Biblical Evangelism – Part 3

One of the problems that results from Christians believing things that aren’t found in the pages of scripture, yet whilst assuming that what they believe is scriptural, is that when they meet folk who are actually biblical in their thinking they assume that they are the ones who aren’t being biblical. Let me give you an example!

Although most churches are set up and function pretty much the complete opposite to what we see in the New Testament, Christians in such unbiblical churches nevertheless assume that their unbiblical churches are biblical and as scripture teaches. Therefore, when they meet a believer who is part of a church that is actually set up, and which does actually function like the New Testament churches, they correctly realise that it’s the opposite of their experience of what a church ought to be like, but completely incorrectly assume it to be in error and therefore don’t recognise it as even being a church. Indeed, I have faced this argument on more than one occasion from church leaders who have sought to discredit me in some way. Because I am part of a church which is set up like the churches in the New Testament we are therefore completely different to the churches my detractors are part of. Therefore, because these leaders of unbiblical churches don’t recognise us as even being a church, they accuse me of being churchless. Not being part of a church is then presented as the evidence that I have gone rogue and am spiritually deviant, and that I should not, therefore, be listened to.

But of course the fact remains that I am, and always have been, part of a church, just as are those who claim that I am not. But of course it’s just that I’m not part of a church as far as those who think un-biblically about church are concerned! Because they don’t realise that they aren’t thinking biblically about the subject, they are therefore convinced that anyone who is part of a biblically set up church isn’t actually part of a church! Whatever we are part of, these folk claim, it isn’t a church! Can you see the problem?

So in similar vein there may well be those among my readers who now think I don’t believe in evangelism, just as there are Christians in ‘them thar hills’ who don’t believe I am part of a church. So let me make quite clear, notwithstanding what I have said about evangelism and praying for unbelievers, that I do most certainly believe in evangelism, but in evangelism as biblically understood! Nothing could be further from the truth than any suggestion that I don’t believe in, or that I in any way downplay, evangelism!

Indeed, for those who are called to proactively evangelise, and who therefore have the gift of being an evangelist (or apostle), I actually believe that they ought to pursue their calling downright obsessively. What, I ask, outside of being a godly husband and father, could be more important to them? (Indeed, I am convinced that there are those who are called to evangelism whilst still single who will be required to forego marriage, and especially if their gifting is that of being an apostle, with the almost constant travelling involved, precisely so they can be sufficiently obsessed and not have a wife and children distracting them. My own calling is that of the Ephesian 4 pastor/teacher – I am obviously using the word ‘pastor’ here in it’s biblical sense and not meaning the commonly used unbiblical definition – and I think it probably safe to say that I’m more than a little bit obsessed myself. Present me with the slightest opportunity to show folk what the Bible teaches, and/or to pastorally help them grow in the Lord, and I positively guarantee that I will dive in with both feet, hook, line and sinker, all guns blazing and with even a faintly maniacal look in my eye. So yeah, I’m obsessed with my calling, and I expect evangelists and apostles to be obsessed with theirs. But it would be nothing short of ridiculous for either me or them to expect Christians who don’t have the same calling to be similarly occupied or equally exercised as we are.

Returning to evangelists, though, this is not to say that they don’t have a role to play in regards to the saints! They most certainly do! And that role, as Ephesians 4 makes clear, is to encourage and carry those believers along with them who don’t have the gift of evangelism themselves, and get them caught up, so to speak, in the wake of their enthusiasm and evangelistic endeavours. This must, however, be entirely voluntary on the part of the non-evangelists, and must occur at the Spirit’s leading without any pressure being put on them. Remember, there is no command in scripture for non-evangelistically-gifted believers to proactively evangelise. But the beauty of having apostles and/or evangelists around is that they will create all kinds of circumstances in which non-evangelistically-gifted believers can get to do a good bit of responsive witnessing which they wouldn’t have otherwise had opportunity for, due to the apostle/evangelist creating those opportunities for them.

Similarly, pastor-teachers like me will always be looking out for younger men to encourage and mentor, just as Paul encouraged Timothy in his calling and then exhorted him to likewise encourage others by way of passing on his function and gifting to them. But in the process of such Ephesian 4 ministries equipping the saints at large and passing on their gifting to others, we must ensure that we keep ever in mind the vital truth that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are apportioned differently to each according to the Lord’s will, and not all are going to have the same gifts.

So here’s the deal; I’ll be obsessed with my calling from the Lord and you be obsessed with yours. We will thereby complement each other and labour together seamlessly in the vineyard, whether by planting or watering, as the Spirit directs and enables. Biblical ministries must never be thought of as being in competition with each other, and we must never ‘play them off’ against against each other as if to suggest that one is more important than another.

In this whole matter of evangelism and making disciples we must start learning to function properly, by which I mean biblically! We need to stop messing it all up by continuing to do things according to unbiblical Christian tradition – which so few believers seem willing to question and challenge – and to function instead purely in accordance with God’s Word.

More tomorrow, same time, same channel! Be there or be square!

 

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Biblical Evangelism – Part 2

We established yesterday that nowhere does scripture teach the commonly held belief that every believer is required by the Lord to be engaged in proactively evangelising the lost. We saw that all believers are bound by scripture to be ready to give an account of their faith whenever called upon by unbelievers so to do, but the idea that all Christians ought to be proactively evangelising is, biblically speaking, a fallacy. But there is quite a bit more to be said about this, and some of it might just blow your socks off!

Part of the package of our commonly held obsession with all things evangelistic and missional is the accompanying idea that Christians should make a priority of praying for the salvation of the lost. Prepare, then, for a bombshell! In over 45 years of reading and studying the New Testament, and in some considerable detail too, I have yet to find a single verse that explicitly or categorically states that Christians ought to pray for the salvation of unbelievers. Paul exhorts Timothy that there ought to be prayer for governmental authority, and there’s little doubt that the leaders he had in mind would have been mostly unbelievers; but the object of the prayer he instructs Timothy to be praying was nothing to do with their personal salvation; indeed, it was nothing to do with them personally as individuals at all, but pertained solely to their political role in the maintenance and continuance of social harmony.

