Friday, November 16, 2007
The best expressions of church life rise out of Christian brethren, and those with whom their lives have daily contact, and who become attracted by, and interested in, the love and other differences they perceive in the relationships amongst Christians.
In other words the church is not something we build by our efforts, by zealously doing things according to a formula developed from some formula, theology or creed.
The genuine church is that which arises amongst those who have a common Father, born anew by His Spirit, and learning to live, loving each other, and sharing that love with others around them. They love because He loves(1Jn.4:19),with no other agenda.
It is hard for some folks to see that, since they have the idea that if we can just embrace the most godly, the most orthodox,the most historical system, we’ll see the church rise in glory.
The fact is the church is not a system, or an organization, or any other appellation, at all. God never designed it that way.
The church is an extension of the relationship we have with Christ, and is expressed in the relationship we have with other believers, who follow the Father's direction, as the Holy Spirit applies the Scriptures to our lives. As we are obedient to His leading, through the Scriptures, we work and discover together that our ministry is to love those with whom we interact on a daily basis.
When we learn to function in this way, we will be better equipped to reach out to those who are without Christ elsewhere in the world.
We could easily consider the reaction of God to those who tell Him, "Lord, Lord! We have given great amounts of money, spent much time in prayer, to support those in the remotest part of the earth!"
He will answer, "And you have done well, but, what about those you can easily love, your Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria? What about the neighbours who surround you, the shopkeeper, business people you see on a regular basis? Have you invited them into your life in any way, a cup of coffee, a meal,an offer of help? If you did do so, will they see Christ in you, the hope of glory, or simply a one-a-week, pious, religious legalistic shell?"
Thursday, October 11, 2007
From the beginning of my years of being a teaching elder (pastor), it was soon made quite apparent that many members of the congregations had an attitude, towards teaching elders in general, that they had the final word on what to believe and do, and that, in effect, such men were literally a Magisterium (aka Roman Catholicism). This was something I vigorously sought to discourage during those many years.
The mistaken attitude of many congregants is that elders are, somehow, spiritually superior beings who have a hot-line to God which "ordinary" Christians don't have. Sadly some, if not many, elders, or whatever label they wear, love to perpetuate the myth.
It was very pleasing to see a blog post which has concerns regarding this destructive, and I believe, evil practice . A commenter said,
"We Protestants profess to hold to sola scriptura. But sometimes our own peculiar traditions or our favorite pastors or other teachers effectively hold the position of a Magisterium in our lives. We sometimes look to them for all the answers, and allow them to interpret Scripture for us.
In other words, we need to hear and practice what many pastors say during their sermons: "Do not accept anything I say here simply because I say it; test everything against the Scripture."
In a response to one who commented, Greg gives good advice, of which I am sure CHS would approve, when he says , "One more thought: Sola scriptura means that the Bible is the only /infallible/ authority--it does not mean that we make no use of tradition & councils. We can give them weight without regarding them as infallible." (my emphasis)
It is my firm conviction that God will be glorified, the congregation of the Lord will grow and be seen to be what it was called to be, when those who are entrusted with preaching & teaching, do so, for the purpose of equipping God's people to confidently read, understand, interpret, and minister the word of God; in effect, replacing themselves with competent ministers, and do so without any thought of financial advantage, massaging their ego, maintaining or enhancing their career.
What a sad thing it is to hear folk propping up what they believe by what "the pastor said", what "the Confession said", what "the Constitution said".
What a joy to see a congregation one has the privilege to teach having a mind-set such as the Bereans in Acts 17:11, and confidently able to say, "Thus speaks the Lord in His word"!
Saturday, September 29, 2007
conferences and conventions, some local, some state-wide, and some global.
As always Lucifer stands at the rostrum, like any religious presidential figure,
smilingly proud of the expectant faces looking up at him.
Like most religions, after the preliminaries are over, like welcoming those closest
and most loyal, usually those who pander to his insatiable pride, his evil eminence
gives his opening address.
There was something of great urgency in his voice this time, as he said,
"My dear brethren! I cannot but get straight to the point. We have had great
successes causing Christians to turn from their original purposes. At first we
tried to keep them from meeting in the buildings they refer to as “churches”.
"Obviously we have been successful in blocking them from properly
understanding their original purpose of actually being the building made
up of living stones.
As a result, we now have no need to keep them from their meetings.
”We know can't keep them from reading about the truth in their Bibles.
On the other hand we have been largely successful in obscuring the truth
by causing them to believe their leaders are the only ones who can
understand the truth. They have become dependent on men, instead of
independent of them. Instead they have become independent of God
and His instructions for them. That's good!
"Because of the power of God’s spirit, we can't keep them from knowing
about their saviour (the devil would hardly use capital letters). Problem is,
once they gain that connection with Jesus, our power over their eternal
end is broken, but because they are still part of their world, we can
still exert great influence. "I have figured out a strategy which will help
our cause. We now have no need to hinder them from their weekly ritual
of going to their, excuse me, "churches", heh, heh, heh, which they think is
being the people their saviour died for; nor have we any need to hinder
them from their, so-called, fellowship dinners, which are contrived to make
them appear in unity.
Most human organizations do these things, for much the same reason, a
psychological ploy called ‘bonding sessions’.
"The plan I’ve hatched is this: Let’s steal their time, so they don't have
time to think about matters and realize they
have got it wrong.
Rubbing his hands together, and chuckling to himself the devil said, "This is
the way it will work! We will give them leaders who think like those who
belong to us, they will assume the position of Chief Executive Officers,
Their lack of humility will cause them to think they are special; you know,
more sophisticated, higher status.
“These leaders will do all the planning and thinking. Like our crew in
the world, they will constantly want to be seen in the right places,
with the right people, traveling the world to do so. They will preach,
and talk about their authority, about money and numbers, and
about those who can be coerced to join their organization.
Quantity rather than quality will be the name of the game!
“These leaders must be urged to jealously hold on to their
positions, which…….Oh! Hah! Hah! I can hardly speak when
I picture it….they think are biblical OFFICES which give them status.
Can you believe their naivety?
Having composed himself, the devil continue, "Now, our major task will be
to distract them from understanding the relationship with his father,
which their saviour has purchased for them, and the intimacy with
Him, which can be theirs with one another, as a result!
The devils cohorts are getting excited and restless by now, and loudly
shouted, "How can we achieve this?"
The devil’s smile was cunning and malevolent,"Develop in them a sense of
dependence on their leaders. Cause them think that the leaders
are the only ones who can really hear the holy spirit speak to them
through the written words the father has given them. Instill in them
the mindset that they must depend on their leaders to tell them what
to believe and how to live. Help the leaders to develop an
unhealthy regard for themselves and their expertise.
Encourage the leaders to train the people to sit silently,
like zombies, in their pews. Then make sure that the leaders reinforce,
in those dummies who follow them, that they cannot be good
followers of their saviour if they don’t attend every meeting of
their religion, that these meetings are more important than husbands,
wives, families or ministry needs. Very importantly, cause the
leaders to become skilled at guilt tripping sermons.
As for the followers of these leaders, cause them to demand a lifestyle
which will fill their time with getting more and more income,
with the goal of gaining the material goods which are dangled before
their eyes on a daily basis.
