In the last two posts I quoted and explained part of the passage in 2 Peter chapter 1 where some of the fruits of a faithful Christian are listed. I showed how these originate first from having a true knowledge of who Jesus Christ actually is, and by trusting in God's precious promises we can live in a manner that exhibits godliness in this world. It's important to remember that this godly living is contrasted with the various lusts that are present everywhere in this evil world.
The purpose of this concluding article is to show how a professing Christian who is in earnest to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [2 Peter 3:18] should interact with other professing believers. There is much confusion in relation to this matter as Peter well knew when he wrote:
"Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things (the coming of the Lord and destruction of this present world-2 Peter 3:1013), be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction" [2 Peter 3:14-16]
Lets face it, we live in a world where even if individuals don't claim to be an expert in spiritual things, they still far too often present themselves as such through their speaking and writing. It was recently brought to my attention that a very well known "Christian Reformed" apologist had been touting his doctorate credentials for years despite them never having been actually earned. That is an outright deception and farce that even his Reformed friends were unwilling to challenge him about. This ought to come as little suprise as my own experience has proven that the only people these reformed "experts" ever answer to is their own kind. Here's a suggestion to those folks: If you're unwilling to have a comment section where other Christians can challenge you according to 1 Peter 3:15 please keep your mouth shut- at least online. Despite the many of you touting your great insights, none of you openly challenged your own Calvanisic authority in James White for his blatant hypocrisy- cowards! I lose more respect for you guys by the day.
This age of information and technology has allowed just about anyone to post words or videos of themselves promulagating just about any supposed "truth" they think others need to know about. Sadly, many if not most are mistaken about their claims and the Christian community excels in error just as much as any other. The very fact that all of these individualistic "ministries" exist is proof positive that many professing Christians have abandoned God's means of fellowship, encouragement, worship and preparation for leadership. They have either substituted participation in a local ekklesia for the counterfeit of man's church, or maybe worse, have just started doing whatever they think is right for their own self-titled ministry that centers around themselves.
The book of Peter partially addresses people who are a danger to those who desire to grow in grace. First, Peter on several occasions calls out false teachers and prophets and explains their true characters. (See 2 Peter 2 in its entirety) These people are not all that difficult to spot and expose, provided we are not still living for ourselves and our selfish desires. I'll explain the reasons for this a little later. For now I'd like to focus upon another group of people, those closest to us, sometimes even our family members or friends who claim to be born again in Christ.
Everytime I see or hear a brother or sister fall into sin I think this thought- this never had to happen. The reason I believe this is true is this- the manner we have chosen to interact as believers does not resemble that of the New Testament and we suffer individual and corporate consequences when we choose to neglect to follow Scripture. Here are some of the ways present practice and Scripture differ.
- We have emphasized "going" far more than "obeying" or "being" to one another. Christians shared their very lives together daily in the 1st century and yet we barely spend a few hours together every week. That is proof positive how little we really care for one another or really believe we are responsible and accountable to one another. By the way, what type of Christian wouldn't want to spend daily life with their fellow Christians? I'll tell you, those who refuse to change and are holding onto sin, they hate real intimacy.
- For the most part we have jettisoned spontaneous fellowship and mutual sharing for far lesser things. Regardless of whether we are studying the Bible, a book or having a church service, a man or men are prominent and most of the local body is silent. This is the exact opposite of what is commanded in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and is reminiscent of a disfunctional spiritual body.
- Individual professing Christians live like they are individuals. Their whole world revolves around them, their belongings, their work, their own aspirations, dreams and desires. All of these are foreign to 1st century Christianity. Every Christian is a member of both the universal body of believers and a local body of believers- even if those other believers are unknown to him or her. We are commanded to assemble along geographical lines because these are the only Scriptural distinctions that exist (names do not). Because we are united with those believers (seen or unseen) everything we do affects those other believers for better or for worse and also affects our corporate testimony as believers in any locale. The very word "mine" is the antithesis of reality as we are merely stewards of God's possessions as He owns all. Again, if we loved to the point of laying down our lives as Jesus commanded friends will do, my local spiritual families concerns will always trump my own. This happens regularly as the concerns of the local assembly rarely if ever triumph over a better neighborhood, higher income or the fulfillment of personal desires or goals which always seem to call from other cities or even countries.