I Timothy 2:1-2 – “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

So where, I ask, are all the verses in the New Testament that teach that prayer for the salvation of the lost should be part of a believers prayer life? (Answers on a post card please!) Amazing, isn’t it? Yesterday we saw that there are no verses in the New Testament teaching that every Christian should proactively evangelise, and now this morning no verses instructing us to pray for the salvation of the lost! Wow! What on earth is going on? Well, I think it’s this:

If we claim that scripture, and scripture alone, is our authority in matters of faith and doctrine, and that the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God given precisely in order that our thinking becomes increasingly conformed to it, then we would expect as the years go by that, more and more, the way we think, and the the way we talk, would more and more comprehensively echo what we read in its pages. For example; although it is sadly changing now, throughout church history Christians have said an awful lot about the importance of celibacy outside of marriage and of the necessity for sexual fidelity within it. This doesn’t mean, of course, that Christians throughout church history have always been right about everything, sexual ethics included, but when we turn to the pages of the New Testament regarding that particular subject we do indeed see such thinking plastered all over its pages. Wherever you are in your Bible reading you will never have to read much further in the New Testament before you get to clear and categoric teaching regarding the command of celibacy outside of marriage and sexual fidelity within it. So what I am saying is that should we find ourselves thinking in particular ways about particular things, but then discover that such ideas and/or emphases are not actually present in the pages of scripture, then it should alert us to the fact that something is clearly wrong.

And I have to tell you that wherever you currently are in your reading of the New Testament, not only would you have to read an awful lot further through its pages in order to find instruction and exhortation that all believers are to proactively evangelise and to pray for the salvation of the lost, you will actually not get to any such verses at all no matter how far you read on or how many times you then re-read it! Such statements, teachings and instructions are simply not there! However incredible this seems to us, they don’t actually exist! So when we find ourselves putting great emphasis on things concerning which scripture is virtually silent, then something is obviously very, very wrong. And I gotta tell you, it isn’t the New Testament!

But perhaps I ought to answer a question here that you might be asking yourself, and it’s simply this: Do I ever pray for people’s salvation? And the answer is, “Yes! I most certainly do! Indeed, I pray on a regular basis for the salvation of quite a few folk the Lord has put on my heart, principally, but not exclusively, my remaining unsaved relatives!” But why, I hear you ask? Why would I do that in the light of what I have just written? Well, I do it because there are verses in the Bible that exhort me to make my requests made known to God, and which therefore suggest that I should be imploring him concerning the desires of my heart. Therefore, because I obviously want these folk to be saved, and because, just as I tell Belinda everything (and Bethany most things), I will obviously also tell my Lord and Saviour of my desire for the salvation of those folk too!

But of course this doesn’t change the fact that the completely unscriptural idea that people’s eternal salvation somehow depends on Christians praying for them still needs to be countered. Think about it: If someone’s salvation is a matter of divine election, then praying for them to be saved isn’t going to change anything regarding whether God has elected them or not! Conversely, if salvation is based not on God’s choice as to whether or not someone is saved, but rather on the free-will choice of the individual, then what on earth is prayer for their salvation going to achieve? Answer: Absolutely nothing! If you believe your prayer effects a change of their mind regarding salvation, then that is just another way of saying you don’t believe they have free-will; yet scripture makes clear that God holds people both responsible and accountable for their behaviour. So actually, whether you are in the predestination/election camp or the free will camp, neither allow for the assertion that prayer for someone’s salvation is either necessary or effectual! Whether the driving force in salvation is God’s will or the sinners will, any idea that prayer could change either cancels out any idea of free volition, whether divine or human! Even the Lord can’t make a four-sided triangle, or do anything whereby the concept is itself anti-rational! So too with any notion of praying for people’s salvation. Crazy, eh?

So however bewildering this might be – and it sure bewilders me – we must nevertheless still be aware of it! But hey, did we ever think but for one moment that the truth of the Lord of Glory wouldn’t utterly bewilder us? And often too! Believing things the Bible doesn’t teach won’t help us any more than not believing things that it does! If it’s the truth which sets us free, and it most certainly is because that’s what Jesus said, then believing anything which isn’t true will, conversely, land us up in bondage in some way.

We will continue other aspects of this tomorrow, so come back then! Go on, I dare you!

Biblical Evangelism – Part 1

I think that most believers would share my understanding that the Church of Jesus Christ breaks down into various divisions, layers and component parts. There is what theologians like to term the Church Universal, by which they mean all believers throughout time, including the future. Then would come the Church Militant, by which is meant all believers alive at any given moment. Then would come the sub-divisions of the church of a nation, then the church of a city or geographical area…and so on and so forth!

However, whereas these are indeed all biblical aspects of the Church of Jesus Christ as viewed from what we might term its cosmic and corporate aspect, it is nevertheless vital to understand that the New Testament writings, and especially the letters to churches, are concerned not primarily with the cosmic, global or national aspects of the Christian Church, but with the smallest component of all; that is, the individual and specific church each individual believer was required to be an actual part of, and which met in believers homes! Indeed, it is to such churches, and such churches alone (no other type then existed), that the New Testament letters were mostly sent, whether to individual ones or to multiple churches far and wide.

