Church of the Age-Old Christian Error!

One of the things I have strongly contended for a great many years is that evangelism is not the function of the church. But because I fully appreciate how easy it is for folk to completely misunderstand this, let me clarify. Evangelism is not the function of churches, and neither is the necessity of doing good works in the world! Evangelism, and doing good works in the world, are the functions of individual believers who comprise churches. Precisely because evangelism solely concerns unbelievers, and because doing good works in the world largely concerns them, such activities, virtually by definition, occur outside of church life! Given that all Christians together comprise the corporate church of Jesus throughout time (Church Universal being the term used by theologians) then it is obviously the case, in that sense, that everything to do with serving the Lord is the function of the Christian Church at large; but what lies at the heart of the confusion here is our age old misunderstanding of what individual churches actually are, what they are supposed to be like and how they are meant to function.

In the New Testament churches were simply little extended families of God’s people, meeting in the homes of those families who comprised each individual and specific assembly. Virtually everything the New Testament teaches concerning them depicts that, just like biological nuclear families, they exist for the purpose of mutual nurture, shared love and support. The raison d’être of biblical church gatherings is therefore that of the edification, the spiritual building up, of those present both in the Lord and in their most holy faith. The purpose of gathering is to enable one another to grow in the Lord, thereby each fully becoming the person He would have each of His children to be. This spiritual growth, leading to each one present becoming progressively and fully who they are meant to be, results is them being equipped for the evangelism and good works awaiting them in the world amongst unbelievers during the week ahead.

It is not, therefore, the function of churches to be evangelising and doing good works in the world. It is rather the function of churches, just like nuclear families, to nurture the members of that family so as to enable each to become fully who they should be when outside of the family. This, for the believer who is growing in the Lord as a result of being part of such a church, issues in them performing the aforementioned functions outside of church life amongst the lost.

It’s so simple; but we miss it because the vast majority of churches are not only set up differently to the New Testament ones…they are set up pretty much the exact opposite! Rather than little extended families of the Lord’s people, they are ‘official’ religious institutions. How on earth, we might ask, did Paul and Peter, and the rest of the Apostles, get things so wrong? Or should we rather be asking: How on earth have we managed to?

Go on! Treat yourself! Be brave enough and just admit the obvious….that they were right and that the Christian Church, since the second and third centuries has, quite simply, been wrong!

 

Is Love Unconditional?

TrainOne of the legacies of sin is the ever-present risk of mis-communication. Even people who speak the same language struggle to make themselves clear, and we all too often use words and phrases with the assumption that what we have said is what others have heard. Further, as western societies become ever more godless, words like love and tolerance, which even wilful rebels against the Lord want to own for themselves, change meaning, often coming to denote the exact opposite of their original accepted definitions. (For instance, nowadays tolerance is not understood to be the allowing of something of which one disapproves, which is what the word actually means, but rather the mere disapproving of something. If one disapproves of sexual immorality, be it straight or gay, yet freely accepts people’s legal right to indulge in such activity in private, and without being treated badly by others in any way because of so doing, then that is tolerance as the word has been historically understood. Today, however, one is increasingly labeled an intolerant bigot merely for disapproving of such, even though one is not trying to make it illegal or treating badly in any way those who indulge.) Indeed, with Western churches propagating every conceivable possible moral viewpoint, from biblical fundamentalism one the one hand through to even the deliberate appointing of both heterosexually immoral and gay leaders on the other, even the word Christian has become but a meaningless sound emanating from the mouths of countless people, all holding to entirely differing definitions of it.

Words, words, words

It is therefore time for us to start concentrating on carefully defining what we mean by just about everything we say. I am not averse to using such words as I have highlighted, of course not, but we must be very deliberately qualifying what we actually mean when we use them. And I think a good place to start is all this completely misleading nonsense that Christians keep spouting about God loving and accepting everyone just as they are. (Hmmm! How on earth am I going to get away with saying that then?)

