Friday, 28 November 2008

The Mormon Creed Examined

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It’s a well known fact that to observe the original tenets of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young would be illegal in many countries.”

The following comes from a little booklet I encountered which is entitled “The Mormon Creed Examined,” which claims to be authored by Keith L. Brooks. I am not the author of this, and accept no responsibility for it, but I do agree with it and strongly believe that many today who follow Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) do so without really knowing the truth of what their early leaders originally taught.

The ultimate irony for me is this: If Joseph Smith claimed divine inspiration (which he did), one would have to assume that such “revelations” could not be later edited by others (which they have done many times over). Mormonism as taught today to the unsuspecting is so far removed from the “revelations” of Joseph Smith, that one might have to ask, “Did God change His mind?”

Unfortunately there are many Christians that have been misled by Mormonism. Here in Southern Alberta, as in other parts of the world, Mormonism has spread to such an extent that many of the unsuspecting have actually equated Mormonism with Christianity. There is nothing Christian about Mormonism! I remember a Mormon friend once telling me, “of course we’re Christian because we have the name of Christ on our buildings!” My answer is, “having the name of Christ on your building doesn’t make you a Christian any more than someone swearing and using the Lord’s name in vain makes him a Christian!”

Now on to “The Mormon Creed Examined,” by Keith L. Brooks
_______________
“The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ – this was the title of a little card given to me by a Christian woman who had been convinced by two Mormon elders that the Mormon Church was the true church, loyal in every way to the Bible.

The brief statements on the card appeared to include the basic Christian doctrines for which all evangelical churches are supposed to stand. My friend, however, was not aware that these statements were subject to the interpretation by writings other than the Bible which Mormons regard as sacred. Neither did she know that the distinctive Mormon teachings (which every Bible-loving Christian knows to be contrary to God’s Word) were not mentioned in the creed. The little card, which is freely distributed among members of evangelical churches, has cleverly misled hundreds.

Mormonism As Now Taught

The Bible declares, “If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa.8:20).

For a number of years the author’s folder, The Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error, has been widely circulated. The basic teachings of several modern cults and the clear statements of the Scriptures are arranged in contrasting columns. The cult teachings were taken from the original writings for which the founders claimed divine inspiration, for one would assume that such “revelations” could not later be edited by others.

In some instances divisions have actually occurred within the cults themselves (as in Christian Science and Mormonism), so that certain groups reject part of the original teachings. Succeeding editions of their official books simply omit views originally propagated but which have been unacceptable to many people. But since the founders claimed divine inspiration for their teachings, we are justified in examining the original teachings.

It is difficult, however, to study Mormon beliefs because they insist that they do not hold the views listed and that they hold strictly to the Scriptures. It is a well-known fact that to observe the original tenets of Joseph Smith would be illegal in many countries. Using the 1948 edition of the official handbook of Mormon doctrine as a reference, we will consider the doctrine of salvation. If the Mormons are unscriptural here, obviously we need not proceed to their other doctrines.

Mormon authorities insist that “the church which we represent is the one church and kingdom of God, and we possess the only faith by which the children of men can be brought back into the presence of the Father” (Young - JD 12:205). In the entire book of 418 pages, however, we find but one reference from the Bible, and this in no way supports the statement after which it is used.

According to this book, all human beings are bound by Mormon teaching, since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints “is the only one existing in the world that can and does legitimately bear the name of Christ and His divine authority” (Smith – IE 21:639).

Joseph Smith “was ordained before he came into this world and received every key and ordinance and law ever given to any man on earth from Adam down” (Woodruff – JE 21:317). “It was agreed in the counsels of eternity before the foundation of the earth was laid that Joseph Smith should be the man to bring forth the Word of God to the people and to receive the fullness of the keys and power of the priesthood of the Son of God” (Young – JD, pp.289,290). “The same Mormon priesthood exists on the other side of the veil” (Woodruff – JD 22:333).

Our New Testament makes it very clear that no other priesthood exists over the souls of men since Christ became our exalted High Priest.

Basic to the Mormon doctrine of salvation is the teaching that, like our Lord – who was pre-existent with the Father from all eternity – human beings were also pre-existent and perfect in the celestial state. Instead of our being finite beings (as the Scriptures clearly teach) – creatures of time – we are all visitors from the celestial world who are put on temporary trial in the flesh and given the possibility of “evolving” into “Gods.” (They capitalize the word “Gods” as used of human beings.)

“Man as a spirit was born of heavenly parents and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions prior to coming to earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality” (Grant – IE 28:1090). We don’t need to look for any scriptural authority for this, for this knowledge as to man’s origin has been specially given to the Mormon Church (Smith – CR, p.33). “Not only was the Saviour in the beginning with the Father but also you and I were there. We dwelt there by reason of faithfulness, having kept our first estate, and have been permitted to come into this world and receive a tabernacle of flesh” (CR, pp. 47, 48). We read: “We possess the same faculties and powers the Father possesses, being required to pass through an ordeal by which we will be improved according to the heed we give the principles we have received” (JD 14: 300-302). “The labours we performed in the celestial sphere have had an effect on our lives here and to a certain extent govern the lives we now lead” (Grant – IE 46:75).

It is at once obvious that this doctrine on human pre-existence must call for an entirely new construction of the biblical plan of salvation. How will such teachings be reconciled to clear New Testament statements? The doctrine of pre-existence makes us eternal beings on mortal probation. We are next told that the object of our being placed on this earth is that we may “work out an exaltation that we may prepare ourselves to go back” (Grant IE 48: 123) or that “we may become sons or daughters of God in a fuller sense” (Smith – JD 19: 259).

“We are here to prove whether we are worthy to go into the celestial, the terrestrial, or the telestial worlds or hell or some other place” (Young – JD 4: 269). “We are here that we might have a body and present it in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body and herein is his punishment” (Smith – TJD 8: 181). “We are also here to cooperate with God in the redemption of the dead and in the blessings of our ancestors and for the purpose of redeeming and regenerating the earth on which we live” (Taylor – JD 21: 94).

Then, according to Mormon teaching, those of us who make good are on the way to becoming gods! “The Lord created us for the purpose of our becoming Gods like Himself when we have proved in our present capacity – growing up from the low estate of manhood to become Gods until we can create worlds on worlds” (Young – JD 3: 93). Thus we become rival gods to Him who, in the consummation of this age, is to become all in all.

“Man is endowed with divine attributes and has the capacity in due time of evolving into a God” (IE – 13:31). Young adds that “we can become Kings of kings and Lords of lords” (JD – 3: 265, 266). “We have to learn how to be Gods ourselves” (Smith – TS), and Young adds that when we get to be gods and creators we can “propagate the species in the spiritual” (JD – 6: 274, 275).

Against this backdrop, how can we now hope to make sense of the New Testament teachings concerning salvation by grace through faith without works? (John 6: 28,29; Rom. 3: 27,28; Eph. 2: 8-10; Titus 3:5).

Turning to the subject of the gospel, we find that the Mormons propose entirely new definitions, all of which are contradictions in terms. “The gospel is a system or plan of laws and ordinances by strict obedience to which people are assured they may return again into the presence of the Father” (Young – 13: 233). “The gospel is a portion of the law that pertains to the kingdom where God resides” (JD 8: 159). With so many clear definitions of the gospel in the New Testament, one wonders why some of them are not cited – but not one salvation verse is quoted.

“The gospel,” Smith tells us, “is a code of laws and ordinances given men to enable them to assimilate themselves to those who are in heaven” (MS – 54: 641). The New Testament puts the law and the gospel in full contrast, declaring that any mixture of law or works with grace makes grace of no effect (Rom. 11:6). Hence, it is not strange that Mormonism has to come up with some new, fantastic definitions.