Every believer is, of course, a de facto part of the Church Universal, the Church Militant, the Church National and the church of a whole geographical area, but every believer is most not necessarily part of any given individual and specific church. In the light of these important distinctions there are therefore things that can rightly be said of ‘church’ from the cosmic/global/national/geographic point of view, but which would be nonsensical if applied to individual and specific churches. For example, every Christian in England is, by very definition, part of the church Universal, the Church Militant and the Church National, and it can therefore be said that there is, ultimately, just one church in England; but it would be both ridiculous, as well as sinfully divisive, should any specific and particular church in England claim that it is itself the only church. Nationally there is indeed but one church of Jesus Christ in England, but it is made up of a myriad of individual and specific churches. And of course it is this subdivision of specific and individual churches that gives credence to the fact that whereas all believers are, by definition, part of the Church of Jesus Christ cosmically, globally and nationally etc, it can nevertheless still be said of believers who not be part of an individual and particular church that they are churchless!

It is therefore quite obviously the case that, from the cosmic, global and national point of view, by which I mean the corporate aspect of the Church of Jesus Christ as viewed from God’s perspective, is the means of the gospel being spread throughout the world. It is, in todays common theological jargon, missional! To say that the primary function of the Church of Jesus Christ is to spread the gospel is to make a fully biblical statement. Indeed, as someone once said, in this sense the church exists for mission as a flame exists for burning. However, if one were to say that such is therefore also the case for individual and specific churches, then that statement would be actually completely unbiblical! The thing to be grasped here is the fundamental difference between the Church of Jesus Christ as a cosmic entity and universal manifestation of the Lord, and the individual and specific churches of which every believer is, biblically, supposed to be a part.

When it comes to understanding church life in this context of individual and specific churches, it is vitally important to grasp that the writers of the New Testament never teach, or even suggest, that the function of such churches is to evangelise. Indeed, not only does scripture never suggest that the function of a specific and individual church is evangelism/mission, it rather, in complete contrast, states quite blatantly that an individual and specific church exists solely for the purpose of the building up and spiritual growth of those who are part of it, existing therefore purely for the benefit of those who are already believers. A church and its gatherings are for the purpose of edifying the saints, not evangelism! Individual and specific churches exist to spiritually nurture and build up those Christians who comprise them, pure and simple! Biblically, a church is simply an extended family of God’s people, and families exist for no other ultimate reason than to provide love and nurture for those who are part of the family. A husband and wife love and care for each other! Simple as that! Job done! If they have children then they love and care for them also, raising them in the Lord and preparing them to follow Him as adults, thus repeating the process all over again. But of course, this doesn’t mean that family life is only insular and only about the family members who comprise it. No! As a result of the love and nurture received in family life, each member of that family is enabled to be who they are meant to be outside of the family, being thus enabled to become a better citizen of the wider society in which they live.

And so also with being part of a church. Each believer is, biblically, required to be part of a particular and specific church such as described in the New Testament in order that, as part of that extended family of God’s people, they are nurtured, cared for, held to account and brought into increasing maturity in the Lord. And of course part of that growth is that they in turn learn to provide such care and nurture for everyone else in that church, thus growing in becoming a carer as opposed to merely someone who is just cared for. As with a nuclear family, it is a caring and nurturing thing. Neither nuclear families nor churches exists for any other reason than to provide nurture for those individuals who comprise them. However, as a result of such nurture, each believer in a particular and specific church is thereby spiritually built up and enabled to discover their gifting, function and calling to those unbelievers outside the church, by way of sharing the gospel and doing good works in the world. This is where mission belongs, outside of church life and not as part of it!

Though so very clear in scripture, this is nevertheless sadly and disastrously misunderstood and misapplied by most Christians. As a result, and completely ironically, such misunderstanding actually prevents churches being what they are meant to be, and actually stops them from doing what they are meant to do. The New Testament teaches that evangelism and doing good works in the world (two sides of the same missional coin) are not functions of a church, but rather the function of those believers who comprise a church, and are what they do outside of church life. Get this wrong and a church becomes a dysfunctional church, just as nuclear families can become dysfunctional families.

When we look at the letters to New Testament churches there is something quite amazing that stands out that virtually never has any attention down to it. What we hear today, even from many house churches, is the virtually monolithic challenge to the effect that churches, and therefore Christians, ought to be ‘missional.’ “What’s your vision for evangelism?” “How many churches are you committed to planting in the next year?” “How many folk have you witnessed to this week?” Such is what believers are subjected to again and again and again and again! But when we turn to the pages of the New Testament the simple, and completely amazing, fact is not merely how little of such talk and exhortation we find, but rather that there is none of it at all! At no point does any writer of scripture to a New Testament church in any way suggest that those they are writing to should have a vision, strategy or plan for evangelism. Nowhere does any New Testament writer state, or even suggest, that every believer should be in some way proactively engaged in evangelistic pursuits! The closest thing to any such thought is Peter’s exhortation that his readers be ready to give an answer for the hope they have within them, but of course that is an exhortation to a responsive communication of the gospel when asked, and not an instruction to proactive evangelism.

In the New Testament the way evangelism worked was that apostles and evangelists simply got out amongst unbelievers and preached the gospel. They didn’t drag churches around with them, or try to pressure others into joining them by teaching that everyone else was meant to be doing it too. Quite the contrary! Apostles and evangelists evangelised, and then they either started new churches or fed the new believers into existing ones, so as to be cared for and nurtured spiritually. Those Christians who weren’t apostles or evangelists, and most weren’t, just got on with their daily lives shining like a light for the Lord doing good works in the world; and when those around them asked why they were so different they would simply share the gospel in response as enabled by the Holy Spirit.

Question: What is the strategy for evangelism in the New Testament? Answer: Hardly any at all! But what little there is comprises of apostles (the Ephesian 4 gift of proactive evangelism combined with the Ephesian 4 gift of pastor/teacher) and evangelists (the gift of just evangelism) proactively evangelising, and believers who don’t have such gifts, and most don’t, living quietly and minding their own business, just as the New Testament letters teach, yet being ready to give a response to any who ask them concerning their faith and godly way of life.

