In defense of what?
"Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" [Jude 3]
The above verse is found in the opening of the book of Jude, the half brother of our Lord Jesus, written generally to those who comprised the Ekklesia of God, those called of Jesus Christ. The book itself was written to warn of the apostacy or falling away from the one true faith by many who professed Christianity at that time in history. In like manner, many who consider themselves "defenders of the faith" also refer to the above verse in light of a similar apostacy they see unfolding in our day, made all the more obvious by various heresies that are coming to light. Although Jude warned of those who had crept in among the local ekklesias unnoticed and this still does occur, today we seem to be dealing more with apathy and tolerance toward these same falsehoods. In this study, I'd like to look at what it is our responsibility to defend as a Christian and how we should and should not go about doing this. In short, what are we as Christians called upon to defend as the verse above commands us?
Just as Jude above is addressing those who are saved as a result of exercizing faith in Christ and repentance toward God, so it is these Christians alone who are called upon by God to defend "the faith." In order to obey such a command,it is imperative for each and every believer to understand just what it is that Jude refers to as the faith. Is the faith merely a set of doctrines, a particular way of living or a system of theology? How can we know what Jude refers to as the faith?
The finality of the faith
What we should readily observe by the verse is the manner in which Jude referers to the faith. First, it has been referred to earlier as what is common among Christians, namely as our common salvation. The faith therefore comprises either specific beliefs, attitudes or actions that all true believers have in common. These similarities encompass the totality of what God refers to as salvation.
Secondly, the faith was once for all handed down, or as other translations state: once delivered. The statement is written in the past tense meaning that the faith has been delivered to the saints; has been made known to the saints. Having been delivered, it is fixed in its totality. What is fixed cannot be altered, it cannot be added to or subtracted from. It simply is: the faith. In order to defend this faith once delivered to the saints, I need to discover just exactly what this faith encompasses.
The author of the faith
It goes without saying that He who creates something is the arbitrator of what that creation encompasses. This is not only fair but the only reasonable manner in which to discover the authors true intention of His creation. If I want to properly understand God I must discover His intent and will and align my life in accordance with that. I need to know what He deems to be the faith, and be willing to reject anything and everything else that is contrary to that.
Man's attempts to define the faith
Although for the most part sincere, men have over the centuries attempted to define what the verse above in Jude calls the faith. These attempts usually amount to a specific list of doctrinal truths or teachings (what we might call a doctrinal statement). In other cases the attempt centers around a specific list of what might be considered a system of theology or beliefs concerning God. Although it is not necessarily wrong to attempt to define the faith in these ways, there are reasons why this falls fart short of what God calls the faith.
1. Although correct theology does originate in the heart of God and discovered through a proper understanding of the Word of God, the faith is not merely a correct understanding of Biblical truth. It is not limited solely to the docrines or teachings that encompass the faith.
2. Systems or lists of theology far too often explain away what God actually says or what He has allowed to remain shrouded in mystery on purpose. The staunch Arminian would have us believe "our decision" for Christ is what ultimately saves us. The hard core Calvinist would have us believe that "God desires all to be saved" refers only to the elect. These reasonings cannot be proven from the various texts although they do seem "reasonable" to the fleshly minds of men who refuse to be satisfied with not having everything figured out to their own satisfaction.
3. These "lists" and "statements" are defended by their authors or defenders as authorative. Many fail to realize as above that man's explanations of a text are not necessarily the same thing as the text itself. Commentaries as well as Bible footnotes also fall into this category. They are not authorative. They are merely guides which the authors believe are helpful in understanding a particular doctrine, text or truth: See: Tenets of the Faith on this site.
4. The "lists" and "statements" above almost always have institutional "attachments."
5. The "lists" and "statements" also have fallible human beings as their authors, writers and promoters. Their name and reputation adds fuel to the fires of their own creations. Despite John Calvin and Martin Luther being ardent contributors to what is now called the Reformation (something they are highly praised for contributing to), ironically you almost never hear any criticism of them all being murderers- because they refused to accept the plain words of our Lord like, "You shall not murder" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Personally I find an outright refusal to obey the plain commands of God a little more than just disturbing. These were not and are not adequate nor proper role models regardless of their so-called contributions to restore some of God's truths. They were just as guilty as those they condemned for retaining many falsehoods- primarily those that guaranteed their own selfish rule over other believers.
