Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Misguided Freedom?

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing don’t mean nothing honey if it ain’t free, now now,
And feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
You know feeling good was good enough for me,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.
(Janis Joplin; “Me and Bobby McGee”)

There was a time when I was a big Janis Joplin fan, but that was long ago. Lately I’ve been thinking about “freedom” again, but not I the sense that Joplin sang about it. I’ve been thinking about “freedom” as we have it in Christ. It’s a wonderful thing, that “freedom,” isn’t it? Who doesn’t appreciate “freedom? Why, the very thought of someone not appreciating freedom actually sounds like there could be a misunderstanding of the cross of Christ, and from a worldly perspective, a propensity for being perhaps somewhat unpatriotic.

Still, I cannot help but wonder if many of us in the church haven’t gone a little too far in preaching “freedom” without also fully explaining just what that freedom is and isn't. What scares me is that a misunderstanding of freedom by some has led to the notion that anything and everything suddenly has become OK and permissible. Notice what the Apostle Paul says:
“For you, brethren, were [indeed] called to freedom; only [do not let your] freedom be an incentive to your flesh and an opportunity or excuse [for selfishness], but through love you should serve one another.” (Galatians 5: 13; Amplified)

Have we embraced the first part of that verse, only to disregard the second half?

We have indeed been called to freedom, but that freedom does not grant us license to sin. We have indeed been called to freedom, but that freedom does not allow for excuses for being selfish or self-centred. We have indeed been called to freedom, but that freedom does not mean that loving one another is optional or merely a suggestion.

I find it peculiar that some today have also gone so far as to appear to have removed the very word “sin” from their vocabulary, as if to suggest that God must have changed His mind on some of those negative traits of the human condition. According to Strongs Exhaustive Concordance, the New Testament makes at least 107 references to “sin” in fifteen of its twenty-seven letters. Apparently the New Testament writers thought it significant enough to discuss “sin” in the church.
“For be sure of this: that no person practicing sexual vice or impurity in thought or in life, or one who is covetous [who has lustful desire for the property of others and is greedy for gain] – for he [in effect] is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one delude and deceive you with empty excuses and groundless arguments [for these sins], for through these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of rebellion and disobedience. So do not associate or be sharers with them.” (Ephesians 5: 5-7; Amplified)

True Christian freedom includes spiritual slavery … of sorts.

The Greek word from which we often get our word servant from is the word “doulos.” It is a word that has also often been translated as “slave.” Ironically one thing that a slave does not have is freedom, and yet from a Christian perspective, the servant/slave is free.

We have indeed been called to freedom, but that freedom includes being a slave to Christ. We have indeed been called to freedom, but that freedom includes being busy with the business (as it were) of the Kingdom of God, just as Jesus was while walking this Earth. We have indeed been called to freedom, and yet in a strange way we have no freedom any more than a slave has his or her freedom. We have indeed been called to freedom, and yet we have a choice. What a strange dichotomy.

What does it mean to be a Christian? A “Christ-ian” is in essence a “Little-Christ.” No, we are not collectively a bunch of “Christs;” there is only one Christ. However, if we are called by His name (Christian), then that also implies we are followers, which in turn means that we will do that which we see Him doing and, by the Spirit's guidance, also calling us to do.
“For as the human body apart from the spirit is lifeless, so faith apart from [its] works of obedience is also dead” (James 2:26; Amplified).
What do the Gospels portray Jesus doing? Well one thing we see Him doing at virtually every turn is being concerned for the physical and spiritual welfare of others, and actually “doing” something about it. We could go so far as to say that Jesus was the father of socialism in its purest form. When concerned about the hunger of the crowd, Jesus told the disciples, "You give them something to eat" (Matthew 6:37). This begs the question, as a “Christ-ian,” Am I likewise concerned for the physical and spiritual welfare of those whose paths cross mine? If not, then could it be that my freedom has become somewhat misguided? If not, could it be that maybe what I really am is not a “Christ-ian,” but a “pseudo-Christian?” Ouch. Thankfully God alone will ultimately make that call, and not you or I.

Is the misuse of freedom the same as disobedience, and does it have a consequence attached?

There is a troubling parable of Jesus’ in which He tells of ten virgins who all “went to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1). From that verse I would suggest that all ten were believers of some kind, for I seriously doubt a non-believer would be looking for the return of Christ (the bridegroom). But here’s where it gets complicated. In the end, the five wise virgins went into the banquet and the five foolish virgins remained locked out only to hear Jesus say to them, “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12).