Conclusion: It is not the function of individual and specific churches to engage in mission, and church life is actually damaged when such an understanding prevails. Further, it is completely unbiblical, to say nothing of actually unfair and oppressive, to put pressure on believers who are not apostles or evangelists by teaching that they should be taking part in proactive evangelism even if they are not at peace about so doing. The role of believers who are neither apostles nor evangelists is to simply live godly in Christ Jesus, be part of whichever individual and specific church the Lord has put them in, and to support and encourage anyone in that church, or in any other church that they know, who has an Ephesian 4 gifting, be it that of apostle, evangelist, prophet or pastor/teacher.

More to follow in the morning!

The Gospel According To Star Trek!

When people ask me where I get my teaching from I have traditionally answered that it’s a combination of reading the Bible and watching Star Trek re-runs. This has, as you can imagine, raised some smiles down the years…as well as a few eyebrows! The fact that I am also on record as describing Star Trek as ‘biblical church in space’ probably hasn’t helped! So for me, this is just a bit special….!!!

 

 

Told you so…!!!

A Revelatory Drive!

I was out driving the other day and a most striking thing happened. It actually happens a great deal, but for some reason, probably the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, the situation spoke to me rather powerfully.

I was driving through a non-dual-carriageway section of road through the beautiful forest that surrounds where I live. The sun was shining (doesn’t happen quite so much here as this other thing I’m going to describe) and, as usual when driving on my own, I had my music on full blast. (Some wonderful old 70’s classics if I remember correctly! You know, that whole Bubble-Gum music thing!) In other words, I was as happy as Larry and having a total blast; and because that rather long stretch of road has a 40 mile an hour speed limit I was driving – yes, you’ve guessed – at a sedate 40 miles an hour.

I then noticed that the gentleman driving the car behind me was not having the same great day that I was. In fact, from his waving arms and quite un-mistakeably less than polite gesticulations – all clearly visible in my rear view mirror – he was having an extremely bad one. And it was very clear why! He was angry because he was wanting to go faster than 40 miles an hour, but couldn’t because I wasn’t going faster than 40 miles an hour and because he couldn’t, for a few miles, get passed me. I was quite clearly the cause of some considerable disquiet in his life. But let’s just think about this a bit and ask some questions as to why I was driving at 40 miles an hour and causing someone such great distress.

Was I, for instance, driving at 40 miles an hour in order to be offensive? Well, no! I was driving at 40 miles an hour because that is the speed limit on that particular stretch of road, and because it is my understanding that God’s Word teaches that we should obey the governing authorities. Might it have been because I am a self-righteous person who just wants to show everyone how well I obey the law, and who wants to oppress anyone who doesn’t see things my way? Again, no! It was because that’s the speed limit on that stretch of road! So could it be that I am just a rather unpleasant individual who takes pleasure in upsetting people? Er…this is getting boring…no! It was just because I believe I should drive that section of road at 40 miles an hour irrespective of what others think of me for doing so or how it makes them feel.

It might also be worth asking whether it might be the case or not that I have got the speed limit wrong myself on that stretch of road, and that it might be 60 miles an hour and not 40 miles an hour. after all, should such be the case then one could, I suppose – but it would still be a stretch – say that this guy then at least had a point. Doing 40 in a 60 area for some distance when it’s difficult to overtake is, arguably, a bit annoying. But my answer here is simply this: Having lived in this area for over 50 years all told, I am pretty sure that I have repeatedly seen the signs that set the speed limit of that stretch of road at 40 miles an hour.  I could, of course, be wrong. (I could be wrong about absolutely anything!) My eyes may well be deceiving me. So if anyone thinks that might be the case, and has a beef with me for driving the road at 40 miles an hour instead of 60 miles an hour, then all I ask is that they show me the evidence. Just prove to me that I am wrong! Show me the sign that has the number 60 on it and not 40! I would then be more than happy to acknowledge that I have been getting it wrong all this time, being then free to drive that stretch of road at 60 miles an hour knowing that I am within the law in so doing.

So what it boils down to is this: I made someone extremely angry because my right-doing got in the way of their desire to do wrong. For absolutely no other reason than that I was doing the right thing, someone who had been doing the wrong thing (speeding), but who had been stopped in their tracks and forced to slow down and do the right thing because I was in now front of them, got angry with me and wasn’t holding back showing it. I wonder if you can see where I’m going with this!

I cannot tell you how many times Christians have gotten angry at me for no other reason than that I simply believe, teach, live and practise things that God’s Word seems to pretty clearly teach which, for whatever reason, they don’t happen to like. I have, for example, had Christians get angry with me again and again because I believe that wives should submit to their husbands – just as I believe that husbands should love their wives to the moon and back – and that women should not be in a leadership function in the church, or do teaching to the gathered body of saints. I have also had Christians get angry with me, again and again, because I believe, teach and practise that churches should be small, home-based and non-hierarchical. I have even had brothers and sisters in the Lord get angry with me, and on a good many occasions too, simply because I make clear that I believe all Christians should go purely by God’s Word and not in any way by extra-biblical man-made traditions which go against it.

But of course the very worst of the anger happens when one has, through whatever means, become a focal point of sin being revealed in believers lives. I have been slandered to the ends of the earth and back for trying to encourage believers with whom I have had to do to be honest about such sins in their lives as greed, immorality, resentment, slander, un-forgiveness, dishonesty, lying, hatred…and so the list could go on! When put like this it is easy to see how – just as with someone who wants to break the law regarding speeding, but who finds someone getting in their way – simply doing right can cause Christians who are doing wrong to get angry, just as the same right-living causes believers who are living wrong to be convicted of their sin. The anger and resentment is because they aren’t willing to come clean and simply put their hands up, be honest and repent.