Cause them to develop strong interests in other religious activities
which they call sport, clubs, lodges, going to the pub, etc. You know
what I mean, keep them busy with the non-essentials of life and invent
innumerable schemes to occupy their minds.
"Very importantly help them to get deeper and deeper into debt. .
Then work on the wives, persuade the wives that the greater need
is for them to forgo the greatest God-given ministry in the world,
of being a homemaker and mother, and to take outside work for
long hours to make up for what the husbands can’t contribute to
their debt load.
Cause the wives to , follow their own whims and cease honoring their
husbands as the spiritual head of the family.
"Plan their debt and their covetousness so they will need to work
long hours seven days each week.
"An important spin-off will come with this. Both husbands
and wives will be tired and on edge. The slightest thing
will upset them and cause them to argue. The blame game
will begin, and, best of all the knock on effect will be that many
will divorce, the children will be affected by the parents
inconsistency with what their revered bible tells them, and
reject what the parents supposedly stand for.
“Of course their busy-ness, fawning after, and keeping up
with their leaders, and their legalistic demands, working, working,
working, will prevent them from spending quality time with, and
serving, their fellow believers, and their children, prevent them
teaching of the saviour and forming them into godly members
Whatever you do, stop them from thinking about the things
they profess to believe; whilst driving make them turn the radio
or cassette player on, preventing them from talking, sharing,
fellowshipping, thinking, meditating.
Give them the pretext that they need to constantly listen to
religious speakers and music. Whilst at home, urge them to
keep the TV, VCR, CDs and their PCs constantly switched on,
so that, you, brethren, can tantalize their lusts, cravings, appetites,
covetousness, and simply keep their minds occupied.
"Cause them to forget that real beauty is internal. Throw the
world’s ideas of beauty at them, everything that is skin deep,
like the half-starved women on catwalks, the glitz and glamor
of society, the artificial, purile world of sexual impurity,
unfaithfulness and lust characterized in the popular magazines
It will induce husbands to be dissatisfied with their wives
and wives with their husbands.
"Help them to become religious zealots worshiping,
what they like to call, “nature”, instead of seeing the world
as a manifestation of God’s creating power, glory and majesty,
a gift from Him to provide their needs.
"Give them Santa Claus and Easter bunnies instead of my
enemy who hung himself on that cross.
Distract them from his resurrection and power over sin and
"Whatever you do, give them a multitude of “good”
projects to be involved in, you know, the things
they can do with their limited human capabilities,
sacrificing their health and family for the good cause.
“I remind you that you are the secret service of my
government. Ensure that the suckers never realize that
our motto is Keep Them BUSY --- B-e U-nder S-atan's Y-oke!
The attentive demons were like young horses chafing at the bit, eager
to put their master’s plan into operation, chatting about their master’s
instructions, “We’ll get them busier and busier in religious
Another voice cried, “Remember worldly activities, and
As they rejoiced in the knowledge that, if they could achieve
their master’s ideals, one ventured, “Christians everywhere
will be so busy being religious, ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’,
and being “good”, that they will have little time to be godly.”
Another chimed in excitedly, “Their families will disintegrate.
The world will see that there is nothing distinctive about them,
and laugh at their false piety.”
A voice from the back of the venue was heard to loudly exclaimed,
"They won’t have time for their God or for the ministry, to
which they have been called, of rearing godly
families, serving one another, sharing the news about Jesus
A great cheer went up! A semblance of order was restored,
and as the infernal president of this annual convention drew the
meeting to a close, he couldn’t help but indulge in a loud snicker,
and said, “Come to think of it, we’ve been rather successful
to date, let’s put our shoulders to the load!
We will gather, at a place to be announced, next year.
This meeting is duly closed!”
Friday, September 28, 2007
Paul gave a warning to the congregation of believers at Corinth, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall”. (1 Cor. 10:12).
Sometimes, when we read the writings, or hear the pronunciations, of leaders, we forget that those who have been deceived, as a result of which they become deceivers, can be in positions upon which rests greater responsibility.
They can be the nicest, most sincere, and diligent leaders, not the openly malicious wolves, often imagined.
In 1 Kings, chapter 13 we find the account of a prophet who the Scriptures describe as being “a man of God from Judah to Bethel”, who was there because of “ the word of the LORD” He had been sent by God as a His mouthpiece, to prophesy against Jeroboam, the kin. There could be no doubt about the prophets credentials because His prophecy proved to be true, fulfilled in the way it was spoken. The Lord healed the king’s withered hand through the ministry of this prophet. He was a man whose single mindedness towards God kept him from coveting the honors of this world. Such a man would not likely be deceived. Well! Would he?
Have a read: 1 Kings 13:1-10
How we praise God for such an upright, honourable man!
One of his peers arrives on the scene, a prophet, who came to deceive the faithful prophet with an invitation to do exactly what the Lord had forbidden (1 Kings 13:14-17).
At this point we could be forgiven if we concluded that all was well and the first prophet‘s integrity would hold firm. It didn’t! He believed the older prophet. He was deceived.
Look at how God’s man was deceived! The older prophet said to him, “I also am a prophet like you, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, “Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water”(1 Kings 13:18). Then we read these vivid words, “But he lied to him”(18b).
The first prophet, honorable man of God that he was, could have had a banquet with the King, but would rather be faithful to his Lord. Now, we find this very same man , heeding a lying prophet, who gave him a similar invitation, which refuted God’s instructions, by speaking a lie.
After enjoying the repast, he resumed his journey, but not without a reminder of his unfaithfulness. The old prophet now drops a bombshell, “and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, Thus says the LORD, "Because you have disobeyed the command of the LORD, and have not observed the commandment which the LORD your God commanded you, but have returned and eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which He said to you, Eat no bread and drink no water; your body shall not come to the grave of your fathers.'
There are many questions we could ask about this story. The old prophet proved to be a true prophet, his prophesy proved to be a true word from God, yet he had lied. Whatever the motives, he was used to test the first prophet, who had received a direct word from God. Why did he succumb?
Apparently the old prophet knew what would happen and willingly gave his donkey, a precious possession, to the first prophet.
The first prophet continued on his way and, “………. a lion met him on the way and killed him, and his body was thrown on the road, with the donkey standing beside it; the lion also was standing beside the body....And he (the old prophet) went and found his body thrown on the road with the donkey and the lion standing beside the body; the lion had not eaten the body nor torn the donkey”...” (1 Kings 24, 28).
What is this telling us?
There can be no doubt that there are many leaders today who are knowledgeable, nice, sincere, clean-cut, good orators, rhetoricians of great skill, but how many are really like the old prophet?
How many believers are studying the Scriptures for themselves, hearing the Spirit of God speak through His word, so that they will not be convinced by leaders who speak false words which they claim is what God says?
It’s very easy to point to the obvious cults, which abound. But what of the cults that are forming within mainstream Christianity, who have evangelical statements of doctrine, but revolve around one man, or a small group of men who claim to have the authority of God?
Every word spoken by those entrusted as elders, pastors, or whatever they might be named, MUST be put to the test of Scripture itself, and not what the speaker or writer claims that Scripture says. Leaders need to often remind themselves of Paul's warning to the believers at Corinth , after all they are a part of the congregation, not apart from it.
