The Christian, the Church, and Love for the “Brethren”

Elmhurst_CRC_1964_(3)When I was growing up, we used to reference love for “the brethren and the sisteren,” and I always thought that was such a fundamental Scriptural principle it didn’t need special attention.

That was before I started seeing the way some Christians treat others online. Eventually I ran into a group that defended unkind words directed at other Christians with whom they disagreed. I was floored.

Their central point was that false teachers need to be treated harshly, and to make their case they used several places in Scripture that talk about apostates and those spreading heresy. From there they looked to the way Jesus talked to the Pharisees, calling them snakes and white-washed tombs. Then there’s Paul telling the Galatians they are foolish and confronting Peter for his hypocrisy.

So are they right?

I don’t think so—not the way they use these verses as permission to mock or malign others. The handful of examples they give must be balanced by the preponderance of instruction telling Christians to treat each other, our enemies, all men, with love and/or consideration.

Some years ago, as I worked my way through the New Testament, I noticed over and over this theme of treating one another with love. In the gospels, the emphasis is on loving our neighbors and loving our enemies until we get to John. Jesus then makes His strong statements about Christians loving Christians so that the world will know we follow Christ.

John then drew the conclusion that love for the brethren (and sisteren😉 ) is one sign that a person does in fact truly follow Christ:

  • By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another
    – 1 John 3:10-11 (emphases mine)
  • We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
    – 1 John 3:14
  • Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
    – 1 John 4:7-8
  • Starting in Romans Paul fleshes out what it means to have love for the brethren, and for all men:

  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
    – Rom 12:11-18 (emphases mine)
  • Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
    – Rom 13:10
  • He gives a more lengthy explanation to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13), then includes instruction to love other Christians in a number of his other letters:

    • to the Galatians – “but through love serve one another”
    • to the Ephesians – “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
    • to the Philippians – “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment”
    • to the church in Colossae – “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
    • to the church in Thessalonica – “and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you”
    • to Timothy – “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion”

    The writer to the Hebrews continues the theme:

      “Let love of the brethren continue.”

    As does James

      “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well.”

    And Peter

      “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart”

    Believe it or not, these passages are nothing more than a representative sample. How can a Christian miss the fact that love for one another is central to true discipleship? As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.”

    Does Scripture tell us to stand against false teachers? From my study, I believe it does, but not to the exclusion of the clear command to love believers and all men, to be kind, to restore others with gentleness, to pursue peace with all men, to refrain from speaking against one another and many, many more similar indisputable relational instructions.

    So how did Christians bashing Christians or Christians bashing the Church or Christians bashing sinners—on the Internet or by letter or face to face—become something we believers seem to think is just fine?

    This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2010.

    The Church Is Not Perfect’m sensitive about church bashing which seemed to be in vogue not so long ago. When someone started talking about the Church it was almost always to tell readers or listeners what the traditional church had done wrong. Sometimes the tone was quite snarky. It’s those old people, the grannies in their denim dresses and the old codgers with their belts up around their chests. They keep the church from growing, from being alive and vibrant.


    The Church is not perfect, and never has been. Even in the first century, Paul and Peter and Titus were writing about false teachers and false doctrines and how believers were to go about sorting truth from error.

    From what I understand, our first line of defense against false teaching is the Bible. Surprise, surprise. Truth is the best weapon against error. Paul even calls the word of God, the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians when he lists off the armor the Christian is to put on in our fight against spiritual forces.

    Part of using Scripture against error is our discernment—our ability to check to see if “these things are so” as the Bereans did.

    Now these [Berean believers] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

    The other part is to hold each other accountable as Paul did Peter when the latter started treating Gentile believers differently once the Jewish Christians showed up. Suddenly it wasn’t OK for Peter to eat with the uncircumcised as he had been. Paul called him on his hypocrisy.

    But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all . . . (Galatians 2:11-14a)

    The rest of the chapter records Paul’s argument against what Peter was doing.

    Paul also stood up against the Corinthian church, confronting them on various issues in his first letter. In Phil. 4 he openly urged two women who weren’t getting along to solve their dispute, and he asked another member of the church to help them.

    Not only are we to troubleshoot for each other, we have responsibilities, older women to teach the younger and older men to teach younger men.

    Then there is the leadership. Peter says clearly, elders are to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2). But even they have requirements.

