And this is our Testimony
In our previous study, we reflected upon the fact that our testimony as Christians includes more than an individual experience of salvation, and that it does indeed extend to a daily walking out and living all that God has wrought through His gift of salvation. Just as salvation itself is both a past, present and future reality for all believers, so should our testimony reflect that salvation in those very same aspects.
Our testimony as it relates to salvation in the past tense is often spoken of as as "having been saved," and is indicative of a time when God's Word and truth pierced our heart resulting in our response to the gospel through faith and repentance. Although not likely true for all believers, I personally remember the exact time, day and place where God initially opened my eyes to see His truth. It was upon that day that salvation became in one sense a past fact that I was now called upon to live out daily.
"So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" [Philippians 2:12, 13]
This daily living out of the Christ life, what Paul the apostle called "to live as Christ" [Philippians 1:21] now became my highest priority and responsibility as a Christian. The living of this life, "Jesus Christ in me" is a supernatural life, one wherein the believer learns to rely upon and trust in Jesus first as Lord and Savior, then Provider and even friend. Our daily testimony as a Christian might include what God is presently doing in and through us, His faithfulness or provision or some specifically answered prayers. Although many limit their testimonies to the present, their is an inherent danger in doing so as we interect with others. Unless our testimony is anchored in the facts of past history, we will fail in an attempt to distinguish error from reality in those around us.
THE TESTIMONY OF OTHERS (truth or falsehood)
If someone you respected told you that God told them something specific, how would you respond? Would you simply nod your head in agreement, want to hear more or attempt to follow their advice so that you could have a similar experience? Would it matter if they professed Christianity or not? Would it matter how they presently lived out that profession or whether they were a leader in some religious organization? How can you discern what is true when it comes to the various testimonies we hear from those professing to be believers or unbelievers around us?
Many people these days claim to believe in God and many of these claim to be Christians. How can you know? Is it important to judge whether they are or are not what they claim to profess?
As our first section of this study outlined, there are various characteristics that true Christians express in their daily lives. Where these characteristics fail to appear in any given individual we should be cautious as to their claims about knowing God. In other words, just because someone claims to be a Christian is not to be an adequate testimony of whether or not they truly are one.
One of the sources that testified of Jesus was the Scriptures. Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews who were attempting to kill Him;
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life" [John 5:39]
These Jews prided themselves with many things. These Israelites, a chosen nation and people who were given the covenants, the Law and the promises, who's ancestors were patriarchs in the faith and from whom Jesus Himself had come according to the flesh, prided themselves with their history. They took for granted these special privileges and therefore failed to see how that history was a means for them to testify about God Himself to the nations around them. Because the focal point of their lives was what God had done in their past on their behalf experientially instead of an ongoing devotion and friendship to Him, they lost sight in relation to how God was moving and continued to trust in their own abilities verses what God alone could accomplish on their behalf. This resulted in their failure to to distinguish their need for Jesus Himself in whom was found the life they were seeking.
"For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" [Romans 10:3]
Many people these days claim to be Christians. Part of their testimony as a Christian often includes going to church, giving money, volunteering to serve and attending regular functions or services? Are some or all the above an adequate testimony of what it means to be a Christian?
Many others I know claim to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing. All kinds of supposedly supernatural things are happening and people are claiming to be hearing all kinds of "new" things from God. Wild testimonies of what God has done and is doing abound. Many people are having all kinds of religious experiences and are encouraging you to have them as well. Are these an adequate or accurate expression of what it means to live as a Christian?
THE TESTIMONY OF OTHERS (subjective experience over objective truths)
For many claiming to be Christians, they prefer to rest upon what God appears to be doing among them. They are always talking about some great move of God, the latest miracle or what they recently experienced. If you ask them how they know any of this is from God they hardly know what to say or rarely do they attempt to corroborate their experience with Biblical facts. On many occasions even the Bible verses they use are far from their original contexts. They are often quick to note the popularity of the teacher or preacher or the amount of people that regularly attend the meetings. What's wrong with all this?