The most serious and damaging way of misrepresenting the truth of something, or of mis-defining the meaning of a particular word, is to present but a part of its content or meaning, but not all. And nowhere is this done more than with the word love, and therefore also God’s love. Hence the way in which, with the help of countless leaders of the so-called Christian church, people who advocate and practise such things as abortion, sex outside of marriage, various perversions etc make reference to Jesus in such a way so as to make out that He would be standing with them in full approval of their ideas and what they do, whilst railing against the supposed bigotry of anyone who says that such things are wrong. And they do this because 1) Jesus is associated with love in the minds of unbelievers quite as much as in the minds of His people, and 2) it is their contention and belief that not only does love mean never having to say you’re sorry, it means never having to even accept that one is ever wrong. Regarding such things the only wrongdoing is saying that such things are wrong in the first place.

So let’s be very careful when we talk about God loving people just the way they are. It appears that what society is actually hearing is that Christianity teaches that God is soft on sin (probably doesn’t even believe in it) and doesn’t mind too much how people live. The truth, however, is rather that if those who don’t believe in Jesus do stay just the way they are, God is Himself going to throw them kicking and screaming into the Lake of Fire for eternity. Some kind of qualification is clearly needed then in order for the full-orbed impact of God’s love for people to be properly understood, even by Christians, and not misrepresented the way in which it currently is.

Of course God loves people just the way they are! Let’s get that straight right from the get-go. Indeed, if you don’t love someone just the way they are, but would love them if they were somehow different, then that is just another way of saying you don’t love them. So if the Lord didn’t love people just as they are, then it couldn’t be said that He loves them at all. Indeed, this is what His death on the cross is all about. The fact that He died for us precisely whilst we were yet sinners and still at enmity with Him is at the very heart of the gospel, but that death on the Cross alone has never saved anyone and never will. Salvation is not received  because Jesus died for us, in which case everyone would be saved, but when someone lays hold of Him by faith, thereby actually accepting the free gift that was won for them through His death.

But what happens next? Once someone is saved, then what? Well, the Bible teaches that then, having loved us and having died for us just the way were were, He then sets out to clean us up from our sin and filthiness and cause us to walk in obedience and holiness in His power and strength before Him. Here is the other side of the coin. As any good parent knows, you love your children just the way they are, even in their worst moments; but it is precisely because you love them just the way they are that you also want better for them, that they might be improved and become better children all the time. You love them just the way they are, of course, yet that very same love is  also the very same reason you don’t want them to stay just the way they are, but want them to improve and mature.

And so with the Lord and us. Precisely because He loves us just the way we are He wants to also change us and set us free from the power of sin in our lives that prevents us from being what we otherwise could far better be. He wants to deliver us from the evil in our hearts which sent Him to the cross in the first place, and bring us to greater holiness by which we come to see Him ever more clearly.

Careful What You Say

Don’t ever tell someone that God loves them just the way they are without telling them as well that the fact that He does so is why He also wants to free them from their sin, and to precisely not let them carry on being just the way they are. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth!” That’s the truth of the matter! It leaves no room whatsoever, whether in evangelising unbelievers, or in our fellowship together as believers, for the entirely wrong idea that we can just stick with our sins and that the Lord is somehow okay with us so doing.

I am very happy with the contention that the Lord loves us unconditionally. But if those words convey to you that unconditional love somehow means that continuing in sin is an alright proposition, then I cannot tell you how unhappy I am with it. But if in your mind it is simply one part of the equation that, unless love is unconditional it can’t actually be love at all, but that then, by very definition, it seeks the moral improvement of the one it has been unconditionally set upon, then I am a most happy bunny.

My very relationship with the Lord depends on the simple fact that He doesn’t love me any the more when I am being faithful, nor any the less when I am being disobedient. But I know too that, precisely because He does want the best for me, and because nothing hurts or damages me (and others) more than my sin, He will go all out to lead me in godliness and deal with me as His child, however drastically, in order to bring me (and others) to ultimate joy and happiness.

If we are to love each other just the way we are, then it means that we must be willing to crawl over broken glass in order to help each other get free from sin.

(Ah yes, the train! I just thought it was a nice picture! I took it just when we were staying near Chicago! Hope you like it! It certainly gave me a buzz!)