    No one in the church is above God’s standard. He’s given us means by which we can continue to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects. Not following the way of the world, not believing “a different gospel,” not following the lure of deceivers who John warns us about (2 John 1:7), not getting caught up in visions or beliefs someone with an inflated ego invents and foists on the church (Col. 2:18).

    Holding people in the church accountable is not Church bashing, and it isn’t an attack on our unity.

    If it were, Paul would have torn the Church apart instead of building it up.

    In fact, he did what a good overseer is supposed to do—he taught the people what Scripture meant. And he challenged them to live what they knew. His reprimands, as he made clear in 2 Corinthians were because he cared for the people he regarded as his children in the faith.

    Perhaps that’s the point of greatest difference between the first century Church and today’s western church. We are distracted by what worship style we like, how many people we have signing up as members, how much money we’re getting in, how many people have the church app on their phones, and on and on. But who cares enough to step up and say, Stop sinning! It’s wrong for you to sleep with someone you aren’t married to. Or to get drunk (even at college). Or to cheat on your income taxes.

    We aren’t perfect, so I guess we think we have no ground to stand on when it comes to confronting someone else about sin. I understand that. The key is to deal with our own logs before we do anything else, but Scripture doesn’t imply that we should all ignore the splinters and logs everyone else is walking around with because we once upon a time had our own log. If we still have a log of our own, then that’s the first thing we need to take before the throne of grace.

    But how can we stand silently by and watch wolves come climbing over the walls of the sheepfold? We ought not!

    Published in: on July 21, 2016 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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    Doing Ministry In The Twenty-first Century

    New_Spring_Church_Greenville_2Another pastor has been asked to leave his church—a megachurch, no less, so there’s lots of attention to his failings and his firing. I’m referring to Perry Noble, pastor and founder of NewSpring Church in South Carolina, who confessed to an ongoing overuse of alcohol.

    Apparently he’s been trying to grow his church to a membership of 100,000, and the stress got to him, such that tension developed in his marriage. He turned to alcohol to alleviate the problems and of course, alcohol became one more problem on its own.

    Noble’s statement said: “What we’ve seen the Lord do over the past 16 years has been a modern day miracle. However, in my obsession to do everything possible to reach 100,000 [members] and beyond – it has come at a personal cost in my own life and created a strain on my marriage.” (“Perry Noble enters treatment centre”)

    I have to ask, was the church growth he referred to, a modern day miracle or a result of his obsessive activity? I don’t think it can be both. Either God does the work or man’s marketing techniques does the work.

    I can’t help but contrast Pastor Noble’s obsessive work to grow the size of his church (which apparently is more like a denomination “which claims 30,000 members across 17 cities” [“How Perry Noble’s Alcohol Firing by NewSpring Compares to Other Churches”]) and that of George Müller a hundred and fifty years ago. The latter wasn’t trying for great numbers. He wasn’t obsessive about growing his ministry. He continued building orphan homes as God enabled because the list of children who needed a place continued to grow and grow and grow.

    The only thing Pastor Müller worked tirelessly at was prayer. And preaching God’s word. He didn’t care if he was talking to a small group in Australia or a large church in Chicago. He preached, during the last eight or so years of his life when he felt called as an itinerant preacher, to any and all churches that invited him. Further, from the beginning of his work with orphans and with support for various other Christian endeavors, he laid his needs before God and did not publicize them.

    Today’s churches seem to have capitulated to the organization and the marketing mechanisms used by corporations. We have boards that oversee churches, made up of pastors from other churches, not from a group of elders within the church body. We want celebrity pastors who Tweet and livestream and do Facebook, all for the purpose of growing the size of the “ministry.”

    Gone, it would seem, is dependence on prayer and gone is the centrality of God’s word. Now “ministry” means seminars on addiction and dealing with autism and job loss or infertility or any number of other heartbreaking and difficult situations people might encounter.

    Does no one still believe that the Bible is actually relevant to our times and our problems? Why are we so quick to look to the devices the world has manufactured, to cope with our hurts and sins? Why don’t we pay attention to Scripture instead?

    In fact, shouldn’t we be so plugged into what the Bible tells us about how we ought to walk and please God, that we don’t find ourselves falling into the pit created by following the world’s way of doing things?

    The Church should be like a hospital, I think, for those outside. But for those of us inside? We should be all about healthy habits that keep us from getting sick. What would we think of a hospital that spends the majority of its efforts and resources treating the nurses and doctors who worked there?