- We far too often make excuses for sin. Whether it's the "their just young" or "kids will be kids" excuse, we rarely deal with sin as we ought to. The standard of righteousness for kids and adults is exactly the same-perfecton. Yes, we ought to be merciful when need be and we ought to offer a stiff rebuke when that is warranted. The problem with sin in individuals results from the casual attitude we have with it and those who live in it, and the manner we have chosen to fellowship and serve one another. Neither I or you will ever really know each other gathering for a few hours a week and either of us could easily hide our sin. That's not true for those who seek God together daily, they really know one another and by their actions prove their devotion to God's desires verses the world's poison that free time far too often leads to.
- Professing Christians everywhere are building the earthly at the expense of the heavenly. Please, outside of Christians who are being persecuted in various nations, show me a single exampe of Christians who meet daily, build each other up in the faith, love and serve one another, preach the gospel to their neighbors and who refuse to name themselves or start "ministries" after themselves or their members. Such New Testament fellowships are that rare. How little we care.
Like produces Like
However we decide to live from day to day, that is the expression of Christ we are offering to this world who desperately needs Him. Have you really ever thought much about that? That if you prioritize church attendance than that is what your friends will think is Christian. That if you neglect to tell others the truth about sin that it really won't seem all that serious to them. That if you drink beer, smoke or practice other worldly things that those who supposedly "receive Christ" will think your example of a Christians behavior is acceptable. This is serious folks- and yet all this compromise could have been avoided and future compromise avoided as well.
It's really simple
It's really simple if one counts the cost of being Jesus' disciple. That's the problem we have these days, we not only preach a false gospel without repentance, we extend a freedom among the saints that brings all manner of polution among the family of God. Things not need be this way. God never intended they be this way. We've made things this way. We are to blame.
You cannot reform what God made perfect
Many of us are aware of the many ways professing Christians have attempted to bring lasting change among God's people. This proves that many of these people are well aware that serious problems do exist among the family of God- or at least amidst this thing we call church.These ideas, many of which have been outside additions to church have included many things such as:
- Focus on the Family
- Compassion International
- Promise Keepers
- Youth with a Mission
- Answers in Genesis
- Creation Research Institute
- Campus Crusade for Christ
- Young Life
- Billy Graham Evangelistic Assoc.
- Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
Now add to these organizations the more recent methods/movements used in reforming the church and its people:
- Purpose Driven Paradigm
- Church Growth Movement (evidenced by mega churches)
- NAR (New Apostolic Reformation)
- Word Faith Movement
- Emergent Church
Now add to these the biggest of the bad-
- World Vision
- Samaritan's Purse
- Habitat for Humanity
and just the plain ecumenical bad-
- World Council of Churches
- World Student Christian Federation
- The Vatican, Pontifical Council for promoting Christian Unity
- World YMCA
In reality, thousands upon thousands of these orgnizations have been started worldwide for a variety of reasons, some sincere, others for more deceptive purposes. But several things are consistent amongst them all and they relate to our study. Now just ask yourself these things:
Who owns, controls or runs these supposed "Christian" organizations?
Whose name(s) are upon the official documents?
Are these people really Christians or qualified for leadership?
Who decides exactly how these organizations are to function?
How are these organizations supported? (manpower and money?)
The Great Addition
For the purposes of this article I am going to refer to the organizations above as The Great Addition. For quite obviously the people who decided these organizations were and are necessary must be equally convinced that what Jesus has established in His death, resurrection and ascension was not and is not adequate to fulfill His intents and purposes on this earth. For if what Jesus established through local New Testament fellowships was adequate, then why are these people adding all these earthly entities to what Jesus said was finished? I thought Jesus said that through a true knowledge of Him we have everything we need for life and godliness? (2 Peter 1:3) Is Jesus a liar?