 

Road Trip: The GPS Version!

GPSWe have recently returned home from one of our extended teaching trips across the US having driven our usual 4000+ miles, and I gotta tell you, I just love my GPS. (That’s Sat-Nav to my English readers!) The vehicle we keep over there is pretty cool too, but if our Ford Explorer (we call her Dora…get it? Dora the Explorer!) keeps us comfortable then it’s the GPS keeps us sane. It makes the odd mistake, of course, but nothing like the ones I used to make when it was just me (Belinda doesn’t do maps) going at 70mph with the steering wheel in one hand, my proprietary Walmart US map in the other, Belinda screaming in my right ear in abject terror and Bethany laughing her head off in the back enjoying the show! But all that aside, I don’t think Christians are as aware as they should be of the sheer symbolic and biblical significance of these little GPS mini-TV screens that can talk you through just about anywhere from anywhere at anytime.

It Must Be Alright, the Holy Spirit Led Me!

As I am often at pains to point out, there are two equal and opposite errors concerning the relationship between the authority of scripture and the personal subjective, supernatural leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The first (as mentioned in my last post) is the completely  false idea that the Holy Spirit sometimes leads people contrary to scripture. He doesn’t! Full stop! Finito! End of story! The fat lady has definitely sung as far as that one is concerned! When that happens you may know assuredly, and for a complete fact, that it is either you deceiving yourself, or the work of an actual deceiving demonic spirit. If the Holy Spirit were to ever lead but one believer to go against scripture in but one way, then that could only mean that He might lead any believer against scripture in any way at any time. And if that were the case then you would simply have no basis on which to judge anything at all, or any way whatsoever to establish whether any given action or behaviour was ultimately right or wrong. Someone leaving their wife to find a different one who fulfils them better might be the result of the Holy Spirit leading them so to do, as might also be the case for unmarried folk who are in a sexual relationship with each other.

ExplorerIf the Holy Spirit sometimes leads believers in ways contrary to what scripture clearly teaches, then why not regarding sexual morality too? After all, if the Holy Spirit has told a believer something, then who is anyone else to argue? It’s all very well trying to say that some ways of going against scripture are permissible whereas others aren’t, but again, on what possible basis could such be decided?  It the Holy Spirit can lead a believer to marry an unbeliever, or a woman to teach and conduct church leadership, then why could He not lead some believers to live together outside of marriage, or even to conduct a homosexual or lesbian relationship? I marvel that Christians are so slow to understand what a nonsensical, and deeply sinful, thing it is when they try to pit the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit against the clear teaching of scripture.

Bye Bye Lord! See you in Heaven!

But of course you can fall off a log both ends, so there are other believers who, though clear on the authority of scripture, have little or no understanding that the Holy Spirit does want to actually communicate directly with us outside of us just reading scripture. It’s as if they think that when they got saved Jesus said to them, “Great! Glad you made it! Anyway, gotta get back to Heaven now and I’ll see you there later. I’ve given you the Bible and a brain, so you can go ahead and start figuring out what following me should look like for you. I’ve given you lots of experts to read as well, and to listen to, (they’re called Ministers, or Priests, or Pastors…or whatever!) and they’ll help you figure it out too. I know they all have completely different opinions about just about everything the Bible says, but hey, you’ll get the idea. So look after yourself, keep reading, and I’ll see you when you die, or when I come back. Happy Bible-studying! Oh yes, and don’t forget to be good!”

They’re a bit like Marxists (or Leninists or the like)  who have the appropriate authoritative writings that contain the relevant teachings they need, and who then have to spend a lifetime working out how to best apply those teachings to their own situations. “Man, wouldn’t it be great,” they must think sometimes, “if Marx (or Lenin) were still around to help us out a bit and to explain things to us?” So likewise, many believers seem to live their Christian lives as if it’s just a matter of getting to know the Bible better so they can implement it’s teachings as best they can. In other words, they too have gotten it wrong, just as have those who play off the Holy Spirit against scripture!

