The Right & Wrong Questions
The other day a friend who still attends "church" and all that represents asked me this question, "Why is it that we have such a hard time working together?" He asked this question due to a prior decision I had made to stop attending organized fellowships or what most people call church these days. He obviously seemed willing to work together for the sake of the gospel and yet failed to recognize the obvious problems that would result had I chosen to work with him. This was primarily due to a particular mindset he had been taught by his parents and others who influenced his particular beliefs. Without realizing it, he and many others are attempting to find their way through the mire of what men have done in the name of religion by asking all the wrong questions. Let me explain.
The question asked me above isn't wrong and actually could prove helpful in the long run provided we both remain true to what the Scriptures actually teach. For although many sincere believers are looking for answers and guidance as they walk the narrow road, most of their questions derive from a midset and manner of thinking and living that is inconsistent with Biblical Christianity. It is wise to ask questions and seek the counsel and direction of older believers. It is not wise, nor is it safe to merely follow the examples of those claiming to be leaders or those who have religious positions or spiritual titles in religious institutions.
Every question deserves and honest answer and yet how often do we consider whether these answers we're receiving are truly from God. Can a man give a right answer to a wrong question?
Years back I was very desirious to "enter the ministry." At that time I believed these words were were synonymous with those who served God full time as a profession. I had every intention of pursuing such a career wherever that might lead me. I really had no idea where to start so I made an appointment with an elder at the church I was attending at the time. I asked him several questions about how he had entered the ministry and what I might need to do in order to follow in those footsteps. How do you suppose he answered me? Would he have or could he have offered me anything he himself had never experienced or lived out himself? Or would his advice be taking the very same road he himself had taken to arrive at the desired destination?
I believe our conversation initially revolved around whether I believed I was called into the ministry. After I believe we discussed what I believed were my gifts and how I might exercise them. Having gone thus far, he ascertained that my best bet was to attend college, earn the "necessary" degrees and hope some church would call me as their pastor. It seemed like a whole lot of time and expense although I was willing to take the advice and move forward with it.
Some time later I am attempting to apply at the local "Christian" college. What I thought was going to be a relatively simple process became more and more complex the longer I tried. In the end, the school denied me entrance due to a few thousand dollars I owed on the vehicle I was presently driving. I vividly remember this as I was just told prior that I could likely get a grant for more than ten times that amount to live on the property and attend their school. When I attempted to call them out on the hypocrisy of the situation, it was if they couldn't hear what I was attempting to show them. I was left without words and truly disappointed. I had really thought I could finally get beyond all those who hindered my passion for Christ in the church I was attending at the time. How could it possibly be so hard to pursue what I was so convinced was God's will for my life? Answer: I was asking all the wrong questions.
It's amazing how failure after failure will bring one face to face with what God is really attempting to say to us as individuals. This is where God ultimately has to lead each one of us- beyond the advice of men and into a deeper dependence upon Him.
No greater lesson can ever be learned as a Christian than this: to depend upon what God has done verses what we would attempt to do for Him.
I had this all backwards from the beginning and God used the pain and futility of my own efforts to bring this to light. Due to what I had always seen in other Christians, I had come to the belief that I could "enter the ministry." This could only make sense is some could and others could or did not enter it as a profession. Although this has been a practice for many years now, it took me another ten years before I realized that becoming a professional Christian in any sense of that word is not founded upon Scripture. Jesus Himself chose those who would further His mission upon earth. Here is an apt description of them:
"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God' [1 Corinthians 1:26-29]
It should go without saying that the above description would not merely exclude the idea of "Christian professionals," but oppose that entirely. In the Scriptures we find our calling not unto a profession, but unto Jesus Himself. How easy it is to confuse the two.
The Result of our Choices
Most of us know that the decisions we make in life result in either blessing or consequence. All the decisions we make lead to an eventual end that we alone are responsible for. As a former drunk, friends would often remind me to "think before you drink" as a means to prevent me from returning to my former destructive behaviors. Although there wasn't any power in doing so, it nevertheless would make me consider what might happen if I made the choice to return to drinking. It is good advice to consider one's choices and where those choices might lead us. This is true whether one is a Christian or not. Before Christ, our only real concern is for ourselves, as a believer we are responsible for our brothers, sisters and an appropriate example before all of mankind. It is imperative that we know our choices stem from God and not just from some desire we think or say we have. Not only will we be led away from God's truth, we will compound these errors just as the elder who counseled me. He meant well but nonetheless led me in the wrong direction.
