize the importance of applying this principle in a spiritual sense aiming constantly to be a balanced disciple. Indeed, there are things concerning which believers are, as drunk men do, so to speak, falling down all over the place. And one of the most important – outside of stuff like being balanced husbands, wives, parents and the like – is being balanced in regard to our relationship to the Word of God. You can fall off a log two ends, and in exactly the same way there are mostly two equal yet opposite errors regarding varying biblical truths. We will look at two areas of biblical understanding where such errors are common, the aim being simply to do everything we can in order to get the balance right.

Example Number One: The Twin Errors of Doctrinalism and A-Doctrinalism

The Error of Doctrinalism

I am doubtless not alone in having come across Christians who, though rightly believing scripture to be our final authority in all matters, seem to live their lives as if discipleship was merely a matter of ascertaining what scripture teaches about various things, and then just outwardly adhering to what it says it as if it were just some kind of religious system of objective ethics that we should be enacting. I do not suggest for one moment that such folk are not genuine believers, of course not, but they do seem to go about things as if apprehending the teaching of scripture was a purely academic and intellectual affair, rather than the means by which we can get to know Jesus better and better both personally and subjectively.

One of the things the Lord was keen to make clear to people concerning His written Word was that, as well as being true, accurate, and infallible, and all that stuff, it was also the means by which people can come to know and experience Him. Or to put it another way, it’s all about Him and not just doctrine. Biblical truth is the means, but the ‘ends’ is coming to know Him more and more – and it is the ‘ends’ that matters here and not the actual means. The moment you make the ‘means’ of the scriptures more important than the ‘ends’ of an ongoing ever-deepening subjective relationship with Jesus, you have pulled out the rug from under the true faith and ended up with little more than merely a doctrinal and religious system. What you then have is no longer true biblical Christianity, but rather what I have come to term mere Doctrianity.

As long as our perception of biblical truth is that of academic intellectualist understanding and theological systems, we are falling short, or, rather, falling off the spiritual log. Let me sum up the totality of Christianity, biblical theology and doctrine in just one word: Him! And if you add anything else to that, or think for but one moment that there is anything more to the above than simply Jesus Himself, then you err. The scriptures indeed lead us to Him, and are simply a ‘means’ – though the primary ‘means’, to be sure – of being able to know Him more and more; but when it becomes just about scripture, then it is no longer about totally Him, and Him only, and we, however unwittingly, drift away from Him.

Doctrinalism is indeed an error, and a very serious one too. It is also deeply subtle, because it is the way in which Satan deceives and distracts those who are, absolutely properly and correctly, serious about scripture. And of course it is obviously those of us who precisely do take scripture seriously who are the greatest threat to him, and who therefore most need to be neutralized.

We turn now, however, to the equal, yet opposite, error into which have fallen those Christians who, by way of contrast, fail to be as serious about the teaching of scripture as they ought.

The Error of A-Doctrinalism

Now by this I mean the attitude which creates a false dichotomy between the Bible and a relationship with the Lord, and which inevitably results in the rejection of whatever biblical teachings don’t suit one. Or, to put it another way, the emphasis is on a subjective and personal relationship with Jesus as opposed to being tied down by the any verses such as one doesn’t like in the Bible.

The reason this is an error, and an extremely serious one as well, is its failure to realize that even though we are believers, we are still massively prone to deception by the enemy. Indeed, as Jeremiah points out, our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and we are therefore incapable in this life of having any kind of ‘hotline to God.’ Therefore, as long as deception is such a distinct possibility: indeed, such a distinct probability, our greatest need is for an objective and definitive declaration of what is and what isn’t God’s will, written down in black and white in plain English for all to access. We have it, of course; and it’s called the Bible. And it’s pertinent in the extreme to take note of the simple fact that the one thing Christians are warned against in the New Testament more than any one other thing is precisely the danger of false teaching and deception.