What is your measure of truth? What a famous author, dead or alive, says? What a great preacher, dead or alive, says? What some, so-called prophet says? What your denominational Confession, or Statement of faith says? Or! Is your measure of truth what God has revealed in His word?
There are no infallible teachers, preachers, elders, and that includes the pope and me! The only sure word of God is what is written in the pages of Scripture!
Monday, September 24, 2007
I have no doubt that there will be those who would have Alan drawn and quartered for his views which challenge the status quo and the comfortable careers some have chosen for themselves and worked towards.
If we can see congregations led by men who are long-standing members of that congregation, whose spiritual and human development has been observed by people who know him intimately, know him for whom his present witness declares he is in Christ, not for what he did or was in the past, and now recognize him as a man prepared by God for eldership, we will see truly Biblical leadership and congregations who can follow their leaders, rather than their chief executives.
The implications, of what Alan outlines, are enormous, both for congregations who decide to understand eldership in the way he has written, and for those men who understand themselves to be members of a congregation who have been given a corporate ministry of making disciples in the community in which they live.
It is my belief, in my country, it will require a move of the Holy Spirit, which bypasses much of the established "church" which insists on functioning as a humanistic institution structured on humanistic principles, in which leaders see themselves as career men working their way to the top, sometimes using very humanistic methods.
A congregant who proposes a similar approach to Alan's series, will find themselves charged with any number of demeanors such as divisiveness, undermining the pastor's authority, etc., etc.
If we read Scripture, in the light of what Scriptures say, and not in the light of what our traditions say(many of which are trying to maintain an earthly tabernacle cf. Heb.9:6,8), we will find that much of our traditional views are forced, to say the least. We are not Old Covenant, but New Covenant people, we are Christ followers, with new orders, everyone gifted, and having a ministry, some gifted in the area of leadership.
All are equal, but with different responsibilities. There is simply no Biblical evidence to believe that an hierarchy, of any sort, is tenable.
Friday, September 7, 2007
Brother Dave Black linked to David Regier’s blog regarding his many good thoughts regarding confession and he says, “I thank God for those people in my life (including bloggers I know only via the web) whose company invigorates me, and when I watch their lives I am full of new resolve to confess my sins and shortcomings (sometimes to others and not only to God). I have found it extremely helpful, as David points out, to remember that my actions and thoughts are never purely private matters but effect the people all around me, for good or for ill. I too am growing in my ability to be transparent with my fellow Christians. For people in whom the Holy Spirit is working, living without personal integrity and spiritual community is simply intolerable.”
This is so very important, but Dave’s bracketed comment has something extremely important to say, (sometimes to others and not only to God). The word “sometimes” is a very wise word to use and it is with that thought in mind I wrote a response to David’s great comments:
I have, through my own experience in those days, and that of others in later life, modified my thinking to a large degree. I like to think that the Biblical idealism of my younger days has been been balanced by a healthy Biblical realism, which is not at all cynical.
I am reminded of Solomon's words, "If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, And if you scoff, you alone will bear it."(Prov.9:12)
I was warned by a wise older brother to never share the deep things of the heart, such as you speak of, with another brother unless he had proven himself trustworthy, and then, with only one whom you know will conscientiously honor your trust, and bear your burdens with you. I confess I privately scoffed, and I did have to bear it, for many years to come.
Our Lord's words to the disciples mean much more to me in these days, "I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves."
As much as I loved, and was loved in return, by the congregations I served for many years in Jesus' name, there are still only three or four people with whom I would share my confession.
During my years I have seen lives, literally destroyed, families damaged, simply because Christians are imperfect human beings, who, without intent, malice, or any other purpose, thoughtlessly leaked a confidence shared in confession.
The older brother mentioned above, in my opinion, was one of the wisest and most mature Christians it has been my privilege to know. He was a deacon in a church which didn’t recognize elders, but never understood they had a God trained elder in their midst.
I am thankful to David for prompting my thoughts and want to make clear that my further comments are for whomever may want to peruse my sorry attempts to share some of the lessons I've learned.
I have learned that there are many reasons why people “confess”, both publicly and privately. For some it is simply a psychological transfer of their guilt onto the one/s to whom they confess (“you are to carry my burdens”). For some there is a sense that they portray themselves as heroes of the faith because they have the “guts” to confess . For some it is a carry over from R. C. doctrine. Sometimes there is bravado in the confession ( “my sin is worse than yours”) . To many confession is simply a work which must be done on the way to heaven. Strange, but very human, never-the-less true. There are many reasons which are not genuine Biblical confession (often bringing to question the genuineness of their faith).
Some, or all, of these can be very real stumbling-blocks for new, or immature Christians.
Confession is not necessarily connected with saving faith. Unbelievers often confess for the above reasons, even in tears, often because they have been caught out.
I am convinced that, even amongst Christians, there is seldom any awareness, or recognition, of the enormity of our sin, and that the confessors often grade the seriousness of their sin, as lesser or greater sins, and therefore less or more serious..
Grief and ensuing sorrow leading to repentance recognizes the grave insult which our sin does to what our Saviour, in His life, death and resurrection, has done on our behalf, and ought to be the reason we confess, by specifying the sin, firstly, to our heavenly Father, and secondly, to those offended, and generally (not specifying the sin) to the wider group, NOT simply because it is a good, thing to do.
My concern is that there seems to be a culture of confession developing in many churches, especially the non-institutional ones (I don’t belong to one), which has absolutely nothing to do with genuine Biblical, Holy Spirit influenced, sorrow and repentance.
I have no doubt that there are many false professors (unbelievers) in congregations who have done much harm to the cause of Christ via the well meaning, but naïve use of the Scriptures, by genuine brethren, to justify an idea that seems to have reached its time, or what is assumed to be a re-discovered truth. As I mentioned in my response to David, I have seen lives destroyed and families damaged because of this.
Maybe, many, who have been recognized as elders, need to understand that they ride donkeys, not white chargers, and lead the way in general confession as the congregations meet, and teach about the fact that confession, apart from a genuine relationship with Christ (saving faith) and genuine repentance, that confession is meaningless.
Monday, September 3, 2007
During the last several weeks my thoughts have been stimulated, along a particular thread, by brothers Dave Black, Alan Knox, Steve Sensenig, Lew, et al. I’ve come to love these fellows through their writings, not just because they and I seem to be on the same page, sharing the same concerns, but because I sense they share my love for the Lord Jesus Christ and His people, the Church He promised to build. Accompanying that sense is that of a common distrust of what “the church” has become. I am so grateful to God for allowing me the privilege of interacting with such brethren.
Their blogs, and indeed, some of the responses to their writing, has often caused me to come to a point where I feel compelled to commit them to writing. That is true of this attempt.
In response to one who commented on his blog entitled “Ransome letter Theology…", Alan responded, “…. . to be completely honest, I don't care about the "system". I do care about people whether they are part of a system or not. I am concerned about these things because it teaches people how to rely on the system instead of teaching them how to rely on God.”
Dave Black has written an article which he titled “A Twenty-first Century Church”, and makes the statement, “Power cannot last if we do not worship it.” As he finishes his article he makes the provocative statement, “The fight of faith to which we are committed is not a battle against Christianity. It is a battle to free Christianity from the shackles of Christendom, to smash our idols, and to establish a church that is once again characterized by poverty of spirit”.