6. The fallible workings of men, ie; the 5 tenets of Calvinism lead directly to people calling themselves "Calvinists" and specific religious institutions based upon those tenets like Reformed churches and colleges. God neither sanctions these names for His children whether they be for individuals or for the institutions themselves. God, not me calls those who do so immature. [1 Corinthians 3:1-4]
The Faith as revealed in Scripture
The faith is that which encompasses the entirety of our common salvation, that which is past, present and future. The central figure of this common salvation as well as the author of it is Jesus Christ. This should not be confused with our faith (our personal faith in God) which Jesus also authors and perfects; Hebrews 12:2. The faith involves our faith but is not limited to that. The faith involves an individual and a corporate salvation (our salvation) lived out, together. Therefore, the faith involves that which Jesus has both accomplished in the past, will in the present and promises to fulfill in the future.
"God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power." [Hebrews 1:1-3]
Anyone who thinks God isn't speaking today isn't listening. God both has spoken (past tense) and is still speaking today through His Word and will speak again through His chosen instruments. See: Two witnessess of Revelation 11:3-14.
What has God spoken in the past? in
"This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven" [Genesis 1:1-2:4]
God has ordained that all created beings exist due to Him, that He alone is their creator. This is the foundation of both our faith and the faith. One cannot have faith in what they fail to acknowledge as fact.
Then the Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a suitable helper for him." [Genesis 2:18]
The manner in which God will carry out His ultimate intentions is through individual men being joined to individual women in marriage and subsequently through families with one father and one mother. This is a foundation stone upon which our faith is grown and the faith disseminated to others.
Then to Adam He (God) said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; cursed….." [Genesis 3:17-19]
The issue here isn't Adam listening to his wife but his failure to obey God's command to him. That failure ushered in a curse as well as a judgment upon both Adam and Eve…to dust you shall return (vs.19) and for the day that you eat from it (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) you will surely die. [Genesis 2:17]
Physical as well as spiritual death are the result of sin- failure to live up to God's perfect standard. Sin issues in a judgment against the guilty party- that verdict is death! Note that in these same chapters God says over and over that the various forms of life produce after their own kind (1:11,12, 21, 24, 25) and this is also obviously true of human beings. Although originally made in the image of God before Adam sinned, God did not produce man after a kind of Himself. God was not created but has always existed. After Adam sinned, he transferred his sin nature to all men who therefore would also have the propensity and desire to disobey God. [Romans 5:12-17] The other affects of sin are a disrupted relationship with God and a natural tendency to hide from God due to the shame of our sin. Although Adam and Eve attempted to fix this problem by clothing themselves [Genesis 3:7] that proved to be unacceptable to God who later provided an acceptable solution Himself. (3:21).
What we need to see here is that Adam and Eve needed to be saved from the consequences of their sin against God. Although they attempted to devise a solution they deemed acceptable, God rejected their solution and provided His own for them. In a similar manner, all humans need a salvation that originates in the heart of God for only such a solution is acceptable to Him. What manner of salvation from sin is acceptable to God? How can sinful human beings be restored to a right relationship with God as their Father?
Personal faith the seedbed of the faith
Earlier we discussed how only those who are called by God personally and serve Him are responsible to defend the faith once delivered. As new Christians most would assume the faith to simply be the gospel itself and the manner in which God saves individuals. This is of course only partially true. For example, even if I understand my need to appeal to God for a clear conscience through faith in Christ and repentance toward God, that need will go unmet unless I appropriate what God promises through faith. This faith is no mere intellectual assent to a truth or a given set of truths, no, it is a literal reliance and trust in what God has promised to those who come to Him. Our personal faith in God through Christ will confirm what we've already seen to be aspects of the one faith once delivered:
1. All things exist because God Himself created them.
2. God's primary instrument for disseminating His gospel is through family units with a single mother and father. This is no surprise as God's spiritual children are also exemplified in scripture as a family.
