Saturday, January 2, 2010

Trendsetting in the Church

Oxford defines a “trendsetter” as, “a person who leads the way in fashion or ideas.” But what then is a trend? A “trend,” again defined by Oxford, is “#1 A general direction in which something is developing or changing. #2 A fashion.” Apparently our English word “trend” is derived from the old French, and originally meant “to revolve or rotate.”

I approach this topic with great concern, and an earnest desire to be honest, thorough, and biblical, as we attempt to weed out incorrect, compromising, or downright blasphemous interpretations of the Bible and salvation. So the most appropriate way to begin, is with what is correct and doctrinal. What does the Bible say about itself?
Paul testifies to his disciple, Timothy, “That from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” 2nd Timothy 3:15-17. Peter adds his testimony: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” 2nd Peter 1:20-21. Peter concludes by saying, “According to his divine power hath [He] given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue,” 2nd Peter 1:3. Jesus valued our submission and obedience to His word immensely.

If anyone wills to do [God’s] will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority,” John 7:17.

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word,” John 14:21,23.

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you,” John 15:7.

The test Jesus posed to us, that we may know whether He was a false prophet, or whether He had come teaching the truth of God, was simple. We believe what God has testified concerning His Son, and our own sinful condition, and we apply the remedy (Christ) in our daily lives. Jesus promised to save eternally, but could He be trusted? He was saying, in effect, try Me and see! You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by placing your trust where trust is worthy of being placed. Were one sinner lost who trusted in Christ, then His entire doctrine would crumble like a house of cards, and nothing Jesus spoke or did would be worthy of notice, because His entire claim on earth was to save men from their sins. If we wish to know whether or not He is capable, He tells us to exercise simple, child-like faith in Him, and behold the result. Christ has not yet disappointed a single person; nor will He. The mark of a disciple is one who keeps the words of Christ. Note the beginning of verse 21; we must not only have them, but keep them. How does a disciple of Christ demonstrate his love for the Savior in a fallen, skeptical world? Keeping God’s word intact, heeding God over man’s mutable laws and morality, and exalting Jesus Christ as the Gospel reveals Him, as our eternal Lord and sinless Savior. The entire Bible is the full revelation of God. Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh, the fullest, most clear revelation of God there could have been and ever will be. The glory of God shone so clearly in the face of Jesus Christ, that there was no more need for further revelation. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said as much concerning Jesus: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2nd Corinthians 4:6. Jesus was the visible image of the glory of God on earth; veiled in flesh as God’s shekinah glory was veiled in the temple behind the curtain, within the Holy of Holies. When the Jews beheld the face of Jesus Christ, they saw the Father. When they heard Him speak, they heard the very words of God directly from the Creator. Jesus never needed to utter, “thus sayeth the Lord” in His ministry, for He was both Lord and God! Jesus was literally, “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person!” Hebrews 1:3. A major principle for having prayer answered by God is outlined in the third passage. First, we must abide in Christ. No unsaved person has their prayer heard by God. These are God’s words, not mine. Second, the believer must have Christ’s words abiding in him. We must have fellowship with Christ through obedient adherence to the doctrines revealed in the Bible, applying them to our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is, only a believer who is walking with the Lord by faith will have their prayers heard; a Christian living in a state of sin will not have their petitions answered. He hears to be sure, but to reward an unfaithful, rebellious child would be to encourage and confirm them in their sin, which an all-wise God would certainly not do.
Later, in His great priestly prayer, Jesus succinctly described the reality of God’s revealed word: “Your word is truth,” John 17:17. God’s word is the final say on what is truth. Jesus Christ is the final revelation of God’s truth; He is the living Word, and the written word testifies of His unique claims at being Savior and Lord. Jesus Christ is the final word from God and we need no other; because in fact Jesus Christ is God. When God came to speak, what more needed to be said? Jesus not only appealed to Scripture to verify His truth claims, but validated Scripture as the only legitimate truth that exists: God’s collected truth as given first to the prophets of Israel, and later the summit of all prophetic utterance was given through the Son. Jesus detailed our need of being born again, and of His ability to give us eternal life through faith in Him. None of this would be known, unless God had taken the initiative to reach down to sinful mankind and reveal Himself, both His nature and mission of redemption. His nature was shown dimly through the prophets, and clear as glass through Jesus Christ. His mission was simple: to seek and to save that which was lost (i.e. all of us.) John writes, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples…these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name,” John 20:30-31. John testifies that the signs, or miracles, recorded in the gospels were to verify Jesus’ unique claims of being the Savior. He could raise the dead, make the blind see and cure the deaf, all traits which Scripture declares apply to those who are unsaved. He was master of the physical world, and the idea that these miracles were signs, simply meant just that: they were markers to point to the obvious conclusion that if Jesus possessed power to cure the lame and raise the dead, then could He not also give eternal life to whom He willed?
You may think I am going off my train of thought, but hear me out. The three proof texts that I quoted above illuminate several points I wish to make. The first being that Jesus opened His claims at being the universal Savior of men to examination; but this exam would be through applying what He said personally to our own lives. This is doctrinal. The second verse stated that if we loved Jesus (as Savior and Lord) we would adhere to His revealed word, taught both by His Spirit as we read the Bible, and by those saved before us, who are mature in the faith. Indeed, a hallmark of maturity in the faith is a deeper, more rooted dependence in God’s written word.