“There is a very foolish idea,” says Young, “that there was no such thing as the gospel of Jesus Christ until Jesus came. It (this idea) is the greatest folly in creation” (JD 20:23). However, the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel tell us precisely of “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (v.1) with the proclamation of John the Baptist of Christ’s coming as the Lamb (vv. 2-8).

According to Mormon teaching, water baptism is the vehicle of conferring the Holy Spirit, and this baptism is invalid unless administered by a properly constituted Mormon official. Says Herber Grant: “We declare to all the world that John’s baptism restored the Aaronic priesthood and bestowed it upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.”

We have left untouched some of the more characteristic Mormon teachings, but we have cited a sufficient number to show even the most superficial student of the New Testament that the claims of Mormon representatives are false. That they seek only to propagate the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord is so obviously deceptive that only one course is open to the sincere seeker for God’s truth: “Mark them which cause … offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).

Origin of Mormonism

In 1820, Joseph Smith, of Palmyra, New York, claimed to have received divine revelations to the effect that all Christian churches were to be repudiated, that the true gospel had been lost since the third century, and that he should find a long-lost book containing the truth. Smith claimed that he was appointed to organize the only true church, of which he was to be the head, with full authority to appoint apostles. He got a following by teaching that judgments were about to be poured out on the earth.

From it’s beginning, Mormonism has been under the rule of an autocratic self-appointed “priesthood.” In reality, it is a great secret society, binding its converts to solemn oaths for life and, through fear of curses, making it very improbable that very many of the converts will get away from the system.

Where did Smith get all the material for the Book of Mormon? He claimed to have found golden plates in a hole in a hillside, and he said that the plates bore a revelation written in “reformed Egyptian.” He claimed that the Lord had given him some special eyeglasses through which he looked at the writing. Immediately the English translation appeared and was written down by an assistant. When all was written, Smith claimed that he gave the plates to an angel, who disappeared with them. Later, ten people said that the contents were based on the material written by a man named Solomon Spaulding and a disposed Baptist minister, Sidney Rigdon, who had been devising a new religion.

Even the origin of Mormonism’s sacred book makes the religion suspect, and the wise seeker for truth will steer clear of it.

_________________________

The preceding was originally published by “Back to the Bible Broadcast.”
For more on this subject, see the following great books:

Roberts, R. Philip. Mormonism Unmasked.
Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee.
1998. ISBN: 0-8054-1652-8

Cowdrey, Wayne L, et. Al. Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?
Vision House Publishers, Santa Ana, California.
1977. ISBN: 0-88449-068-8

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The Shack - by Wm. Paul Young

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There really haven't been too many books out there lately that have grabbed my attention like The Shack has.

To borrow a line from the back cover of the book, "In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant THE SHACK wrestles with the timeless question: Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?"

Over the last few months I've been going through a rather difficult time. If you've been a regular reader on this blog, you may even have noticed that something was up when suddenly there seemed to be an absence of new posts to the blog. Without subjecting you to all the details of this difficult time, let me simply say that our Heavenly Father graciously (and maybe even ironically) used THE SHACK to bring me back again into a closer and deeper relationship with Him. Praise God!

When I started reading this book, at times I found my theology being challenged, as I suspect may have happened to many other readers as well. This is especially true given my Baptist seminary education, and especially regarding the Trinity. However, as I continued being absorbed in THE SHACK, it is interesting that many of those theological challenges seemed to disappear and I found myself seeing our great and loving God with fresh and new eyes. I had never before thought of the Trinity of God in such a fashion as the author describes in this book.

I know there are many critics of this book, but I think most of their problems with THE SHACK stem from the unfortunate bad habit that many of us still have of always wanting to put God into a religious box of our own making. In one You Tube video I recently saw, some pastor kept on slaming this book as being heretical quoting this scripture and that scripture. In truth, his own rantings were equally, if not more so, anti-biblical than the book he was being critical of (see some of my other articles on this blog regarding pastors and institutional churches for more on that).

However, if we stop to think of how the Bible repeatedly describes God as a God who is passionately in love with us, then the author's portrayal of the Trinity of God is suddenly not as far fetched as some would like us to think. Perhaps even more importantly, those critics need to remember that the author never intended this book to be a theology textbook. It is, after all, a novel. Let's not forget that.

I generally don't read too many novels, but I do highly recommend this one. It will challenge you (again, if for no other reason then because of the box we tend to put God into), and it will rip at your heart strings and bring tears to your eyes. Then when you least expect it, THE SHACK will also bring you face to face with your "Papa." May God bless you and give you peace, whatever or whomever your "Missy" may be. http://www.theshackbook.com

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Plastic Christianity

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"for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14)

I was reading an article in my local newspaper on one of Billy Graham’s daughters. She was (rightly) concerned with how we as Christians tend to be plastic and superficial in our Christian walks, at least when we’re in our institutional church buildings. She is quoted to have said,

“Once we’re in the church, we pretend all the sinners are on the outside. We want to keep the rules, and when we can’t, we become shameful and pretend we have it all together.” She goes on to say, “The world is tired of plastic Christians … I told everyone I had it all together, and I was falling apart. And I was scared to death to tell somebody.”

Unfortunately, her experiences are far too common. I too remember how many times in the past I’ve walked into an institutional church building and was greeted by somebody with a “Hi, how are you?” Being concerned to give the kind of answer I knew they wanted, I’d answer with the usual “Fine, thank you.” In truth, I was anything but fine.

Why do we do that? In an attempt to “be” what we’re supposed to be, we lie and put on this mask that everything is OK. Unfortunately, everything is often not OK. The truth is, though, that people don’t want to hear that. If I answered back that this, that, or some other thing is wrong, people would be uncomfortable and not know what to do with it.

Why can we not be real, especially around other Christians? Why are we afraid to “tell it like it is?” Why are we so concerned what other people will think if they find out the truth about our inner turmoil’s and pains?

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The answer lies in the fact that we are “Plastic Christians.” It’s somewhat ironic that the non-Christian world sees this, but we tend not to. Is it little wonder then that the form of Christianity that we present to the world is of no interest to them? The world’s not interested in “plastic.” The world is looking for truth and relevance. They are not looking for masks. They see no relevance in an artificial plastic Christian. They’ve already got enough phoniness in their world. Why would they want the phoniness the institutional church is offering too?

So how do we move from being phoney and plastic Christians to being Christians that are real and relevant, not only in the church, but also in the world? The answer lies in genuine love and relationships. The institutional church is really not conducive to either. And if it’s not conducive to either, then why be a part of it? The institutional church, contrary to what they may say, really does not lend itself to developing real relationships. How can it develop real relationships when in it we’re all lined up in neat rows facing the same direction? How can we develop meaningful, non-plastic relationships, when all we’re looking at is the back of the head in front of us? How can each of us “be” Christ to each other in a meaningful and relevant way, practicing the spiritual gifts that God gives each of us, if we continue to depend of a pastor up front to “do” everything and to let us continue to simply be spectators?

When I left the institutional church, the Lord graciously led me to other non-institutional believers with whom I was able to build real relationships. Suddenly, like never before in all my life, I found myself able to genuinely minister to others and to be ministered to by others. Suddenly I was really able to hear and to empathize with a brother or sister who was hurting deep inside, and just as suddenly, they were able to do the same with me when I was hurting. Suddenly we could cry with each other and rejoice with each other. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “When you come together, everyone has…” In the church the way Christ designed it, “everyone has” something to contribute for the wellbeing of all. When you get together with other believers, regardless where it is, do you have every opportunity to contribute what God has given you for the benefit of others? If not, then what are you doing there?

Unfortunately most institutional churches don’t allow for the “everyone has” of 1 Corinthians 14:26. Instead they tend to focus more on the performances of a few individuals up front. What is the result of this? The result is that we become irrelevant, not only to the world around us, but also to each other within the church. Ultimately the result is that we all become “Plastic Christians” whose only real use is to wipe the dust off the pews with the seat of our pants. How sad!