And to any who do find themselves angered by what I teach (and not just me of course, it could be anyone), or what I practise, or even perhaps anything I have ever said to you personally, then I simply say this! Just show me the road sign that says the speed limit is 60 miles an hour and not 40 miles an hour, and I will change my driving accordingly. In other words, if you think I am wrong – and about absolutely anything too – then just show me that I’m wrong from scripture. Don’t get angry and skulk off into the shadows to do the whole bad-mouthing thing about me to others behind my back, or directly sound off at me in anger! Let’s talk! Let’s reason together, just like the Lord wants to do with us! Let’s open the Bible together and ask prayerfully, “What saith the scriptures?”

One last thing! Having established that I was driving at 40 miles an hour the other day simply because it’s what the law of the land says, and not because I wanted to upset the guy behind me, or because I want to do anything to upset or anger anyone, so too with what I believe, teach, live and practise. I can assure you that I have never wanted to upset anyone. Neither have I ever desired to make anything harder for anyone than need be. Yet I have been accused by other Christians of living how I live, and teaching what I teach, and saying what I say from every vile motive they seem to be able to think of. But of course the reality is that they are just angry and resentful because sin has been exposed in their lives to which they don’t want to admit. That guy in the car behind me the other day was having a veritable fit, and I have no doubt that he was calling me every unpleasant name under the sun. But not because I was doing anything wrong, but precisely because I was doing right. I had simply, though quite un-desiringly and inadvertently, become a stumbling block to him in his wrongdoing.

Christian, the next time you find yourself angry with someone and doing that whole “How dare they say that to me! They offended me!” thing, just ponder that the odds are that it is most probably evidence that you are being convicted by the Holy Spirit of something in your life which you don’t want to recognise and own up to. In your desire to avoid the message you just want to shoot the messenger. In order to deny and wriggle out of the sin that is being revealed in you, and in order to try to justify yourself in both your own eyes and eyes of others, you are seeking to discredit the person God is using to convict you. You can then tell yourself that you don’t have to listen to someone who is so discreditable and wrong.

Just remember though that the Pharisees did this to the Lord Jesus all the time!

 

The Christians biggest problem!

The more years I spend with the Lord the more struck I am by how few of the many believers I have had to do with understand how sinful and wretched they are. Oh yes, they realised at the point of their conversion that they needed forgiveness so as to make it to Heaven, but what I’m talking about here isn’t that initial conviction of sin when coming to know the Lord in the first place, but rather that increasing awareness and growing knowledge, day by day, week by week, year by year, of not merely the sins of which we have been guilty, but the all-pervading sinfulness of who we are in and of ourselves.

For myself I came to know the Lord as a result of a deep conviction of sin quite out of the blue and immediately cried out to be forgiven, truly desiring to follow the Lord in utter earnestness. It was a deep and genuine conviction of sin, of that there is no doubt, and it caused me to be completely undone before both Heaven and earth, but as years of discipleship passed I began to realise more and more that it had been merely the tip of an almost infinite iceberg. I came to see more and more clearly that my biggest ongoing problem as a disciple of the Lord wasn’t merely my sins, but rather my sheer unbridled sinfulness!

But don’t think for one moment that I’m talking about a Christian life lived in some kind of unremitting self-condemnation! Heavens no! Quite the contrary, in fact! Jesus made the point in regards to a woman of dubious reputation that to be forgiven much is to precisely love much! (Luke 7:36-50) And of course that is the key! The more one realises one’s utter sinfulness and depravity of both heart and will, the more one drinks in the sheer wonder of the Lord’s grace and love that took Him to the cross to die for it all. The more sinful I realise I am the more I appreciate His grace, forgiveness and acceptance, and the more I experience the unbounded love my Father in Heaven has for me. I cannot tell you how sad I am for the sinfulness of who I am, and that the Lord of glory had to suffer so greatly because of it; but neither can I tell you how happy I am that not only does such condition not come between us, it is actually the very means He uses to keep me hanging on to Him for dear life, and to keep me living closely to Him in ongoing repentance and trust.

The single greatest factor that accounts for the weakness and sheer worldliness of modern western Christianity is simply this: that so few believers understand and realise just how sinful and wicked they are! They conduct their discipleship in blissful ignorance of, and blindness to, the endless swathes of sin and self in their lives which the Holy Spirit wishes to deliver them from, but to which they hardly give a second thought, or judge themselves concerning. Selfishness, pride, materialism, presumption, resentment, un-forgiveness, slander, unkindness, dishonesty….and so the list could go on! I have known so many believers down the years for whom such things remain second nature, yet who reject entirely any thought that such is the nature of their character, let alone showing willingness to be honest and to actually come clean and repent. Not for them one of the most important prayers in the whole of scripture through which King David cried out to the Lord, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)

The more we truly taste of our sinfulness, and allow the Holy Spirit to search us and reveal all that is in us which isn’t of Him, the less we will even desire to be unkind, or cruel, or dishonest, or greedy for gain, and for the simple reason that to know how infinitely much we have been forgiven leads to the inevitable increase of love for both the Lord and our fellow man. As surely as night follows day, he who is forgiven much will love much. Yet the converse is equally true! And the reason so many believers are so unloving (and I’m talking here about real love, not just the ‘nicey-nicey–never-doing-anything-that-could-possibly-upset-anyone’ version) is because they haven’t been forgiven very much because they don’t think they’re sinful enough to particularly warrant it.

Show me a man who sorrows daily before the Lord for his sinfulness and I will show you a peaceful and contented man who lives close to Him and who can therefore be trusted in every possible way. And should this make the reader aware of any lack in their lives regarding this, then let me suggest that you get before the Lord and ask Him to truly show you the sin He wishes to deal with in you. I guarantee you some very difficult times indeed if you do, but I guarantee you too a walk with the Lord you never even guessed was on offer!

 

Is it time to quit this whole biblical church thing and just be done with it?

I suppose that anyone who is in any kind of a minority, and who faces a significant uphill struggle as a result, questions from time to time why they keep doing whatever it is that makes them that minority. And those of us who are in a minority 1) Simply because we are Christians and 2) Because we are also pursuing biblical church life and 3) Because we are not, unlike most other house church advocates, pragmatists and feminists, ask it too.