3. All of mankind are under condemnation due to sin and are awaiting death and judgment.
4. The only solution to remedy God's judgment upon guilty sinners is His solution. We are not free to devise our own.
5. God's solution for sin is to bear the penalty Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. Those who place their trust in Jesus and repent of their sins are found to be part of God's spiritual family.
Note: If any of the above are altered in any way whatsoever, a false gospel results. It doesn't matter if one believes in evolution, attempts to re-create an alternative family situation, reject the inherent sinfulness of all human beings or attempt to create a manmade solution to God's judgment or reject that or the need for a sacrificial atonement. The end of each error results in the practitioner deceiving themselves.
Growing in the faith
The longer an individual cultivates an individual abiding relationship with God through Christ, the more they will understand what the faith actually involves, that is, provided they are learning to follow Jesus Himself and not other men or self proclaimed leaders.
Devotion leads to defense
Whatever it is to which you devote your life, to that very thing will you defend to the death. For example, let's set up a simple illustration. A local self proclaimed "Pastor" leads you to Jesus. He has helped you and after the fact suggests you come and visit the church where he is pastor. You attend faithfully, not because Jesus told you to but due to the loyalty you believe is due this man. You follow him, his words, sermons, directions and might even adopt his belief system due to the ongoing trust you place in him. He has a great personality, he carries himself well, seems to have a solid family life, has many friends and is popular around town and the country. You have no reason to question him or his loyalty to you or the people of God.
Now, someone comes along and questions you about why you call this man your "pastor." You can hardly believe that anyone would ever question him! You are so convinced of his sincerity and devotion to God Himself. Despite the scriptural evidence that says call no man your teacher, rabbi, father etc (any formal name) because we are all brothers (family and therefore equals) you still cannot see what is wrong! If you were to retrace your steps from that very first day in God's grace and follow Scripture alone, you would find a trail of error culminating in your devotion to a man instead of the Man. The longer your self deception has lasted, the more hard-hearted you will have become and the more adverse will your reaction to the truth of God become. Even if you can be convinced that calling him by a formal name is sin, changing that alone will not alter your devotion. You will have to retrace your steps all the way back to the place where you strayed from your devotion to Jesus and Him alone. Taking a few pills for a toothache will ease the pain and suppress the problem temporarily. That said, sooner or later the pain will return and that with a vengeance until the real root of the problem is addressed.
Man's doctrines or God's revelation
"For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe." [Ephesians 1:15-23]
God may give you…..revelation in the knowledge of Him. Hmmn. Is that what you're looking for? Or is there something more, something else?
It is certainly true that God has given some among His Ekklesia as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers for the building up of the body. This very verse is found in the same book as the verse above in chapter 4, verses 11-13. What is important to recognize is this: The revelatory knowledge of God appears to precede or at least coincide with the need for the functions listed above. It is not enough to simply have one without the other, men, regardless of how gifted are not a replacement for Jesus as Head of His own Ekklesia, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all. [Ephesians 1:22, 23] Men can and do impart knowledge which is necessary, yet only God opens the eyes of one's heart to see as they ought to see. Thus the need for Paul's unceasing prayer to God on their behalf for wisdom and revelation.
What is God speaking today?
"So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, no prophesy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophesy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." [2 Peter 1:19-21]
"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." [2 Timothy 3:16, 17]
Although many people refuse to admit it, everyone of us has authorities in life we willingly submit to. For some of us that authority is established such as government, our work superiors or even our parents. For others the authority is created by us (we allow it to become an authority over us) such as through various media sources, organizations or trained professionals in some subject matter. Each of us look to these authorities for what we deem to be the truth. If we haven't already, we need to discover why it's vital that the Bible remains the authority for every individual Christian for both proper teaching and the practice of living these teachings out in real life.