Friday, 9 May 2008

On Critically Testing Church Leaders

Several years ago I read the book Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff of the Christian Research Institute. While I enjoyed the book immensely, others I talked to about it thought the book far too critical and controversial because of its nature of, as some have said, “airing other peoples dirty laundry.” The book exposes and documents some of the blasphemous teachings of popular faith movement preachers such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, John Avanzini, Morris Cerullo, and a host of others.

Today I sometimes hear from well-meaning brothers and sisters that I am also too critical in the way I address what I believe to be errors (and blasphemies?) in the modern institutional church. If my motivation is to correct errors and to lovingly restore the church to what it originally was intended to be, then my question is, “How can that be wrong?” Acts 17:11 tells us that even Paul’s words were not taken at face value by the Bereans without them first examining the Scriptures. Were they criticized for doing this? No, they were actually commended for doing so.

Recently I was once again reading in Revelation 2 where Jesus begins to deal with the seven churches. One verse in particular caught my attention: “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false” (Revelation 2:2 - NIV). The Amplified Bible says, “…tested and critically appraised …”

What I noticed here is that Jesus commends them for testing and critically appraising. This may sound harsh, but Jesus is not against them for this, but rather commends them for taking such action. Jesus does rebuke the church at Ephesus for something else, but He first commends them for testing those who called themselves apostles. The result of the test is that these so-called “apostles” were found to be impostors and liars. If this was true already back then in the church of Ephesus, does it not stand to reason that the same thing could be true today? Of course it would, and maybe even more so today.

As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we would be irresponsible if we didn’t warn other unsuspecting brothers and sisters of the false teachers and false church systems. Paul says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be Shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!”(Acts 20: 28-31).

Time and again the Bible warns us to be on guard against false teachers (see: Romans 16:17,18; 1 Timothy 1:3,4; 4:16; 2 Timothy 1:13,14; Titus 1:9; 2:1). Am I also simply “airing the institutional church’s dirty laundry” as critics of the aforementioned book claimed that Hank Hanegraaff had done? Maybe. If so, however, then it is only because we are called by Scripture to do exactly that. In 1 Timothy 4:6 we are instructed, “If you point these out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching you have followed.” Do we want to be good ministers of Christ Jesus? If so, then one of our key tasks must be pointing out error and false doctrines in and effort to promote the truth of the Gospel. People don’t always want to hear that, and they may even be offended if they’ve come to believe the lie. However, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

What is the lesson here? The lesson is that the institutional church and her leaders need to be constantly put under the microscope and examined in order to keep the church (Christ’s Body) pure. The fact is that there will be wolves in sheep’s clothing that will constantly creep in among us. The fact is also that there will constantly be tares growing up among the wheat. We need to be aware of this problem. How are we to do that? We become aware by constantly “testing and critically appraising” (Rev. 2:2). Why do we do this? We do so because we are called to “point these out to the brothers” (1 Tim. 4:6).

On another note, anyone can point a finger at another and call them a “false teacher.” Many have done so. My goal is not to personally point fingers at individuals, but rather to encourage you, my readers, to also be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) with regards to personally examining the Scriptures for yourselves to see if what I say is not true. Please do not just blindly take my word for either; prayerfully look up the Scriptural references for yourselves.

Do we believe that the Bible is the “Word of God?” This is either true or it is untrue. If it is untrue, then our faith is a sham and we collectively as a group are nothing more than a social club. However, if we believe that it is true, then we can and must use it as a guide for everything pertaining to our faith. Therefore, when the Bible says something is so, we must take it at face value and believe that it is in fact so. When an institutional church system operates in ways that are not found in the Bible, or are blatantly contradictory to it, then we must speak out against it.

Finally let me say that we do not want to further faction the Body of Christ. If anything, the reverse is true. What we are after is mending and restoring the truth of the faith so that in the end, we can all truly be one (John 17: 20-23). If error is left to continue on its present course without any opposing voice, then we will never see that day. Religious confrontation is never politically correct, but the alternative is a Body of Christ that is so factioned that in truth it is no longer even a body at all, much less the Body of Christ.

The last word belongs to the Apostle Paul. “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2: 25-26).

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Is God a Co-Pilot?

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For the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14)

One of my pet peeves is the “God Is My Co-Pilot” vanity plate. I noticed one of them again the other day. The problem I have with God being only a co-pilot is that it speaks of a God who is not fully in control of things. It also speaks of a man or woman who thinks that they can be fully in control of their own lives and, at best, give God only second place. The way I read my Bible, and the maxim I like to use in my life, is that God has the prominent seat (Pilot, if you will). I don’t ever want to lower Him to anything less than that. The sovereignty of God (see Romans 9) trumps everything, even my free will, which I wouldn’t have if He didn’t first give it to me. In truth, I can’t even choose to come to Him for salvation if He hadn’t called and chosen me first. (See: Matthew 22:14; John 15:16; Ephesians 1: 4-5; 2 Thessalonians 2: 13; 1 Peter 2:9)

Spiritually, it is a dangerous thing to give God less than first place in our lives. God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). The God who created everything out of nothing, who created you and me, cannot and will not play second fiddle to His creation. It is ludicrous to think that He created everything and everyone that exists, only to step back and let His creation have the prominent seat over Him. Is God not still in full control? Does the sun not still rise and set simply because He has so ordained it? Does He not still give us the daily air that we breathe? Or, perhaps, do we somehow think that we can do that without Him? Of course not!

Part of the problem when God is only someone’s co-pilot is that we then also put God into the box of religion and institutionalized Him. Now we control things and essentially “dictate” to Him the terms of His Lordship. We gather around us a great number of teachers to give us what our itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4: 3-4). These false prophets then teach us to “name it and claim it” as if God were a puppet whose strings we can somehow control. If things don’t happen just as we would like, we refuse to accept the concept that maybe this is because it is God’s will that things are happening as they do. Instead, we rationalize that we don’t have enough faith to “dictate” the terms to God. We rationalize from a misreading of Scripture that He gives us everything we want simply because we ask (demand?) it of Him. While we do pray, we often forget the “if it is thy will” part (James 4:15). We bulldoze ahead of God and only afterwards do we (maybe) ask His blessing or advice. Everything needs to start with God, not with us.

If God isn’t unconditionally given the first place, if He isn’t the pilot as opposed to co-pilot of our lives, then we are guilty of evilness and greed, which in turn makes us guilty of idolatry (Colossians 3:5). I define evilness as the spirit of being contrary to God and not giving Him His proper place. By greed I mean the putting ourselves ahead of God, rather than humbly bowing before Him. There is and can be no middle ground. There is no opening in the Trinity for us to compete for.

One cannot half love God and half love our selves any more than one can be half pregnant. A woman either is or isn’t pregnant and God is either given first place or last place in our lives. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6: 24). There is no middle ground. It is really quite black and white. Who is the master, God or you? Who is in the pilot’s seat, God or you? Who is in control of the Body of Christ (the church), God or you? Who are we worshipping, God or our own little man-made kingdoms? Are we being idolatrous? I wonder sometimes.

“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “This is the one I esteem; he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66: 1-2). Do we still know what it means to “tremble” at God’s word? Do we even know what it means anymore to “Fear the Lord” as the early church did? (Acts 5:11).

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Even the Apostle Paul said, “Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off” (Romans 11: 20-22).

God is in total control. He is nobody’s “Co-Pilot.” Be careful walking according to your own understanding. When God speaks, we had better be listening, because if we think we know better by not taking His advice and obeying, then God says, “I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you” (Proverbs 1: 26). We may say, that doesn’t sound much like a loving God, but that is ultimately only because we didn’t get our own way. So then we pout and blame God for not being loving towards us. Sometimes we can be like manipulative little children! Of course God loves us and wants the best for us, but sometimes He does say “No,” and in all things He demands to be first.