Now, I can almost see all the red flags popping up all over the place by the implication of “believers” being told by Jesus “I do not know you.” Please understand, I am not suggesting that it is possible to lose one’s salvation, but I am suggesting that there may be a significant number of misguided (wolves?) among the sheep.
“Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and spacious and broad is the way that leads away to destruction, and many are those who are entering through it … Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name and driven out demons in Your name and done many mighty works in Your name? And then I will say to them openly (publically), I never knew you; depart from Me, you who act wickedly [disregarding My commands]” (Matthew 7: 13, 21-23; Amplified). 
Have we disregarded any of Jesus' commands lately? If so, we may have a "Misguided Freedom."

Some questions for further discussion: 

  • Could it be that there are some on church pews who believe themselves to be Christians but who really aren’t? What are we to make of that?

  • Contrary to this apparent move towards universalism that we see in many circles today (our reversal of Matthew 7:13 and the belief that everyone, or at least most people, will ultimately be saved), could it be that the reverse is actually more likely true in that there may be a lot fewer saved than we think?

  • If we allow ourselves to become selfish and loveless, are we in danger of being counted among the five foolish virgins? Could there be eternal consequences for disobedience and the misuse of our freedom?

  • What do you think of the term “pseudo-Christians?” Are they toying with a misguided freedom?


A Postscript:

Dear friend, thanks for reading. Please understand, I do not pretend to have all the answers to these difficult questions. In truth, I often have more questions than I have answers. These are just some of my humble musings and in no way are intended to further faction and divide the Body of Christ. Sometimes I struggle believing that some things are as clear-cut as we often like to make them out to be, and especially so when the Bible often reveals another point of view as well. Peace & Blessings.

Photo Source: Unknown

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Wolf in the Pulpit

For some reason this picture really bothered me when I first saw it. Why? Well, there are two main reasons for it.

First of all, it bothered me because it reminds me of the fact that the New Testament warns that wolves in the pulpit will actually happen. In other words, there is a measure of truth to this caricature, regardless if we like the image or not. This side of the Lord's return, there have been, there are, and there shall always be, wolves in shepherd's clothing.

The second reason that it bothers me is that, I am reminded of the fact that these "shepherds" are leading the faithful, who are completely oblivious to their true identity, astray. These poor sheeple are being duped and deceived ultimately by none other than the great deceiver, the devil himself. That bothers me because, though the masses believe and trust the "shepherd" (in good faith), they could still be, not just wrong, but also lost for all eternity. That really bothers me!

As much as I may dislike this drawing, it may actually be more of a legitimate biblical caricature than many may think, or, like to admit. Consider these two verses from the book of Acts, which in the ESV reads:
"I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20: 29-30).
Ever hear something from the pulpit that sounded "twisted?" It may have been a wolf in disguise that uttered it. Having said that, I am not suggesting that all twisted-sounding things are from the mouths of wolves. At the risk of stirring up a hornet's nest, it may be that you and I are the ones with the "twisted" theology. One hopes not, but with so many different interpretations historically available to us from the same verse of Scripture, it is logical to assume that someone's interpretation is, well, "twisted."

The picture also reminds me of a novel I read sometime ago that made me shudder. It is called The Preacher by Darren Dillman. Here's a taste of the story as taken from the back cover of the book:
After a long and exhaustive search, the pulpit committee of the Crown of Thorns Baptist Church has found a dynamic new preacher. Owen Tisdale is experienced, savvy, and knows how to pack the pews. There is just one problem: The once-peaceful congregation has begun to unravel. At first, it's just little things ... new members with new opinions, an ambitious public-relations campaign, and old members with nightmares. But as the incidents of mayhem mount, a frightening question must be asked: Just who is this man?
Sure, that's just a novel, but it's a novel with a lot of possibility to become reality to one degree or another. From what I have personally witnessed over the years, The Preacher hits a little too close to home. In those situations, was I in the presence of a "Wolf in the Pulpit?" Perhaps I was. As strange as it may sound, I remember hearing a testimony from a church pastor who shared of how he personally came to know the Lord ... after ... having already served several years as a pastor. Now I am not suggesting that he was a wolf in shepherd's clothing before his conversion, but it certainly made me sit up and say ... Hmm.

Is the danger real? Absolutely it is! 
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. ... I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. (1 John 2: 18, 26; NIV)
Why would John warn us about being led astray if that were not a real possibility of happening? Unfortunately there will be some who will be so led astray that, though they may think they're in right standing with God, they may still one day hear those unthinkable words: "I tell you the truth, I don't know you" (Matthew 25:12).

Having said all that:

  • Where do we go from here?
  • Is there a way to spot the "Wolf in the Pulpit" and reduce the risk of falling victim to his false and deceptive teaching?
  • What do we do with the "Wolf in in the Pulpit" if/when we encounter him/her there?
Quite frankly, I do not pretend to have the answer to these questions. So, if you have some thoughts on the subject, I'd love to hear your take on this. Please do drop me a comment. Peace & Blessings.

Photo Source: Unknown (via Facebook)