In a blog entry entitled "How (Not) to Judge Someone’s Orthodoxy", Steve, quite correctly refers to, what appears to be, a common attitude amongst those who believe they are the sole owners of orthodoxy, when making a judgment regarding the state of the soul of another, “Don’t give your brother any benefit of the doubt. Give them, rather, a theological quiz, and grade it based on your own inerrant, infallible, and complete knowledge of the truth.” His post entitled "WCF and Its View of Scripture", as well as some of the comments, also illustrates the issue.
Lew has been posing some questions, such as one about tithes and offerings, which are often used to make an assessment of one’s spiritual standing within “orthodoxy”.
These brethren are not alone in their concerns about what is happening around us, and their comments illustrate very clearly a growing concern that has been gnawing at me for years, but which, I must confess, I didn’t want to entertain.
Even though we can find a wide variety of thought on what Christians call “orthodoxy”, I am convinced that our particular “orthodoxy”, whether it is old “orthodoxy” or the new “orthodoxy” equates, in the minds of many leaders and members, with power, control, an assumption of having God in the team “because we are orthodox”, a source of pride “because we are not like those others who don’t believe what we believe”. It gives us a false legitimacy for our schisms, and it keeps the focus on “our church”, “our denomination”, “our emphasis” etc.! The fear of being seen as "unfaithful" prevents many from "jumping ship".
This is an abomination, which in fact is ANTICHRIST! Take note! I did not write that it is THE antichrist!
This "our church”, “our denomination”, “our emphasis” orthodoxy IS NOT the orthodoxy of the Lord Jesus Christ nor that of the Apostles!
Why do I say that it is antichrist? Simply because it is the criteria of acceptance of others as genuine Christians, and is the focus of local “church” membership.
The particular “orthodoxy” to which a group subscribes promotes a culture of suspicion and enmity towards, and rejection of others who fulfill all the requirements of Scripture regarding becoming, and being a child of God.
Most of us understand the word ‘antichrist’ to mean ‘against Christ’ because of the prefix ‘anti’. That’s quite correct, but, it also means ‘instead of Christ’! More often than not our “orthodoxy” is more important than whether a person is in relationship with the Father through the finished work of His precious Son.
Our “orthodoxy” promotes other antichrist attitudes within the system it produces. Listen to people who belong to “church” groups talking about what Scriptures teach, about moral or ethical issues. Whose name is invoked most often? “Pastor so-and-so says ….”, “such and such author says…”, “our constitution says….”, etc., etc.,etc.
How many times do we hear someone say, “The Lord says….”, or “The Scriptures say….”, or “God’s word says…” in comparison to the above?
Aren’t we in danger of placing “pastor”, an author, our constitution, our denominational distinctives, in a position which is, in fact, instead of Christ?
Is it possible that in our adherence, to a particular doctrinal, denominational, position, or a particular “pastor’s” or author’s teaching, has grown into a religious fervor that has turned our “orthodoxy” into the place where our security rests?
Is your “orthodoxy” really a false god, an ANTICHRIST ?
Monday, August 20, 2007
Herman Sasse, a German, came to Australia in 1949. He was a theologian and author who was a member of the faculty of a Lutheran seminary in Adelaide. He wrote an article entitled Luther’s Legacy to Christianity. He wrote in his native language and the article was translated by Lutheran pastor Matthew Harrison.
Some of what Sasse wrote fed the flames of my heartfelt desire to see the members of churches, especially including the leaders, start to exhibit genuine Biblical honesty in their lives.
Let me explain! Several years ago I was speaking to a young man entrusted with the leadership of a congregation. In the course of our conversation a realization struck me, which I voiced, “I don’t know a truly honest pastor!” I had been speaking to him about being transparent in all his dealings with people. The upshot was that my young pastor friend wasn’t impressed, and hasn’t spoken to me since. What I said apparently didn’t coincide with the wisdom he had obtained in the denominational college from which he had recently graduated.
For many years I stood before congregations of silent people, who would stand to sing hymns which expressed great Biblical truths. No matter what the hymn expressed, contrition, repentance, or great Calvary joy, their faces and voices remained the same.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I was not seeing the real person reflected in those faces, I was seeing masks which people put on when they attended congregational meetings, both Sunday and mid-week, the same masks I saw when on pastoral visits.
Back to Sasse, who wrote, “As the rediscoverer of the Gospel of the grace of God, h e (Luther) was the Reformer of the Church, and not only the church of one land, rather the entire, the one church of God on earth.
Only he has understood Luther, who understands him as the Reformer of the Church. The legacy which Luther left behind can be properly grasped only by one who realizes that this legacy applies to all of Christendom on earth. For if Luther - as he himself thought and the Evangelical church believes - with his discovery of the saving truth of the justification of the sinner through faith alone, did nothing other than bring the holy gospel to light again, then his discovery has a significance as universal as the Gospel itself.”
These words were written by Luther on the 16th of February, and found after his death as he speaks of the unfathomable depth of the Bible: "No one can understand Vergil in his Bucolics or Georgics unless he has been a shepherd or farmer for five years. No one can understand Cicero in his letters unless he has served in a significant position in government for 20 years. No one can apprehend the Holy Scriptures unless he has governed a congregation for a 100 years with the Prophets." The note concludes with the sentence: "We are beggars: This is true." Sasse says, “This is true”, and adds, “The words ‘We are beggars’ are written in German for emphasis.”
He goes on to say, “They (the previous words) ring powerfully already in the first words of his lectures on Romans of 1513, where he notes that it is the intent of this letter 'to destroy, root-out, and bring to naught all wisdom and righteousness of the flesh, and this to fortify and make sin great.'
Luther understood that even though "by grace alone" was understood by Roman Catholicism, he insisted that "through faith alone" MUST be added, because, unlike R.Cism, he understood that "Even in the best of lives, our deeds are naught", and that the forgiveness of God and in the power of His Holy Spirit, we are NEVER righteous by what we are and do, rather always ONLY through that which Christ is and what He as done for us.
So many leaders, whether assigned the tile Bishop or Pastor, Elder or Deacon, seem to have no idea that the pious masks which they exhibit , cause damage to themselves as they struggle to maintain the charade, and damage to those they lead, who are looking to be encouraged that sanctification DOES NOT come through seminary training, longevity of tenure or title.
Count von Zinzendorf’s words declare the truth of the matter:
Jesus Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress
With it before God shall I stand,
When I heaven shall enter in.
No matter who we are, Wesley, Calvin, Dave Black, Alan Knox or plain ol’ Aussie John; if we are saved, then it is not because of our amazingly pious life or prodigious work, or diligence, faithfulness or longevity in ministry, but because the Lord Christ died for such poor beggarly sinners.
Paul clearly understood that God has made Him for us "Wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption" (I Cor. 1:31). IN HIM is our wisdom! IN HIM is our sanctification, and IN HIM is our redemption. And Luther is right, until the day we leave this life, we remain those who must come to HIM for bread, beggars who had to come to HIM for life, beggars who, to one degree or another, retain the dregs of the sin that put HIM on the cross, no matter who we are, or what level of spiritual growth we imagine for ourselves.