Go ahead and put yourself in the pilot’s seat and assign God to the co-pilot’s seat. But when the plane of your life comes crashing down around you, and crashing it sooner or later will, then you will have nobody but yourself to blame. Jeremiah 2:17 says, “Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when He led you in the way? After all, you wanted to lead yourselves; you only wanted God as a co-pilot.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

WWJD: What Would Jesus Drink?

"The Wedding Feast of Cana"
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When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’” (John 2:3)

The other day I heard it again: “Jesus didn’t really turn the water into wine; he turned it into juice.” Have you ever heard that line of reasoning? I’m sure you have. Personally, I’m getting a little tired of those false teachings that leave little or no room for the humanity of Jesus. Now, I’m really not interested in arguing theology; but sometimes I do just want to yell, “Wake up and smell the ‘Draft!’”

I’m certainly not promoting drunkenness, but I am promoting the fact that I’m sure my Lord drank a glass of (alcoholic) wine or two while He walked this earth. I’m sure that Jesus, after a long walk with His disciples, probably would have stopped in at a local pub for a cold beer!

The point is, lest we have forgotten, that Jesus was both “fully man” and “fully God.” He was concerned with the relational, the meeting of people where they were at. If He sat with the prostitutes and if He ate with the tax collectors, I’m sure that He drank with them too. We see this in Jesus' own words when He said, "The son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is proved right by her actions" (Matthew 11: 19). The religious Pharisees criticized Him then, and the religious today often continue to do the same by criticizing Christians who drink and who suggest that Jesus probably did too. I would suggest that it is time that such Christians today stop being so religious!

To answer my critics who would have us to believe that the water that was turned into wine was really a non-alcoholic juice, let me begin by turning our attention to Numbers 6:3. This is the passage which deals with the rules for the Nazirite. It reads, “he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins (emphasis mine). What I noticed here was that within the very same verse there is reference to, 1) wine, 2) other fermented drink, 3) grape juice. The point is, there were words in the original languages for each. If Jesus had turned the water into a juice instead of wine, there were other words that the Gospel writers could have used to describe the water turned into juice. However, they didn’t use those words because the water wasn’t turned into a juice, rather it was turned into a wine. Therefore we can conclude that it was in fact an alcoholic wine that Jesus miraculously created.

Unfortunately what we’ve all too often done is read back into the Gospels what we’ve wanted them to say in order to protect our western Christian biases. We need to understand the culture of the day and read our Bibles in light of that culture. It is a historical fact that grapes were fermented and turned into wine. It is a historical fact that fermented grape juice (wine) was served at weddings. Combine that with what the master of the banquet said to the groom about everyone bringing out the choicest wines first and the cheaper wines after everyone has had too much to drink, whereas the groom saved the best for last (John 2: 9-10), then we also see that it had to be fermented (alcoholic) wine that was being referred to as opposed to simply juice.

Photo Source: unknown; via Facebook
Do we really think that Jesus went to the home of the tax collector for dinner and refused the wine that was, no doubt, put before Him? Do we really think that Jesus went to a wedding banquet, turned the water into wine, and then said, “No thanks, I’ll just drink the Pepsi or a glass of water?” Jesus was “fully human” and would have walked where the people walked, and lived as the people lived; including having a glass of wine or other fermented drink. He did not drink to get drunk and thus violate Scripture on the subject, but I’m sure He did follow the custom of the odd glass of wine, and especially so at a wedding feast. Jesus lived life among the people and still remained sinless. So must we learn to live among the people and still live sinless lives.

The problem is that we each have our own version of a “sin list.” For some people the thought of alcoholic drink of any kind is sinful. It doesn’t matter to them if it’s even only one drink and if the drinker never drinks in excess and gets drunk. For them it’s sin. For the next person it may be tobacco products that are sinful. It’s ironic that Charles Spurgeon, who was known as the “Prince of Preachers,” enjoyed his cigars. While we see tobacco use declining more and more today, the point is that it was once culturally acceptable, even in the church. The next person has no issue with being overweight, even though excessive weight is also not good for any of us and also destroys the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19) as much as too much drinking or smoking does. The point is, people have their own little pet-peeves as to what is acceptable for other Christians and what is not.

What we need to come to is not to judge each other by what we eat or drink, but to act in love. “One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables….One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike” (Romans 14: 2, 5). In Christ we all have the freedom in regards to these things; it’s not a case of right versus wrong, but rather personal freedom in our walk of faith.

Do I drink wine or other fermented drink? Yes, from time to time I do. However, if my brother or sister has an issue with it, I will try and avoid the subject so as not to put a “stumbling block” (Romans 14: 13) into their path due to their weak faith. The key is to always respond in love. If we can learn to do that then I’m convinced we won’t have anywhere near as many divisive and factional (Galatians 5:20) issues as we do now.

Did Jesus drink wine? I’m sure that He did, but if you think differently, I won’t argue the point any further so as not to put a stumbling block between us. Christians have far too many of those between them already.

Anyways, that's the way I see it. Peace.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Of Charitable Donations and Tax Returns

But when you give to charity, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your deeds of charity may be in secret (Matthew 6: 3-4)

Once again the tax season is upon us and once again I’m wrestling with the practice of income tax receipts for charitable donations. While I do not believe that God calls Christians to necessarily give money into institutional church coffers, I do believe that He does call us to give alms as the Holy Spirit leads us and as we see the needs around us.

Let me begin with a couple of illustrations. Some years ago when I was still involved in institutional Christianity, there were two key events that I will always remember concerning the issue of giving. In one case, I had just recently begun serving a local church as their new pastor, when a man who had been the treasurer for many years, asked to meet with me for the purpose of discussing who in the congregation gave what. He seemed a little surprised (or miffed) when I responded that I really didn’t care who gave how much because, as far as I was concerned, individual giving was a private issue between the individual and God. As such, it really wasn’t any of my business, even if I was that person’s pastor. In retrospect, I suspect that what the treasurer wanted me to really see was how much he himself was giving in comparison to other people.

In another instance, we had decided that there was a need for a new computer. As often happened, in order to encourage giving, the people were reminded that their giving would be eligible for an income tax receipt where basically they would get back $4.00 for every $10.00 gift. Despite that common argument in soliciting giving, what impressed me the most was an anonymous envelope in the offering plate one Sunday with $1000.00 cash in it and with a note that simply said, “for the computer.” There was no way anyone could tell where it came from or who the giver was. Certainly, the giver wasn’t interested in an income tax receipt. Isn’t that precisely what Jesus meant in the aforementioned verse from Matthew 6? I believe it is.

The point I’m trying to make is that all charitable giving ought to be a secret and private thing. The practice of registered church offering envelopes so that giving can be tracked is, in my opinion, contrary to the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6: 3-4. “But when you give to charity, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your deeds of charity may be in secret.” Not only is my giving none of anyone else’s business, but also in reality, even any charitable donation record keeping on my part is equally as wrong. “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” speaks to me of even keeping the transaction from myself. I know that such a practice flies against accounting and bookkeeping principles, but the point is that, the only record keeper of my giving is God Himself. Obviously we do know how much we give and to whom we give it, but no other discussion or record keeping of the donation needs to be made by us, and certainly not by anyone else.

Another issue that comes up with charitable donation receipts for income tax purposes is that the government now also knows about our giving practices. It is really quite sickening to think how many of my affairs the government already knows about. It seems to me that they know that charitable giving is personal and private, but in order to gain access to that information, they bribe us with tax breaks. Maybe that is not an issue for most people. Maybe most people reason that they know everything else about me anyways, so what’s one more infringement on my privacy? Most likely, however, is that the almighty dollar speaks louder to most people than anything else.