“For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil,” Hebrews 5:13-14.

Paul said it was the gospel that possessed the power of God to salvation; and by believing that form of doctrine a man will be set free from sin, Romans 1:16; 6:17. If you remove the Christ from Christianity, there is nothing left. Likewise, if you remove the doctrine from Christianity, you have a group of people trying to be moral, and trying to be godly, yet they are like a man born blind, who has been told to go out and find the sun. He may search all his life, but never find it, because the only way for him to do so would be to look up; a feat which, without his sight, he is incapable of doing. So too if liberal theology strips Christ of His authority and Deity by removing the scriptural carpet from under His feet. Jesus spoke that God’s word was truth, referring to the inspired word. Earlier that same night, He also testified before His disciples that He, personally, was the truth, John 14:6. “I am the Way (to Heaven), the Truth (about God), and the Life (the Creator; giver of physical and spiritual life); no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus is the only path to God, the revelation of Jesus Christ is the truth about God’s nature, Person, and mission. He is a God of love and redemption, a God of infinite mercy. Jesus Christ is the life of all men, and the whole universe, for all things were made by Him. The written word (the Bible) and the living Word (Jesus) are inseparable. It is like trying to deface a coin by splitting it in two; instead of having two separate coins you have rendered both sides useless.
The tragedy of present day church trends runs in this course. Many churches, seminaries, colleges, and teachers have gone this way, preaching a Christ which does not exist outside the Bible while belittling the Christ who does historically exist. Christ is demeaned and defaced as the aforementioned coin. He is a good guy, an ethical guy, a great teacher, a brilliant mind, a prophet, a finite being who, while apparently privileged with unique powers (if this is even admitted), is still stripped of His Deity and dragged down to sinful humanity’s level. What was the point of such a Christ? What could he have given or taught us that we ourselves could not have come around to appropriating on our own? Furthermore, a savior who is also a sinner is no use. The very reason for His appearance the first time is totally undermined! He came as the Lamb of God, John 1:29, the One who would save His people from their sins, Matthew 1:21. Now Jesus apparently is too concerned with our social condition, ability to get along with one another, and our self-esteem to care about saving us. In fact, many would deny that He even came for that reason! What did Jesus die on the cross for, may I ask? For social/ religious unity? Or to make us feel better about ourselves? In truth, the reality of the cross should be extremely offensive, because it is a portrait of how utterly bankrupt we are. The lengths God had to go to in order to redeem us from sin and death should appall us; that God had to suffer such a thing at our hand! He took on our sin to pay the penalty we could not, an offense against an infinite Being, paid for by Himself. This should glorify God’s love and sovereign grace, and bring us down into the dust. The cross forever stands as God’s crowning achievement of mercy and justice mingled in a perfect fulfillment of divine design. He was just in punishing sin; He was merciful in suffering that punishment for us. Should this bolster our self-esteem, or rather raise our God-esteem? Our consumer friendly mindset has polluted our rational thinking and impaired our logic. Let it be remembered that we exist to glorify God, not the other way around. He created us for His good pleasure, and we should be humbly grateful, and stand in awe of such a Being. Our present church scene has no awe left in it, lest it be that we marvel at ourselves.
Solomon wrote, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death,” Proverbs 14:12; 16:25. The simple fact that he wrote the same proverb twice should make us pause to give notice. The word “way” in the Hebrew also translates into “route, road, or journey.” Obviously, Solomon is writing about the wrong way, but a way that is deceptive to men. It appears in our eyes to be right, and by our reasoning to be safe, and so we tread it; but it ends with us dying. It reminds me of the book of Judges, where we find apostate Israel behaving in abhorrent ways, every man fending for himself, and not a single man looking to God for counsel. Four times this verse is mentioned, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” Judges 17:6. It is the thread which weaves together the fabric of Judges. The Jews forgot God, and He gave them over to enslavement and degradation. They were the slaves of foreign powers seven times in this book. This is the way that seems right to a man: that which is right in his own eyes. Yet it ended with tragedy for Israel. Has the church no King in its midst? Are we only doing what is right in our own eyes, forsaking Christ as God and Redeemer? Then it is no longer a church; call it a social club, or humanitarian league, but do not mislead by retaining the word of “church” when we have put out of the church the very Man who created it!
