Lines in the sand/Part 2
Sometimes in order to gain a proper perspective of reality, we must jump ahead to the conclusion of a matter before we can see properly. This is found to be true in both the natural and spiritual realms.
For example, having worked in a variety of businesses over the years I became quite aware of various problems that existed within these businesses. I'm relatively sure you could echo the same sentiment. Sometimes these problems were relatively small- minor accounting issues, personnel conflicts or having to deal with an unsatified customer. Although on occasion a business would allow the average employee to offer suggestions in relation to these problems, generally those in management were left to finding solutions to these problems. Sometimes they did, though more often then not these problems were simply ignored. That said, sometimes the problems became serious as when a former employee sued the company, employees embezzled money and product or when an employee was injured on the job or even killed. Obviously these problems can't simply be ignored and must eventually be dealt with in some fashion. A solution of some kind must be found and the problem resolved if possible.
In one particular business I documented eighty three very specific problems I found within that business. Some were fairly minor while others were quite serious. This particular transportation service business is known nationwide and exists in many if not most metropolitan areas and even some small cities. They are known to primarily hire independent contractors although they also may have employees as well. Although it is illegal in the US for a business to demand the manner in which an independent contractor operates his or her business (the number of hours worked, when they work etc) they often attempt to do it anyway. Despite the employees often complaining about poor treatment and wages, the contractors may very well have invested in vehicles or other tools in order to conduct their business within that company. No matter how bad things get, let's say the employees decide to boycott or strike, the contractors have too much to lose and therefore almost always side with the company despite the abuses. They simply won't risk losing their investment. Often these companies purposely have these two types of workers on purpose which work as a wedge dividing those who would normally work together against the abuses. Even if the employees strike, the contractors are still available to the business in taking care of business.
Despite the odds stacked against them, once in a great while an individual will rise up against the abuse of the corporation. They are determined to right the wrongs that so often go unaddressed and neglected by management. These individuals know full well if there intentions are discovered they will be threatened, fired and even blamed for the problems themselves. Nonetheless, their concern for fairness and righteousness for the people drives them forward. For some, the difficulties simply outweigh the stuggle and they give up. For others, their intentions are discovered and they lose their occupation and are now overwhelmed with finding a new way to support themselves. For me, I invested seven years and thousands of dollars before I held in my hand what seemed like the perfect solution- not to the problem, but to all eighty three problems! I couldn't wait to show my solutions to my comrades and get busy implementing them. We were all going to benefit from all the time, money and research I put into this- or so I thought.
In reality, I had indeed come up with some real solutions. When asked by others about this or that problem I always had an answer. No matter what the problem, I had already devised a solution. My friends were impressed by my work, but one problem remained that I had not anticipated- they were not impressed with me. Despite all I had done, I underestimated how important these individuals confidence in me was going to be. Could I get this idea started, could I run it, keep it moving forward and make it profitable for all? On paper yes, but in reality it was yet to be seen. I made a fatal assumption that my friends would just fall in line behind me in blind faith- because I believed it could and would happen. I wrongly assumed that because I had indeed solved these problems in theory that they would step out in faith as I originally had and help me implement the solution to what was ailing them. I was wrong.
Ten or more years passed, I found myself last week throwing hundreds of hours of research and thousands of dollars of preparation into a fire in a friends backyard. It was as if part of me had died, and in reality part of me did. In a strange kind of way there was comfort mixed in with the sadness. I wasn't comforted in the fact that I had failed in my implementation and in the end my friends rejected me. That hurt and still sorrows me. But something greater was to be found- something worth far more than this business and its influence might have profited me.
Sometimes in order to gain a proper perspective of reality, we must jump ahead to the conclusion of a matter before we can see properly.
I'm quite sure a few of you reading this so far have already jumped ahead and see where I'm heading with this. That's good, but may I continue anyway?
Yes, we are going to shift gears and paint the above scenario in spiritual thoughts and spiritual words. You should have no trouble with this if indeed you have the Spirit of God:
"Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" [1 Corinthians 2:12, 13]
If you have been called by God as a Christian, it is likely that you have been made aware of one or more of the problems within the framework of what is being called "Christianity" these days. You may have even attempted to resolve one or more of these problems yourself. You may have even attempted to resolve problems using one or more of the following methodologies below as I have.