Sadly, similar to the excuses people make for participating in church related activities, the same excuse is used to perpetuate these manmade organizations and movements. They do so much good or so the participants think. But have they ever really thought about where these organizations actually lead people to? Here are just a few facts:
- Every so-called "Christian" institution always compromises the Christian gospel message more and more the longer they exist. Their is not one single exception.
- Every so-called "Christian" organization competes directly with Jesus for the souls of men, their resources ($) and influence upon society as a whole. (in their own name)
- Every so-called "Christian" organization fractures the body of Christ and is perpetuating sectarianism.
- Every so-called "Christian" organization is established by man, controlled by man and have men's agendas at the center of them.
- Every so-called "Christian" organization is therefore the invention of man, they are fleshly enterprises that only aid to suppress the truth of what God has established prior with their own versions of what they claim is good and righteous.
Looking for a section of verses that seem to adequately describe the foolishness of exchanging what God has done perfectly for a substitute these verses came to mind;
"For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God (by acknowledging His perfect plan and resources for His people) or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations (that what they created could aid God's purposes) and their foolish heart was darkened (they became more and more deceived the longer they persisted in their own ways and inventions). Professing to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God (the glory exhibited through the perfect work of what is spiritual and heavenly in nature) for an image in the form of corruptible man (earthly religious institutions) and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures" (which amounts to idolatry).
"Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God (the local geographical ekklesia for the establishing of the saints and Christian service) for a lie (the substitution of churches and religious institutions in the place of local ekklesias) and worshipped and served the creature (what man has created) rather than the Creator (and what He died to establish for all time) who is blessed forever. Amen"
The Great Reduction
There is always something spiritually significant when God uses a man or a few men to fulfill His purposes. This principle is found throughout the Scriptures- the principle of reduction or division. It is this principle mankind truly hates.
From the tower of Babel forward, mankind has always thought he knew better than God, that he was capable of ruling his own life, that his own imagination and ingenuity would be an adequate substitute for God. For various reasons and seasons sometimes God just let man alone and let him be the recipient of his own devices. Eventually though, God's jealousy for His own creation brought an eventual judgment, a judgment that constantly divides that which is holy from that which is unholy. Although this process has never ceased from the very beginning of mankind, some are paying attention, while most people are not. Their seems to be two ongoing and persistant camps: those who continue to walk with God as He separates them time and time again, and those who refuse to be separated and redouble their efforts in uniting mankind. (often under their own titled banner or creation)
Now my audience likely knows that those desiring to unite mankind through their own efforts like ecumenism and syncretism are not from God. They use God's name, but by their very actions they deny Him. But our concern here is about how and with whom we need to separate that our faith might be ever increasing and not hindered by those who refuse to walk along God's dividing lines.
Some time back, a Christian friend asked me this question in relation to community living: (I'm paraphrasing her question)
"How can we live more like 1st Century believers, beyond a mere gathering together more often?"
First, just gathering together more often will not necessitate change in anyone, nor make us individually or corportely more faithful. The Christian life is not about simply helping one another or obeying one or more particular commands. The Scripture say in Romans 14;
"For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die we are the Lord's" [Romans 14:7, 8] and
"For the kingdom of God is not (merely) eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit"
Can I submit something before you all? That true Christianity is not merely cultivating an individual righteousnes, and an individual peace. In addition to this and equally important, Christianity is all about cultivating a corporate expression of righteousness, one which abounds in a corporate peace which is exemplified by joyful saints before the world around them. This is what God is after, and ought be be about what we're after as well.