    Of course Christians fail, we stumble, we fall, and we need people with whom we can confess our sins. We need people who will walk beside us so that we aren’t adding sin to sin. I’m not suggesting the Church should not provide a support system for those who need help. But that’s the thing—prayer, relationships with other Christians, a study of God’s word should be a regular part of our lives, allowing room for the Holy Spirit to work.

    Churches need pastors who faithfully preach the word of God, in season and out. We need to hear the full council of God’s word, not just messages from favorite passages, hop, skipping, and jumping through the text based on a topic. That’s the way important passages get skipped. That’s why we don’t address addiction in the church or divorce or premarital sex. There are lots of other topics the church simply lets slide—apparently the marketing strategy says talking about a lot of “old time” topics isn’t appealing to the target audience.

    I wonder if God’s heart isn’t broken by us going off on our own to do His work without Him.

    Published in: on July 20, 2016 at 6:25 pm  Comments (5)  
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    Going Along To Get Along

    I’m reposting this article from October 2013 because I needed to be reminded of these points.

    bird ruffling feathersDon’t make waves. Don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. Don’t rock the boat. Those were phrases I grew up hearing that basically said, don’t say what you want to say because you’ll upset someone.

    Underneath the admonition is the kind intention to spare someone’s feelings. You don’t want someone to get upset or feel uncomfortable or confused or irate or off kilter. You want to keep people happy.

    Sure, it’s a good sentiment if it isn’t taken too far. But the problem is, our western culture is, in fact, taking the concept too far. The result is, we no longer speak the truth.

    Christians have fallen into this same pit. We sometimes don’t speak the truth because we don’t want to make others uncomfortable, and sometimes we hold our tongues because we don’t want to suffer the outrage from others if we say what we believe.

    I understand this latter position. I had an encounter last week on another blog that put me under verbal attack. I was accused of being of questionable intelligence, falsely pious, cruel, dishonest, abusive, creating intentional harm, being snide, having an attitude that was “as Christ-like as a festering pile of donkey scat,” and more. Above all, some said people like me were the reason they didn’t want to be known as Christians.

    So do I relish tangling with people who I know might well unleash such a diatribe again? Not so much. It’s easier to keep quiet, to say, I’ve been in the verbal battles in the past and I don’t need more.

    I used to think such rancorous exchanges could be avoided by treating others with respect. Except, some people think you don’t respect them unless you agree with them. Some people read evil intent behind every word.

    At other times I’ve had people assume they know my position on a matter simply because I’ve stated a view that’s similar to someone else on their blacklist. In this last foray, I was accused regarding my opening comment of trying to prevent others from speaking.

    I did say there are voices intent to drown out the message of God’s hope and help with accusations against the true Church. This statement, I was told, constituted me telling those against abuse within the church to stop talking.

    What we never got to was this: the true Church doesn’t condone abuse. Does abuse exist within the ranks of those involved in Bible-believing churches? Sadly, I’m certain it does. However, writing off all evangelical churches and all evangelicals as refusing to ask questions, to look at the truth, and to accept those who are digging behind the scenes is . . . myopic. Or filled with hubris.

    How can someone extrapolate from their own experience and draw conclusions about all other evangelicals and evangelical churches of whatever denomination? As I see it, someone who reaches such a conclusion might have an unhealthy idea about himself.

    So ought Christians to stand by and let people slandering the true Church and maligning God’s name do so in order to avoid confrontation?

    I don’t think so.

    I know people have said–I think quoting C. S. Lewis–you don’t have to defend the Bible. That’s like defending a caged lion. In reality, all you have to do is let him out and he’ll defend himself.

    But when it comes to the Church–well, believers are the Church, so it seems we ought to defend Christ’s bride.

    In the end, the best defense is a good offense (not a quote from Scripture, but I’m sure the principle is in there somewhere😉 ). Peter says it’s our good deeds that will win over unbelievers, though some will only get it “in the day of visitation,” which I think means Christ’s return, or the day of judgment–in other words, not necessarily in the immediate future.

    I have no doubt that good deeds speak volumes. I also know Paul said we are to speak the truth in love. It’s not loving to let someone live believing a lie. It’s also not loving to call people vile names.

    So Christians, I believe, need to have a determination to speak the truth and not go along to get along, and yet to do so in a way that is different from the way non-believers engage those with whom they disagree.

    Speaking the truth articulately without name calling, insinuations, snark, dismissive or condescending comments ought to mark Christians. And in the internet age, speaking clearly without rancor might be the greatest witness we can offer.