What utter danger we put ourselves in if we ever come to a place in life where we assume that we are no longer bearers of our Adamic heritage which causes man to stand proud before God.
Sasse reminds us of this danger as he quotes Luther’s bold assertion: "Be careful never to endeavor to obtain such purity, that you no longer find yourself a sinner, much less desire to be one. Christ dwells only among sinners. This is why he descended from heaven, when He dwelt among the righteous, so also to make His dwelling among sinners. Take note of this His love time and again and you will experience the sweetest consolation... And so only in Him, through having despaired of yourself and your works, will you find peace. Here you will learn from Christ Himself, that He, as He has received you unto Himself, has made your sins His own, and His righteousness your righteousness."
How could we ever allow ourselves the humanistic luxury, which appears to pervade much of leadership today, of thinking we are something better than Luther confessed at the end of his life?
Because that which Luther described as “a profound evil corruption of human nature," prevents us from understanding our beggarly state. He said that, “… it must be believed on the basis of holy Scripture." That we are sinners "Even in the best of lives"! Even in the best!!
And as Sasse continues, “ the "best" Christ is perceived in the daily and rich forgiveness of sins, this human reason cannot grasp, and it will not accept it for true when it hears it spoken. Original sin can be compared to one of those mental illnesses, a sign of which is that the sick person can no longer recognize his illness, and believes he is entirely healthy.”
There is the real problem: We are like a sick person who cannot acknowledge his ill health and believes that all is well! We seem to think that when we came to Christ with hands outstretched seeking the morsel of living bread He offered, that was the end of our lowly state. No wonder Christians, including leaders, have nervous breakdowns, depression leading to sinful behavior, etc., etc.
These are induced by the effort of dishonesty in wearing our masks! No one can do it!
In works induced, meeting attending, tithing, knowledge fed pride, Christians have largely entered a self-righteous state because we refuse to believe the whole picture the scriptures paints of the state of mankind. We fool ourselves into believing we have nothing to confess to one another, no struggles with sin to contend with and we become liars. We are “good people”! We measure ourselves against the murderers, the rapists, the more public sinners such as homosexuals and abortionists, and settle into smug self satisfied comfort because “we are not like them”!
Preachers stand in pulpits and quote the experts, the gurus, their favorite authors, both past and present. Listen carefully to the messages of many preachers and you will hear the works of so many bygone men of God being regurgitated, often word for word. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent as leaders travel huge distances to attend conference after conference to hear how to do it, how to say it and what to do and say.
The answers, apparently, are everywhere but in the Word of God.
Well, my brethren, we are like them! And we remain beggars, even though saved by grace, through faith in the finished work of Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. This beggar is so thankful for that..
Friday, August 17, 2007
Every religion except one puts upon you doing something in order to recommend yourself to God.
It is only the religion of Christ (which runs counter to all the rest by affirming that we are saved and called with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to the Father's own purpose and grace) which was not sold out to us on certain conditions to be fulfilled by ourselves, but was given us (all believers ) in Christ before the world began.It was long ago remarked by a good man that "It is the business of all false religion to patch up a righteousness in which the sinner is to stand before God. But it is the business of the glorious gospel to bring near to us, by the hand of the Holy Spirit, a righteousness ready wrought, a robe of perfection ready made, wherein God's people, to all the purposes of justification and happiness, stand perfect and without fault before the throne."
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Apart from a small area in the south, Australia is severely drought stricken, the severity and longevity of which depending on where one lives. This has been so for several years. Some areas, five to six years. Consequently there are rigid restrictions on our use of water in most metropolitan and urban areas. Many farmers simply cannot plant crops or grow feed for livestock; many have sold everything. Some have simply walked off their farms. Water is the subject of most conversations.
The water supply for S.E.Queensland, the population of which is 2.8 million is now down to 15% of storage capacity. This is where I live.
I have always been a keen gardener, mainly growing a wide variety of vegetables for our own consumption and to share with neighbors, but restrictions on water usage have meant that is not possible.
I like fresh vegetables, so, a few months ago I decided that I would experiment with hydroponic growing as a means of using much less water (growing without soil). No digging and bending for people like me who have backs which don’t bend painlessly.
The vegetables are just as tasty as any grown in soil, despite my initial skepticism, and what the purists will tell you, and every bit as nutritious, and the plants look really beautiful in their glistening white tubes, and so very clean, nothing to mar their appearance, but without doubt their environment is certainly very artificial.
As I was contemplating the setup in my backyard, it struck me how similar this was to the Christian scene I grew up in, and sought to function in, for the early years of my life in Christ.
Artificial! That’s the way I would now describe those years of orthodox evangelical “christianism” I experienced, and tried to live, in those early days, and ministered in in later years.
During my teen years I struggled to feel that I “belonged” with the “perfect” people who surrounded me. Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth! Their public persona was immaculate; smiles, hugs, clinical precision in matters ecclesiological, legal carefulness in everything spiritual, sartorial splendor in the pulpit, fashionable elegance in the pews. Of course, everyone carried the biggest, blackest Bible (KJV, of course) they could find, in the most prominent manner they could muster. The church building was a somber place in which children couldn’t utter a sound. Laughter in that place was irreverent.
These were the real Christians! How could such an imperfect creature as I possibly fit into this scene. I knew that in me there was a “natural man” who, sometimes said the wrong thing, in the wrong way. I knew that, no matter how much I read the Bible, went to church, and prayed, that my mind was still capable of sinful thoughts and urges. When I hit my finger with a hammer? Hmmmnnn!
The longer I spent in this scene the more I became uncomfortable as much effort was expended to instill in the younger ones the need to never be seen with those dirty, ignorant people who sinned, such as the fellow who lived with his girlfriend, the unmarried girl who was pregnant, the convicted criminal just out of prison from serving his sentence, and especially it was important to stay away from those low creatures who frequented the pubs. We were to be separate from such unholiness.
And then I began to understand the Scriptures for myself. Reading it became an eye-brow-raising event. I studied everything I could get my hands onto. I read the Arminians and the Reformers and Puritans. The revelation was mind-blowing. No matter what their theological leanings, the writers, including those who wrote the Scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were nothing like the “christianists” amongst whom my formative years were spent. They and I were of the same stock, children of Adam, with the tendrils of the “old man” still hanging on, sometimes tenuously, sometimes more firmly.
They were the real Christians, like Peter and Paul whose fingernails weren’t nicely manicured, but dirty and broken from being human, and whose feet, like the Master’s bore the filth and the dirt of the ground from which their father Adam had come, but whose hearts were changed and still being changed, by the work of God’s amazing grace; a continuing process.
Like my hydroponic experiment, those in the artificial atmosphere of institutional “christianism”, looked so beautiful and clean. My plants in their little plastic hole, sit as long as I don’t disturb them, unable to move and stretch their roots. They have no need to do anything because they are comfortable in their artificial “clean-ness”, every last miniscule amount of nutrient is passed across their roots.
The plants in their natural environment get dirt on them, and their roots reach out in all directions seeking nutrients from the soil, and they don’t seem to mind when the cabbage roots reach across and touch the carrots roots, or the cauliflower leaves find the pea vine embracing them.
If it wasn’t so dry I’d shut down the hydroponics and go back to the garden, dirt and all, with Dave Black as my sidekick, Hall of Shame or no!