There is therefore only one ultimate test as to whether or not any idea, doctrine, understanding, personal leading or guidance is of the Lord, or a deception of the enemy, and that is by the test of conformity to scripture. The Holy Spirit wrote the Bible, albeit through the numerous third parties whom He inspired and, being also the Spirit of Truth, will never contradict Himself, or lead and guide anyone in any way contrary to what has been revealed through what He has written. And whenever we have ideas and notions that are in any way contrary to biblical teaching, then the principle is simply this: the Bible is right and I am/you are wrong! That is simply the end of the matter and all there is to it!

This is why, for instance, no matter how convinced people are concerning it, the Lord is not raising women up into church leadership. This is why also, irrespective of whatever ‘leading’ or ‘guidance’ is being claimed, the Lord is neither leading people who have been un-biblically, and, therefore, illegitimately, divorced to re-marry. This is further why no believer ever has been, or ever will be, led by God to marry an unbeliever, even though there are deceived Christians who will argue black-is-white that the Lord leads some of His people to do all these things. The principle by which we must live and order every aspect of our discipleship is so simple it’s beautiful: anything that goes against the teaching of scripture is, by definition, wrong, and is being instigated by deceiving spirits and not the Lord.

In our modern feministic, family unfriendly and relationship commitment-loathe culture, many Christians are selling out to like never before, and doing everything they can in an effort to make Christianity more palatable to everyone. Well, I gotta tell you, what scripture teaches never has been, nor ever will be, palatable to unregenerate sinners. But to those who truly love the Lord, and who realize that loving Him equates to being obedient to Him, and therefore obedience to His Word (there is, after all, no other way to know what He wants), what it teaches is pure delight. I am delighted, for instance, that when I became a believer the Word of God showed me that feminism was wrong. I am delighted that it showed me that marriage is for life, and that nothing is more sacred than godly family life, and God’s patriarchal order for it.

We are all unbalanced in different ways, and one of the reasons we need both scripture and other brothers and sisters to be accountably learning from it with, is that none of us can be trusted to go it alone. Indeed, the very basis of church life is for all to take part in church gatherings and for all to share together, plus for decision-making to be collective and consensual; and this is so precisely because no one person can ever be balanced enough, and therefore trustworthy enough, to get things right on their own. We need each other precisely in order to be constantly balancing each other up.

As yet-sinful individuals we are prone to every imbalance and error under the sun, and so are we corporately as churches too. Our only hope is to constantly look to Jesus, embracing the fact that discipleship is about Him, and Him alone, and that the only way we can know what He wants is ultimately through the teaching of scripture. He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14v15) It really is that simple. To say we love Jesus and to then not obey Him is a contradiction, and I think we would all agree with that; but many believers get round it by precisely setting up the false dichotomy we have already noted of it being either Jesus or the letter of scripture. They disobey Him by, ironically, claiming that He is actually leading them to do so. What utter nonsense! What scandalous nonsense too! The only way we can know anything of what the Lord wants is through the teaching of scripture, written by Him. It is our final authority in all matters, and if something does not conform to it, then it is a deception and therefore wrong, pure and simple.

Rather like election and free will (for a fuller examination of the balance between these two strands of biblical teaching see my video series, “Embracing Biblical Truth Biblically” at http://www.house-church.org/movies_main.htm), this is strictly a both-and situation, with the errors we have examined arising when believers try to make it an either-or one instead. My prayer is that Doctrinalists come to know the Lord in a genuinely personal way, and that the A-Doctrinalists stop messing about and start getting serious about being in obedience to what the Bible teaches in it’s entirety. In Acts Paul told the Ephesians that he had taught them ‘the whole counsel of God’ and it is time that we did likewise, and stopped picking and choosing which bits of the Bible we like and which we don’t. To be unbalanced is, by very definition, to be indeed heading for a fall.