1. An attempt to steer institutionalized religion (church in any variety) along New Testament lines. Within such a pursuit, it is usually assumed that what is necessary is a few minor changes here and there. This is actually one of the first stages in becoming aware of God's true intentions and will. This stage predominately revolves around how we've personally been wronged or slighted in some fashion. Our issue isn't yet with institutionalism itself but with the fact that we're left out of the management and hierarchy within it. In other words, I'm mad because I'm not being used or listened to as I think I should be.
2. A renewed emphasis on some "Biblical" doctrine. Once again within the framework of church, we see the problem as either forgetting or minimizing some particular doctrine, truth or teaching. We become obsessed with everyone else needing what we've discovered as the "key" to real spirituality. Regardless of whether this doctrine is true or not, this still falls far short of Jesus' intentions and often divides believers into two classes of saints, the have's and have nots.
3. A renewed emphasis upon how a particular truth or doctrine is practiced. Usually in the framework of church also, the issue become "how" we practice our faith. Very specific details concerning baptism, membership and outreach take on various new spins. This again divides one from another.
4. Standing upon some "system of theology" or church "doctrinal statement." I don't suppose telling others what our local group believes is the problem. The problem arises when we "label" that system and make it mandatory for others to believe. Unless they conform they are excluded from fellowship with "us." Note: The word "us" and "our" within the framework of the one body is sectarian.
5. Touting the various resources and programs "our church" offers. If the goal is numerical growth we can see how this might be beneficial. But is this God's ultimate goal for His spiritual family?
6. Gearing church "services" toward unbelievers felt needs. Sadly, those who go in this direction have entirely forgotten who comprise the people of God. Do the sinners and saints share God's household?
7. Starting another "church" or "organization" or "ministry" that will address the problems better or more scripturally than other groups and people do. No, no, no. Don't do that!
8. Moving the "church" to a home. This may indeed increase the intimacy and accountability of the saints but a home doesn't authomatically remove church influences contrary to scripture.
9. Appointing "experts" or "apostles or prophets" or "church planters" who will guide us into the truth ouside of institutiuons.
10. Listing all the problems that exist in institutions and making a pattern or formula for others to follow. Just curious, does life come from form or might it be the other way around?
If you have tried any of the above and are entirely honest, none of them bring about the desired result now do they? Are you aware of why these can never be a resolution to problems and why they only aim to further divide the one body?
Only God draws the lines of division
In part 1 of this study we made clear what were God's unmoveable lines. Where men attempt to cross these lines His blessing is removed. None of God's promises can be met or fulfilled within a framework of people who ignore and neglect to follow God's dividing lines.
In part 1 we noted that God's people and the devils children oppose each other. Each is part of a particuar kingdom which has a ruler, a system of operation and children who bear particular kinds of fruit. The two kingdoms and their modes of operation are completely opposed one to another and never intersect. Despite God making this all to evident, man ignores God's dividing lines in rebellion in an attempt to prove God a liar. Once a group of people rejects God's lines, they in turn create and promote their own lines in their place. Replacing God's commandments (in our case His dividing lines) man participates in the spirit of antichrist.
Can I ask you some specific questions?
- Where does God allow Christians to promote any named system of theology and reject other professing believers from fellowship who may disgree?
- What dividing line is broken and ignored when we accept ANY religion as valid?
- What dividing line is broken and ignored when we allow sin to go unconfronted, rebuked or corrected?
You must abandon your dividing lines for God's
If you attend a church, any church and utilize terminology such as "our" or "we" or a formal name of any kind you are promoting a dividing line that God prohibits and hates. In turn, you are preventing God's true dividing lines to be known and practiced among you.
If you are part of any formal named institution, religious organization or "ministry" you are promoting a dividing line that God prohibits and hates. In turn, you are preventing God's true dividing lines to be known and practiced among you.
If you have placed yourself as any man's spiritual authority or consider yourself over other Christians you are promoting a dividing line that God prohibits and hates. In turn, you are preventing God's true dividing lines to be known and practiced among you.
If you are allowing others to have authority over you in the place of Christ you are promoting a dividing line that God prohibits and hates. In turn, you are preventing God's true dividing lines to be known and practiced among you.
If you consider any of man's religions as valid expressions of what God commands and requires you are promoting a dividing line that God prohibits and hates. In turn, you are preventing God's true dividing lines to be known and practiced among you.
Then again, if you consider yourself and any ability and effectiveness to be at the sole mercy and discetion of Jesus Christ alone as you embrace His cross that His death might work life in you- well then, you are truly blessed and in the care and right hand of a loving Father who will see you all the way through to the end for His name's sake.