If any individual is desiring to share a testimony as it relates to any subject matter, that testimony must be based upon facts. Imagine yourself appearing as a witness to defend a friend accused of causing a fatal accident. You have been called as a witness to defend your friend from a false accusation. Now what do the judge and jurors want to hear from you? What is it that allows them to make a right judgment in relation to your friends guilt or innocence?
Let's say you begin by saying my friend would never lie about such a thing. Is that going to help your friends case or make you look stupid? When that fails, you tell them what a wonderful friend she is and that she volunteers in the community. Will that help her? What if you say you don't think she was speeding at the time or was even near the intersection where the accident occurred. Does the judge or the jury care one bit about what you think or feel about your friend? No they don't, they are only concerned with the facts of the situation. Without them, all the other information you might offer is useless.
A few years back I witnessed a serious accident myself and stuck around to help out. The individual who had caused the accident attempted to blame the driver of the other vehicle involved. She was hardly in a state to defend herself and initially the police officer on the scene believed his report. He eventually got around to talking with me and asked what I was doing at the scene. I not only told him I had witnessed the entire accident, I had written out a diagram with an explanation of the exact details of how the accident had occurred. I not only explained the position, direction and speed of the other vehicles, but also my own position and vantage point when where I saw the accident occur. The officer was very impressed, not only for the detailed account but likely for expediting the report process and cleanup of a very busy intersection. The result of my intervention included the proper party being held accountable, the defense of the young woman incapable at the time of defending herself and a thank you note after the fact. Without the facts, the officer and many others very likely could have misjudged the situation and found the wrong party guilty.
A LOCAL EXAMPLE (of placing one's faith in subjective experiences vs. objective facts)
I'm using this example by name for the leaders of it failed to respond to me when I questioned them. Because the ministry they perform is public, this was not necessary- I merely wrote them out of curiosity and an attempt to give them the benefit of the doubt.
I do not know the origin of the title but any title for a group of Christians is not found in the Scriptures. Although this is not insignificant, it is not the purpose of this study to cover this particular problem.
I visited the "W" on August 4th, 2009. I remember because I wrote a letter to the friend who invited me the day after I attended. Although there were some encouraging aspects to this group of some fifty people, there were several serious concerns as to the content of what I heard there.
The groups purpose appears to be promoting a certain type of healing or deliverance prayer. Quite a few times individuals deliberated about the kind or the way they prayed with others. It was obvious that these individuals believed that it was the manner or methodology of their prayer that made the difference in the results. The need to have faith was also emphasized as it should be, but not merely as much as the methodology. Although there are Biblical principles that should guide our prayers, no specific methodology is taught as being more effective than another as no specific prayer method is taught in the Scriptures. First reg flag.
Three obvious Biblical principles were violated as a result of what I saw and heard:
1) Praying over a box with prayer requests in it. God says plainly that we are not to pray amiss. We are to specifically pray for our own and other peoples requests. How can I pray for what I am unaware of? How can I ask God to to answer something He may be completely opposed to. Secong red flag.
2) Practicing one's righteousness before men. I'm glad I was forewarned about the local newspaper coming to visit but what possible justification can there be for such a visit? They were literally going to show up just as the praying was about to start. If this had anything to do with the host of the meeting it was terrible timing and downright poor judgment if anyone was to use him name or the prayer group for advertising purposes. Third reg flag.