Example Number Two: The Twin Errors of Legalism and License

I think it’s pretty much the case that most Christians are aware of these two errors, and that they are actually erroneous, but there is so much confusion about what each one actually is that we would do well to put on our thinking caps and really get it sorted out in our minds once and for all. You see, the thing that so often goes wrong here is that you just end up with legalistic Christians pitching into licentious ones without realizing that what they are doing is coming out of their legalism, whilst licentious Christians pitch into legalistic ones without realizing that they are reacting from their position of licentiousness. Indeed, it’s further the case that Christians who are actually biblically balanced get labeled by legalistic ones as being licentious concerning certain things, and by licentious Christians, to be legalistic concerning others. (Let me make clear that I am not here using the word licentiousness in regards to it’s primary meaning of sexual immorality, but in its secondary sense of people claiming a license; that is, the freedom, to go against the teaching of scripture.)

The Error of Legalism

I will define legalism thus: the error of legalism occurs when Christians demand more of, and from, each other than does scripture, failing to limit demands and requirements to the terms and conditions of the New Covenant. Whether it be the imposition of things specific to the Mosaic Law, or things completely outside of specific scriptural purview, legalism seeks to put restraints and limitations on people that the New Covenant does not. This error usually falls into two categories.

Firstly, it needs to be realized that the Mosaic Law and all of its requirements applied to Israel as a nation, and not to anyone else. Moreover, even Jews are now free from it, it having passed away as a result of Jesus’ death on the cross, being both superseded and replaced by the New Covenant, as revealed primarily in the New Testament. Therefore, such things as tithing, Sabbath keeping, sacred places and/or buildings etc have no place in the New Covenant. They therefore have no part in either individual or church life, being excluded from the New Covenant and replaced by entirely different requirements, terms and conditions.

Secondly, requirements that are not dealt with in scripture, and concerning which there is a complete absence of chapter and verse, are to be seen as purely matters for the conscience of each individual, and not, as legalism does, made either compulsory or forbidden. I include here such things as watching TV, playing games, participating in sports, home schooling, plus a gazillion other things. Paul deals with this quite clearly in Romans 14, and if there is no chapter and verse mandate, either commanding or forbidding a particular thing, then whatever that thing might be, it is entirely an individual matter and must never be made an issue for enforcement. Simply put, if there is no clear chapter and verse commanding something, it must never be made mandatory, and if there is there is no clear chapter and verse prohibiting something, then it must never be forbidden. Therefore, anything that clearly falls under the banner of black-and-white chapter and verse, such things, for instance, as stealing, lying or drunkenness, are to be forbidden, and believers are to hold each accountable pertaining to such, whilst anything where there is not such black-and-white chapter and verse is to be left a matter for individual conscience, others having no right to pronounce disciplinary judgment concerning it. It is obviously valid that we are free to disagree with each other regarding such things, and to debate them, but only as long as it is in love and mutual tolerance, and as long as we never break fellowship concerning them.

Legalistic Christians, therefore, are those who seek to make mandatory such things as scripture does not, for example, Sabbath-keeping or tithing, or who seek to forbid such things as scripture does not, such as, for instance, playing games, dancing, doing sport, sending their children to school, or anything else not clearly specified in the New Covenant.

The Error of Licentiousness

It should be easy for the reader to now see why legalism and licentiousness are always at war with one another, being polar opposites plus the positions of believers who are, merely as people, let alone as Christians, the opposite ends of each others spectrum. But having seen the error of the legalists, we now turn to the equal and opposite error licentiousness: and if it is the case that legalism demands more than does scripture, then licentiousness is the equal and opposite failure of Christians to demand from each other as much as scripture does. Thus do we have the worldly and carnal compromising Chrisians, the Lord’s fair-weather disciples who buck against the comprehensiveness of holy living, and who want things to be other than as are taught by scripture, being soft not only on their own sinfulness, but also wanting to friends with the world and to be at peace with their surrounding culture by putting mere human philosophy above God’s Word.

Here are the Evangelical Feminists, plus the divorced church leaders who lack the integrity to have stepped down from their role as a result. Here too are those believers lax concerning sexual morality, and who are cool with Christian marriages ending without biblical warrant and with bestowing the freedom for those so doing to just go ahead and have a second or third crack of the whip once the latest divorce proceedings have been completed. Here are the Christians who tolerate other Christians marrying unbelievers, and who are both terrified and disapproving of even the mere mention of accountability and church discipline. To them, those of us who are serious about scripture, by which I mean those who are so in the balanced way we are arguing for, are considered too extreme, divisive and troublesome. But of course! You see, they think we are dangerous legalists!