As a Christian I'm sure you have questioned why despite the many marvelous promises in the New Testament that apply to Christians and their gathering together, why do we fail to experience so many of them in our daily interaction one with another? And if this be so, why would we continue on as if we can somehow find contentment short of the fulfillment of all God promises us? Can you? Will you?
The truth be told, most professing Christians could care less whether they ever experience the marvelous promises of God in His Word. They are far too preoccupied with their self interests, their personal goals and abitions and whatever they can acquire upon this earth that might bring them happiness in this life. They have convinced themselves that Jesus didn't really mean what He said, "For whoever wishes to save His life will lose it, but whoever loses it for My name's sake, he is the one who will save it" If there was any doubt that this refers to eternal salvation, the next verse reads: "For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses and forfeits himself (or his soul)?" [Luke 9:23-26]
Most of us are aware of those who only feign their so-called faith in Jesus Christ. It's easy to spot and avoid such people as we are commanded. But what of those who refuse to abandon the identities they form outside of Christ? How do we interact with those who refuse to abandon their "Christian" religions and sectarian attitudes? Is their a line here to be drawn as well?
Working 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]
In the work scenario above I failed to take into account several pertinent things. Those things became my undoing despite my noble intentions. First, I placed confidence in myself as a Christian to do what needed to be done. I believed God gave me the courage to stand where others wouldn't. Then I continually reminded others of the regular abuses we all suffered under, hoping this would motivate them to help me. Dispite little help being offered, I pressed ahead despite the consequences, and consequences there were. It took almost three years, but the company finally found out about my intentions. First, I was fired. So much for not being able to fire a contractor. Then I was slandered. Then the other employees and contractors were threatened. Sadly, those with resource and money brought the weight of their influence upon those with little to fight with. They were cornered and eventually subdued. You would think I would have given up after that, nope. For four more years I kept talking to the guys here and there when given opportunity. I refused to give up! I wanted to keep my promises.
Behind all the goings on was my desire to reach these people with the gospel. Because this was a transportation business I imagined all these scenarios of how I could share the gospel with a business of this type. I had it all figured out. Due to my benevolence and care through this business I would become a hero to these men and woman. Now they would listen, now they would follow my lead and calling. I had it all figured out, and yet I didn't have a clue. Just as those who sincerely attempt to reform today's institutions, who are so convinced they know or can do better, have the key or solution for us all, who if allowed would show the rest of us the way. My motives were right, my methods from mars!
When I finally realized the futility of all I had done it took me back somewhat. That's what usually happens when you're so convinced something is God's will only to discover later it wasn't. That's usually when we start questioning God when we should be questioning ourselves.
Had I questioned myself, I likely would not have set out in another wrong direction. My ministry desires well intact, I set out to start a "ministry" for God. I aimed to start roundtable groups much like those I once attended in Alcoholics Anonymous but geared them toward Christian discipleship. In such a venue, each Christian would be able to share "what was upon their heart." No more "pastor" telling me what I could and couldn't do. We would all finally be free from those religious chains of the past.
To promote it and get the ball moving, I made up business cards with my name upon them. I was the "founder and facilitator" or so I thought. I wrote up all kinds of documents and made up specific instructions on how the specific groups should operate and function. As usual, no detail was left unattended. I even had some initial groups in my apartment that seemed to go over well. I really believed I had finally discovered God's specific plan and will for my life!
When the majority of the documents were finished I attempted to build an internet site. You would think after several trys myself, paying someone one thousand dollars and five years of trying it would have been finished. Nope. It took that long just to get me to start to consider what might be wrong. It took another five years before I abandoned this project. Talk about crushed and devestated! Now what!
I thank God for those who finally got through to me. One or more of you may be even reading this. It wasn't as if you bashed me in my efforts, (somebody might have), but most just loved me through what must have been an exhausting process in my eyes being opened. Even when many could have outright shown me my errors, instead they often allowed the Spirit and prayer to finish the work in me. That's trusting God indeed. We can learn from such can we not?