    What I DO Like About Church

    Church_ServiceI’ve said more than once that I’ve been spoiled. I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life in one Bible-believing church. Without a doubt, the teaching I received there and what I’ve learned from regular time in God’s word are the causes for any spiritual growth in my life. From what my church has done right and also from what it has neglected, I have developed a few items on my “this is what I like” list.

    First, Biblical, expository preaching. Many preachers use the Bible as their text. I’ve heard preachers who primarily retell the Biblical passage they’ve chosen, putting it in their own words and perhaps giving it a contemporary slant. I’ve heard other preachers who take the main topic of a text and discuss it, using all kinds of research and examples from literature or history or psychology or whatever. I’ve also heard preachers who take a topic and then find verses in the Bible to support what they want to say about that subject.

    None of these are necessarily wrong. They might provide the congregation with helpful knowledge and might facilitate their spiritual growth. But from my thinking, there’s a better way.

    A pastor, as I see it, should not pick and choose what parts of the Bible his congregation needs. In reality, we need the entire Bible, even the hard parts. Some hard parts, to be sure, might not seem to yield “good sermon material,” so a pastor needs to decide how to handle those sections of Scripture. I’m thinking, for example, of passages in Numbers discussing the dimensions of the tabernacle or the laws intended for the Jewish people or 1 Chronicles genealogies or even the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and in Luke. There are lessons to be gleaned from each of those, and a pastor may want to address those in a different way than he would a New Testament letter or a study of a book of prophecy or of history.

    But the point here is this: expository preaching intends to explain or describe a Biblical passage, going into some depth, and generally working through a section from start to finish.

    Expository preaching still uses cross references and still looks into the historical background of the text. But the primary element of expository preaching is to let God say what He said. Consequently we don’t dodge hard verses that say things that don’t square with our theology or that clash with our cultural proclivities. Expository preaching doesn’t chase trends in the church. It doesn’t camp on one topic and hit congregants over the head with the same “thou shalt” week after week after week. The Spirit of God might want to get someone’s attention that way, but the Bible has such variety, written from the perspective of so many different writers, it’s really hard to work through a passage of Scripture and not find something new and diverse.

    Second, singing that’s congregation oriented. I’m of the mindset that corporate worship should be different from a concert. Corporate worship is participatory. We should be engaged during sermons, checking the Scriptures to see if the things we’re being taught are true. We should also be engaged in any singing. Yes, there might be times when our engagement is within as it is when we listen to sermons, but I believe in congregational singing. Jesus sang a hymn with His followers the night before He was arrested, so we have His example.

    Paul says we are to teach and admonition one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). That idea leads to a second point of emphasis: the purpose of the congregation-oriented music is that we might have doctrine reinforced. Yes, singing should also be for worship, but again this is a corporate activity, so we as a congregation should do this together—praising God for who He is, for what He’s done, for the beauty of His person, for the perfection of His plan, for His creation. In other words, praise should be focused on God, not on how I feel about God.

    A third point here is that congregational singing should actually be intended for a congregation, not for a small group or soloist. So I really like congregational music when I don’t have to change keys to keep on singing or to stay quiet until the music comes back into my range.

    What else do I like about church? I like groups of people from our church working to serve others. We once had a vibrant ministry to prisons. I don’t hear about that any more, but maybe we still do it. We also used to participate in a program that provided prisoners gifts for their children at Christmas time. I like missions and short term mission opportunities. I like various activities and services for the poor and needy. Big churches, of course, can offer more varied ways of serving, but I like whatever effort a church makes to serve at home or abroad.

    Along with that, though, I like to see people speaking out boldly about Jesus Christ. Anyone can do a good deed. I think it’s important for others to know we love and go and work and serve because Jesus first loved us. We’re not trying to earn church brownie points or, worse, heaven brownie points.

    One last area I’ll mention today. I like churches that take care of one another. Churches are filled with people, and God designed us to pray for one another and to help one another and to comfort one another and to serve one another. In short, I like churches with people who develop relationships with one another—not always easy to do in big metropolitan areas in the fast pace of today’s society. But all the more necessary because of the disconnect we can easily feel away from family.

    God identifies His Church using a variety of metaphors. One is that we are His children, which makes us all brothers and sisters. That’s something vital I think the church must not lose. No one needs another bureaucratic entity in our lives just because. But we need the church, mostly because we ARE the Church. We need to be with like-minded people, not so that we can settle, but so that we can be empowered to go out and serve and preach and love those around us.

    Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:1-8)

    Published in: on May 5, 2016 at 6:10 pm  Comments (9)  
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    What I Don’t Like Regarding Church

    Mars_Hill_Church,_Ballard_location,_worship_band_stageChurches are nothing but a collection of people—sinners saved by grace who sometimes listen to God and follow Him, but who sometimes rebel and go their own way, though they may repent and come back to a place of obedience. Sometimes, without realizing it, we let stuff creep into our churches that is really harmful, stuff that acts like a little leaven. Sometimes we let in wolves that masquerade like shepherds. Sometimes we tolerate what amounts to cotton candy.

    When I was in Tanzania, the average person lived hand to mouth. One of the staples in their diet was ugali, a dough-like substance made from the cassava plant. Cassava is a root, similar to the potato. In Tanzania, the farming techniques at that time often depleted the soil of nutrients. Hence, cassava, and ultimately ugali, had little nutritional value. People could eat their meals which would assuage their appetite, but they were not receiving the vitamins and minerals they needed.

    Some churches can be like ugali, or like cotton candy—on the surface it seems as if the people are being fed, but they end up nearly starving.

    I don’t like the things that hurt our churches!

    Here, in no specific order, are some of the things I think hurt our churches:

    Copying. Or jumping on bandwagons, if you will. We seem too eager, in my opinion, to jump to the next trend, as if church is all about keeping up with the trendy, the pacesetters, the megachurches who seem to have find the right formula to bring people in.

    Jesus attracted big crowds, so there’s obviously nothing inherently wrong with a large congregation. But Jesus didn’t do market studies to see how to bring people in. His crowds also included a group out to catch Him in some kind of error—either morally or theologically.

    The crowds also included those who were there just for a free lunch or to be wowed by the next dead-man-walking event. Some may have been there for the cool stories.

    But at one point, Jesus laid out what He expected of people who followed Him, and the crowds dissipated. Rapidly. Jesus didn’t revamp His style or technique. He didn’t soften His message or steer away from the truth. He didn’t open up coffee shops or promise to provide lunch from only ONE loaf of bread if they’d just come back next week.

    Which brings me to the second thing I think hurts churches: counting the number of people who attend. We’ve got this idea that more is better.

    More can be exciting and encouraging when a ministry starts out. That people come to a house church in the Arab world at peril of their lives is an awesome sign that God is moving. But here in the western world? The biggest crowds are in sports arenas. In other words, great numbers aren’t necessarily a sign of great spirituality. So why do we count?

    Maybe the leadership needs to know attendance as part of their planning, but a fixation on numbers can derail a ministry in short order. We start relying on the techniques of the world, we start taking credit for the “success” of a large congregation. We stop trusting God to bring the people He wants to come.

    A third thing that hurts churches is performance. Ministers perform more than they preach.

    They’re preceded by the opening act—the worship band. Lights go dim in the “house” as spotlights illuminate the performers. Sound equipment is turned up to loud or loudest so all that the people in the “audience” hear is the lead and backup singers and instruments. Some churches include special effects.

    The point of all this performing is to entertain the people to keep them coming back. If they get an emotional kick from the concert or from the speaker, then church has been “worshipful.”

    Well, no it hasn’t. Such a service puts the focus first on the performers and then on the people in the audience who are responding emotionally. Where is the focus on the Lord Jesus Christ? Putting the spotlight on Him is worship!

    Number four naturally follows. Churches are hurt—crippled, really—when ministers preach the topics of their choice rather than what the Bible says. Oh, sure, lots of ministers who pick their topic use the Bible, but it’s more by way of reinforcing the point they already want to make.

    How about if we opened up the Bible and looked at a passage, verse by verse and chapter by chapter, to see what it says? In other words, how about having a minister preach from the Bible—whether it addresses one of the hot, trendy topics, or something really uncomfortable—as opposed to using the Bible for our own purposes.

    The thing is, some pastors who use the Bible are in sync with it, but the model of preaching that way is flawed. Therefore, someone can come along behind them who is not Biblically minded and follow the “use the Bible” model, only to lead the congregants away from the truth.

    The health-and-wealth preachers fall into this latter category. Those who want to “name it and claim it” use the Bible to reinforce their beliefs about God’s blessing and prosperity while ignoring passage after passage after passage that talks about suffering and being in need and sacrificing.