Not for them Paul’s ‘difficult’ verses about women not being permitted to teach or be church leaders, or about husbands being the heads of their families, or those irksome words from Jesus about illegitimate re-marriage being adultery. Oh no! That’s just all too extreme! It’s apparently not loving or tolerant enough, even though what the Lord Himself actually believes. Whether in their seeker-friendly evangelism or their fellowship and Bible study together, repentance is virtually never mentioned; unless, of course, it is the need for people like me to repent of our alleged legalism. I have, for instance, heard and read countless examples over the years of genuinely Christian Bible teachers who, whilst completely ignoring the verses concerning women being in submission to their husbands, and not being allowed to teach or have authority over men, castigate those who actually believe and obey what Paul wrote, condemning them outright as bigoted chauvinists and oppressors of women, and duly demanding their repentance. Crumbs! Do they seriously believe that people like me are going repent of actually believing and obeying what scripture teaches? Just what kind of nonsense is this that we are up against today?

Such Christians are licentious because they turn the freedom we have in Christ into the liberty and license of being free to disobey scripture, and to sin, whilst yet claiming to be in obedience to the Lord. The love of God is virtually all they talk about, whilst His anger against sin and disobedience, including the unrepentant sins of His people, is never mentioned. These folk would never home in on, for instance, the third chapter that James wrote, because it depicts the wrong kind of ‘God’ for them and is just all too negative and legalistic. Theirs is a ‘god’ who just loves everyone to bits, and who and is cool with just about anything and everything; and anyone who teaches to the contrary, even though actually quoting chapter and verse from scripture itself, is said to be unloving and judgmental. But of course they are! You have to understand, you see, that to quote chapter and verse, should it be one of those chapters and verses they don’t like, is what they define legalism as actually being. When a verse says something they like, then they happily claim the authority of scripture for themselves, but when it’s a verse that says they don’t like so much, and that they don’t approve of, such as women not being allowed to teach, then it’s apparently just ‘the letter of the law’ and not the Spirit, so they don’t have to comply because the Lord is leading them in other ways. And of course the verse in question here (2 Corinthians 3v6) and has become what I term the So-Called Biblical Charter of Christian Licentiousness, and is, of course, being completely twisted. The context in which Paul makes the contrast between the ‘letter’ killing and ‘the Spirit’ giving life is not various written words of scripture versus the leading of the Holy Spirit, but the Old Mosaic Covenant versus the New Covenant. Paul isn’t teaching a (completely false) dichotomy of between either scripture or God’s leading, but is contrasting the fact that whereas the Mosaic law can only condemn one for being sinful, the New Covenant, due to the death of Jesus, and through the agency of the Holy Spirit is granting us spiritual rebirth when we repent of our sins and believe on the Lord.

So there you have it, the equal and opposite errors of legalism and license. And let’s not have any nonsense either with debates concerning which one is least serious and the error that least matters. You might as well ask if stealing is better than lying, or whether fornication is all right because it’s not adultery. When we have two options for error in front of us the response is simple; we reject both. I spend quite a lot of time in aeroplanes, and in particular at 37,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, and they all have two wings from which, theoretically, I could choose to hang. But hey, guess what? Yes, you got it! I invariably settle for a nice warm safe seat at the centre of the plane in the fuselage. Remember, you can fall off a log two ends, but how much better to just hang on for dear life in the middle.

I don’t suggest for one moment that any of us are completely free of either one or the other of these errors; or indeed, from being subject to a bit of both of them at the same time, just regarding different things; but what I do say is that it is quite straightforward, as well as perfectly possible, to recognize any significant leanings in such regard such as we might have in either, or both, directions, and to put things right before the Lord, balance up and make ourselves accountable to others so that they can assist us in so doing. It is, indeed, just ‘A Question of Balance’; and as well as being one the best albums of all time by The Moody Blues, it should also be one of the major quests of our discipleship.