We reason that we would rather give to charity than give to the tax man, so any vehicle we can use to reduce taxes must be right. In and of itself, that is not wrong seeing as how the government allows for that. The problem is that it goes contrary to Scripture in that our left hand does know what our right hand is doing, and our deeds of charity are not done in secret; everyone knows all about it, including the government. We think we’re serving God, and maybe we are, but perhaps what we are really serving is money. How does all this fit with what Jesus said about us not being able to serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24)? I wonder.

So long as our traditional institutional churches continue operating the way they do, they will continue to support income tax receipts for charitable donations made to them. After all, they have to encourage giving, because without it, they would cease to exist. As much as they claim to worship God, and I have no reason to believe that most do, the current system at least begs the question if in fact many are not also worshiping the dollar. With all due respect to my friends within the institutional system, I wonder sometimes if people aren't being duped into thinking they’re giving to God by giving to the institutional church, but what they’re really giving to is pastor and staff salaries, mortgage payments, utility bills, etc. Do you want to really “give” to God? If so, then don’t give to an institutional church organization, but rather give to people, because in giving to people, we truly give to God. Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Do we want to “give” to God? Maybe we should focus instead on the food bank hampers instead of the offering plate. Maybe we should focus instead on paying the unemployed single mother’s heating bill instead of the offering plate. Maybe we should focus instead on secretly supporting those who, through their love, adopt third world orphans rather than focussing on the offering plate. But unfortunately, then who will see our giving and who will tally it up and give us our pat on the back (and our tax receipt)? If all we want is to be seen and recognized, honoured, and praised by men, then we have already received our reward and no further reward from the Lord will be coming (Matthew 6:2).

I wonder how many people would continue giving to the church, or anywhere else, if the government suddenly took away that charitable donation receipt for income tax purposes? If they ever did, and I long for that day, then maybe we will really see giving that is done simply for the joy of giving, and not with the ulterior motive of getting 40% (or whatever the figure actually is) back on taxes. Unfortunately, in the words of Jeremiah 5:31, “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” I know that sounds harsh, but I believe the warning still holds true today. Who cares about that income tax receipt? Ultimately it is those who care about money. Sure, we all need money, but it ought not to be as high a priority as we seem to have made it. Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

I think it is time that we, as believers, really started focussing on the kingdom of God first and his righteousness. What does that mean? I know what it doesn’t mean, and that is placing as high a value on money as we seem to have done. I know I’m not there yet, but I want to be.

Jesus said, “But when you give to charity, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your deeds of charity may be in secret” (Matthew 6: 3-4).

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, 28 March 2008

Guns In Church?

Recently there appeared an article in our local newspaper (March 22, 2008) entitled, “Pastor whose church was attacked recommends armed guards.” The article begins by saying, “(Colorado Springs, Colo.) The senior pastor at a megachurch where a gunman killed two teenage sisters before being shot by a church volunteer recommends all churches have armed guards.”

What’s wrong with that story? My first thought was, what in the world was a church volunteer doing carrying a gun to a church service? Granted, the carnage could have been much worse had he not shot and killed the gunman. But do the ends justify the means? Certainly it is sad that anyone gets shot and killed by a deranged madman with a gun, regardless whether it’s in a church or anywhere else for that matter.

What I’m concerned with is the promoting of weapons in general, and armed guards in particular, by church leaders for use in the church facilities. No matter which way one looks at it, I doubt very much that Jesus would have come up with the same proposal to such a problem, even if ten times as many people had been killed.

When Jesus was arrested, certainly the disciples with Him thought they were being attacked. Peter himself even went so far as to draw a sword (probably would have been a gun had the technology existed then) and retaliated by cutting off someone’s ear (John 18:10). Jesus quickly rebuked him for doing that. In the parallel passage in Matthew 26:52, Jesus said, “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

In Revelation 2:10, Jesus says to the Church in Smyrna, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…Be faithful even to the point of death.” What is He saying here? Is He suggesting that the believers arm themselves or hire armed guards to protect them if an attack comes? No, He is not. Actually, our Lord isn’t even saying “if” an attack comes; rather He acknowledges that attacks “will” come. Interesting how, knowing that attacks “will” come, still He does not promote any semblance of retaliation by arming the believers. All Jesus did say was “be faithful even to the point of death.” Wow.

The newspaper article in question continued by saying that there was a “forum on church security that drew participants from about 120 Colorado churches.” The article went on to say “Several U.S. churches have been quietly adding armed guards in recent years, while others have avoided the practice because they either don’t have the money or don’t want to appear like a fortress.” However, if churches arm themselves, what else are they saying in doing so? Are they not also essentially saying that they are preparing themselves for retaliation if and/or when attacks come? I believe that they are. Before we go any further, let’s consider a few Scriptures.
Leviticus 19:18. “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.” 
Proverbs 20:22. “Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord and He will deliver you.” 
Proverbs 24:29. “Do not say, ‘I’ll do to him as he has done to me; I’ll pay that man back for what he did.’” 
Matthew 5:39. “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” 
Romans 12:17. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” 
1 Thessalonians 5:15. “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” 
1 Peter 3:9. “Do not repay anyone evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
There are many other Scriptures that also say the same thing, but the point has been made; retaliation is never a part of God’s plan for us. Certainly, like most things in life, that is usually easier said than done. What do we do with deranged madmen who run amuck in our midst? What do we do with maniacal gun-toting murders? I know if someone like that were to harm one of my family members, the carnal side of me would be quick to want to fight back. I suppose we could say that it’s even human nature. However, while that may be my nature to want such a response, it is not God’s nature. God’s nature on such things is pretty clear in the preceding verses. Our carnal side says that we have our rights, including to bear arms, and that we are not going to stand quietly by and be any lunatic’s doormat.

Therein lies the real root of the problem; the constant struggle of living according to the acts of the sinful nature versus living according to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). Guns are only necessary where there is hatred. Hatred is listed among the acts of the sinful nature. The opposite of hatred is love, and where there is love there is also no need for guns. This whole thing strikes me as somewhat ironic in that, while we speak of God as being a God of love, we have those in our midst who essentially want to put a holstered gun on God’s hip! How is that possible? My God is a God of love, who loved me so much that He armed Himself and retaliated at His Son’s crucifixion by blowing the brains out of those who killed Jesus. Is that how the Gospels read? Of course not! It’s sad how we preach one thing and so often live according to a completely different set of values. It really is little wonder that much of the non-Christian world so often looks at Christians and shakes their heads saying, “Hypocrites!”

This leads me to another point that I’ve often harped on before, and must do again. Institutional churches will always have elements to them that go contrary to Scriptural teachings. Why? Because they are man-made institutions and not what God ordained that His church should be. The institutional church will always teach and do things that promote its own survival and protect its own assets.

So now, according to the aforementioned newspaper article, we see approximately 120 institutional churches in Colorado alone convening a forum to discuss “church security” in their respective institutions. No surprise there! Of course they have to do that, given that they have their own respective “kingdoms” to protect. Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). So where then is the Kingdom of God? Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). Notice that He didn’t say that you are “in” it, in the sense that you can be “in” a specific place or building. So if the kingdom is within each of us, then it is spiritual and not physical.

Each man’s work will be tested by fire. Paul says that, “no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Isn’t it interesting that God’s Word says that He will test our work with fire and yet we are busy doing everything we can to protect our “work” (buildings) from that fire that, God Himself will sooner or later be sending? The fact of the matter is that, in building our own kingdoms with gold and silver and costly stones, we’re working against God! When will we start to see that God isn’t interested in our institutional church buildings (megachurch or not) any more than He is interested in the supermarket or gas station down the street? The kingdom is within us; it is spiritual. We are not within the kingdom in the sense that we are in some physical place.

Sooner or later that place that everyone is so concerned about protecting, is going to burn. There is no doubt about it. Go ahead an arm yourselves in an effort to protect what you have built, but God is going to test that thing that you have built, and He is going to do so with fire.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). If living according to the “fruit of the Spirit” is really the quest of all true Christians, then here’s my final question: where do guns fit in? I wonder.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Monday, 17 March 2008

What Are the Grounds for Genuine Fellowship?