The Answer to the Dilemma

So what’s the balance then? What’s the correct way to think about the relationship between the authority of scripture and the reality of the subjective leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit? Well, it’s actually my trusty little GPS. Let me explain!

The Scripture Only Brigade

The trouble with the ‘Scripture, and that’s all!’ folk (I call them doctrinalists) is that they have a map and a compass and that’s just about it. It is entirely down to them to figure out where they are, where they need to get to, and the best way to do it. It’s certainly better than not having a map, or having a map that is in some way incomplete or inaccurate, but it’s nevertheless not the best way of doing things. But when you have a GPS (oh, how I love my GPS) you have something much better. You still have the map – the map never changes because it is simply what is – but now you have a means of interaction with the map via a device that is actually tied in, real time, with some satellites. And these satellites enable the device to know not only exactly where you are relative to the map (which never changes), but the very best way for you to get to where you have programmed in that you need to go, all as a result of the software installed in the GPS. Moreover, not only does the GPS display the map as you travel on it’s screen, thus visually providing all the information you need, it actually talks you through the necessary directions as you proceed. In other words, it’s a modern miracle!

Such is the best illustration I have ever come up with concerning the age old miracle of the relationship between the authority of scripture and the subjective leading of the Holy Spirit. The Lord hasn’t just left us to our own intellectual devices when it comes to knowing and applying His written Word. No, He actually lives within us and is with us in person the whole time, and the Holy Spirit, amongst other things, is the means by which He shows us how to apply and obey the truth and teachings in that Word. That our intellects have an important part to play in this is not in dispute, but oh, what damage has been done by the sheer dryness and irrelevance of a Christianity that has come across to the world as mere morality to be pursued rather than an actual personal relationship with the Almighty God.

The Mapless Mystics

But of course those believers who fall off the other end of the log need to be addressed too. And their problem is not the absence of a GPS – they have had one all along! No, their problem is that they have been so reliant on the GPS they never properly consult the actual map in order to check whether or not the GPS programming they trust so much is actually accurate. Indeed, they have completely missed the fact that Satan specialises in uploading virus’ into spiritual GPS systems, thereby corrupting the software in unbelievably subtle and significant ways. Only the continuous syncing of the GPS with the ‘master programme’ can protect against this. Or, to put it another way, scripture – the actual map that never changes – remains the final authority, and never the directions of the GPS unit itself.

In other words, it is only safe to look to the Lord for subjective guidance, leading and revelation to the extent that we understand, and actually practise, that conformity to scripture is the final authority and arbiter in all matters. If something conforms to scripture, then it can be said to be of the Lord; but if something does not conform to scripture then it can never be said to be of the Lord, by very definition! Further, it is a foolish man indeed who thinks that he can access whatever biblical truth he needs to know merely on his own as an individual. That we know the Lord both personally and individually goes without saying, but in the abundance of counsellors is still safety, and anyone who just pursues growth in truth and the Lord on their own, without the accountability of significant personal and open accountable fellowship with others is just kidding themselves. They are virtually guaranteed to end up being deceived.

I have met so many Christians over the years who, if one were to compare their supposed guidance and revelation with our GPS analogy, are, so to speak, trying to get to New York from South Carolina by going via Oregon; or thinking that the way to Norwich from London is by first heading south to Hastings. In other words, their map is corrupted and their reliance on their GPS, without the safety of all the time referring to the actual objective map, has them literally all over the place. They are deceived, unstable and heading totally in the wrong direction! Why? Because they have failed to realise that, irrespective of the genuine reality of the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, scripture remains the only final authority!

Fortunately, our choice need never be between Spirit-less and dry doctrinalism on the one hand, or spiritual deception on the other. If we seek to walk in the safety of what our GPS analogy teaches us, then we are free to hear the Lord’s voice directly whilst minimising the risk of falling into either error. Can we guarantee we will never get it wrong? Of course not! We are deception-prone sinners still! But by sticking as closely as we can to the Lord, scripture and other godly believers, we are given the best chance of increasing in holiness and maturity in the Lord, as we live by His every Word to us as individuals, as we’ll ever have.

 

 

 

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!)