3) The primary speaker actually said that we don't need to ask God when going out to pray because we already have God's authority. This statement makes this speakers beliefs about healing evident such as:
a) God wants everyone healed which is a false representation of "by His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5, 1 Peter 2:24). Fourth red flag.
b) Because we are considered "righteous men" and "possess God's authority" we can heal if we have faith. He said several times that God is the One who heals and it's not about us. This is only partially true as is the part about God's authority. Yes, only God can heal but it is also true that to the degree that each of us embraces death to that degree will we possess the resurrection life of Christ. Paul put it this way; "death worketh in us, but life in you" [2 Corinthians 4:12] God uses those He has prepared in death to be His primary instruments in imparting life. In this manner and to this degree will we be participating in the healing of people and excercizing His authority in doing so. To teach or believe that because someone uses a particular method of prayer in order to be effective is not taught in the Scriptures.
c) For anyone to suggest that we don't need to ask or approach God for any reason is plainly unwise. He may have been referring to what another musician present noted- that we don't need to ask God's will to be done in these matters. Really? Fifth red flag.
The truth is, God is not dispensing spiritual gifts and abilities outside of Himself, but rather in union with Himself. Even as we are declared righteous as Christians (not given righteousness outside of Christ but through a spiritual union), so every spiritual blessing and ability remains tied to Christ. To think or attempt to ask as if we are in any way independent (whether to act or even think things) is tantamount to falsehood and a return to selfishness. We can do nothing without Him (act independently of Him) unless we are pursuing our own will: rebellion. The proof of this is here;
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing" [John15: 4, 5]
Well into the program there came a time for personal testimonies- all of which related to this so-called believing prayer methodology. This in and of itself is quite odd for a diverse group of believers. Despite the testimonies of those share and read aloud, none of them were proven true. Just because someone shares a powerful testimony about God doesn't make that testimony true. That doesn't mean that some were not true, it's just that many miracles can be demonic in nature and until the individual's faith is tested and the source of the so-called miracle discovered, it cannot and should not be considered as having originated in God. Penecostal denominations are filled with people who both lie and exaggerate so-called supernatural stories. Am I to believe someone's limb grew back before someone else's eyes just because I'm told so? It's silly to even bring up such third party testimonies without validation. Sixth red flag.
There were many other questionable practices to include:
A primary man leading from the front (he and his son are the authors of this ministry and a book with a similar theme of "believing prayer."
The regular joking around in relation to others individual's comments.
The leaders having their books and music promoted and for sale.
Several outlandish testimonies no one even bothered to question.
The fact that the actual waiting upon God for "words" in the individual prayer groups are eerily similar to the diving of spirits.
Despite many unbelievers occasionally attending the "W," the gospel was never presented. Although this is my opinion, it appears that the participants believe that God has chosen them as a special group of people that use believing prayer as a means to convince people of their need for Christ. In each testimony I heard, many times had the attendees attempted to lay hands on people in order to heal them. None of these attempts to heal were preceded by a presentation of the gospel as far as I know. It appeared the participants were attempting to convince those who came for healing that God was real due to the supposed healings. This is a very questionable practice on many fronts as the gospel itself- not the healing of people is what the Bible states is the power of God unto salvation.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" [Romans 1:16]
Any time healing precedes the gospel numerous problems are likely to result, predominately a misunderstanding of the purpose of the gospel itself. God does not as the author states, desire every person to be healed, nor is such a theory taught in the Scriptures.
Only in mans imaginations are these small groups with a singular focus legitimate. Whether it is a deliverance ministry, a healing ministry or any group with a specific focus, none of them are found in the Scriptures or New Testament Biblical Christianity. True local ekklesias, the only legitimate expression of the body are filled with diverse believers with diverse gifts- all of which combined become the expression of Jesus among them. This is obviously not in any way what I witnessed in this group which was directed and controlled by one primary individual and spokesperson.
There are two more reasons this group should be brought into the light. First, and although it is claimed that the group is not affiliated with Rob Bells church in Grandville, Mi, it was for years held in this in church. This is a little more than disturbing. Furthermore, several of the regular attendees of the "W" attend Mars Hill in direct disobedience to many verses that relate to how heretics ought to be shunned and exposed. Obviously no one would jeopardize the meeting place to warn others of such an imminent danger.