“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4: 4-6)


Is it my imagination, or is there is a problem today when it comes to real Christian fellowship? It seems that there are many non-scriptural definitions that we have come to accept as being fellowship when in reality they have little or nothing to do with fellowship as taught by our Lord and His apostles.

What is the problem? The problem is that we have often defined fellowship with sectarian and factional values. We often seem to only be able to fellowship with those who think like we do and reject fellowship with those who think differently than we do. We seem to have the mind set that, if you share my doctrinal and denominational values, then we can fellowship. If you do not, then we cannot fellowship because we seem to see each other as being unscriptural at best, and maybe even worse, as being somehow un-Christian.

I’m reminded of a time when I was the pastor of a small church and we had a visiting missionary who requested the use of an overhead projector. Ours was broken, so the suggestion was made to borrow one from another church across the street from us. Some of the elders balked at the suggestion because this other church was a part of a different denomination and so, the implication was, they were somehow inferior to us. As the other church was much more liberal than we were, some even went so far as to question whether or not they even were Christians. Can you believe it?! How sad that they thought that we couldn’t even borrow an overhead projector from them, much less actually fellowship with them or, heaven forbid, invite them to join us to hear this missionary's testimony.

In the aforementioned verse from Ephesians we see seven components that constitute genuine fellowship. We would do well to reflect a little on each of those points before we too hastily decide who it is and who it isn’t that we can fellowship with. Remember, the Lord is not going to segregate us in heaven, so we had better not do so here on earth. God makes no allowance for our denominational or doctrinal views; He simply includes us, or rejects us, based only upon our acceptance or rejection of the Lord Jesus. If we think there are other options, then I would argue that we are sadly mistaken. There is only ONE Body, ONE Spirit, ONE Hope, ONE Lord, ONE Faith, ONE Baptism, and ONE God. Anyone who acknowledges that, not only can, but also must be fellowshipped with. If we dare reject others, then not only are we sectarian ourselves, but worse, we also are essentially rejecting Christ because Christ has accepted them.

ONE BODY
Where do we get off separating ourselves from other believers? There is only ONE Body, not many bodies. The Body of Christ is made up of all who profess faith in the Lord Jesus. Just as my physical body is made up of many different parts (1 Corinthians 12: 12-26), and just as I cannot pick and choose which of those parts I want to accept and which I want to reject, likewise we have no business accepting certain members of the Body of Christ and rejecting others. How silly it would be to cut off my left arm because of some defect that I perceive on it. How silly it also is to cut off another member of the Body of Christ because of a defect that we perceive in them.

We all became a part of the Body of Christ the very second that we came to believe. What is required by the Lord in order to be accepted by Him? A right doctrine on the mode of baptism? A belief in the rapture of the church? Perhaps it’s the practice of head coverings that we need to be concerned with. While these might be important doctrinal issues to some, the fact remains that the only prerequisite for salvation is calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21). Regardless of what our denominational backgrounds are, if we have received Christ, we belong to that ONE Body and there is nothing that can rightly separate us from it. The fact is that we are ONE. Isn’t it time that we acted like it? Being in ONE Body is “grounds for genuine fellowship.”

ONE SPIRIT
You and I must be prepared to fellowship with anyone who desires to fellowship with us. Again, if they have received Christ, they are our brother and sister and therefore we must be of ONE Spirit in our fellowship with them. Since there is only one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, then there must also be only ONE Spirit. Why is it that we can often agree with the former and live like we disagree with the latter?

If I say that I don’t believe in institutional church systems (which I don’t) and if I then also make a distinction between Christians in the institutional system versus those outside of the institutional system, then I am just as sectarian as those who differentiate between denominations. There are not multiple Spirits; there is ONE Spirit. God does not send one Spirit to this group of believers and another one to another group of believers. No, God has decreed that there should be but ONE Spirit. If we cannot accept that, then my dear brothers, we are out of sync with God’s holy and perfect plan. Being in ONE Spirit is “grounds for genuine fellowship.”

ONE HOPE
While we each may hope in many worldly and carnal things, ultimately there can be but ONE Hope for all believers; that is an eternity spent with the Lord. Obviously we must live the life of faith day by day as God leads us. I’m not talking, as the old adage says, of “being so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.” God certainly has His own hopes and expectations for us here and now.

However, the ONE Hope that we are talking about here is an eternal hope with our Heavenly Father. Won’t that be wonderful? Therein lies the test. Are you, like me, looking forward to that day? Do you have that ONE Hope of someday being in Glory with the Lord? That is one of the common denominators that all true believers share. Having ONE Hope gives us “grounds for genuine fellowship.”

ONE LORD
Many years ago I was a Beatles fan. One of the Beatles, George Harrison, had a hit song called “My Sweet Lord.” While the title may sound Christian, the song was far from it. It is no secret that the Beatles had experimented with Hinduism. This is evidenced by some lyrics in Harrison’s song, which mention Hare Krishna, Brahma, and Vishnu; all of which are Hindu deities. While George Harrison sung about those deities as “lord,” the fact is that none of them are “lord.” Why? Because there is only ONE Lord, and that is Jesus Christ.

When Peter addressed the crowd at Pentecost, he said, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Jesus of Nazareth, who died on the cross and three days later rose again, is Lord. There is no other. If you confess Jesus as your Lord, regardless of your traditions or denominational background, then your Lord is my Lord too. Nothing can, and no one dare, separate those who call on the same ONE Lord, Jesus Christ. Since we call on the same ONE Lord, that calling gives us “grounds for genuine fellowship.”

ONE FAITH
When we talk about ONE Faith, we are not talking about one denomination. We are also not talking about one specific biblical form of interpretation over another one. What are we then talking about? We are talking about “the” ONE Faith that Jesus is the Son of God who came to the world as a baby, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on a cross for the remission of our sin, and three days later rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God the Father. By ONE Faith we mean that we believe that He died in our place, for sinners, and by His living again, we too through faith in Him can have new life both, now and in eternity with God.

Those are the essentials of our ONE Faith. Do you believe that? If you do, then you belong to the Lord. However, if you do not believe that, then you do not belong to the Lord. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). If you and I share “the” ONE Faith, regardless of our other traditions and denominational (or non-denominational) backgrounds, then believing in that ONE faith gives us “grounds for genuine fellowship.”

ONE BAPTISM
Some of my former Baptist colleagues may initially take exception on this point. While personally I believe that “baptism” is by immersion, not all children of God do. Many practice other modes of baptism, which to them, are real and genuine expressions of their faith. Watchman Nee is quoted to have said, “if we make the form of baptism the dividing line between those who belong to the church and those who do not, we shall exclude many true believers from our fellowship.”

One small church I was pastor of faced that very dilemma. We had a number of believers start to come from other church traditions. They wanted to join our church through membership but were denied by the church board because they had not been baptised by immersion. I will never forget telling them of the board’s decision that they had to be re-baptised by immersion first before they could join us. One of those dear sisters even then quoted this very verse to me saying, “I thought there was only ONE baptism.” Unfortunately, we were too bogged down with our own traditions to see that truth that she had seen so clearly. She was right and we were wrong.

Still, when asked to baptise someone, I will always do so by immersion, for I believe that to be the correct Biblical example. However, more important than the mode of baptism is the name into which we were baptised. Once we came to believe, were you and I baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus? If so, then we are automatically members in His church and we require no other endorsement by man in order to become members of the church. There is only ONE Baptism, and that is into the name of the Lord Jesus. Regardless of all other traditions that we may have, if we have been baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus, then that ONE Baptism fully qualifies us, and gives us the “grounds for genuine fellowship.”