    I haven’t exhausted the things I don’t like, but I’m going to stop. I’ll end with this short video of a musician who understands about worship. It’s encouraging to know that there are people out there who are working to enhance corporate worship. It gives me hope.

    My Cry Ascends | Greg Wilbur from Compass Cinema on Vimeo.

    Published in: on May 3, 2016 at 6:25 pm  Comments (3)  
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    Spiritual Journey Or Relationship With God?


    Christians have for as long as I remember been concerned about speaking to others in what some refer to as “churchese” or “Christianese.” By this they simply mean the lingo associated with church or with Christianity.

    All sorts of specialty groups enjoy common parlance. Writers, for example, talk about their WIPs and choosing a first or third POV, about submitting queries and proposals or preparing one-sheets for conferences. Football fans have their inside talk as well, involving OTAs and mini-camps and drafts or free agency; then there are zone reads and blitzes and chop blocks and pass interference and what is a catch.

    For some reason, however, Christians have the impression that when it comes to our faith, we alone in all the world use words that carry meaning to those of us who are part of the group. Somehow, we’ve also determined that the use of “insider” jargon is bad. Hence, every generation or so, someone—a song writer or pastor or author or TV evangelist—introduces a new set of words to identify certain aspects or elements of what we do and what we believe. These, of course, turn into the new jargon.

    For example, my church did away with ushers some time ago and replaced them with greeters. Mind you, they are the same people, dong the same function, but we now call them this other, different term. When we still handed out bulletins (we have since gone more or less paperless—it’s California; what can I say!), we suddenly started calling them weeklies. Not bulletins, though they still held the same information they always had.

    One of the latest new jargon terms is “spiritual journey,” sometimes referred to as “our faith journey.” The idea is that we are all going somewhere spiritually. Some are seeking and their paths aren’t particularly straight. Some people are further along on their journey and are admonished to be patient with those who are back where they once were. The idea seems to be that we’re all going to get there in time, though some might be going faster and some slower.

    No one says this, but I’m assuming some are on the wrong road or are headed in the wrong direction. But generally people only talk about believers or seekers as having a spiritual journey.

    In reality, since all people are spiritual, we all have a spiritual journey.

    Which brings me to my point. I think changing jargon can sometimes have detrimental consequences. “Spiritual journey” or “faith journey” seems to have replaced “relationship with Christ,” but I think the new phrases are poor substitutes.

    As I mentioned above, all people have a spiritual journey. When the Bible uses the analogy of a broad road and a narrow road to describe our “spiritual journey,” there’s no indication that anyone is sitting it out on the side of the road. We’re all on one path or the other. So, what precisely does a person mean when they talk about their “spiritual journey”? Are they referring to their study of Zen Buddhism? Their practice of Hajj? Their participation in any of the six global humanitarian initiatives? Their initiation into and life within the Khalsa brotherhood?

    “Spiritual journeys,” metaphorical and actual, are part of any number of religions and religious activities. The door is so wide that a Christian can say to a stranger on an airplane that his spiritual journey is the most important part of his life, and that stranger will have no idea what the Christian believes.

    In other words, the new jargon buzz word among Christians actually distances us from … well, Christianity. Now we can sound just like everyone else. We might actually mean, when we say “faith journey” or “spiritual journey,” the process of sanctification in which God is making us more and more like His Son Jesus Christ. But what does the person outside of Christianity hear? Likely the term comes across as metaphysical—this person believes there is more to life than the physical and that’s important to them.

    Wonderful, and true. And maybe it’s a starting place. But I can’t help wondering if this new bit of jargon is designed to avoid exclusivity. You know, the kind Christ says He requires:

    And He was saying to them all, “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 sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

    People walking around with crosses ought to be noticeable. And if they’re all parading along in the footsteps of Jesus, I’d think people would start to pay attention. I don’t see Jesus setting us up on a “spiritual journey” so much as He is an all-in kind of commitment to a Person. To Him. To the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ.

    So I’ll leave other people to their spiritual journeys. I don’t want to be on a path where I’m checking to see how I’m doing in relationship to everyone else. What I desperately need is Jesus. If I’m going to do what Jesus said He wants from those who come after Him, I have to keep my eyes on Him.

    In short, I ought not to be paying as much attention to where I’m going as to Who I’m following.

    Friends with the World – A Reprise

    Sower_oilSome years ago I did a little blog surfing starting with an article published in Church Salt: “Emerging from Emergents.” The trail led me to a conclusion I hadn’t expected: those identifying with the emerging church are on the decline. Unfortunately, a group self-identifying as Progressives have seemed to take their place.