In light of the above facts, it is obvious that the leaders of the "W" are failing to discern the dangers around them or at least minimizing those dangers. I find it odd that despite these individuals supposedly being so in tune with the Spirit that they can know how to pray for others in order to heal them, they fail miserably in recognizing the many failures I easily discerned in my one visit among them. That is how powerful the lure to be different can actually be, the desire to be both special before God and used mightily in His service. That is without question what the "W" promises and yet fails to deliver.
THE PROBLEM OF INDIVIDUALISM
"For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake"
Look anywhere you want among professing Christians these days, individuals all over are actively trying to make a name for themselves. Whether it's "my church," "my ministry" or "my music" man just can't seem to let go of what God long ago condemned- man's right to him or herself. Let me show you some very specific ways men justify themselves in this manner.
1) Men and women start "ministries." From a Biblical perspective this doesn't even make any sense. Ministry is not an "it" an entity or an organization. A Christian merely needs to use their gifts in ministering to others. Obviously that's not merely as glamorous as owning one's own self-titled and self-run "ministry." The "W" above is just another of the hundreds of thousands of so-called ministries men start and use others among them to endorse and support. The authors are once again asked to contact me if they have nothing to hide.
2) Men and women start "Christian businesses." Despite such a business having no scriptural warrant, men still invent them and justify all manner of merchandizing through them. They purposefully exploit the people of God by selling them things they don't need for life and godliness. One obvious illustration of this is your local "Christian" bookstore-beware!
3) Men and women start "Christian bands" and produce "Christian music." Where the members feel convicted about supposedly "selling their gifts," they decide to call what they are doing as "work" or "an occupation"- that is, producing Christian music. Despite the fact that God doesn't consider any particular kind of music as Christian is irrelevant- many Christians do and they'll buy it!
A PRECEDENT CREATED
Most genuine believers I know would like to have elders they can look up to and guide them along the narrow path. I personally didn't have any believing family which made it difficult for me to initially receive guidance. What I did have was people all over the place telling me what they wanted to "do for God" and how they were planning to accomplish that. Oftentimes this was combined with an offer to get involved or support what they themselves were doing. It's very likely that the person who shared Christ with you encouraged you to participate in the church or organization they themselves were a part of. If you chose that path, you soon discovered what was expected of you within that particular institutional setting and how the leaders there expected you to carry yourself as a Christian. That particular mindset became the framework through which you attempted to live the "Christian life."
For example, when you were unsure about a particular truth or doctrine, you initially accepted what was taught to you as the truth. When considering professional ministry, you would take direction from someone having already pursued that course of action. When attending the "W," you came with a testimony in relation to believing prayer for that is what the "W" is all about.
Instead of seeking God in relation to how He has gifted you or how you might relate within a group of believers, instead you attempted to fit in among the framework of someone else's construction, thinking and direction. It was all so natural that you never even considered whether to question the merits of "it" or "them."
THE SEASON OF DISCONTENT ( For those who dare question the status quo)
For many of us, myself included, I always knew something was wrong with institutions although I couldn't put my finger upon it. Why were these people never allowing me to speak up? Why were they seemingly suppressing me at every turn? Why were they wanting me to volunteer in ways that had nothing to do with the manner God had gifted me? Why were men demanding things from me as if I owed them some form of obedience?
After awhile, enough was enough. I could picture in my mind what God really wanted. I often read about it in my Bible. Then the day came, with all kinds of self-confidence I set out to create what I knew or thought I knew God wanted.
For others, their still stuck in the mud of what man has done and continues to do. They also know something is dreadfully wrong. They say things to themselves like, "Why are so few people here interested in God?" "Why do these people gather together to meet and then run away from one another a few hours later?" "How can these people say they love God and yet be so worldly minded?"
For those that see or are beginning to see, the same mistake precedes finding the fulfillment of their hearts desire; they attempt to do what God has already done and is presently doing.
A failure to recognize and believe this, combined with other people's individual ministry pursuits sends them packing and subsequently attempting to build something better, better than what they have known previously. The precedent thousands have previously set becomes their justification, and hopefully at the same time their own and "its" undoing.