ONE GOD
There is only ONE God. He had no beginning, nor will He have any end. He always was there. Everything and everyone that exists had its beginning in Him. The theologians of old spoke of this as “Creatio ex Nihilo,” which literally means “creation out of nothing.” There were no pre-existent materials that God used in His Creation. In the same way, our ONE God is also personal and as such we can call on Him as “Abba Father,” or Daddy (Romans 8:15).

Also true is that, as a Holy God, He is to be reverently feared. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) and means that we reject every other deity and serve only Him. It means that together in fellowship, we lovingly walk in all of God's ways and serve only Him with all our hearts, souls, and minds. This has nothing to do with bondage, as some in error have presumed, but on the contrary it is actually very freeing.

Do you share that belief in ONE God who is supernatural, personal and Holy? If so, then you are my brother and you are my sister, and we belong to one family that no one had better dare to divide and faction. If you share my belief in ONE God, then that gives us “grounds for genuine fellowship.”

GENUINE FELLOWSHIP
It would be really easy for any one of us to faction the Body of Christ due to all sorts of problems that we see in the faith of others. We’ve all done it. We’re all guilty as charged. One needs only to look at the number of different denominations that we have created. Even under the same denomination there are often countless more factions. Let me use my former Baptist tradition as an example. In Canada under the Baptist umbrella there are the General Conference, the North American Conference, the Southern Conference, the Fellowship Conference, and the Baptist Union, and who knows how many others. In truth, every denomination has its own similar story. Every last one of them is carnal! Every last one of them is a faction! Every last one of them is sectarian! The minute you or I make any kind of distinction between ourselves and others, be it denominational or non-denominational, institutional or non-institutional (and I wrestle with this too), we are being carnal, factional, and sectarian.

Sure, every once in a while there is some token effort to do something together, but then we quickly go back to our own little kingdoms. This is not what Jesus had in mind when He spoke of the Kingdom of God. We can and we must learn to have real, unpretentious, and genuine fellowship with one another. The only grounds for genuine fellowship are found in Ephesians 4: 4-6. There is ONE Body, ONE Spirit, ONE Hope, ONE Lord, ONE Faith, ONE Baptism, and ONE God. This can be the ONLY line in who belongs to the Church and who does not. The minute we add any other conditions or requirements, we are going to alienate some brothers and sisters from our fellowship. The minute that we settle for less than these seven ONE’s, we leave ourselves open to non-believers in our fellowship.

I believe that what the Lord is telling us is that, as someone once said, “He wants His church back.” Are we listening? I wonder.

In essentials, unity;
In non-essentials, liberty;
In all things, charity.
(Augustine)

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Thursday, 6 March 2008

I Gave Up On Civil Religion!

FIRST, A CAVEAT:

While I am NOT the author of this article, I do agree with much that he says in it. As such, I thought it bears re-sharing. The web address is included for those interested in knowing its source.

However, there is a problem. I tried to contact the author using the e-mail address on the site in order to get permission to repost this, but my e-mail was returned undeliverable. Apparently the e-mail address provided is no longer in service, and since then, neither is website itself.

If anyone reading this knows who the author is, please do send me a message with the details so that I may properly contact him regarding this post. I would very much like to secure proper permission for it's reposting, as well as to be able to give credit where credit is due. If the author does not wish to grant permission for this reposting of his material, I will promptly take this post down. Thank you.
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I GAVE UP ON CIVIL RELIGION!

When I was a child, I joined the Boy Scouts. We often met in church buildings. I learned about how to help little old ladies across the street, and about how America was good, and righteous. I was raised in the South, and so tradition was deep in my bones. I went to the First Presbyterian church every Sunday, even though my Daddy was an atheist. There I saw the first black people who had ever tried to attend turned away, and the news made the national press. Up in the balcony where I sat and tried to stay awake every Sunday, a very fat and very loud woman assured everyone who was listening that it was all Communist inspired. I went to Sunday School, where I heard our sheriff talk about the educational crisis. Several years later I read a book by conservative educational writer Max Rafferty, and it was word for word the same, because my local sheriff had plagiarized it. He, the good Christian man that he was, later left office in the midst of scandal. In the midst of all this, I began to wonder if being a Christian was smart.
I still do not understand why those who incessantly preach the inerrancy of the Bible, completely and utterly fail to practice the church as revealed in its pages.
At the University of South Carolina in the radical early seventies, I almost lost my faith, and then I found it, courtesy of a small group of misfitted Jesus people radicals. It was through them that I learned about radical, biblical, New Testament house church Christianity. That oasis of heaven in the midst of a radical leftist hell is something that marked me for life. The exhilarating experience of church life in the midst of a radically antichristian culture, and reading Watchman Nee's Normal Christian Church Life, set me on a course from which I have not deviated. I want to know the church as it was in Jesus' mind when he established it, and commissioned his apostles to plant it.

Now I am getting old, and I am no longer thrilled about America. It is pagan to its roots. Its media, its universities and colleges, its think tanks, its political parties, its businesses, its entertainment and popular culture, its public schools, and worst of all, its church institutions (for the most part) are apostate. When its politicians incessantly invoke "Gawd," I try to restrain the nausea.

I looked to the conservative church to fight the rot, but the church was not there for me. The stifling ecclesiastical bureaucracies, the preening professionalism of its pastorate, its shallowness, its cowardly compromises, and in many cases, its downright immorality left me looking elsewhere.

I never stopped believing the Bible. I believed it when I was told it was the inerrant, infallible, inspired word of God. But I looked in there, and I never could find the "church" as I saw it in America. I could not, and still do not, understand why those who incessantly preach the inerrancy of the Bible, completely and utterly fail to practice the church as revealed in its pages.

My scepticism about the American Constantinian church started in a Presbyterian Sunday School class. The teacher, a college professor, was teaching us about church government. I asked a completely innocent, and logical, question: where's the Scripture reference for the pastor? When I was met with dead silence, I was astounded. A Presbyterian college professor couldn't tell me where in the Bible was the pastor?

I've learned since then there's a lot of things in the American mercantile church that aren't in the Biblical New Testament house church. There are no sermons there. No Christian religious church buildings to house passive pew potatoes listening to a professional orator dishing out three alliterative points. No church budgets. No salaried clergy. No clergy period. No religious furniture pointing all the somnolescent "laity" in the direction of the "clergy," putting on his one-man show, paid to perform week in and week out. No Sunday School. No children's church. No juvenile segregation. No church business meetings decided by a majority votes, or votes of any kinds. No elders meetings held apart from the rest of the church, where decisions are handed down to to the rest of the brothers, who don't know what's going on. No funereal communion services where the communicants sip little shot glasses of grape juice, and eat soda crackers. No big tongue up front wagging for a bunch of little ears in an audience.

What you do find in the New Testament are meetings held every Sunday around the Lord's Table, which is a table that holds a full meal, as well as the bread and wine. Decision-making by consensus. Children who meet with their adult brothers and sisters. Mutually participatory, and mutually edifying meetings in which EACH member speaks, with no pastor directing the meeting. Churches meeting, eating, and hanging out together where families live, eat, and hang out together: in their homes. Churches which discipline themselves, and where phoniness can't be hid, and where real people share their lives with each other, and whose members grow quickly up unto the head. Churches where the members weep for one another, and rejoice with one another.

So now I, who started so conservative, am a radical. It's been a long, lonely fight, trying to get people to look at the Bible to see what it contains. The inertia is terrible. Many don't even want to look. They say that its been done this way for centuries, it must be right. I respond: the Catholic Church did it their way for centuries, I'm glad someone decided to buck their system. The prejudice is also terrible. Over and over I hear the same defence stratagems: you can't expect the church to be perfect with imperfect people. Why do you hate the good people in the institutional church? Not all pastors are tyrants. The Bible never commands the church you describe, it merely describes it, so ecclesiologically we therefore can do what is right in our own eyes. And so on.