Jesus likewise spoke of a way that ends in death. He put it this way: “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it,” Matthew 7:13. Ecumenism and inclusive thinking would lead us to believe that the broad way is the good way! Yet this is the way that seems right to men, and this is what is right in their own eyes. Neither of which are good tests for what is spiritually truthful. Destruction has a wide gate and a broad road; it must have both since every religion leads to its door. Christ alone is the way into Heaven and God’s presence. “Enter by the narrow gate…because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it,” Matthew 7:13-14. Truth is narrow, Christ tells us. By definition it has to be; there is only one way to be right. Outside of truth there is the broad lane which compasses all other roads and byways; they may appear different, but they all end in death and destruction. If you miss Christ, it no longer matters which road you take: every one of them leads to death. Christ is the narrow gate, the only way, the door which leads to eternal life. It is narrow in the strict sense that we can bring nothing through it; there is nothing we can carry to offer to God or commend ourselves to Him. We must come through “as is.” Salvation is a gift, it was said, that only empty hands may receive; hands void of pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness. This narrow way is the reality of spiritual truth. Christ presented Himself (and still does) as the only valid means of entering Heaven. “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,” Romans 10:9. This is the truth; there is absolutely nothing else outside of it. This is why Jesus called the gate ‘narrow.’ Do you want to be saved, have assurance of Heaven and pardon of sins from God? Then forsake all hope of saving yourself, or helping God to save you, and trust solely in Jesus Christ as the only One qualified to be this world’s Savior.
Liberal teachers tend to have little or no respect for God’s word, deride doctrine and cast serious doubts on its authority and origin. They want their word elevated above Scripture; all false teachers crave this. Somehow they feel they have a greater contribution to religious truth than Jesus offered; or they can supplement or complete what was lacking in the revelation of Jesus Christ. What folly!
Liberal “Christianity” excels at casting out the Bible, while pouring in mysticism, social justice, and experiential encounters in its stead. The result? An earnest searching for a ‘Jesus’ that is divorced from His person in Scripture, so any experience garnered is unrelated to any truth whatever. If it makes you feel good, it must be good and truthful, as this mentality goes. People have come to the point where they see God as an appliance or commodity, and will only ‘buy into Him’ if their felt needs are being met. What role-reversal! Instead of the sinner being in desperate need of what God offers through His Son, now a pleading God seeks to satisfy the fleshly cravings of unsaved men! The ‘new Christianity’ packages this god to cater to a breadth of religious (better word: occultist) beliefs; not one founded on truth; truth has been sold out for the sake of gratifying the unsaved so they remain in attendance. Yet divorced entirely from truth, you do not know if your experience is leading you to the true God, whether He finds your approach to Him acceptable, or even if there is a ‘god.’ God has spoken clearly into His creation; He is well pleased with the sacrifice of His Son. If you do not come to Him through Jesus Christ, rest assured you aren’t ‘experiencing’ God! I even understand largely why the liberal ministers (if we dare call them such) chose this radical departure from Christianity to seek mystical experiences. Removed from doctrinal control, every experience is no longer subject to ‘outside’ validation or refutation; it becomes uniquely and entirely your own. Yet it is due to the removal of doctrine, of reliance solely on God’s word to test the spirits, that these experiences become useless, and more so: dangerous. Think about Israel in the time of the Judges. What experience are you going to have that will not square with what you think, feel, or expect? Of course your experience will confirm you; you’re never going to side against yourself! Your personal interpretation of God, or your opinion of God will always look a lot like yourself. He will possess your morality, and fall in line with your beliefs. This is no God at all, but you holding up a mirror over your head when you peer at Heaven. All you see is you staring back.