Lies breed more Lies
"Entering the ministry" is more than a false statement before God- it's a lie, and a big one. Here are a few more lies that result and are promoted by this one lie:
1) Some Christians are in full time ministry while others are not. Although some individuals may have more time than others to minister the word to others in need, there is no such thing as full and part time Christians. This gives the appearance that there are two types of believers "clergy and laity" which echoes the Old Testament priesthood that has been superseded in Christ. All Christians are now priests before God and have equal access to God. [1 Peter 2:9, 10]
2) Ministry can be a full time professional job. To believe this we would have to reject the verses in 1 Corinthians above. Professionals learn their trade through education; whereas a true believer's effectiveness is not based upon an individuals worldly credentials. Being educated in God's truth is helpful but inadequate to change other people's lives. Furthermore, we do not recognize anyone according to the flesh [2 Corinthians 5:16] or place confidence therein. ]Philippians 3:1-8]
3) God requires or sanctions formal ordination which grants these individual's special privileges and authority. Where men ordain other men through formal education is worthless before God as are the formal titles men grant through institutions. God forbids these very titles men take unto themselves which leads them to see themselves as "over" other believers. God views all believers as equal brothers and sisters whose only mediator is Jesus. [1 Timothy 2:5, 6] [Matthew 23:8-12] Furthermore, God's authority is never tied to a religious position, spiritual title, worldly education or institution.
4) Promotes works based education before the non-Christian world as the means by which we help others spiritually. This is nothing short of tragic as well as pathetic. We promote the benefits of a "Christian education" before others despite this being of little or no benefit to anyone- except of course those looking for a job within another "Christian" institution, church or business. Institutions exist to support and staff other institutions of men. The hiring and firing process is proof positive of the control and mandates of men within them. There is a reason Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than receive." When men have nothing to gain but other's interests and God's glory, rest assured that those ministering are most likely faithful and true to God. Furthermore, neither would they be dependent or needful of what any institution might offer them. This cannot be said of most who are hired to perform a ministry per say.
5) Despite what we say about the Bible becoming our authority for life, none of the above are Bible-based and in fact are in opposition to God. Sadly, I had been led to believe that the above trends were not only acceptable to God but the manner in which Christians were equipped to do ministry. I simply and naaively accepted them as normal for this day and age.
An inappropriate precedent
Do you ever notice anything about how today's expression of Christianity is carried out in contrast to a New Testament expression of the same? Have you ever asked others or even yourself why these differences exist? Is it acceptable to alter what God has said or commands based upon our culture or current trends in society? It certainly appears that way these days. It certainly appears that way by the questions were asking these days.
For most of us, if the road has been paved by some former professing Christian, that seems to be all the justification we think we need to follow in their steps. Have we never considered, "Follow me, as I follow Christ?" What was Paul; the apostle talking about here? Was he encouraging people to start their own ministries, appoint themselves the leader and raise funds to promote their own ideas and thinking around the globe? Is that really necessary or helpful? Is any of this even found in the pages of Scripture?
The Wrong & Right Questions
Think about this for a minute. When you meet another professing believer, what do you talk to them about? What question might you ask them? Would your questions include any of the following:
1) Where do you go to church? or Why do you go to church?
2) Who is your pastor/priest? or Why do you have a pastor or priest?
3) What is your church name? or Why do you have a church name?
4) How do you advertise? or Why do you advertise?
5) Who leads and teaches? or Why do they lead and teach?
6) Who makes the decisions? or Why do they make the decisions?
7) How does God bless you? or Why does God bless you?
In a similar fashion:
8 ) Where should I go to church? or God, should I go to church?
9) Who should be our pastor/priest? or God, should we have a pastor or priest?
10) What should we name this church? or God, should we name this church?
The fact is, most of us have no idea why we walk and talk the list on the left, usually because we've always done things this way, and therefore we expect others to fully identify with many of these same questions. If for some reason they answer to the contrary we almost always view them as a threat to what has always seemed the "norm" throughout our Christian life. Challenge these so-called beliefs by utilizing the questions on the right and you will almost instantly sense the opposition. This is always true with those who are most dependent upon the various institutions. Don't expect these people to defend from the Scriptures what is obviously not found in the New Covenant. The more dependent they are, the more they will hide and justify their actions in opposing the truth.
It is our responsibility to study His Word and ask God, not just men to show us the real reasons why we make the choices we do.
In my opening example I noted a friend who asked me, "Why is it that we have such a hard time working together?" Let me explain the problem by using the questions above.
My friend is a Christian man. He loves God despite being deceived by the very first lie in the Bible where Satan said to Adam's wife Eve:
"Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?' Now of course this wasn't exactly what God said, but nonetheless it got Eve thinking about what satan said to her. The more she thought about it, the more she justified the choice she inevitably made. She deemed the tree pleasing to the sight and good for food which God had previously made plain to her. (Genesis 2:9) He did not however tell her the tree was desirable to make one wise (a conclusion she came to after listening to the serpent) (3:6) which made it appear as if somehow God had held something back from her- what the serpent called "being like God."