THE RESULT OF INDIVIDUALISM
Individualism breeds works for God and that from individual effort and ingenuity. An individual is not going to succeed alone so various methodologies and marketing strategies must be used to receive the desired result. These are found in all three of the examples above (ministries, businesses and music groups). Note that neither is necessary when an individual Christian just simply serves with their gifts in and through a local ekklesia. It is the difference between what God is doing and what man does in his own efforts to promote himself.
Man in his ingenuity believes he can orchestrate people into God's kingdom. He speaks of strategy, evangelism methods and using fun to attract the masses. He would have us believe that a certain type of music or ministry is what will ultimately make the difference in reaching others. Everything is carefully planned, choreographed and presented as flawlessly as possible. This includes the manner in which most "ministies" and "churches" function.
It is sad that although most of what has become commonplace among Christians these days cannot be validated through Scripture, that hardly even slows the intentions of men intent upon promoting themselves. The vehicle they have chosen (starting any ministry, going to college to become a professional, starting a business that caters to Christians or a music ministry career) all have one thing in common- an individual (you) are the center of it. Because you are the center, you are promoted, your gifts and abilities exalted and you glorified. Attempting to bring in Jesus alongside or add Him to the mix doesn't change the facts. YOU are the center of what YOU have done. The proof of this is not hard to find as celebrity "Christians" are found throughout the four corners of the globe. Somehow this doesn't seem to echo the life of the One who refused to exalt Himself and rather chose a lifestyle of self denial and death. That's because it doesn't.
These very same individuals, having used one of the above means to get through the proverbial front door, are now set upon "doing something for God." This includes all types of so-called visions from God they intend to spread among the masses not unlike the plagues of Egypt. Once they attain some degree of authority in their own business, ministry, church or music group, they now use that authority and new found popularity and platform to control others in relation to what they think they need. These visions, which no doubt use the resources of men for their fulfillment, lead those they attempt to help further and further away from the truth of God and His Word. These individuals bombard Christians with their versions of what they say the truth is. In actuality, far from God blessing "their" church, ministry, business or band, that entity and it worldly success (through worldly means) has propped these individuals up and supports their various claims. This is exactly how EVERY church, religious organization, "Christian business" and "Christian music group" began- from some individual deciding that they were going to "do something for God."
The only way an individual can garner any support for something clearly outside the bounds of Scripture is to claim that God called them to do it.
The totality of all these individual pursuits is something like:
~Millions of different denominations and churches worldwide (none of which God has ever called anyone to build, lead or seek financing for)
~Tens of thousands of "Christian ministries" and organizations (all of which are sectarian in nature and utilize worldly principles and practices)
~Tens of thousands of "Christian businesses" (A Christian can own a business although the business itself cannot be Christian) This question therefore arises: "Why are you calling it one or advertising "it" as such?"
~Thousands of professional "Christian musicians" (more every day) Some of this music is excellent and honors God, most of it is awful or worse to say nothing of the shallow lyrics and falsehoods they often speak and sing of. By the way, despite what you say and think and pretend to act out, God has never called anyone to be a professional Christian of any stripe, nor has He called you to create what doesn't exist before Him: "Christian music"
Maybe now you understand what I shared earlier about a precedent. The more that the people involved in these lies endorse and promote them before others, the more others will be drawn into these very same falsehoods.
Think about this for a moment. In the pages of the New Testament we are told how individual saints were saved and how they interacted. In fact, we are told that they had all things in common, that what they each possessed they shared and that as a result they turned the world upside down. This of course is referring to both the spiritual and temporal realms. Now in light of what I just got done sharing above, "What was missing in that New Testament Era that is so prevalent among us these days?"
"Contrary to the common consensus of professing believers in Jesus Christ, the reason we fail to live and experience the power of Jesus Christ Crucified in our lives is not as a result of a failure to act; rather, it is our selfish pursuit of individualism that opposes body life"
…to be continued