Of course, all these objections can be answered. I don't expect the church to be composed of perfect people, I just expect it be biblical. Every house church I know is composed of imperfect people, just like the institutional church is. The difference is this: the biblical house church has ways of dealing with that imperfection, and has means of putting spiritual treasures in those earthen vessels. And of course I don't hate the people in the ecclesiastical system, I hate the system that has ensnared them, usually through no fault of their own. And of course not all pastors are tyrants. Of all the victims of the antibiblical Western church, none are more tragic than the lonely pastor, many of whom took the job thinking this was the best way he could serve the Lord he loves. And I'm not saying that institutional church people are bad, rather, I'm saying that the institutional church system is bad. But I am saying that just because the Bible doesn't command that we do church a certain way, we are therefore free to do it however we want to, free from the guilt of transgressing the Lord's commands.

This last point is crucial. Until we all realize that the house church is not optional, but imperative, we are doomed to defeat. The marginalization of the church and all she stands for will continue, no doubt to the point of persecution. More and more will turn from the grace of Christ to other gods. The pain and misery of good people trying to make their Christianity work in a system that won't let them be what Jesus called them to be will continue. And it needs to stop.
And look at church history. Is anyone prepared to make the preposterous statement that we have actually figured out a better way than the apostles?
How can I say that the biblical home church is imperative, and not a mere option? Let's take the logic of those who say if there are no positive commands in the Bible to do something, we don't have to do them. Well: there are no positive commands to stay unregistered with the state. To have meetings. To meet once a week instead of once a year. To have church leaders. To have the Lord's Supper more than once every ten years. There is no specific command forbidding us to baptize infants, or to baptize the dead. So let's just do what's right in our own eyes, and forget Jesus' apostles. Let's became a dead- and infant-baptizing state church, with no leaders, eating the Lord's Supper every ten years, and meeting once a year. Who will there be who can point out a Scripture to us that we are violating the Scripture? There will be no one, because on this silly hermeneutical principle, we have violated no positive command of Scripture!!!

But I tell you, there are lots of Scriptures which do positively tell us to follow the apostles' examples. I'll mention some in a minute, but first: what is the main thing apostles do? They establish churches. Now, why in the world would we not follow their lead and example? Why would we have the sheer, unmitigated gall to think we can do it better than they did? And look at church history. Is anyone prepared to make the preposterous statement that we have actually figured out a better way than the apostles?

What are some of the Scriptures that exhort obedience to the apostles? In I Tim 4:16, Paul exhorts the Corinthians: "Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy – He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church." I will ask you a simple question: when is the last time you heard a church leader tell you that he is trying to imitate Paul, to imitate what Paul was doing "in EVERY church"?

Here are more Scriptures. I Cor 11:2 : "I praise you for remembering me in EVERYTHING and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you." I Cor 11:16: "If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have NO OTHER PRACTICE - nor do the churches of God." Phil 4:9: "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - PUT IT INTO PRACTICE." II Thess 2:15: "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings (traditions) we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter."

I will end with one last question. What happens when you reject the practices of an apostle? The answer is very simple. You reject Jesus Christ, who said: "whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me." (Jn 13:20) Jesus also informed his apostle that if the world obeyed Jesus' teaching, they would obey his apostles' teaching also. (Jn 15:20) So what does that say about church builders who build their way, and not the apostles' way? It means they have disobeyed Jesus' teaching.

I believe in radical obedience to Christ. And that ineluctably leads to a biblical house church. And that means no more long-robed, solemn-voiced professional holy men praying at high school football games and business dedications. No more civil religion. Real church. Church, Jesus' way.

Story Source: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/8395/civil.html
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Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Anglican Diocese Faced With Legal Battle

The “Anglican diocese faced with legal battle.” So ran the headline of a Feb 25, 2008 article of a Canadian newspaper. What is the issue? Apparently a local Anglican congregation near Toronto voted unanimously to split with the Anglican Church of Canada because of issues that they believed were fundamental to their faith. It seems that the Anglican Church of Canada is, among other things, supporting same-sex marriages, which the local congregation opposes.

There are a number of issues here that bear noting. First, there is the issue of a so-called Christian organization supporting same-sex marriage. Second, there is the legal action being taken by one party in the dispute against the other before the secular courts. Third, there is the further factions in the Body of Christ. Fourth, none of this comes as any surprise given that a denominational association is entirely man-made and not God ordained. Here’s a couple quick thoughts on each of these four points.

Same Sex Marriage
At the risk of coming across as "homophobic," which I certainly am not, the Bible makes it pretty clear that the “homosexual offenders” will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6: 9-10). If that is true, then the local Anglican congregation being referred to in the article is perhaps right in taking a stand on these grounds. As for the Anglican diocese that supports same sex marriages, apparently they're either reading from a different Bible, or simply interpreting certain verses differently.

Having said that, God does love the "homosexual offenders" just as much as He loves the heterosexual "offenders." If God loves them, then so must we. I do not believe, however, that homosexuality was ever a part of God's plan for humanity; the human anatomy by itself should prove that. The bottom line: Love all people, regardless who they are and regardless of their lifestyle. IF there is to be any judgment on the subject, leave it to God. Do I agree with homosexuality? No. Am I striving to love the individuals who identify themselves as homosexuals? Absolutely, "Yes." As believers that is all that we are called to do; Love. At the end of the day, I won't judge anyone but myself.

Legal Action
The Christian has no business taking another Christian to a secular court. The Apostle Paul said, “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?” (1 Corinthians 6: 1). Believers are to judge disputes between believers themselves. Secular courts have no business in the church. What could a secular judge or jury possible know about things pertaining to the church? Nothing. Paul says further, “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6: 7).

Yes, the local congregation has paid all the bills pertaining to their building without help, apparently, from the diocese. Now the diocese wants them out and they want to take over the building. Those responsible will one day answer to God for that. The New Testament example is to turn the other cheek. Jesus said, “If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” (Matthew 5: 40). Sure, it is easier said than done, but that is the Biblical example that we ought to strive for.

Factions in the Body of Christ
Unfortunately church history is full of factions among its members. This group takes exception to that group’s doctrines, and the other group can’t agree with the first group’s doctrines. Next thing you know there is a church split. We all think that we are right and they are wrong. The truth of the matter is that, “now we see but a poor reflection” (1 Corinthians 13: 12). If any one of us dares to think that we have this walk of faith fully figured out, we are sadly mistaken.

The real issue is a lack of love one for another. The Bible calls us “carnal” or “worldly.” We are self-centered creatures that want, above all else, to have our own way. Do we even still know what the word “reconciliation” means? If we really learned to love one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord, regardless of doctrinal views, there would be far fewer church splits. Church factions are listed among the “acts of the sinful nature” in Galatians 5: 19-20. Every time there is another church split, it is a sure sign that her members are not living by the fruit of the Spirit, but rather are walking according to their sinful nature. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” (1 John 4: 20). There is the sobering truth of the matter. We claim to love God. That is only true if we also love one another. Otherwise, the Bible says we are liars.

Denominational Associations
Nowhere in the Bible can we find any support for denominations or denominational associations or boards. Such groupings are strictly man-made and not God ordained. Whenever a local church joins a denomination they cease to be a scriptural church and they become a sect. Any kind of denominational affiliation is sectarian because it further divides the Body of Christ.

Paul makes this pretty clear in 1 Corinthians 1: 10-17. He urges believers to agree with one another so that there may be “no divisions” among us. He asks, “Is Christ divided?” Of course not! Then why do we faction His Body along denominational lines?

Finally ...
So, does the aforementioned newspaper article surprise me? No, not at all. I’m saddened by it, but not surprised. It is a man-made organization and as such will naturally behave carnally. I would encourage the local congregation to really seek God in this and to continue to gather together, focussing on love and relationships, regardless of the legal outcome. God may still have a purpose for them in this.

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