In a similar fashion today, Satan is still telling and encouraging men and women to think and act independently from God. How is he accomplishing this? By encouraging them to question what God has said and then encouraging them to devise their own solutions. Once this is accomplished, a precedent is established and reinforced continuously. Once God is questioned, it's only a matter of time before man introduces his own questions to enforce his own manner of thinking. The effect of the "majority" allows a false peace to accompany the particular wrongdoing.
Man reasons as Eve within himself or herself and then justifies all manner of accomplishing what only God Himself can accomplish. This should be evident in the very first thing Adam and Eve attempted after falling into sin- they attempted to clothe themselves. Of course we see later that their own efforts proved inadequate and God later provided garments of skin to clothe them. (3:20)
Today man has brazenly approached God in ways He has never endorsed. He would promote the concept of "church," having convinced himself it is desirable to make one wise. The fact that church is nowhere exemplified in Scripture seems irrelevant to him. He promotes and exalts one or more leaders that rob Jesus of His preeminence amongst the saints. He names his own fellowship as if no other believers in his locale exist. He fails to discern the body. They advertise their place, their name, their leader and their ministries as if God is more than willing to overlook what is obviously opposed to Him. Man prays for ridiculous sums of money to build edifices, hire leaders and create imaginative outreaches that cater to this world. When their dreams come to fulfillment God is praised and blessed for allowing them to succeed in the eyes of the world. They have built a kingdom, indeed a tower that will soon implode upon their best made plans.
God is not, and will not ever be interested in what anyone intends to do for Him. That is entirely inconsistent with the manner in which God has called His children to act and live in obedience to Him.
Every day I have the privilege and opportunity to present either a creation of man's doing or the Person of Jesus Christ. I cannot serve God and the creation of men. I can only advertise what men's own hands have made, I can only promote what would usurp Jesus' place over all things. A kingdom cannot be divided against itself- an entity can and will attempt to choke out and usurp the place of another's kingdom.
If someone asks me, "Where do you go to church," I find that an excellent opportunity to share with them not merely the mistranslation of the word ekklesia into church, but God's actual heart through His Ekklesia. If someone asks me, "Who is your Pastor," I find that an awesome opportunity to show how men have exalted themselves over others by utilizing a religious hierarchy in which God hates. When someone asks about my spiritual gifts, I refuse to label myself and only act moment by moment as the Spirit of God leads me.
WHY me LORD
Unless I die to all I could and might accomplish on my own, I will never truly exhibit a kernal of wheat that breeds life in others. My chief duty as a believer is to be a representative not of myself or my own doings, but of Jesus and Him Crucified.
It takes courage
It takes courage to ask the right questions, even more so if one intends to obey God's answers. God has not left us here on earth to figure everything out ourselves and minister to others in any way that we deem to be beneficial. Has Jesus not made it abundantly clear that only through Him can an individual have a personal relationship with the Father? Has He not also made it clear that the emphasis is no longer upon where His people meet but rather upon how they meet? Has He not also left us with His Word that makes His will clear and known to mankind?
The entire book of Hebrews in the Bible is written to show all believers (although predominately written to former Jews) that Judaism has come to an end through Christ having fulfilled the purpose of the Law. It was written to warn those former Jews from falling back into Judaism or adding to what only Christ Himself could accomplish on their behalf. More than this though, is the theme of the preeminence of Jesus and His "better way" than that of a former covenant. The former was not merely a shadow pointing to something far better and fulfilling but altogether different from what now exists in Jesus Christ. There was to be no holding onto that which had passed away.
A Better Way in Christ
In order to live in and out of God's better way in Christ, it is imperative that I relinquish the old and embrace the new. This includes asking why Christ is an altogether better way and being willing to align my life according to that better way. Christ is better, for He carries a greater name than even angels. (Hebrews 1:4) Christ is better for He insures a salvation (6:9) wherein the lesser (us) is blessed by the greater (Him)(7:7), having been given a better hope to draw near (7:19) and that through a better covenant- one in which He guarantees. (7:22) This covenant through Christ is based upon better ministry and better promises for He is its Mediator (8:6) and Sacrifice (9:23, 24). Furthermore, we have the promise of better possessions (10:34), a better resurrection for some (11:35) in a better country (11:16), that is, a heavenly one…..Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a place for them, that is, in Himself.
It is important to note who those are that God is not ashamed to be their God. Is it those who continue through their own works to exemplify Moses, Joshua, Aaron and pieces of Judaism itself? Or is it those who refuse to either follow or obey any and all influences that hinder if not attempt to usurp the very Person of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives?
In the end, if you want the right answers, it's up to you to ask the right questions.