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed , accurately handling the word of truth." [2 Timothy 2:15]
"Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissentions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the unsuspecting." [Romans 16:17, 18]
Once we realize that God Himself is the author of His trustworthy word, we are more properly suited to be able to discern truth from error. In light of the many instances where warnings of deception are issued throughout the Bible, we do well to take these seriously and protect ourselves from error. It is our individual responsibility to keep ourselves from becoming deceived as well as warning others of deception.
"I also say to you that you are Peter (petros, a stone), and upon this rock (petra, a massive rock) I will build my ekklesia; and the gates of hell will not overpower it." [Matthew 16:18]
"For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it" [1 Corinthians 3:9, 10]
Yes, Jesus is building something, and we have the privilege of being fellow workers in what He is building. Notice the warning as we build, Be Careful! Just as in the natural realm, there is a right and wrong way to build and the materials used in building have everything to do with whether the building will last.
"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if their is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." [Philippians 4:8, 9]
"But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" [James 1:22]
It goes without saying that one's practice proves one's beliefs. There is no such thing as genuine faith in God exempt from righteous living. If we were to carry this further we might ask, "Can there be true faith where a believer fails to defend the faith as our opening verse commands?"
What is the faith?
"For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" [Galatians 1:11, 12]
We know that our Christian lives began the moment we received the good news of the gospel in Christ and turned away from our sinful lifestyle. This was the beginning of our personal faith. As discussed earlier, this personal faith now becomes the seedbed of something greater, that of our faith, a corporate living out of all that salvation entails- together as one spiritual body wherein Christ remains the head. We are positioned in Him, where we live, move and exist. [Acts 17:28]
The faith involves embracing and defending various scriptural truths no doubt, but equally as important is the embracing and defending of the manner in which these truths are practiced day in and day out among us. Not one, but both of these aspects encompass what it means to live and work out our salvation.
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]
The Bible makes it obvious that there are many truths as well as practices we are called to defend that encompass our salvation, the faith once delivered unto us. Below is a review of some of them.
In past times, present days or a combination of the two, we have been and are called to defend:
God alone as Creator
Marriage as sacred
All mankind as sinful
God's soon coming judgment
The need for God's solution in salvation
The Bible as authorative
The truth from error
What Jesus is building
A proper practice of beliefs
A distinct separation from this world system
Now, I would like you to think for a minute about all the things men are presently in the habit of defending and even promoting that are either not on this list or even found throughout the Scriptures themselves. Here are just a few:
- Any church denomination or individual church and their "our" mentality
- The obvious exaltation of the authorities in these institutions through titles and positions
- The absolute refusal of the above leaders in denying themselves
- Former revivals or movements and the methodologies behind them
- Popular religious figures as today's spiritual leaders
- The merchandizing of Jesus through a variety of forms from books to music.
- The creation and promotion of Christian professionals and celebrities
- The emphasis being placed upon education over holiness and separateness
- The exploitation of individual Christians through the forms above/selling a "Christian" subculture
- Sorcery and magic through popular "Christian" fiction authors
- Terms that "add" baggage like Sola Scriptura and Reformation
- A few more you might add…..
Most of us are probably aware of one or more so-called discernment sites upon the internet these days. Many if not most of them are presently defending many of the things on the original list above. For that, they should be commended. But may we ask, are they also standing against the things on the list above? Is this not also their responsibility as Christians? What did Jesus Himself say through Peter in 1 Peter 4:17, 18:
"For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?"
First things first. Can we actually calls ourselves obedient Christians (those God says will have difficulty being saved) if we fail to warn others of the lies above (1-12). Didn't Peter just say judgment will begin with us? And does not it also says in 1 Corinthians that if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. [1 Corinthians 11:31, 32]. Is this passage not a judgment in relation to the individual believer as well as a discerning of the corporate nature of the body of Christ; of discerning the body? [1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 3:1-4] Is this not why some are weak and sick and others sleep? [! Corinthians 11:29, 30].