I've previously mentioned that the Scriptures teach that their is both an acceptable and unacceptable manner of service before God. This is spoken about in many places to include Romans 12:1 and two chapters later we read in Romans 14:18;
"For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men"
Might want to read the verse above again. Acceptable to whom? God and men (fellow believers). And what beliefs/behaviors might this particular verse be referring to? What exemplifies this acceptable lifestyle? For the sake of brevity lets just relate what some acceptable practices are evident within this particular chapter (Romans 14).
- Accepting those who are weak and not judging them (vs.1-4)
- Allowing for differing convictions provided every persons decisions are prompted by service to Christ (vs. 5-7)
- Not placing a stumbling block in a brother's way (vs. 13)
We can learn a whole lot from these simple principles. Imagine no more arguments about those who do and don't celebrate Christmas? What about allowing others to form their own convictions over time? What about sacrificing some of my own liberties for my fellow brothers or sisters (even for a season) to show my care for them and keep them from stumbling?
These are not difficult practices, that is unless an individual is still living for themselves. Then they have both an agenda that is both corporate and individual which places themselves either above or more important than the other believers around them. That is the person whose faith in Christ ought to be questioned, for Jesus plainly states the manner all who are considering following Him must live:
"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" [Luke 9:23]
"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple" [Luke 14:26]
"Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" [Luke 14:27]
Two things ought to be noted just here. First, these words were not spoken exclusively to the disciples Jesus chose. They were spoken to the multitudes of people within the sound of Jesus' voice- He was speaking to crowds. He was telling them their was a cost to following Him, that it would cost them and that they ought to consider just what that cost might be. That no one could ever be a priority in their lives over Him- not even any member of their family, and especially themselves!
Secondly, the word disciple does not denote some special type of believer (as in a mature believer). The word disciple in the Scriptures is equated to being a Christian- one who has chosen to follow Christ- one who has considered the implications of identifying with Christ and is willing to abide by the potential consequences.
The answer to my friend's question is simple. Every single person professing Christian faith needs to judge themselves by these verses about discipleship to see whether they are truly even in the faith. That's where this starts. The only reason the professing Christian world has so many difficulties and fails to advance in this spiritual war is due to the false professions of faith just about everywhere one looks. False professions lead to false practices which is turn ultimately lead to deception. Men are needed who will never compromise God's truth, nor tolerate those in their midst who do.
It is obvious who fails the test because these people do not and have not counted the cost and this shows clearly in their lives. Their aim, their object, their passion in life is clearly not Jesus Christ and therefore will be centered the only other place it can be- on themselves and upon their own desires. They will be forever talking about their plans, their possessions, their ministries and their lives. As we have noted again and again, a Christian (disciple) DOES NOT and CANNOT live for themselves.
Much more could be said. But those who know Jesus have counted the cost, and they long for the very things their Father longs for. From day one they have learned and are living, not my will, but Thy will be done.
Decrease through Division
A study of the life of Jesus here on earth reveals some startling truths and events. A perfect man being hated. His closest companions abandoning Him. Suffering wrong for doing right. God in the flesh, making himself of no reputation. Over and over, day by day, He becomes more and more isolated, more and more alone. In the end only His Father is left, only His Father's will is in sight.
Has this been so with you? Are you better than Him?
Everything God does is bringing you to your end, that Jesus might become all- in you. More faith means more dependence, which can only result as we are stripped of all we hold dear. Are you up for that Christian? Are you encouraging others along such lines?
It's imperative that we follow Jesus with others who have truly counted the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The original design of small localized fellowships of believers is the vehicle through which we will grow in grace and in the true knowledge of Jesus Christ. Not in one of numerous man made settings will His will be accomplished, but in the perfect design outlined clearly in the pages of the New Testament.
Is God calling His children to a degree of Christian participation and activity among other professing believers in whatever manner they choose? I think not. God's calling for our lives, first sharing the totality of our lives for the sake of the local brethren daily, then offering our lives daily for the sake of Jesus Christ in whatever manner He chooses. Anything less is compromise, anything less cannot rightfully be called Christian.