And I can definitely confirm that being in such a minority amongst not only unbelievers, but most Christians as well, because of a pursuit to live as comprehensively biblically as possible, is most definitely not easy. Moreover, we seem to be an increasingly dying breed too, and many who once followed this path have long since jumped ship. I don’t mean jumped ship from following the Lord, but certainly from what I am describing here. Believe me, pursuing biblical church life, and therefore finding yourself under fire from both traditional churches and house churches, is a tough gig. And it’s a tough gig that most who have taken a shot at appear to be walking away from. So why keep going? Why keep facing such continuing difficulty and discouragement? Is time to conclude that we’ve backed the wrong horse and that we should just vanish quietly into the night?

Well, no! Most certainly not! At least, not for me and my house; and let me tell you why by drawing what I think is a very powerful biblical parallel.

Picture in your mind living in a society, not that different to Western society today, where marriage has mostly become a thing of the past; A society in which the idea of one man and one women covenanting to live exclusively together until death has become unfashionable and is no longer the norm. As with the similar notion that sexual relationships should only be between people of the opposite sex, which is already becoming obsolete now, marriage is considered both irrelevant and culturally passé. A quaint relic of an outdated tradition now mostly rejected; indeed, considered by many to be even somewhat offensive.

One doesn’t actually need much of an imagination in order to envisage this because society is heading more and more in this very direction with every passing day. Just a generation ago the practise of gay marriage would have been unthinkable, yet in western society it is being increasingly accepted as being as normal as marriage between a man and a woman. Against such a developing cultural backdrop it is not difficult to see how marriage might soon become regarded as the main stumbling block to the perceived equality of sexual relationships in general and, as already with other aspects of the traditional family, become a thing of the past.

Now in such a scenario we can be sure, based on the last 50 years of Christianity in the west in relationship to changing cultural norms regarding sex and gender, that within a generation of marriage becoming obsolete amongst unbelievers, and therefore society at large, the Christian Church would largely follow suit. Even genuine born again Christians would end up conforming to the new societal norm of rejecting marriage, just as they have already conformed to the idea that divorce and remarriage other than for adultery is acceptable, that feminism is good and biblical patriarchy bad, and just as an increasing number of Christians now think that gay sex and gay marriage is fine and dandy after all. They will, in short, not conform to scripture, but to the overall consensus of the society in which they find themselves living.

Christians will, I am sure, mostly maintain that you should only have sexual relations with another Christian, and will favour having a few long term sexual partnerships as opposed to overly many short term ones; and will doubtless want to encourage their fellow Christians who are in such relationships to stay together long enough for any children that result to have a bit of stability, probably at least until they get to college age. But of course it still won’t be marriage, and therefore still won’t be family life as depicted in the Bible. But that won’t matter to Christians then, any more than it matters to them now what scripture teaches regarding divorce and remarriage, the headship of a man over his wife and family, or that church leadership should be male.

Picture now, in this scenario, a young man who comes to know the Lord for the first time, and who therefore starts reading the Bible. He has been told by those who are older in the faith that it is God’s infallible and authoritative Word, and so he dives into it so he can learn how the Lord wants him to live and to understand what His will is for his life. As a new believer he is obviously, by very default, culturally liberal and therefore naturally feministic, pro-gay and trans, with little or no concept of traditional marriage or family life given that it’s not the societal norm in which he has been raised, even amongst Christians. And as he does read more and more of this book that he now accepts to be the God’s Word, he makes some pretty astounding – and alarming – discoveries; chief of which is that it teaches that sexual relationships are only acceptable in the context of lifelong marriage – which of course, hardly anyone believes any more, Christians included. And he scratches his head and starts to think and pray it through, and he begins to realise the enormous ramifications of what he has read.

Initially, of course, he just goes with the Christian flow and assumes that things are as they should be, and that marriage can’t be of any great importance. After all, if it was important to the Lord and what He really wanted, then obviously all the Christians he fellowships with be ardent supporters and practitioners of it, and would be married to their sexual partners. But they aren’t, so hey…what the heck??? Even more important, of course, is the fact that if what scripture teaches about marriage did matter, then all the church leaders he knows of would be teaching it and would be married too. Ministers and Pastors do, after all, know best, don’t they? All good Christians know that!

But in his ongoing reading, praying and thinking, this ‘marriage thing’ that he sees is so clearly taught in scripture just wont go away. The only reason he’s reading the Bible in the first place is because he loves the Lord, and because he understands it to be the only way to know what He wants. His desire is to daily follow Jesus, and the only means of knowing what that means in practical terms is this book that, amongst a lot of other things that have never been part of his thinking, teaches that sex outside of marriage is a sin. And sin, because he wants to follow the Lord so much, is the very thing he wants to be delivered. He wants to be obedient. He wants to be faithful to His newly-found Lord and Saviour, and so he feels he has no choice but to start asking some serious questions. And of course the mistake he makes to raise the questions with other Christians. Even more even more mistakenly, he raises them with church leaders. What he then hits up against confuses and baffles him beyond words.

Most of the believers he knows don’t really think that his questions matter much encourage him to just concentrate on growing in the Lord and attending church faithfully, and not to get hung up over questions of sexual ethics that no one else is asking. It’s not an issue, they assure him, so why worry? That whole marriage thing was then, they maintain, but this is now! Not worth the controversy, they say!

But this new conscience he’s got since coming to know the Lord just won’t let him do that, so he pushes a bit harder; and he challenges his fellow believers more directly to explain to him why scripture would teach marriage if it didn’t actually matter. And if that wasn’t an even bigger mistake than the other mistakes he’s already made, he then makes the biggest mistake of all, and he starts to challenge church leaders equally directly about it. Working on the assumption that the logical thing to do is to go to those who are supposed know best, and who claim to be teaching their congregations what the Bible says, he quickly discovers the massive difference between what church Ministers, Pastors and Priests want their congregations to think the Bible teaches about certain things, and what the Bible actually does teach about them. The cat is now well and truly out of the bag, and our hapless hero is in B-I-G trouble!