If we are to honestly judge ourselves, what we would find is an almost entire refusal to rebuke and correct those we believe are Christians within our own camp or institution and an earnest attempt to correct those who claim to be but are actually outside of the acual faith once delivered. We might rightfully point out the blatant hypocrisy of a Rick Warren, the universalist views of a Rob Bell, the word faith heresy of a T.D. Jakes or the potential within of a Joel Osteen. They are without question serious threats to the true gospel. Nonetheless, does that justify our neglect to confront the continual promotion of the traditions of religious men among us and hold them up as role models and leaders to be followed?
I have a suggestion for you. Granted, this is going to take some courage on your part. It won't be easy, but I assure you that no religious professional will begin to do it. They have far too much to lose, they refuse to count the true cost of being Jesus' disciple. Here's how you can defend what matters most.
I'm asking you to contact either by phone or mail your local celebrity preacher or teacher. Although many of you will wonder why I've grouped together obvious heretics with the supposedly sound teachers of the day, ALL of them promote the traditions of men. All of them. The very traditions that Jesus Himself said would do what?
And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR FROM ME.
BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,
TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN."
He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition, thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that." [Mark 7:6-13]
I want to give three very specific examples of men's traditions these men defend which invalidate God's commandments.
The command: "Do not be called Rabbi (Teacher); for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant." [Matthew 23:1-12]
How a refusal to obey invalidates God's command: The purpose of the command is two fold. First, when men are exalted by the use of the titles/designations, man is exalted at the expense of Jesus Christ and God the Father. That diminishes their preeminence. Secondly, being called these names (being called any spiritual name is the problem) naturally sets aparts these individuals as special or different at the expense of the other brothers and sisters. The false and unscriptural distinctions of "clergy" and "laity" have resulted from this as well as many other traditions such as standing before or over the people as would an authority. The very fact that these men remain central in "their churches" and the ministry revolves around them proves their unwillingness to be one equal among the brothers.This is not a trivial matter, it is an ongoing sinful practice.
The Command: "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My name's sake, he is the one who will save it" [Luke 9:23, 24]
How a refusal to obey invalidates God's command: The Christian life is exemplified by a crucified life. It is more than simply talking about individual's need for a crucifed Savior, it is teaching others the need to die to theselves and live for and in Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself not only taught this to His disciples, He lived this life out before them and those He had come to serve. His life was a daily dying to everything but His Fathers will, even to the extent of dying upon a cross.
We find many people today who attend college and seminaries in the hope that they might aid others spiritually. In these institutions they will be taught among other things how to run an institution, how to make that institution or ministry "effective." The one thing they will not be taught, indeed could not be taught is how to die. That life must be exemplified by those who have gone before. And what is exemplified in those today who have gone out before us, those who claim to be Teachers, Fathers, Pastors, Prophets, Apostles and the like? Is it a crucified life? Or is the result of our education a self-made man (through education), a self-made and often titled ministry (unscriptural), self-promotion (calling or allowing others to call them titles, see above), a network of various institutions (churches, ministries, outreaches) all of which are named and therefore sectarian in nature and divisive, often tied to local governments, ALL IN THEIR OWN NAME! Is this making oneself of no reputation or the opposite of that? This is everything but denying oneself! It's rather self-exaltation on steroids, and of course to the glory of God no doubt.
If any professing believer fails to live a crucified life, they invalidate through their actions the need for others to do so as well. Their attempts to skirt the cross proves them false disciples who are attempting to "save" their lives from being identified with Jesus, His shame, His suffering and His cross. "Deny yourself" is not a Christian option on the road to heaven, but an absolute requirement for entrance into heaven. "For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself" (his soul)? [Luke 9:25]
The Command: And He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." [Matthew 4:19]
How a refusal to obey invalidates God's command: In order to follow Jesus I must understand where Jesus can be found and align my life in accordance with that. In our day and age, the manner and methods that individuals claim leads them to God are many, nonetheless, God Himself has made clear what is and isn't a proper manner of approaching and following Him.
"Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" [Hebrews 4:16]
The Bible makes clear that through Jesus all born again Christians have access to God, they can approach His throne of grace with confidence. This confidence is based solely on the merits of Jesus Himself and not upon anything we have done or could do subsequent to our salvation. We can commune with God through prayer in Jesus' name and merit. This is one way we learn to follow Him.
"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" [John 15:4]
Similar to the verse in Hebrews above, this verse also talks of our communion with God through Jesus. A simple illustration using a vine branch is used here. Think of what happens when a tree branch is cut off of any tree. In short order that tree branch dies, it cannot remain nourished and healthy if it does not remain attached to the tree itself. The branch itself doesn't contain life, its life is drawn from the root of the tree itself. So it is in our spiritual life.
…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love" [Ephesians 4:15, 16]
Note the verse above carefully and the specific terms that are used. Christ from whom, being fitted, held together, by every joint, what each joint supplies, proper working, each individual part = causes growth and the building in love God desires and requires. Does this sound like your average church service with a celebrity pastor up front telling everyone else how to live? That's because it isn't. That scenario is nowhere found within New Testament Christianity. A more selfish and man centered approach to learning truth would be difficult to be find.
The verses immediately preceeding these above talk about how God has called some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers and that these functions (not offices which would exalt men contrary to God's design) are necessary in equipping the saints. Contrary to modern day practice, it is these men who perform the function above- placing the various members of the body together in such a way that they all participate in unison. This is far different than towering over the saints, minimizing if not entirely neglecting them and their gifts and attempting to be all things to everyone at once.
"I will build My ekklesia" [Matthew 16:18]
What is the result of what Jesus builds? Answer: The gates of hell will not prevail. Find a local expression of what God is building and guess what, you will rarely if ever find divorce, you will rarely if ever find immorality, you will not find kids going off the deep end and serving sin instead of God. You will not find greed, you will not find self appointed leaders who rule over the people through ministries they themselves have created. You will not find a lack of mutual edification, a proper exercise of spiritual gifts or a unity that transcends the natural. Jesus does not fail to build His own ekklesia. Man fails due to his or her own attempts to supress what God is building through their own efforts in building churches. What results from your building efforts? Isn't it obvious?
Following Jesus, although this may involve following Paul (or someone else) as they follow Christ, is discovered through Jesus manifesting Himself within the proper working and framework of a local ekklesia. It is understanding that when one is born again spiritually that individual is endowed within by the same Holy Spirit as every other believer. Not a small fraction of the Holy Spirit but the entirety of Him. The only way that individual can fail to be a vessel through which Jesus can manifest Himself in service is if that person fails to abide in his or her realtionship with Christ. This working relationship and practice will be empowered as that same individual learns to embrace the cross of Christ daily, thus allowing the Holy Spirit's power and influence to affect those around them. This is also the responsibility of the functions above: to exemplify in practice a daily dying to self and a willingness to trust the others members to freely express Jesus through them. This is what most of today's church leaders fail or refuse to do. They prefer to keep the saints at a distance by choreographing the events (meetings) of a Christians life which silences their contribution, gifts and service to others. That's what institutions do- these use the participants as fuel to keep the name and reputation of the institution reputable in the world's eyes. They kill those inside, and ship off into a lonely wilderness those who refuse to keep funding, serving and defending what they have come to realize never originated in the heart of God.
What are you called to defend?
Dear brother or sister, would you consider the seriousness of this question? In order to properly do so, you will have to forget about what you like, what others suggest and what may have helped you in the past. You will have to suspend all past experiences and present feelings and simply ask your Father: What am I called to defend?
"Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every ekklesia" [1 Corinthians 4:16, 17]
"Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us." [Philippians 3:17]
The above verses are very important! They reveal a very important principle in our lives as Christians: a consistent living out and practicing of the faith once delivered. What the apostle Paul taught from city to city, from ekklesia to ekklesia and from person to person (what he called "my ways" in Christ) were always the same things. That simply means that the scriptural truths as well as the practice of those truths were consistently taught from place to place, from person to person. This doesn't mean that all Christians will need to dress exactly the same regardless of where they live around the globe. That is silly. There is always some degree of freedom as Romans 14 makes clear. That said, the truths of the faith are fixed forever and the practice of those truths should not change. For example, man sending out "church planters" is foreign to the New Testament. So is the building of churches. The very word "church" is foreign to the New Testament. That is a very specific change from what the New Testament calls the faith once delivered. It is not consistent with Paul's ways, what was given to him from a revealtion from God. [Galatians 1:11, 12] d.
When to imitate the faith in others
Regardless of who you may presently fellowship with or who you might consider your leaders, one thing is relatively sure about them: they often want you to imitate either their faith, beliefs or practices. Sometimes all that is really desired is conformity and that usually amounts to the typical institutional standard. If you are a free thinker and desire to follow Jesus alone, you are most assuredly going to pose a problem to the religious folk. They want unity at all costs, even if that unity is superficial and shallow. This unity falls far short of what Jesus promises His children as a result of His resurrection.
When we look over what we call Christiandom these days, we find ten to a hundred different sects all claiming to be Christian in any given locale. Although many distinct differences do exist among them, one thing is quite consistent throughout as it affects the participants. Little do they really know one another. Despite all the clamor about the need to attend, give money and time and support the leaders, rarely if ever do all these efforts lead to longstanding and intimate relationships. Little do we realize they were never meant to. Despite this, we defend in earnest our devotion to them and those supposedly called by God to deliver His message. Have we never considered that the Christian life is meant to be lived out, a living testimony of a living Savior? What ever happened to the need to see and hear what others say we need to believe?
"The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you" [Philippians 4:9]
There is a reason why so few if any ever quote the words of Paul the apostle; "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." Paul could say this because his life was laid bare for all to see. Their was nothing hidden, no selfish agenda, certainly no hope for a healthy and prosperous future. We was called to die, and even so, beckoned others to learn from his example and follow (receive) what he taught them. This wasn't merely some doctrinal facts about God or Christ per say, but a crucified life that he preached and in which they saw in him. These are the people who's lives are worthy of the gospel, and yet serve a people unworthy of them. [Ephesians 4:1, 2] [Hebrerws 11:37, 38]
The defense of the cross
When I look about today's religious landscape, like you I see an abundance of various people and their best efforts in serving God. Many of these pursuits seem noble, many meet individual or special group needs, some even present the true gospel of Jesus Christ. How can we differentiate between what originates with man and what is wrought of God? Does it matter?
Although many differences could be cited between what stems from the flesh verses the spirit, one cardinal rule trumps the rest. Look for the cross. Not any cross, not just words about the cross, but the cross lived out in real life, the cross life lived out through real people.
No one naturally wants to die. Human beings almost always skirt death or attempt to save themselves. That's human nature doing its best. Occasionally though, one will discover something different, something sweet among the roaring fires of our day. Without hype, without fashion, without props to uphold him, a man will be found, a man carrying a cross. That man, although nobody, can change the world. That man, unlike others, defends what is primary, he defends what matters most., he defends that which ushers in life eternal.
Observe the defenders of our day. Are they defending what is primary or simply what they think is necessary? Are they defending what is born with men or wrought of God? Are they defending the faith, or merely a document they believe explains the faith?
Friends, we need the courage to defend what the Bible calls the faith. This faith is not just a list of Bible truths or spiritual principles, it is a daily dying and subsequent living out of the life that is Christ. This life is a life lived together, not under the banners of religious tradition and man made theologies, but a life always abiding within the shadow of a cross.
If your defense is void of a personal cross, your witness is of no positive affect. You may incite the masses, multiply your enemies and generate quite a reputation. You may even prove to be a marytr- all in vain. No cross, no power, no influence.
On the other hand, if the cross is your friend, if you have learned the mercies of God's testing and trial, if you have been exercized thereby and become adequately acqauinted, then your death may very well lead to life.