God says of this reliance on feelings to determine what is right: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9. The heart is deceitful and desperate in its wickedness. Shall we trust self for judgment? The next verse reads, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings,” verse 10. There are two branches that may sprout in our life, which produce the fruit of our doings, as God calls it. One is the branch of human industry. The second is the branch of utter reliance and humble submission to God’s will in our life. God is not remiss about disclosing the origin of these branches. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord,” Jeremiah 17:5,7. The former branch produces fruit fit for death; this applies to any religious system that involves us in any way lending aid to our salvation/enlightenment, or whatever name you opt to give it, see Romans 6:23; Galatians 5:19-21. The second branch produces the fruit of the Spirit; historic Christianity stands uniquely alone at this point, proclaiming all religions to be false, while simple trust in God’s ability to save (through Jesus Christ) is mankind’s only hope, see Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:9. I would especially draw our attention to the passage in Ephesians. It states, “for the fruit of the Spirit is in all…truth.” The foundation of God’s salvation is rooted in truth, and truth is found only in Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ is found only in the inspired word of God, the Bible. Do you desire to produce the fruit of the Spirit? You must become acquainted with the word; you must believe the word. Christ is revealed no other way. Period. The Holy Spirit operates under no other capacity; He indwells believers and glorifies the Son by revealing Him to those who believe the truth, see John 14:22-24. In this capacity the Holy Spirit on earth is like Jesus when He had his earthly ministry: He does not glorify Himself, but rather glorifies the Son, who sent Him, John 16:13-15. None of this could have been known unless God had deigned to reveal it. None of this would be relevant were God prone to change. Yet He testified, “I am the Lord, I change not,” Malachi 3:6; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” Hebrews 13:8.
Does your ‘god’ roll with the punches? Does he/she/it change, progress and mutate, or surrender doctrine for the sake of unity? If one surrendered doctrine to promote the mantra of “Co-exist” as so many bumper-stickers encourage, there would be disunity and unparalleled chaos. Surrender the truth so that everyone can be confirmed in their various lies? Foster a false peace while souls march down the broad road which leads to Hell? Place Jesus Christ on the same shelf as a thousand prophets, gurus, and mystics? Never! If He is not Savior of all, revealed by His word through His Spirit, then He deserves no place at all, but to be designated a symbol of intolerant bigotry; a hallmark of our inglorious past. But God is pleased with His Son, Mark 1:11. Shall we not be equally pleased that the way to Heaven has been opened by the blood of Christ, by His perfect offering of Himself on the cross to the Father, through the Holy Spirit? Hebrews 9:14. His blood cleanses us from dead works, so we may serve the living God.
The paradox of Christianity is this: It is very broad in the fact that salvation is universal. The Jews stumbled over the revelation that salvation had come to the Gentiles in the first century. God saw no difference between the orthodox, law abiding Jews with the priestly order and sacrifices, and the Gentiles who had no hope, without God in the world, Ephesians 2:12. On the other hand, Christianity is also truly narrow. Christ is the declaration of the Father, salvation sent by the Father, the image and glory of the Father, the only way to the Father. Jesus was vested with the power to heal, raise the dead, forgive sins, command nature, and grant eternal life to mankind when they place their faith in Him and His finished work on the cross. The road leading to a meeting with the genuine Savior is so narrow, that we were in dire need of a ‘road map’ that would guide us to Him. The Bible is such a map, written by God the Holy Spirit and given to men, so we might know (not feel, or develop an elevated opinion about) how to receive eternal life. This road leads to the cross, and there is no way around it.
Upon this road we are instructed to carry the word of God: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” Psalm 119:105. Conversely, we are told by New Age mentors and teachers to abandon doctrine; it is infantile, harmful to genuine spiritual growth. Yet God relates time and time again that without this knowledge we will never find life! It is by the form of doctrine delivered to us that we know Christ was crucified for sinners, the just for the unjust, to lead us to God. In lieu of emphasizing our need of redemption to enter eternity, we are told that pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is sufficient, because God is appeased with sincere effort. Is He? Has He ever been? In Jeremiah’s time Israel carried strong misconceptions about God, thinking and believing with all their heart that any approach to Him was acceptable. When Jeremiah instructed them, they responded to him, “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you! But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our mouth,” Jeremiah 44:16-17. God’s reply? “[They] shall know whose words will stand, Mine or theirs…that you may know that My words will surely stand against you for adversity,” Jeremiah 44:28-29.

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"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," 2nd Timothy 3:16.

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All Scripture is taken from the King James Bible (KJV) or New King James Bible (NKJV). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.