Most of the leaders he talks to take the almost de facto approach of just trying to palm him off with the argument that whereas marriage is obviously what the New Testament depicts (most of them aren’t daft enough to try and get away with saying that doesn’t teach marriage), and was indeed the way things were done in the early church, it is merely descriptive and not prescriptive. It was just how they did things back then. It was just down to the culture of the time, they assure him, and was what was best in that particular historical and cultural context. Although the Christian Church certainly hung on to the concept and practice of marriage for generations after that, as it also did with patriarchy and male headship, and the idea that gay sex was wrong, Christians have now, they explain, realised the time had come whereby such things were presenting a stumbling block to unbelievers, and had become a hindrance to the important mission of evangelising and spreading the gospel in such a way that unbelievers can receive and buy into.

But these arguments, even though from the men who are supposed to know best, just don’t hold water for him, and he is becoming more and more aware of the massive divide between what the Bible quite obviously teaches, and how the Christians of his day were actually living. It is as clear as day to him that that scripture doesn’t in any way allow for such things as marriage and sexual ethics, and numerous other things he keeps hitting up against as well, to be merely matters of preference. Quite the contrary, in fact! It is entirely obvious to him that, as opposed to being matters of preference – mere description as opposed to prescription, as he is repeatedly told – scripture actually makes abundantly clear that such things are matters of unequivocal command. Christians, he concludes, may well assume that such things are matters of mere preference, but it is obvious to him that wherever that assumption originated from, it was never anything to do with scripture itself. The argument, so wearyingly deployed against him, that such things in scripture are merely descriptive and not prescriptive is, he concludes, not only irrational and nonsensical, but simply the way in which Christians in general, and church leaders in particular, justify going against anything in God’s Word that doesn’t suit them.

So he comes to a decision; and it is indeed a bold one! Outside of sharing with others what they are missing in scripture, there is nothing he can yet do in practical terms to put into actual practise what is lacking amongst he fellow believers. He is, after all, a single man, and when something requires the participation of another, and marriage, of course, does, then there is little he can at that moment do. But the unequivocal commitment to biblical practise can nevertheless be made, and he decides that, when he does eventually meet someone with whom he wants to mate, and who desires the same with him, he will absolutely insist on following certain biblical criteria, even at the risk of ending up having to remain celibate his whole life.. The list is simple, but profound:

1) She must be female.

2) She must be a Christian.

3) She must believe in marriage as scripture teaches.

4) They will then marry for life, only after which will they have sexual relations.

His course is now set and he knows exactly what the Lord would have him do, regardless of personal cost: to seek to teach and persuade as many other believers as he can that scripture commands lifelong marriage, that sex outside of marriage is a sin, and that any Christians living together should therefore either end any sexual relationship such as they are in, or get married immediately. And of course now the game-changer has happened. Thus far he’s been regarded as merely weird, though a still a definite nuisance, but nothing overly dreadful beyond that. A young man, so everyone is still praying, who might yet grow out of his strange obsession and become more spiritually balanced.

But now it is clear to his fellow believers, and especially church leaders, that he has now become a full-blown troublemaker and a thoroughly bad and divisive influence. By declaring so publicly that scripture teaches marriage he is implying that everyone else is wrong, and of course not just Christians in general, but church leaders too. He is judging them, and must therefore be a divisive and arrogant troublemaker. And our resolute hero can only scratch his head in wonderment at the logic of these (presumably) otherwise sensible brothers, sisters and church leaders who are maintaining that he, by definition, is doing wrong by saying that they are wrong, but who also think that it’s fine and dandy for them to say that he is wrong. He concludes, however, that such irrationality doesn’t merit further consideration!

All is not lost though! He’s pretty much blacklisted now, and Christian leaders are increasingly warning anyone and everyone against him; and he realises more and more that his walk with the Lord is probably going to be a lonely one. He also discovers that the main weapon so relentlessly employed against him by those who don’t want him to be heard on these things is going to be continuous and unending slander and innuendo. No smear, it would appear, or even intentional lie, is off the table when it comes to church leaders silencing anyone teaching that sex outside of marriage is sin, thereby daring to challenge the consensus of Christian mainstream that it is their job, and a pretty well paid one too, to uphold and maintain. His situation is difficult, to say the least, but then the miracle happens. The Lord brings along a Christian girl who also wants to be faithful to the Lord, and who therefore also wants to do what His Word teaches. So quite brazenly and unapologetically they do the unthinkable…they get married!!!

The outcry from other believers is of varying degrees. Most just refuse to accept that what they have done can be considered a proper relationship, let alone a relationship that all sexually active Christians should embrace, whilst others, and especially Christian Ministers, Pastors and Priests, are somewhat more strident in their denunciations. Does this divisive young troublemaker, and now his poor deceived wife, really have the temerity, the sheer gall and arrogance, to refer to this ‘marriage’ of theirs as a biblical relationship? Are they saying, retorts Christian mainstream, that the rest of us aren’t biblical? Are they suggesting that our sexual relationships, just because they are outside of marriage, are unscriptural? Have they not seen how much God blesses these so-called unbiblical relationships? Do they not accept how clearly the Holy Spirit has led the Christian church into such a consensus? Are they so arrogant and self-important so as to claim that they done are right and everyone else wrong? The fat is well and truly in the fire, and our young man and his beloved new wife hunker down for a very long, hard and lonely haul.