Friday, August 3, 2007
I'm beginning to think I'm dependent on Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church to stimulate me to write something. Maybe Hebrews 10:24 is being worked out on the other side of the world. His latest couple of blogs have certainly done that.
I grieve when I hear people recount their experiences of loneliness in the "church", as Alan's correspondent has recently done, and I'm sure the Holy Spirit is grieved also.
Whilst the local (and I mean "local", not the institution, the handful within a few minutes of another Christian) congregation is neglected this loneliness will continue to drive hurting, needy people away.
Whilst the ministry of making disciples, to which EVERY believer is called, and gifted, is, is not encouraged by leadership, even actively quashed, divine appointments for ministry will go unrecognized, and hearts made sensitive by the Holy Spirit will not be at peace.
Whilst the local elders, and individual believers, are selfishly focused on their own life, ambitions and expectations, that they cannot deliberately divert the time necessary to discern the symptoms which reveal the needs and hurts of others, opportunities to heal and succour will be lost.
Many times members of congregations, with great feeling, sing a song which includes lines such as,
"Brother, let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you ....
We are pilgrims on a journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
I will hold the Christlight for you
In the night-time of your fear....
I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh I'll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we've seen this journey through"
Sentiments which are wonderfully in accord with the principles of living the Christian life, according to Scripture, but which are forgotten as soon as the hearers exit the building.
I have vivid memories of the first congregation to whom we were first called to minister. A small country town congregation. A middle-aged woman, Hazel, came from a small community from “the other side of the tracks”. She was a member of the congregation. Diagnosed with breast cancer. She eventually had, what her doctor described as, “extremely extensive surgery”. She was completely disabled for much longer than usual.
Every time the congregation met they were encouraged to pray for her, and several would pray during the appropriate time during the meeting. Time after time her multiple needs, mostly practical home-making, were made known to them, both verbally and in the news sheet..
The congregation were folk who agreed, with loud “amens”, to all of the principles of the Scriptural “one anothers”. They would discuss how these principles could be practically put in practice, and had good suggestions for their fellows to exercise love, support, encourage, etc.
One day I received a phone call from Hazel. She said, “John, I’m confused. I’ve been a member of this congregation for a long time. Whenever help was needed I was always glad to do what I could. In these past four months I have been desperately in need of help, and I’ve received it abundantly, but only from my unbelieving neighbors, whom my brethren at church despise. Not one member of the church, other than you and your wife, have even offered help or visited me”.
Sadly, I have to acknowledge, as a very new, inexperienced pastor, I really didn’t handle the situation well, and simply accepted the situation with a very sad heart.
A few days later Hazel’s resignation from membership arrived.
Where is the evidence of a “new heart” of spiritually new born men and women in that congregation? How can the lost community around Hazel, including her husband, be expected to KNOW that these people were disciples of Christ “by their “love for one another”?
The attitude of this congregation towards the Biblical principles of love for one another is illustrated by one of their young, recently married, couples who approached me soon after our ministry to them begun, “Pastor! We felt it was our duty to come to you and warn you that this church is not very loving! Since we have been married we haven’t been invited to any home!”
My response to them was, “Well! How about you invite them to your home? If you show your willingness to love them, they may respond!”
The reply was, “Oh no! It’s their responsibility to show love to us first!”
The badge of discipleship and a genuine relationship with Christ is clearly what Jesus voiced in John13:35. The responsibility for wearing that badge is first person, not second person.
Let's say it till we believe it, "The responsibility is ALWAYS mine!"
Imagine the situation if Jesus had waited till we loved Him before He loved us!
Is it possible that the above mentioned congregation has now ceased to exist because of their lack of love?
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
I think it was Dr James Kennedy who said, “It is more important to train a disciple maker than to make a disciple”.
When I first heard that statement I was with a large group of others. Those words caused quite a stir as debate raged about their truth, or otherwise. What some saw as the devaluing of an individual soul, others understood as having other, much deeper implications.
I suggest that the statement is very much in accord with Paul’s Spirit inspired words in Ephesians 4:11ff, which speaks about the function which God requires of those who are truly called, and gifted to be elders.
Jesus charge to His disciples was to make disciples, not converts, and I suggest that we need to take His words very seriously when seeking to understand passages which speak of ministry. ALL ministry, in one way or another, must be about discipling!
After all is said and done, the word “disciple” from a N.T. viewpoint, is first of all applied to the followers of Christ, and occasionally to the followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees. As to its principle use, it is applied to followers of Jesus Christ; in the first place, the twelve who were called to follow Jesus (Mt 10:1 11:1 20:17).
Without doubt, every genuine member of the congregation of Jesus Christ must be a disciple. It follows that those who are recognized by the congregation as elders are also disciples. A disciple maker is, first of all, a disciple. A disciple is one who learns from another. Its rather interesting to find in a quick perusal of a concordance that the word “disciple” is used more than 200 times in the Gospels and Acts. Have a look at how many times the word “Christian” is used!
For our purpose in this article, a disciple, in the Christian sense, is defined as one whose assurance regarding his/her life, death and final end rests in the finished work of Jesus Christ; His life, death and resurrection, and His ongoing advocacy with God the Father, on their behalf. Such a person became a dwelling place of His Spirit at conversion. Such a person recognizes that Jesus Christ is their Sabbath.
As such a disciple grows (matures), as a result of this relationship with, and focus on Christ, the qualities of character which marked Jesus the Man, who walked the earth, will be their ideal in life and function. They will be followers of Jesus, as were those whom Jesus first chose, and called to Himself.
They will also be marked by having their feet firmly on the ground. They will be comfortable being human, recognizing that the work of Jesus Christ was, indeed, a finished work which paid the consequences of their sin, and purchased a place in heaven for which God has begun preparing them by His indwelling Spirit. They will be comfortable because they know they are a work in progress, which will be completed, by God.
Like Peter and Paul they will absolutely hate sin, in whatever form, and in whom ever it appears, but openly and honestly confess that its awful stain lingers in themselves to such an extent that their heart must cry with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” They will have such confidence in what Jesus Christ has accomplished on their behalf, that their heartfelt gratitude will well forth with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
Because of this they will be humble, self- abnegating men/women who have no regard for false piety which draws attention to themselves as the example, rather, their example, their words, their lives, will direct attention towards Christ.
Religious formalism will grieve them because of its legalism and performance orientation, which, by its very nature, denies the absolute sufficiency of Christ, and, by no means least, they will love the brethren in such a way that there will be no doubt of Christ in them.
We could add much more of a negative nature regarding the common accretions of worldly, humanistic traditions, but it is sufficient to say that, if our description is reasonably accurate of a disciple, it has to be also true of a disciple maker, who, themselves are a disciple.
It, therefore, must follow that being a discipler is about reproducing themselves, which reveals to us why it is more important to make a disciple maker than a disciple: multiplication instead of addition.
That’s exactly what Eph.4:11ff is describing. Instead of one disciple making one more disciple we see individual disciples, whose ministries are described, being used to make several disciples, who are being equipped for the work of service (ministry) of training disciples.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus made it clear there was no order of ascendance, or importance amongst disciples?