    Whether emergents are a growing or shrinking number, or whether Progressives are the new emergents, isn’t the issue, however. The thinking of both or either group—contrary to the facade they portray to those “outside”— is little more than warmed over liberalism; they borrow generously from Orthodox Christianity, Gnostic thought, Eastern mysticism, even from a heretical ascetic such as Pelagius. Sadly, this thinking has seeped into the Church.

    One blog post claimed youth groups have espoused emerging church views for years. I wouldn’t doubt it.

    But here’s the critical point. We American Christians must re-examine our hearts to see if we have left our First Love.

    James, in his letter to Jewish believers scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution, gives a sobering warning:

    You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

    “Friendship with the world,” I would suggest, has a lot more to do with how we think than with what we do. In the previous verse, James addresses wrong motives, two verses down he speaks about pride.

    Verse 5 he says something translators apparently have wrestled with but have not come to a consensus about. The New King James says it this way:

    Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

    The ESV is a little different, but I think the intent is the same:

    Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

    In the context of “adultresses” in the previous verse, these translations seems to me to make James’s intent clearer. As a husband would be jealous for his wife, so God is jealous for His Bride. And of course He wants our lives to be pure, but He also wants our hearts to be pure—free of wrong motives, without prideful self-will.

    I have to believe that “friendship with the world,” then, includes the way we think.

    Pastor Ray Stedman, in his commentary, “James: The Activity of Faith” says this:

    And if you stop believing what the Scriptures say, you will find yourself being drawn to the lies and the alluring illusion of the world around.

    Drawn to the lies and illusion of the world seems to define the beliefs the emerging church/Progressives have introduced. Here are a few: God is not a God of judgment. He is one with his creation. Hell isn’t real and Man does not sin by nature. The Bible is mostly a myth. Salvation is universal. Jesus came not as an atoning sacrifice but to show us a better way—the road of love and peace and unity.

    It doesn’t take much to find article after article after article by people professing to be Christians who espouse these “progressive” views.

    Of course many claim that thinking in a fresh way about their spirituality or about God or about their religion has revitalized their spiritual life.

    So … can thinking that helps people see God in a new way be bad? I mean, shouldn’t we want to know God in a fresh, exciting way?

    Our thoughts about God can be new every morning, but I don’t believe we need to borrow from the world’s way of looking at Him to experience Him afresh. Just the opposite. Listening to the lies of the world will kill off true faith.

    Yes, lies. The world says humans are good, not sinners in need of a Savior. The world sees Jesus as just a man, not God in the flesh. The world looks at the Bible as a bunch of man-contrived rules, not the very word of God. Whenever the views of someone professing to be a Christian align more closely with what the world says than what God says, there’s reason to believe that the thinking of the world may be killing off true faith.

    In the parable of the sower, that’s what happened to the seed that fell on stony ground. The soil was too shallow for roots to take hold. So, too, with pretend Christians who deny that God is a righteous Judge, the Sovereign who does what is right.

    An older version of this post first appeared here in February 2010.

    Jesus And The Dirty Dozen

    During Jesus’s early ministry, He took a lot of criticism from the Pharisees, particularly about the company He kept—sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors. Today those who like to criticize the church, some inside the church and some without, seem to relish this accusation, repeating it as if Christ’s interaction with the non-religious of His day is a blueprint for how Christians today are to live.

    Go out and find some sinners to eat with, the critics seem to say. If Jesus were here today, you wouldn’t find him hanging out in some stuffy old church. He’d be in the gay bars, in brothels, maybe in porn studios—wherever he could find sinners to hang with.

    Except, when you read the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t hanging out with sinners the way today’s church-critics think. The sinners were actually hanging out with Him.

    Jesus’s normal modus operandi was to show up in the tabernacle on the Sabbath and teach or heal. In fact, when the Pharisees came to arrest Him, He said, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me” (Matt. 26:55b).

    Of course, there were days He taught in houses or on hills or even from a boat. He healed in a variety of places too—on streets, near the city gate, in houses.

    Interestingly, He got invited to a lot of places by “unsavory characters.” Right before His final Passover meal, for example, He ate at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6). But, you see, Simon couldn’t still be a leper or no one eating with him would have been clean and therefore qualified to eat the Passover.

    And was Mary Magdalene still a prostitute or still demon possessed? Was Simon the Zealot still a terrorist? Was Matthew still a tax collector, for that matter?