But as time goes by, slowly but surely, here and there, both at home and in other nations, a trickle of other believers get to hear this controversial teaching, and realise that marriage is indeed what scripture commands after all. Many of those who do A lot of those do acknowledge that it is indeed what scripture does teach nevertheless disregard it saying it would be too problematic, couldn’t actually work, and would disrupt their Christian lives too much; but some actually go for it and do the unthinkable themselves. And word slowly gets out that more and more Christians are getting married, and are  being vocal about the fact that their fellow believers are wrong to just disregard something as absolutely fundamental to the Christian life as man/woman/parental relationships. And Christian mainstream, and especially church leaders, get more and more threatened, offended and angry, and do more and more to try and stamp it out once and for all.

Over the years that follow, however, those Christians who have gotten married start to become increasingly aware of why most other Christians haven’t. There is much joy and happiness, to be sure, but problems arise between themselves and their spouses that, precisely because they are married to each other for life, they can’t just walk away from as they would have done before. “Yep, that’s definitely why most Christians don’t like marriage!” they conclude! “Man, we see it all so clearly now! This marriage lark is tough at times, but it means that, by definition, there’s no getting out of it once you’ve done it. If you’re not married you can just go and find someone else when you hit problems, but not when you’re married! God must be wanting to actually do something in us that can only happen because we don’t do that, and because we can’t just walk away and escape anything we don’t like, or because we get increasingly ticked off at each other. Yeah, we definitely get it! This must be that sanctification process that Christians talk about so much but avoid like the plague!” But tough though it is, and all the more so because of the constant opposition and slander from other Christians, everything seems to be nonetheless as it should be. Not only are they married, they are delighted to be so.

But as yet more years pass something starts to happen that is extremely disappointing. Not only are fewer and fewer Christians getting married, a significant number of those who have are divorcing. Marriages are falling apart, and the word is that it’s because people are finding it just too hard being the same relationship for life. The only answer, they feel, is to go back to Christian mainstream and escape this limitation of being trapped in marriage relationships that curb their freedom so much, and which aren’t making them happy. There was so much about how it was before, they recall, that was thrilling and exciting. You know, the buzz of a fresh sexual relationship with somebody new after the last one has worn thin. You don’t get that if you’re husband and wife, and many of the Christians who have gotten married are now saying that they are just missing how it was before too much.

And having gone from being a ridiculously small minority to being a very small minority, our faithful band of protagonists return to being the ridiculously small minority they originally were as more and more of their fellow believers who married divorce, their marriages having failed. Not only that, but the mainstream churches are veritably cock-a-hoop, welcoming back these believers with failed marriages behind them virtually as returning heroes. In the face of such discouragement, disappointment and pain, the question increasingly arises for those who remain doggedly sticking with their biblical convictions regarding marriage: Why not just give up? Marriage obviously doesn’t work for most Christians because they think it’s too hard and just can’t hack it! And we find it hard too, sometimes, and certainly harder than the easy going lack of commitment and sacrifice in mainstream practise! Are we just flogging a dead horse?

But no sooner is the question is asked than it is also answered: If every Christian marriage in the world fails, declares our (now much older) protagonist and his warrior wife, should even our marriage fail, nothing changes the fact that it is what God’s Word teaches and therefore what He wants. If not one Christian couple in the whole wide world were married, and if every believer walking the face of the earth remained deceived concerning it, it wouldn’t change the simple fact that scripture teaches marriage, and that sexual relationships outside of it are wrong. But as it happens, he adds, we actually love each other and would never stop being husband and wife for any reason anyhow.

You can probably see where I’m going with this: What scripture teaches regarding church life is commanded as equally, and as clearly, as is marriage. It is therefore no more a matter of personal preference than is the Lord’s commands regarding family life, irrespective of the fact that 99.99% of Christians seem to unquestioningly think that it is. I am not putting adherence to biblical commands concerning church life in the same ‘first order’ moral category as that of sexual sin, of course not, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t vitally important or that it doesn’t matter. Scripture is our final authority in all things, and any disobedience is an affront to the Lord and His authority, whether it be concerning His instructions regarding family life or church life.

I am sad beyond words how few biblical churches there appear to be, and it is nothing short of tragic to me that a significant proportion of those I have known about over the years failed and are no longer in existence. There will obviously be things going on of which I am not aware, and that thought thrills me, but the available evidence is that biblically based churches remain exotically rare. But am I discouraged to the point that I am ready to give up? Of course not! And neither should anyone else be! The parallel just drawn with marriage, albeit it hypothetical, is nevertheless a profound one because church is, after all, just family writ large. The church is, according to scripture, the very Bride of Christ. And in the same way that marriage is God’s will, whether anyone believes in it or practises it or not, so too is biblical church life.

I am personally blessed on both counts. I have a wonderful marriage and am part of a biblical church that, although somewhat numerically smaller than when we started off 35 years ago, is still going strong. Whether it, or any other biblical church, ultimately survives, isn’t the point! The point is that we have done, and are doing, what scripture teaches regarding something the vast majority of Christians, however unwittingly, are in disobedience to the lord concerning. Am I disappointed that so few believers are conforming to scripture, and therefore to the Lord’s will on this? Of course! But most of the Old Testament prophets were in a somewhat similar circumstance regarding the deficiencies and disobedience of God’s people they were standing against, and there is nothing biblically unusual about being a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

So why don’t we just give up? Why don’t those of us who are so doggedly pursuing biblical church life, yet finding it so dishearteningly and discouragingly hard, stop flogging such a seemingly dead horse and just admit defeat! Well, the answer to that is because we are disciples of Jesus and therefore committed to doing everything we can in order to live according to His will as revealed in the pages of scripture. However badly I may be doing in my discipleship, and believe me, I do indeed think that I am doing rather badly, I nevertheless want to be obedient to Him. And the only way I can do that is by first ascertaining what He actually wants, and the only way I can do that is by living as comprehensively as I can according to His written Word. It really is very, very simple!

So is it time to just quit this whole biblical church thing and be done with it? My answer is simple: What saith the scriptures?