Sunday, August 17, 2014

What Would Happen If ...?

What would happen if we obeyed Jesus' instruction to believers to become one?  Just before Jesus' crucifixion he prayed for the disciples and all those who would believe on his name. He prayed that we would be one just as he and the Father are one. (John 17:11-23)

~ "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the    name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one." (verse 11)

~ "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them  may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (verses 20-21)

~ "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in  them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (verses 22-23)

What would the body of Christ in America look like today if we lived according to the appeal of this prayer? What would happen if we put aside our differences of peripheral beliefs, stopped public and private nitpicking and served one another in love according to Jesus' example? What would happen if we sought peace and unity in the body of Christ rather than arguing, belittling or seeking to discredit one another because of differences of belief? I see no honor, no glory - no Christ-likeness in this picture.

I can hear the apostle Paul 's chastisement of the American church today, not unlike his chastisement of the church of Corinth as recorded in 1 Corinthians 1: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided?"

My paraphrase is as follows: "I follow Calvinism"; "I follow Wesleyianism"; "I'm a Baptist"; "I'm a Presbyterian"; "I'm a Pentecostal"; "I'm non-denominational"; "I'm evangelical"; "I speak in tongues", "I don't believe in speaking in tongues"; "I believe in keeping the Sabbath"; "I believe Sunday is the Lord's day"; "I believe in tithes"; "I believe tithes is of the Old Covenant"; "I believe in the assembly of the believers (church)"; "I don't believe in the assembly of the believers (church)". "I don't believe in celebrating Christmas. That's not the day Christ was actually born. Rather I believe in celebrating Christ every day." "I believe in celebrating Christmas"; "I believe drinking alcoholic beverages is fine for Christians"; "I don't believe Christians should drink alcohol"; "I believe in miracles today"; "I believe miracles were for the New Testament Church"; "I believe without water baptism one can't be saved"; "I believe water baptism is the demonstration or symbolic act depicting salvation"; and the list goes on. 

Rather than focusing on our differences of belief and causing divisions and discrediting the name of the Lord, are we not to focus on that which unites us in faith and promotes peace and unity? Is not the unifying crux of our faith - Christ, born of the virgin Mary; was without sin; suffered and died on the cross to redeem us from sin and death; was resurrected on the third day; that he is the only way, the truth and the life, no one gets to the Father except through him (John 14:6); that it's not by works that we are saved but through faith in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:8,9); that we must confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead for salvation (Romans 10:9,10); that we are commissioned to go and make disciples of all nations according to Matthew 28:18-20; and that Jesus is coming back again for his bride, the holy church that is without stain or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27), and that without holy living no one shall see God (Hebrew 12:14)? Not forgetting one more important truth upon which all of the above hinges upon: that we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. If we do not believe the Bible is the Word of God, then we have no foundation for Christianity at all.

Does my appeal for unity sound too simplistic? Is not the message of the cross simple so that anyone, even a child can understand and believe? Does my appeal sound foolish (and not mine but Jesus' really, for it is he who prayed that we would be one even as he and the Father are one)?
For the sake of peace and unity, let's adhere to the principle of the following instructions from Paul:
1) "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters... Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification... So whatever you believe about these things (disputable matters) keep between yourself and God." (Romans 14:1-22)

2) "We who are strong out to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself... May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:1-6)

3) "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." (Romans 15:7)

 Pray and teach as Jesus did, that we would be one, that we would be unified. Then the world will know that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior, the only begotten Son of God that was sent into the world to demonstrate the love of God for humanity.

The spirit of unity generates peace, love and power. The enemy's ploy is to cause division, destruction and dishonor. Choose to be one. 

Father, may we humble ourselves and be obedient to your Word and may your love and peace pervade our hearts and minds so that we may be one.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Church Or No Church?

Of late I've been buried with work and family, but I've been hearing snippets of dialogue concerning the viability of the modern day church and the error of those who attend organized churches. My initial internal response was, "How arrogant!"  Secondly, the Jim Jones fiasco came to mind as an example of what happens to those who start following independent, self-acclaimed spiritual experts and leaders and have no accountability. Then recently the Holy Spirit brought to mind the vein of scriptures below.
- Matthew 18:17, "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."
- 1 Corinthians 12:27-28, "Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues."
- Ephesians 4:12-14, "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. . .
- Matthew 13:24-30, "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?'"
"He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
Before there was the internet, there was the church. Before there was TV, there was the church. Before there was the telephone, there was the church, the ecclesia (EKKLESIA), the gathering of believers together under one "roof;" be that someone's home or a larger structure. Christian programming and instruction via TV, internet, blogs, books, seminars and the like are not to replace the church, but enhance it.
What is a shepherd without sheep? What good is it for God to give the gift of pastoring if there's to be no congregation? Are there corrupt pastors? Yes, too many, but that condition wasn't foreign to the early church as well. There will always be false teachers and charlatans, i.e. "tares."  Does this mean you should abandon the church? Some, yes, without a doubt, but by no means does that mean one should renounce the divinely instituted congregating of believers who gather for corporate worship and instruction in a small or large building. (God instituted corporate worship from the times of ancient Israel.) Should one condemn all churches or relegate them to be "of the devil" because of a proliferation of secularism and sensationalism? Not according to the spirit of the parable of Matthew 13:24-30. God will avenge. God will expose them for who and what they are in his time.
 Has God called you out of church, or at least a particular church? Then be obedient. He will lead you to a flock where you can grow and where your gifts can be used to edify others. It is rare and not without special purpose when God calls one out of a church fellowship. Every church group is not a fit for every Christian. (I've experienced this personally.) This is not heaven. We are to love each other and work towards peace and unity with each other, but people are in different places of spiritual growth and have different needs at different times in their lives. You should always seek the Lord as to what fellowship to join. 
The church has and will continue to be under attack. And yes, I am fully aware of the difference between the corporate gathering of local believers and the church at large-- the body of Christ. The local church is comprised of members of the body of Christ, those seeking Christ and those who are "tares" and "goats". 
Have you read Romans chapter 14? Do you understand the spirit and principle of Romans 14? Then let me finish with this, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another,  (or one form of fellowship over another), another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. . ."
Church or no church? If you don't believe that the church is an organism created by God to build up the body of Christ, then be fully convinced in your own mind, but don't judge those who do believe. God is able to make them stand.

For those who do believe the Scripture and the sanctity of the church as Jesus conferred on her by calling it the "house of prayer" and his treatment of the temple when he cleansed it of those treating it as a commerce center instead of a holy place to reverence God --stand. Stand and pray. As in the days of old when the Israelites desecrated the temple, so many have desecrated the church today with lust, adultery, thievery, greed and lies. Come out from among those that are corrupt lest you become influenced by their corruption. Pray and trust God to lead you to a fellowship where they worship him in spirit and truth and reverence his holy Word. Remember, it is in unity of the spirit that we're able to stand.

May the love of Christ and the peace of God pervade your heart and mind.