    Seems in the Bible, a person’s sinful reputation stayed with them. James, for example, refers to “Rahab the harlot” in chapter five of his letter, when he could just as easily have called her King David’s great-grandmother, or the converted Canaanite, or the brave woman who hid the messengers.

    So these sinners that Jesus was eating with—were they still living the lifestyle of sinners? Or were they people who came to Him to find cleansing and healing and forgiveness? People like Nicodemus and Mark and Barnabas and Timothy?

    Matthew the tax-collector-turned-disciple invited his friends over to eat with Jesus. In context it seems unlikely that they were hatching devious money-thieving plots over their meal while they cracked jokes about sticking it to the Pharisees. Matthew was a different man now, one of the dirty dozen who had experienced Jesus’s cleansing grace.

    Demon-free Mary was different, too. Now she wanted only to sit at Jesus’s feet. Leprosy-free Simon was most definitely different—he was hosting a party!

    The image the gospels paint of Jesus is not the one the church-critics try to conjure up. Sinners came to Him in droves. They’d come to John the Baptist, too, and repented of their sins. Now they came to Jesus, and the cleansing they received wasn’t a momentary thing. They became new creatures. Old things passed away, replaced by the new.

    Sure we still call them sinners because that’s what they were, in the same way that “sinner” identifies me. The Pharisees used the term differently, however. They put themselves in opposition to the sinners. So in the blue corner, Pharisees. In the red corner, sinners. And how dare Jesus side with the sinners!

    The sinners He sided with were those who stood before God beating their breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13b).

    They were broken, humbled, redeemed. A lot like the people in churches today who know Jesus.

    This article first appeared here in June 2011.

    Published in: on February 15, 2016 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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    The Church’s One Foundation

    Baptist_Temple_cornerstone“The Church’s One Foundation” is an old hymn of the Christian faith penned by Samuel John Stone.

    Written specifically to counter a false teaching that was creating schisms in the church in South Africa, this and a series of eleven others were designed to reinforce the Apostle’s Creed. The opening lines of this hymn are as follows

    The Church’s one foundation
    Is Jesus Christ her Lord

    It is this foundation I want to focus on in light of my recent posts about the Church. As it turns out, I wrote a post entitled “Jesus Christ Is Lord” some years ago, and I don’t think I have much to add. So without further preamble, here is a reposting of that article.

    The Bible reveals Jesus as many things—the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, but it seems that the one thing God will make clear to all people at some point is that He is Lord.

    For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on 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. (Phil. 2:9-11)

    When I think of “Lord” I think of authority. Interestingly, it was Jesus’s authority that caught people’s attention early on. The gospels record that people questioned the authority with which He taught, they wondered about (and some doubted) His authority over unclean spirits. And His disciples were especially amazed at His authority over elements in nature.

    I’m also curious about the way that Satan interacted with Jesus in the three temptations recorded in the book of Matthew. One was a concession that Jesus was master over physical elements, acknowledging that He could turn stones into bread if He wanted. Another was a concession that He, or at least His Father, was master over the angelic host.

    The third is the one that seems different. In the temptation involving who would rule the kingdoms of the world, Satan seems to be saying, in his offer to trade, that he had the power but God had the authority.

    Jesus being God would then have that same authority.

    Sadly, people in today’s western culture seem eager to bring Jesus down. For some time, other religions have acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, and it seems that view of Him is flooding into our Christianized societies. Hence, to many He is little more than a guru.

    Even professing Christians belittle Him by limiting His work on earth to a “this is how it’s done” example for us to emulate. Given that Jesus lived a sinless life, we can undoubtedly learn by studying what He did and said. But Jesus as example should not supplant Jesus as Lord.

    What Jesus said wasn’t just good thinking, wise advice, logical, helpful, and moral. It was right. It was true.

    He spoke as the one person who knew the Father and who could reveal Him. He spoke from a position of omniscience, without any misconceptions or delusions. No one else could speak this way. Only Jesus. Only the One who is over all.

    For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority (Col 2:9-10, emphasis added)

    I find it especially interesting that Jesus’s half brother James started his letter “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ …” Here’s a man who could have claimed a special relationship with Jesus on a human level but chose instead to identify himself as a servant for life to the Lord. Essentially he took his right to say what he was about to say from his relationship with Jesus as Lord.

    When I think about the fact that those words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, I get a picture of how God wants us to view Jesus.