Saturday, July 7, 2007
Alan Knox from The Assembling of the Church has a post worth carefully considering. I have mentioned his blog previously. It's not that I'm enamoured with what Alan says, but I am thrilled to run across a young (compared to me) Christian, who is thinking through his faith and the teaching which supports it, rather than simply saying, "Institutional tradition says such-and-such is so, therefore it is so!" This is truly Berean.
Addressing the issue of Church Organisation, Alan says that our purpose ought to be the growing of people (edification), not the growing of the organisation. I agree! He gives an example of a small group of people who, obviously thought otherwise, and were intending to start a church in a particular place, and, to quote Alan, "The men of the family already had their titles. The group already had a vision statement and a business plan. They had completed their demographics studies and a colorful brochure. In fact, they only needed one thing: money.
You see, that small group was ready to move to another city to start a church, as long as they could come up with enough money to fund their efforts. And how much money were they looking for? (I promise, I am not making this up...) They wanted over $700,000 for two years, with almost $500,000 of that going toward salaries.from the amount of money required, your example is not so unusual. It seems to be normal for groups of people to assume "office" and "authority", and move into a community to establish their mark.
Christianity is a reasoned faith. We become Christians because we have been persuaded by the Holy Spirit, through the teaching of the Scriptures, that we have a great need. The Spirit convicts us of the fact that we are sinners whose sin eternally separates us from God. In an act of grace, He gives us the gift of faith through which He enables us to believe the truth of the Gospel claims, convincing us of our need of salvation from this eternal separation from God, repent and receive the gift of salvation accomplished in the life and work of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
No human agency can claim the credit for our trust in Christ, even though they may have been the instrument God used to draw us to Himself, nor can we take the credit ourselves; it was ALL a work of God through His Spirit. Yet, as the evidence is presented to us, the Spirit opens our minds and allowing us to receive and believe the truth. The Holy Spirit uses our mind. This is a reasoned faith.
But something seems to happen to most of us once we are Christians; we put our minds in neutral and allow them to become sponges which unquestioningly, and naively, soak up the reasoning, or teaching, and directions of others. As a result, we Christians have become so used to being told what to believe, and to do, by human agency, that we have lost the ability to think for ourselves. In fact, we vacate the privileged position of being a priest unto the King.
That is clearly seen in the secular world by the fact that Christian voices are very much dimmed by vocal minorities whom governments listen and favourably respond to (2%in one area which is highly publicized ). Sadly, the same is markedly true in the local church scene.
We have not been good Bereans, which has allowed some to persuade us that they know what is best for the community of believers. The result is that an hierarchy, official or unofficial has developed, whom we have allowed to function as priests who still go behind the veil. We have forgotten that the veil was torn from top to bottom.
This leads to the unreasoned belief that we are part of an "organisation", which is really a tradition institutionalized. The priests, who go behind the veil, know what is best for everyone, and they "head" the organization. The "sheep" don't think, they simply do as they are told.
Organisation isn't the same as orderliness!
The fruits of the indwelling Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, will lead to orderliness amongst a local assembly, that which Paul urges upon the Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:40).
I have seen many a community of claimed believers where these fruits were not evident, yet, they had great organisation, smoothness of function, but no orderliness. Arguments, disputes, divisions, cliches were very evident, but the organization ran like clockwork simply pretending that all was well.
Developing a local assembly of believers begins with local discipling. Discipling begins with individuals who have Holy Spirit empowered order in their lives, discipling other individuals, who emulate their discipler and what he/she teaches and models, who, in turn disciple others, which results in people who have order in their lives.
Genuine disciplers will never cause those they disciple to become dependent upon them, but upon the Word of God (Matt.4:4).
As Alan said, "I think I am going to continue to focus on people, and I think I am going to continue to point others toward building up people.....giving ourselves to people, not by growing (or starting) our organizations."
Monday, June 18, 2007
I suppose I had better mention the rules for those whom I tag:
1. Those Tagged will share 5 things they dig about Jesus.
2. Those tagged will tag 5 other bloggers.
3. Those tagged will provide a link in the comments section here of their meme so that others can read them.
What I dig about Jesus is:
1. He is God incarnate!
2. He is Father!
3. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
4. He is eternal Saviour of my brethren and I, making us family!
5. He is due all honor and glory!
The more I read, and think about what is happening in the church scene, the more I'm convinced that we live in one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous times in the history of the church.
We have so much knowledge, so much scholarship, so much professionalism, that we have become proud, and the simple truths of the Gospel have been squashed under the weight of what we have decided that Christianity should be, and that according to our historical or cultural attachments.
On the one hand we see the authoritarian, and legalistic regimes in many churches, especially those claiming to hold to conservative Reformation orthodoxy, who lump together those they label as liberal, apostate, fallen, etc., even including those who hold to the same soteriology, but whose ecclesiology may slightly differ. In them we see a profession of belief in the great Solas of the Reformation, but their view of salvation by grace alone includes absolute obedience to, not only the laws of God, but obedience to the laws of the church, obeyed to the letter.
On the other hand, and I think, often in response to the forgoing, we have a situation which interprets "saved by grace alone" as "saved without any responsibility or accountability towards God or fellow believers". Cheap grace which has no value for the law as our signpost of what dishonors God.
Somehow in this, both views end up intimating, if not expressing, the view that there are, at least, two types of Christian;
1.The ordinary Christian, saved "by the skin of their teeth", most likely including you and I; and,
2. The "better" Christian, who by the appearance of their lives, their time consuming, life consuming busy activity, their frowning disapproval of things which offend their "piety", their application of themselves to obeying laws, their consistent "ministering" to what they perceive as the needs of others, look as if they are more worthy of God's special love.
What they don't seem to realize is that this is truly blasphemous, because it is, in reality, adding something to the finished work of Calvary, which they proclaim, but fail to understand.
As much as I would not attach this thought to a particular person, I have to wonder some times whether they really are Christians.
They seem to have embraced the Roman Catholic Theology of salvation which requires works of some sort or another, in addition to what Christ said was finished, which is, along with their magisterial idea of leadership, why I label what they practice as Neo-Catholicism. They are more Roman Catholic than Protestant.
Luther likened the R.C. theology of salvation to a pile of dung, which by baptism, becomes pure and undefiled snow, which can fall from grace and turn back into a pile of dung. So, to effect a cure, the Roman Church, has its, so-called, sacraments by which grace is again dispensed so that those who fall from grace, the born again dung, will again become snow.
Not a bad trick, but without the endorsement of God in His Word.
Much of the orthodox conservative Protestant church, which claims to be rooted in the Reformation, has retraced their steps to the heresy from which they were retrieved, where the Christian life has become a caricature of what the Scriptures teach, a never ending conveyor belt of the performance of satisfying legal requirements, which were satisfied in Christ, and trying through sheer effort of pretense, to be the snow, which Christ alone can be. How long before they start to introduce confession, penance and their appendages?
As much as they would strenuously deny the fact, they appear to believe that salvation comes about by us working our own righteousness and not Christ alone, or at least, us assisting Christ, our merit plus His.
This is Roman Catholicism by stealth, or if you like, gradualism. With this kind of thinking being produced in those who proudly place themselves in the order of the Reformers and their theology, why would we wonder at such men leaving Protestantism and embracing the heresy they once professed to have eschewed?