Where these ideas originate
Let's face it, most of us are products of our particular environments. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule but for the most part the majority of us are followers instead of leaders. Despite making it clear that God's people are to "follow Him" and that they will "listen to His voice," most neglect the first command and forget if not altogether reject the latter. As was made clear in part 1 of this study, the void of rejecting God's shepherds and prophets, Jesus being included of course, opens another door for hierlings to influence God's people from within. It isn't a coincidence that the majority of professing Christians never deviate from the beliefs they were originally taught by the person or church that first taught them about God. Is it possible that an individual, a church, denomination or "ministry" of any kind has a perfect set of beliefs and practices that never change and always honor God? Of course not. Christian doctrine doesn't change (what encompasses "the faith") although the expression of this faith can and does change dramatically from one person to another or from one society to another.
Regardless of how the practice of Christianity may be lived out, that particular expression should not alter God's dividing lines nor create ones of our own. That's exactly what both my business idea and ministry idea were attempting to do although I didn't realize it at the time. Sorry, but there isn't such a thing as a "Christian" business any more than God supporting a formally named "ministry" of my own. Ministry is simply service and cannot be an entity, nor can "it" be named. Both would amount to forms of sectarianism which God doesn't support, nor does he support any ministry I consider to be "mine." We won't dare address here the sacred cows of "Christian" hospitals, colleges, music bands, authors, comedians etc. What makes them Christian? What line are you drawing by designating them as such?
On one hand it is understandable how these things got started. Someone somewhere, finding discontent or what they perceived to be error amongst the people of God made a decision. They decided that things wern't quite right and that things needed to change. Once that decision was made another decision was inevitable- they would go about attempting to make those changes. Initially men just made things up and claimed they were from God (apostolic succession, Mary as a mediatrix, earthly kings claiming to be the head of God's people etc). Even where the men themselves were more sincere they still exchanged God's truth for lies by promoting denominationalism, church, religious hierarchy, religious titles, spiritual positions and many more of man's traditions that overshadow God's commandments. Since the very first time these precedents were set, many have been following them, promoting them and creating inumerable spin offs that promote the same errors. Just because an error has been propagated for over a thousand years does not make it any more true today. No lie is of the truth.
God's ends in sight
Scripturally speaking, God has three primary ends in sight, one for man, one for His beloved Son and one…..
Due to sin, God has placed the death sentence upon men. No man in their natural strength or abilities can please God or meet the righteous requirements of His law. Man is therefore pronounced guilty. Due to the sin that resides in men, nothing that originates within them can be utilized in God's service but in fact is condemned in Christ Crucified. The pronouncement of death now becomes the gateway through which the life of God can be obtained. It is God intent that man be reconciled through Him through the death of His Beloved Son. A truly reconciled individual has been forever separated from everything pertaining to their former life and now exist in Jesus and Him alone as their Life, wherein they move and have their being.
Due to man's sin and inability for him to rescue himself, it pleased the Son to obey His Father in becoming the one time perfect blood sacrifice for sin that averted His wrath away from men. Jesus willingly gave Himself in the place of man, therein becoming sin and a ransom for many. After having become a substitute for us on the cross and dying for our sins, He was buried and rose again after three days in the resurrection power of God. Due to the obedience of Jesus His Father highly exalted Him and bestowed upon Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In the end, God intends to sum all things up in Christ. "When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all" [1 Corinthians 15:28]
The means to God's ends…..together
Contrary to former precedents and our own past efforts, God doesn't need us to go about attempting to fix what we perceive to be wrong with Christianity or the manner in which it is practiced. In reality, "the faith" is already perfect. It is not so much that things need to be changed as we ourselves need to be changed. In the same manner that internal heart change precedes changes in one's outward actions, so must our inward perceptions be destroyed so that we may walk in the fulness of what Jesus has already accomplished on our behalf.
The above statement does not negate that many problems exist within churches and religious institutions. But the first internal perception to be destroyed is this: We cannot serve a heavenly king in a heavenly kingdom using earthly resources.
Have we forgotten already….. "But may it never be that I would boast (in my church, pastor, gifts, ministry, service), except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" [Galatians 6:14]
A second internal perception that must be destroyed: I can use my natural resources and abilities in serving God.
Have we also forgotten….."If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up His cross 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]
A third internal perception that must be destroyed…..our success in ministry has little do do with what others are doing and everything to do with whether I continue to follow Jesus myself. This we will discuss in the conclusion of this series in Part 3-sorry.
Within the framework of our Lord's heavenly plan, He alone has merged what was once an impenatrable dividing line between my sinful self and His holy character into an inseparable righteous relationship. Hallowed be His name. I was once dead in sin. I am now freed in Christ. Now it's our turn to do likewise for others, not in our way or wisdom, but exclusively in the train of His triumphs! Now that's the means to God's end- together.