An Anglican, David Ould, has placed his finger squarely on the problem:
”I don't know about you, but the idea that I should, somehow, have to contribute myself to my eternal status is a terrifying thought. Luther tried it and it drove him to despair. It is the common complaint of those who view the Christian life as one of constant work - no wonder Roman Catholics speak of guilt. And the notion of "saints" who have done more than the rest of us and so gain more love from God is thus appalling. We are all saints if we trust Christ and what He has done for us, not what He enables and empowers us to do for ourselves - as though there were something we could add to His majestic and finished work.”
“Luther's great realisation and the thrust of the Reformation was to see that what happens upon conversion is that the person remains the dung that they are (and it is a stinkier and smellier dung that the Roman Church would acknowledge). The thing that changes is that they are viewed as snow, even though they are not. He coined the phrase "simul justus et peccator" to describe this - "at the same time righteous and a sinner".
This is what the theologians call a "forensic" righteousness. It is not that we ourselves are actually in our selves righteous but that we are treated as righteous by the Father on account of Jesus' righteousness which is now imputed (or "symbolically attached") to us. The Roman Church taught that we were actually infused with grace/righteousness, an actual change in our being. The Reformers understood the Bible to say otherwise.”
I am thankful to God for the fact that it is in Christ, and in Him alone, on account of His life and finished work alone, a forensic (legal) work was done on my behalf. I have been accounted (reckoned) as righteous. This righteousness is not mine, but has been imputed to me by His Holy Spirit’s work in me, which He alone has accomplished. Legally, according to God’s law, I was condemned for eternity, but now through His work alone, I am reckoned as being totally righteous in Christ, acquitted of any legal consequences. Even though reckoned as righteous, I am still dung in transition, becoming like snow in a process, which will take the rest of my life, looking forward to the day, when Christ returns, when I shall be like Him, as pure, righteous and holy as I am already reckoned to be.
As Luther said, "at the same time righteous and a sinner".
I wonder whether far too many of us identify ourselves and our theological position as that of the son who stayed at home with the father? If we do, maybe we need to remember Jesus words to Pharisees, "..go and learn what this means: "I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13).
It would do us all good, especially those in leadership, to remember the smell of the pig-pen which still stubbornly clings to every one of us, and the dry, taste of the husks of life, which is the experience of all who are apart from Christ.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
In our desire to see the community of believers grow, we sometimes drop our guard to the fact that all who call themselves "Christian" are not necessarily so. Sometimes we can present a way of salvation which is much broader than the narrow way of Jesus.
I commented on Alan's blog that I have been blessed to be used to bring several, who were members of a church, to know the saving grace to be found in Christ. I will relate the short account of one of these precious ones.
The son of a prominent church member, and deacon, he had now attained his mid-fifties. He had been 26 years a member of the church his father (who had passed away by this time) attended. He became a deacon, then church secretary, and a Sunday School teacher and leader of Boy's Brigade.
During those 26 years he was heavily involved in representing the church at regional meetings, preached regularly, and enjoyed prominence in the local community.
We began to disciple some with the hope that they in turn would disciple others. Learning to share their faith was a part of this.
Quite unexpectedly, I received a phone call from our friend, asking to come and speak to me about something important.
The conversation was also unexpected: "John! I have a confession to make. I have realized that I am not a Christian and have been living a lie for the last 26 years. I was taught the right words to say, the right things to believe, but it was all in my head and not in my heart. I became a Christian because my father expected me to follow in his footsteps, and to not profess to be a Christian would have brought my Father's displeasure upon me. I am still lost in my sin!"
The conversation followed on in this vein for some time, and with deep sobbing and tears of repentance, this tough guy, who worked with men of the world, confessed his sinfulness and deserving of the wrath of God, and his faith in the finished work of Christ, and desire to follow Him faithfully for the rest of his life.
The next Sunday morning, this man, who usually was full of confidence, humbly, and tearfully stood before this church in which he was so well known, and confessed the counterfeit life he had been living.
He resigned his positions in the church. The absolute change in his life was so amazing that all who knew him wondered what had happened, and he told them.
Only the Lord knows how many there are who have been put in this position by parents who take over from the Holy Spirit, because they want their children to be Christians, often for the wrong reason.
How many have been coerced into professing faith in Christ by slick tongued "evangelists" and church leaders who want to add notches to their guns, and build a reputation, without any real thought for the spiritual well-being of the people they persuade by good sales pitches.
Jesus said, “Go in through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is spacious that leads to destruction, and many people are entering by it." (Matt. 7:13 ISV)
I am convicted that the wide gate is the one which is being thrown wide in many communities.
In v.14 Jesus said, "How narrow is the gate and how constricted is the road that leads to life, and few are the people who find it!”
If it was an easy thing to believe and trust in Him, why did Jesus say, in Luke 13:24 (ISV)“Keep on struggling ( agonizomai = labor fervently, strive) to enter through the narrow door. For I tell you that many people will try to enter but won't be able to."
The sad thing is that the pretenders ( hupokrites = actors, hypocrites), like my dear brother above, deceive themselves as well as others.
I thank God that He brought him to Himself, because the last twenty years of his life were a struggle with Parkinson's disease, from which he died.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Our family has had a difficult couple of weeks. The eagerly anticipated first child of our son and daughter-in-law was still-born.
Of much lower level, during the last two weeks, my wife and I have traveled hundreds of kilometres to help our daughter move house, organizing and doing errands she was unable to attend to, whilst she settled into her new position as a bank manager in Brisbane. Never-the-less, very tiring on old bodies.
Yet, these things are so very minor compared to the struggles many brethren are suffering as evil people kill, torture, imprison and persecute them.
We, who live in such comfort and affluence, still complain bitterly about our light afflictions, and our suffering brethren keep on keeping on. We argue and fight about issues of such small consequence and forget the weightier matters.
Charles Spurgeon was spot on when he commented on Psalm 126:3 "The Lord has done great things for us, of which we are glad."
Some Christians are sadly prone to look on the dark side of everything, and to dwell more upon what they have gone through than upon what God has done for them. Ask for their impression of the Christian life, and they will describe their continual conflicts, their deep afflictions, their sad adversities, and the sinfulness of their hearts, yet with scarcely any allusion to the mercy and help which God has vouchsafed them. But a Christian whose soul is in a healthy state, will come forward joyously, and say, "I will speak, not about myself, but to the honour of my God. He hath brought me up out of an horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings: and he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God. The Lord hath done great things for me, whereof I am glad." Such an abstract of experience as this is the very best that any child of God can present. It is true that we endure trials, but it is just as true that we are delivered out of them. It is true that we have our corruptions, and mournfully do we know this, but it is quite as true that we have an all-sufficient Saviour, who overcomes these corruptions, and delivers us from their dominion. In looking back, it would be wrong to deny that we have been in the Slough of Despond, and have crept along the Valley of Humiliation, but it would be equally wicked to forget that we have been through them safely and profitably; we have not remained in them, thanks to our Almighty Helper and Leader, who has brought us "out into a wealthy place." The deeper our troubles, the louder our thanks to God, who has led us through all, and preserved us until now. Our griefs cannot mar the melody of our praise, we reckon them to be the bass part of our life's song, "He hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad."