Category Archives: The Church Series
I’ve been wanting to write to you for some time now.
Seems like every time I would try, I never could find the right words to say.
We pass each other every Sunday. Sometimes even during the middle of the week.
But for some reason, I just don’t feel like we’re as close as we once were.
I’m sure there are a number of reasons for that. We both probably share some of the blame.
But I felt like it was my time to apologize for a few things that may have driven us apart.
For that time one of my ushers told you that seat was reserved for our “special guests.”
For those times I said our evening services would end at 9pm, but ended at 10:30pm.
(I realize how difficult that can be with children that still have to get up early for school.)
For that time you called one of my leaders for prayer and never received a call back.
For sometimes being way too critical on how you choose to dress for service.
For those times it seems like I’m always asking for some kind of financial assistance.
(I realize how you and others give so faithfully. I just wish there were more like you.)
For the times I may have appeared more interested in gaining new members, than serving and being a disciple to those members (like you) who were already coming.
For that time your friend (the one you invited to come visit on last Sunday) got screamed at by one of my parking lot leaders for going the wrong way. She really didn’t know.
For those times you had questions about some of my messages and were afraid to ask.
And I’m (Really) Sorry….
For the times you’ve felt I place too much emphasis on the pastor. I admit sometimes I can get a bit carried away.
I can’t imagine how many other things I may have done to make you feel the way you do. I never meant to disappoint you and want you to know how important you are to me.
If there is anything the last few years have taught me, is that I desperately need to make some changes. I realize I’ve picked up a pretty bad rap recently. So much so I thought about giving up.
But just when I was about to throw in the towel, I read in Ephesians 5:25 that Christ loves me, and even gave Himself up for me (despite my many shortcomings).
I figured if Christ could love me, with all that I’ve done in the past, there still may be hope for the two of us. Although I can’t promise everything is going to be perfect, I know that together, we still can do some great and awesome things. I hope you will consider forgiving me and working alongside me.
We have so much to do.
“The Order of Worship”
I remember when we decided to move from traditional to non-traditional church. One of the things that needed to be changed was the “Order of Worship”. We went through all the meeting to change the traditional order of worship into a new dressed up order of worship. However, with all the thoughts and suggestions, no one ever considered; what will lead us to the spiritual growth God intended?
The reality of it all, no matter how charismatic you think your order of worship has become, it has only tightened the choke hold it has on God people. The new fad is only a continuation of repressing mutual participation and growth within the body of Christ. There is absolutely no room for the Holy Spirit to use anyone spontaneously in prayer, song, insight or exhortation, silencing the members of the Body of Christ.
We are forced to be muted. What if in the middle of our “Order of Worship” God lead someone to just start praying for someone out loud? What if the Spirit leads you to just start singing another song in the middle of the praise and worship on the “Order of Worship”? What if God gave you a word during the pastor’s sermon and you could hold your peace, you raise your hand and no one acknowledged it, so you just started saying it? Even though open sharing in a church meeting is completely scriptural, you would be breaking the liturgy if you dared to try something so outrageous! You would be asked to behave yourself or leave.
I remember there was a family who started coming and worshiping with us. During the service this lady would get up and start dancing up and down the aisles. Our reaction was oh my God, what is she doing? We cannot let her interrupt our “Order of Worship” like this. Soon the aisles were blocked off, which forced her and her sons to dance in the back of the building, next thing you knew she was gone. Then the next thing you knew the “Order of Worship” called for dancing in the aisles and everyone was okay with that. I wonder did anyone go and apologize to the lady and her family?
The “Order of Worship” takes another turn it removes the headship of Jesus Christ. The entire service is directed by one person. You are limited to the knowledge, gifting, and experience of one member of the body – the pastor. Where is the freedom of our Lord to speak through His body at will? Where is the reason for the others member of the body to seek a deeper insight with God to be able to share with the whole body of believers? The “Order of Worship” allows for no such thing, Christ has no freedom to express Himself through the others of His Body. He is rendered a passive spectator.
Granted, Christ may be able to express Himself through one or two members of the church – usually the pastor and the music leader. Wow, what a very limited expression of the glorious gifting that has been given to the Body of Christ. I remember there were a few ladies within the Body, which we were told to watch out for. They liked to go and pray for other people and interrupting the “Order of Worship”. We were told to stop them! Was this not a crippling of Christ manifesting Himself through the other members of the Body?
For many the Christians, the Sunday morning service had become boring. Then came along the Charismatic Mega Churches, they recognized the sterile nature of the contemporary church service. In response, they incorporated a vast array of media and theatrical modernizations into the liturgy. This is done to market worship to the un-churched or bring the world into the church instead taking the church into the world. Employing the latest technology, Charismatic Institutionalized Mega Church has been able to succeed in swelling their ranks. Despite the added entertainment it affords, the market-driven charismatic service is still held captive by the pastor, the threefold “hymn sandwich” remains intact, and the Body continues to be muted spectators, only they are more entertained in their spectating.
The “Order of Worship” you quietly sit through or with loud music you stand through every Sunday actually hinders spiritual transformation. Why would I say that? It encourages passivity, it limits functioning, and it implies that putting in one or three hour (depending if the Holy Ghost shows up and someone catches it) per week is the key to victorious Christian life. No wonder it is so hard to get people (Christians) to go visit the sick, those in the nursing homes and in prison unless the pastor is going.
Every Sunday you attend the “church” to be bandaged and recharged, like all other wounded soldiers. Far too often, however, the bandaging and the recharging never take place. The reason is quite simple The New Testament never links sitting through an ossified ritual that we mislabel “church” as having to do with spiritual transformation. We grow by functioning, not by passively watching and listening.
The New Testament is not silent with respect to how we Christians are to meet. Shall we, therefore, opt for man’s tradition when it clearly runs contrary to God’s thought for His Church? His Headship of Christ for the sake of our sacrosanct liturgy? Is the Church of Jesus Christ the pillar and ground of turth or the defender of man’s traditions?
I hope to visit you soon, but just in case I’m delayed, I’m writing this letter so you’ll know how things ought to go in God’s household, this God-alive church, bastion of truth. This Christian life is a great mystery, far exceeding our understanding, but some things are clear enough: 1 Timothy 3:16
Is there any logic in believing that God started His Church as a Spirit-filled, loving body with the intention that it would evolve into entertaining, hour-long services? Was he hoping that one day people would be attracted to the Church not because they care for one another, not because they are devoted to Him, not because the supernatural occurs in their midst, but because of good music and entertainment?
Try to imagine what conclusions you would come to if you had no prior church experience. The things in church services might make sense to the American church-attendee, but they don’t make sense biblically.
Picture yourself on an island with only a Bible. You’ve never been to a church-you’ve never even heard of one. The only ideas you have about church are what you’ve read in your Bible. Then you enter a building labeled “church” for the first time. What would you expect to experience as you entered that building? Now compare that to what you actually experience when you attend church.
A while back, an ex-gang member got baptized at our church. He fell in love with Jesus and turned from his old lifestyle. But after several months at the church, he stopped attending. When we asked him why he stopped attending, he answered: “I had the wrong idea of what church was going to be like. When I joined the church, I thought it was going to be like joining a gang. You see, in the gangs we weren’t just nice to each other once a week-we were family.”
That killed me because I knew that what he expected is what the church was intended to be. It saddened me because I realized that the gangs paint a better picture of loyalty and family than the local church body does.
But what if the church looked like this?
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
That describes what the ex-gang member was looking for. It describes what the world is waiting for. I used to look at this passage as something that was wonderful but could never happen in the twenty-first century. There are just too many cultural obstacles for the Holy Spirit to overcome. He is powerful enough to raise the dead, but not powerful enough to form a sharing and loving body in our individualistic society. I doubted God’s ability to stir a body of believers to love tirelessly and give without restraint. I reasoned that this type of fellowship was probably not intended for our time. Besides, we don’t have time to love like this.
Looking back, I wonder if I came to those conclusions because there was a part of me that wasn’t sure I wanted it. It’s interesting how much our theology is driven by desire.
Imagine this; There came a point where the elders at our church concluded that there was no reason why God wouldn’t want the church to look like it did in the beginning. From there we reasoned that if God wants that, then we want it too. But the exciting part came when we resolved not to settle for anything less. We would pursue this for His Church regardless of how many would be turned off and move to other churches. If this is God’s standard, then we will one day give an account for how we led His people toward the biblical model.
But where do we go from here? The hard part is answering the question of how. There are probably many who want our churches to function like the early church, but how do we get there?
START WITH WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
In other words, start with yourself. It’s wrong to blame others for the condition of the Church. And it’s silly for leaders to blame followers. God wasn’t satisfied when Adam blamed Eve or when Eve blamed the serpent.
Our elders started with what we could control. We can’t control other people. We can’t make the congregation “break bread in their homes” or “sell their possessions.” We also can’t control God. We can’t make Him do “wonders and miraculous signs” through us. I can, however, sell my possessions as people have needs. I do have control over that, so that became the first logical step. As we do our part, we trust God to bring about the “awe” and “wonders” in His time.
It was a beautiful time of sharing as our elders laid “everything” at each others’ feet. We surrendered the keys to our cars, homes, and bank accounts. I actually believed the elders who looked me in the eyes and said, “What’s mine is yours. If anything ever happens to you, I will support and care for your kids as much as I would care for my own. I will be your life insurance.” And because they had a history of genuine sacrifice for the sake of the gospel, I trusted what they said. From there, we began going to some of our friends in the congregation and expressing our commitment to them (something anyone can do).
And now this mentality is spreading. New life is permeating the church as individuals are backing up their words with sacrifice. Cars and homes are being sold or given away. Expensive vacations are joyfully replaced with spending on others. People are being taken into homes-not only for meals, but to live. It’s still the beginning of the process, and most people probably still come for the teaching or the music, but there’s a growing number at our church who are coming to be with their church family and they don’t care about who’s teaching or leading music. (SORRY WAKE-UP)
THERE MUST BE MORE
Something real was happing in the early Church. It was something of the Spirit, too powerful to be replicated by human effort. Imagine taking a friend to one of their church gatherings. Your friend might not experience a smoothly run, professional service. But one thing he would experience: God. Do we even need to ask which is better? So much of church growth today has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. The right team of talented people can make any church grow. When people sit through creative services, is it really God they’re experiencing?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that we shouldn’t give our best to God. If you’re a musician, work diligently at your music. If you’re a teacher, labor intensely over your messages. I’m just asking you to be willing to rethink what you’re doing and ask: How can we create a more biblical environment where people see and experience God?
I’m reminded of the story of Gideon in Judges 7. God tells Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’ So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.” (Judges 7:2-3)
If you remember the story, God then reduced the army to 300 soldiers. God did not just defeat the Midianites-He was careful to do it in a way that gave Him all the glory. He did not want to allow Israel to boast “that her own strength has saved her.”
May people see our churches and know that mere human beings could not have created what they experienced. May we seek the priorities of the early church and trust God to once again produce the fruit of the early Church.
“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)
The Disjointed Body
By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive. I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. (See 1 Corinthians 12:13-14)
For the last few months I have been hard at work trying to bring my body under submission. Not long ago I was forty pounds overweight. My mind would think of things for my body to do, but I could not get all the members functioning at the same time in the same direction. My body was disjointed, dysfunctional. Kind of like the Body of Christ operates today. The Body of Christ has become over weight and lazy, eating McSpiritual burgers, and salted down sermons holding their cups under sugared filled altars.
The major problems are doctrines that are shaky at best when lined up with the Word of God, immorality involving superficial spirituality among its members and social malice concerning cliques gathered around different preachers. The things we must be concerned about in this Christian era of immaturity are that we are more carnal than spiritual, and our disunity is more interested in spiritual gifts than fruit.
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many. 1 Corinthians 12:14
The immediate context of this verse is a three-chapter section concerning spiritual gifts. I Corinthians 12 deals with the varied gifts experienced in the body; I Corinthians 13 demonstrates that when exercised without love can damage the body; I Corinthians 14 outlines the more excellent way of using the gifts with love to build up the body. It’s a pity that the uninspired church has interrupted the flow of the Word, allowing readers to lick the jam of love out of its charismatic sandwich. Use of spiritual gifts has become an object of abuse in the assemblies. This is my underlying or over-riding concern; however is the unity of the body, without which the gifts are at beat useless toys or at worst dangerous weapons.
Many Christians enjoy the self proclaimed gift of speaking in tongue than to speaking to someone the street and telling them about Jesus. Many Christians enjoy the gift of healing rather than visiting the sick and shut-up. Many Christians enjoy the gifted title of pastor than they do about feeding and return the lost sheep to the fold. Many would rather manifest a gift of wisdom just to call someone else a fool.
Many pastors, ministers, prophets, bishops’ elders, etc…, whatever they are calling themselves today. Speak with the tongues of angels but, have no love.
Church has taught us to seek the gift and not the Giver of the gifts. We as the Body of Christ our eagerness to be the next great have diminished our ability to be whole and be united. I remember a lady on the prayer ministry; she was going through a few things. However, because she acted differently than the prayer warriors assumed she should they talked about her behind her back. They wanted her off the ministry, but no one had the where with all to say anything to her. Is that love? These people professed to have the gift to pray for people, but would rather talk about a person. DISJOINTED!
I remember one Sunday evening; I was sitting in the pulpit beside the big man chair in a visiting church. My pastor and I was sitting beside each other, we listen to the people talk about how they love their pastor because how he comes to see them when they are sick. One man told the story of how when his wife was dying, and he had not long joined the institution the pastor was right there when he called him. My pastor leaned over and said to me, this guy will never make it he is too involved with the people. Was his gift as a pastor not to see to the spiritual needs of the people? DISJOINTED!
But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
If the Body of Christ could learn to love the Perfect Church would rise and be a LIGHT unto this world.
IS THERE ANY NEED IN THE HOUSE?
And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.(Acts 4:31-35)
Wait a minute are these the same? And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts 11:26) What happen between first century Christians and the twenty-first century Christians? I can remember when I was in the institutionalized church people were alway coming asking for help when they were in need. Our policy was we don’t do that, I can remember one lady she had been a member there as long as I can remember. She was a single mother with two young boys, and it happened unfortunately that she lost her job. She went to the church after a while when she had not found a job. She asked if the church could help her pay any of her bills. She was asked to bring in all her financial information, she did. She was told because her car was paid for and that was something that she could sell to help pay her bills the church could not do anything for right now. WOW! What a change over the centuries.
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, (Malachi 3:10) Wait, did someone rob God? No, I think I know the problem. Because, we call the building the Church and not the people that make-up the bride (The Church); we give all the tithes (the money, the food) to feed the big buildings. Leaving God’s people borrowers and not lenders, the majorities of Christians owes Rent-A-Center and/or live paycheck to paycheck.
Think about this a body of 500 Christians paid off a $200,000.00 -$300,000.00 building within one year. The next year they the giving brought in $1,000,000.00. What do we do? Build a new building? Buy land to build a new building? Give the Pastor a raise? Open door number one, two, and three, because most institutionalized church do all three.
Most people that give to these institutions are not the richest people, most are poor in spirit and cash. But, what if the real Christians take the same million, three quarters of it an pay off bills for the Saints along with teaching them how to be good stewards over what they have. Help the widows and fosters children, build homeless shelters that feed everyday instead of once a week. I have one even better. It seems that institutionalized churches love to build childcare ministries. Why don’t they use the funds to provide free childcare for mothers and families who really want to work but can’t afford childcare? I remember moms who couldn’t afford to pay the co-pay from government programs like CCDF, now the ministry becomes a business and we can’t help.
What if the Church, I am talking about the body of believers, not buildings, denominations or other religious groups? prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. We would build homes for people and not leave it to a television show. Begin to make disciples instead of bench warmers. Stop asking people to come to church and be the Church. The bishops, pastors, etc… get a job for the sake of the ministry as Paul, Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 1 Thessalonians 2:9 To glorify God for a change and not themselves.
The body of Christ is living in poverty, both spiritually and financially because of the robbery of the institutionalized church. Will a man rob God? Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. Malachi 3:10 I remember I use to love to wag this verse in front of people to get them to give, but who are the real robbers? The leaders of the institutionalized church have boarded up the windows of heaven and are exploiting the wage earners and starving the widows and orphans. The Lord did not change the direction of his Bride, we did!
And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness Against sorcerers, Against adulterers, Against perjurers, Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, And against those who turn away an alien– Because they do not fear Me,” Says the LORD of hosts. 6 “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Malachi 3:5-6
Within the house (the Body, the Church) God’s people are in need of a new direction. The time has come for the true Christians to rise and be bold in the Lord. It’s time to tear down the traditions of the elders and walk in the newest of Christ. You have the power to tell your pimp to get behind me Satan!
THE INCREDIBLY HIGH COST OF THE FREE GOSPEL
Most contemporary Christians mistakenly view the church building as a necessary part of worship. Therefore, they never question the need to financially support a building and its maintenance. The church edifice demands a vast infusion of money. In the United States alone, real estate owned by institutional churches today is worth over $230 billion. Church building debt, service, and maintenance consumes about 18 percent of the $50 to $60 billion tithed to churches annually. Point: Contemporary Christians are spending an astronomical amount of money on their buildings.
All the traditional reasons put forth for “needing” a church building collapse under careful scrutiny. We so easily forget that the early Christians turned the world upside down without them (see Acts 17:6). They grew rapidly for three hundred years without the help (or hindrance) of church buildings. In the business world, overhead kills. Overhead is what gets added on the “real” work a business does for its clients. Overhead pays for the buildings, pencils, and the accounting staff. Furthermore, church buildings (as well as salaried pastors and staff) require very large ongoing expenses rather than onetime outlays. These budget busters take their cut out of a church’s monetary giving not just today, but next month, next year, and so on.
Contrast the overhead of a traditional church, which includes salaried staff and church buildings, with the overhead of a house church. Rather than such overhead siphoning off 50 to 85 percent of the house church’s monetary giving, its operating costs amount to a small percentage of the budget, freeing more than 95 percent of its shared money for delivering real services like ministry mission, and outreach to the world.
Easter Sunday Biblical or Traditional
Most Christians don’t have any ideal if the things they do in Institutionalized Church are biblical or traditional. Is Easter even in the bible?
In Matthew 15:2-3, Jesus is asked by the religious leaders why His disciples transgress the tradition of the elders. Jesus in return asked, “Why do you transgress the commandment of God because of your traditions.” Today so many within the Body of Christ are outside the will of God because of the tradition of man (the elders, bishops, pastors, etc…).
“Easter” is never mentioned in the original Scriptures. However, one English translation of the Bible does use the word. The King James Version chose to translate Acts 12:4 like this:
“And when he [Herod the King] had apprehended him [Peter], he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.”
The book of Acts was originally written in the Greek language by the Christian Gentile and physician Luke. The Greek word that the King James Version translates as “Easter” is most certainly not the name “Easter,” it is actually the word “Pascha” (Hebrew: Pesach) which means “Passover”—and this is how all accurate translations show it. For example, the New King James Version says: “So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.”
The name “Easter”
It has its roots in ancient polytheistic religions (paganism). On this, all scholars agree. This name is never used in the original Scriptures, nor is it ever associated biblically with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For these reasons, As Christians we should prefer to use the term “Resurrection Sunday” rather than “Easter” when referring to the annual Christian remembrance of Christ’s resurrection.
It is well known as a sexual symbol of fertility. In various parts of the world, religions which developed from Babel also associate the rabbit with periodicity, both human and lunar (Egypt, China, etc.). The Mother Goddess Semiramis (Easter) is associated with the Moon. In other words, the Easter bunny symbolizes the Mother Goddess. Annual Spring time fertility rituals are associated worship of the Mother Goddess and Tammuz, the reincarnation of her husband Nimrod.
The Easter Egg
Most children and families who color or hide Easter eggs as part of their Resurrection Sunday tradition have no knowledge of the origin of these traditions. Easter egg activities have become a part of Western culture. Many would be surprised and even dismayed to learn where the traditions originated.
“The egg was a sacred symbol among the Babylonians. They believed an old fable about an egg of wondrous size which was supposed to have fallen from heaven into the Euphrates River. From this marvelous egg – according to the ancient story – the Goddess Astarte (Easter) [Semiramis], was hatched. And so the egg came to symbolize the Goddess Easter.”
It seems obvious that it would have been a better witness to the world if Christians had not attempted to “Christianize” pagan celebrations – adopting the name “Easter” (Ishtar/Semiramis) in remembrance of Christ.
Jesus has been obscured by painted eggs and bunnies. Attention has been shifted away from spiritual truth and toward materialism (clothing, products and candies with the wrong symbolism). Stores merchandise the name of Easter (not “Resurrection Sunday”) and sell goods that have nothing to do with Christ’s death and resurrection.
Christians naively use symbols and practices that unknowingly perpetuate ancient anti-Christ traditions – symbolic customs followed by the same religious cults that inspired the destruction of great numbers of Christians and Jews. Is the Devil laughing at us?
Christians naively use symbols and practices that unknowingly perpetuate ancient anti-Christ traditions – symbolic customs followed by the same religious cults that inspired the destruction of
great numbers of Christians and Jews. Is the Devil laughing at us?
If you are Christian, it is not difficult to discern the bizarre deception and confusion that Satan has successfully orchestrated. For example, notice the embarrassing irony in these traditions which are practiced innocently by most people. They are repeated year after year, because they have become traditional and their origin is unknown to many.
* On the day commemorating Christ’s resurrection, Americans roll decorated eggs on the White House lawn and pretend the Easter rabbit hid them. The same ritual is practiced at some Christian churches.
* “In Lancashire [England] on Easter eve boys and men have been in the habit of touring the towns and villages as ‘Pace-eggers’ begging for eggs before performing the ‘Pace-Egging’ or Pasch (i.e., Easter) play.”
* In Greece each person in a group bangs his red EASTER EGG [not knowing that it is symbol of the Goddess] against the eggs of all the others present in turn, saying ‘Christ is risen,’ and receives the reply “He is risen indeed.”
The seductive symbols of ancient ungodly religions inspired by Satan have been incorporated into people’s everyday lives, even to this day – continuing to obscure the truth of God .
The dirty little secret behind all of this is that for many (and I include myself in this), pastoral ministry is a spiritualized form of getting our ego needs met. It is fundamentally narcissistic. Most of us talk a lot about the glory of God, but we prefer more tangible measures of success.
Maybe this explains our fascination with numbers. What is the best-selling Christian book? Who are the best preachers or worship leaders, bloggers or conference speakers? How big is your campus? How many services do you have on a weekend? How many people attend? How large is your congregation? How many podcast your services? Why do we find it necessary to identify the “10 Fasting Growing Churches” or “Top 100 Worship Songs” or “50 Most Influential Christians?”
Why did numerical growth become the most significant indicator of success? Does Jesus evaluate churches the same way we do? The sin of pride takes our eyes off of Jesus and fosters competition and comparison in ways that damage our witness to the world.
But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. Acts 26:16
Most contemporary Christians are massively ignorant as to how the church got to where it is today and of how much current church practice is due simply to accumulated tradition, with little or no roots in Scripture.
Driving out demons is easy – compared with changing habits and traditions of man that develop into idols, to give us what only God should give us: identity, security, destiny. As in a child, the original God-given conscience is clean and clear. Many new born Christians feel the same and have an automatic feel for what is right. But in the case of organized Evangelicalism in the West, they are swiftly taken into a religious system that basically believes everything that Mom and Pap says — and happily embrace “church practices” that are not in the Bible. Many just “know” at some point something is terribly wrong with Church-as-they-know-it.
Why do we ‘do church’ the way we do? Most folks seem to assume that our Christian religious trappings can be traced all the way back to the first century. But they can’t. The things we hold dear-sacred buildings to meet in, pulpits, sacramental tables, clergy, liturgies, etc.-were unknown among Paul’s assemblies.
But what do modern and postmodern Christians know about the history of the church that would help to shape present-day attempts at honoring God and being the church? Precious little, it turns out. And therein lies a significant problem. Historians have long held that if we do not remember the past, we are doomed to repeat it. There is ample evidence to support that warning. Yet we often persist in our well-intentioned but ignorant efforts to refine life.
We need a wake-up call, but the ideal of a church building has left us with the unconscious ideal that worship is removed from everyday life.
The disjunction between worship and everyday life characterizes Christianity.
Our buildings are Holy places; the lighting is indirect and subdued, the ceiling high, the sound traveling in a specific way, worship leaders are used to evoke us to an emotional high.
All these thing working together to give you a sense of awe and wonder.
They are designed to manipulate the senses and create a worshipful atmosphere.
No matter how good Sunday was, Monday morning still comes to test our worship.
Watch the choir don their robes before church services. They smile, laugh and even joke. But once the service starts they are different people or trouble actors.
This false separation of secular and scared – this “stained glass mystique” is of Sunday morning church – flies in the face of truth and reality.
Let’s go to Church! How can you go to something you are destined to be?
Because we won’t be the Church (Christians, The Bride, Followers of Christ) We have become Chruchians (Followers of the next building project)
Words are more powerful than you realise. Words have the power to wound or heal, discourage or encourage, tear down or build up and to take away or give to.
When we gave the Chruch to the building we rendered ourselves POWERLESS to the emeny.
And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves,
Many Christians have a love with affair with brick and mortar: The edifice complex is so ingrained in our thinking that if a group of believers begins to meet together; their first thoughts are toward securing a building. For how can a group of Christians rightfully claim to be a church without a building?
The “church” building is so connected with the idea of church that we unconsciously equate the two. Just listen to the vocabulary of the average Christian today:
•Wow, honey did you see that beautiful church we just passed?”
•“My goodness that is the largest church I ever seem!”
•“Our church is too small.”
•“We have gone to church every Sunday this pass year.”
Don’t forget about the pastor:
•“Isn’t it wonderful to be in the house of God today?”
•“We must show reverence when we come into the sanctuary of the Lord.”
•“The Lord is in His holy Temple!”
•“Come let blessed the House of God.”
Today Church is like being a little boy whose parents have just told him there is no Santa Claus. You go to school and yet all the other children are waiting for Christmas Eve for the fat man to come down the chimney.
As I truly study my Father’s word and begin to ask my Father to help me understand, it seems that everything I have been taught about church has been is based on tradition and not the word of God. But, just like the little children waiting for Santa Claus to come down the chimney so many Christians are waiting to go to Church.
The traditions of man have fed us a kryptonite that lures the power of the Holy Spirit out of us. Ninety-nine percent of the thing we do on Sunday morning takes us further from God instead of drawing us near to Him.
Jesus when confronted by the religious leaders of his day: Check this out!
Matthew 15:2 (NKJV)
2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
Matthew 15:7-9 (NKJV)
7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”
Most of what we do as institutionalized churches is from tradition. Even when we claim to be non-traditional (Contemporary) all we do is dress up tradition.
Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:28
What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.
2 Peter 3:11
I remember it so well one Saturday night in the summer of 1991, as I was still lost in my search for the God. I knew in my heart He had to exist. I has living it up in this world, but like an alien from another planet I couldn’t fix in. I was in the clubs all week and I would find myself in a Church meeting on Sunday morning. I was not yet a hypocrite, but searching for Holiness! On this particular night as I made my rounds at Seville’s Night Club I notice a familiar face; No! it couldn’t be, but it has. The young man that lead the service every Sunday was sitting at the bar with drink in hand. When he saw me, he remembered me from the church meeting and said to me, “Don’t tell anyone you saw me here.” I have always wondered was he lost like me or was he just a Holy Hypocrite.
So many Christians live in life of denial, just like a cancer patient. If the patient can’t recognize the symptoms of their disease, if they can’t feel the pain or sense the urgency of the situation, then they refuse to believe their diagnosis. Naively, they trust in their own mortality. Like the patient many today even within the church deny they need spiritual help (but would rather appear to be holy). The refuse to think about their eternal futures (but would rather gamble on the altar for a blessing today).
The average churchgoer could be compared to a doubting Thomas or to a dying patient in denial. I’m not talking about believers who have been washed in the blood, who are filled with the Spirit, and who are running the good race with faithful devotion (I know right off the bat you are saying that’s me). No! You are the one I am talking to; you the badge of religiosity wearing Christian who refuses to examine the real conditions of their hearts. Although they go through the outward motions of being a Christian, they have never experienced a genuine conversion. They are like people whom Jesus described as experts at judging others while ignoring their own faults.
So a hypocrite is one who wears a mask. His life is like a house with false walls, two-way mirrors, and trap doors. Everyone can see his compromised lifestyle — everyone, that is except him. A hypocrite is blinded by his own religious fervor, confident that God couldn’t make it another day without him on His side. He is convinced that God’s mercy will fall on him no matter what he does, thinks or says.
There is at least one notable difference, though between hypocrisy and cancer. Cancer is limited to the body that it is destroying, but hypocrisy corrupts the person it infects as well as poisons those who come in contact with it. It’s highly infectious and seeks to contaminate anybody who’s drawn in by its seductiveness. Hypocrisy results from a lukewarm heart that refuses to bow before its Creator.
Hypocrisy is one of the greatest tools the devil uses to deceive human beings. A hypocritical spirit is not selective in whom it infects. It does not limit its pollution to a certain age gender, ethnicity, or social status. The lord’s reaction to hypocrisy in the church is nothing short of astonishing. His harshest words were not to the woman caught in adultery, but for the hypocrite. His anger didn’t flare against the stealing ways of the tax collectors as it did against the hypocrites.
Hypocrites do not have the faith to obey God. Although true Christians may occasionally react hypocritically, they repent and ask God for forgiveness. On the other hand, hypocrites consistently act in this abhorrent way. Although they claim to be Christians, most are nothing more than imposters who serve the evil one — and they may not even know it. Hypocrites claim to have supernatural faith, yet their good works are strangely absent and far between. Their words and actions don’t match.
Because obedience is not an option for Christians the behavior of hypocrites confuses people. They wonder,”Doesn’t God expect people to obey Him? If someone claims to love the Lord, then shouldn’t he listen to Him? Shouldn’t Christians trust that God knows best? Yet some Christians haven’t grasped this critical truth: Christians are called to be pure — to be different from the world. Most hypocrites allow sin to reign in their lives. Their sins are not accidents; they are willful and often premeditated. This is dangerous attitude that is addressed in Hebrews 10:26-27 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
Don’t get me wrong. People make mistakes, I have made mistakes, and Jesus forgives our transgressions. The primary purpose of the cross is to reconcile sinners to God through the forgiveness of sins. But a hypocrite sits on the edge of a spiritual cliff, taking advantage of God’s mercy and saying, “Oh well, God forgiveness me.” “He knows my heart.” This passage in Hebrews blows a hole in the hypocrite’s theology that says, “It doesn’t matter what I do; I’m forgiven “I’m saved.”
Hypocrites who willfully sin and consistently live according to the flesh cannot claim Jesus as the Forgiver of their sins because “no sacrifice for sins is left.” Of course, they can repent and begin to walk “according to the Spirit,” but many never respond to the Holy Spirit’s calling. The truth of this verse must be taken with utmost seriousness. Too many lost in church today never grasp the need for holiness or the horror of hypocrisy.
Many hypocrites and lukewarm Christians are at enmity with God. In other words, they are adversaries of God because of their chosen lifestyles. Jesus Christ becomes indignant with people who say one thing and do another.
Remember an individual’s title or circle of influence does not always translate into a measure of his holiness or godliness. Many lost in church are busily keeping the outside of their cups clean while ignoring the inside altogether.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalms 139:23-24
I never knew I was under it, but it controlled me. I never even heard the words spoken, it was a spirit. It seduced me into making enemies with people who left the church that I really cared about. Even though I felt I was being pulled in the wrong direction, they were now enemies with my Pastor. I was confused; I didn’t know what had happened. I was just lead to believe they were on the wrong seat on the bus, didn’t support the vision, they were wrong, etc…..
I was under the “Can’t Talk Rule”. Have you ever heard of it? Most likely not, it’s usually unspoken. It is a kryptonite to your discernment system. In spiritually manipulative churches, leaders or pastors don’t usually come right out and tell you not to talk about concerns in the church or be friends those that leave. Does whom they deem to now be enemies with the Pastor. They are much more subtle.
They might hint at “the enemy” who incites people to gossip, or they may denounce weak Christians who whisper. They might emphasize grumbling and complaining as among the gravest of sins. They might compare those who raise issues to scoffers in Moses’ time, implying that if you dare mention a weakness of the church you are like the ungrateful Israelites that the good Moses ( read: church leader) had to put up with.
By whatever means available, abusive pastors will shut down discussion and prevent accountability for suspect practices. The unspoken “can’t talk” rule makes this easy. Anyone who dares raise an issue to the light of day will be shut down, preached against, shunned, mistreated or shamed, either by open means or subtle means.
Perhaps some have left the church, and you have suspicions about why. Maybe the pastor has preached something that doesn’t line up with scripture. Maybe someone has been kicked out of church or removed from a ministry. Perhaps these uncomfortable practices have been increasing. Maybe the finances are not open to public view; or business meetings are closed or nonexistent. Perhaps teachers or musicians have complained about mistreatment and you are not sure who to believe.
Those living under a “Can’t Talk Rule” know not to ask questions. They have been manipulated into remaining silent, even though their active conscience urges them to speak up. The reluctance to speak up is often disguised as virtue. You’re not a grumbler. You’re not a trouble maker. It’s someone else’s place to ask questions, not yours. You’re just a humble nobody. So the pastor or leader remains accountable to no one. He can do what he likes without opposition, no matter how questionable, unorthodox, ungodly — or in some cases, illegal.
If this describes the mechanism in place at your church, make sure to do a little research into spiritual abuse and see if other signs might not also be present in your group. The “Can’t Talk Rule” is an unspoken rule meant to stifle and hide anything that challenges the control of a leader or that has the potential to put a leader in a bad light. It is often the tip of the iceburg.
God has given his people a mission, the same one Jesus himself pursued, of reconciling the world to God. Naturally, this involves evangelism, but ministry of reconciliation involves more. After people meet Christ, they need to grow spiritually, continuing their reconciliation by becoming closer to him. For this, he provides Christ’s body, with its ability to nurture build up, equip, and heal broken people.
We need the full range of ministry described in the New Testament to accomplish our task. Every believer is called to play a part in accomplishing this purpose, through which the leadership is to “equip God’s people” to do the work of the ministry Ephesians 4:11-12 (NKJV) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
We are to be with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel … united in spirit, intent on one purpose; Philippians 1:27 (NKJV) Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel,. Philippians 2:2 (NKJV) fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. The gifts, ministries, and effects given by God are to “each of us” 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NKJV) But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: an expression that means “each and every one of us.”
The Greek word translated minister in English means “to serve.” Every believer is called to be like Jesus, who come “not to be served but to serve others” Mark (10:45). Satan knows he can safely ignore millions of Christians who see their faith only as something that meets their own needs. When we understand that we are the body of Christ for what we have to give rather than what we can take, we’re ready to step up to the true field of spiritual battle.
Satan cannot ignore these believers, and if we intend to contribute to the mission God gave the church, we’d better be ready to withstand Satan’s best. Satan is a strategic enemy who knows enough to focus the weight of his attack on those who are causing the most damage to his kingdom. He also goes after those who might do damage in the future. Satan knows he must derail people and groups intent on building the kingdom of God. How long will you sit comfortable in your church get-up and allow Satan to divert the mission?
Stay tune I am not finished yet? http://www.kennypittman.org
Satan is the deceiver. We see in the Bible how he undermined truth as a necessary precursor for other moves he wants to make. Jesus says Satan “always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He deceives leaders and uses them to carry entire groups of people into falsehood, away from God and their mission. Satan doesn’t come into the church to cover people with open sores or explode their skulls like in the movies. He comes to deceive them.
Sometimes Satan is so successful at extreme deception that it’s hard to fathom. Satan has convinced the church to believe incredible lies. Today, people who reject all biblical authority lead whole denominations with millions of members. By infiltrating nonbelievers into places of Christian higher learning, the Father of Lies has successfully churned out thousands of pastors, bishops and priests who have lost their faith in Scripture and how take their lead from the variable thought patterns of Satan’s own world-system. Churches led by these people cannot and will not point people to Christ because their leaders don’t believe the gospel themselves and never preach it. Satan has deceived the church to believe as long as Jesus and God are mentioned, the gospel is being preached.
Other formerly Christian groups have been deceived into placing additional sources of authority alongside the Bible. Anytime we reckon a second authority as equal to Scripture, it ends up eventually replacing Scripture as the true source of revelation. These cult groups and churches drift further and further from biblical teaching with essentially no constraint, and once the church authorizes humans to generate rulings and visions that have equal authority with the Word of God, anything can happen. Satan can literally take over such groups, leading them to commit atrocities in the name of Christ: slaughtering (spiritual death), stealing (the offerings), lying (false teaching); you name it. They may present an image so grotesque and bizarre that they drive the watching world away in horror.
I find these cases of extreme deception in church history make for fascinating study. How could a church become so misguided that they would believe God called them to torture people to death (spiritually)? Why would millions of people give their hard-earned money to leaders who deny every aspect of Christian gospel? Baffling! The central answer to these questions is the awesomeness of Satan’s power to deceive. He has proven ability to convince millions of normal people that they are following Jesus even while they directly or indirectly support evil.
I will not dwell long on egregious examples of Satan’s deceiving work. But these cases are important to examine for two reasons.
First, these masterpieces of deception have shaped the non-Christian world’s view of Christianity to a saddening degree. November 2007 Republican senator Chuck Grassley investigates allegations of misuse of church funds. Believers shouldn’t have difficulty understanding why some non-believers feel such hostility and scorn for the church. We have failed to learn what they know about the sad record of “Christian” misbehavior and foolishness. Most churches are reluctant to discuss such events in any detail, perhaps because they worry that it would be “divisive” or because they don’t want to be too negative. A surprising percentage of Christians go so far as to defend, minimize, or excurse past wicked actions, thus further implicating themselves and Jesus in the evildoing, Neither Jesus, Paul, nor the other New Testament authors had any such reluctance when sternly denouncing false teaching and wrongdoing in the church. Christians should learn about church atrocities and denounce them firmly.
Second, these extreme cases should give all of us a healthy respect for Satan’s lying power, and even a measure of fear, because that same power is headed our way and is already among us. What makes us think we are any different or better that millions of other Christians (including well-trained leaders) who have succumbed to his lies to such devastating effect? Apathy or sloth in the face of such power is amazingly foolish.
It may seem simplistic, but the best defense against outland deception is the public reading of the Scriptures. Paul tells Timothy, “Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them” (1 Timothy 4:13). When we exposit entire books of the Bible in context for people in the church, they become more resistant to deception. He didn’t say in the church, but to the church. We have to read the Bible to our family in our homes.
The church also should heed Paul’s instruction to “learn not to exceed what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). Any time we view the church leaders or tradition as having authority on the level of Scripture, we are wide open to deception. Most of the worst episodes in the church history have been base on extra-biblical authority: visions, discovered texts, special translations, or bodies of tradition considered fully blinding. So many churches are following a vision of man and not God. Building a kingdom of lazy Saints. The church must listen to Proverbs 30:5-6
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
Church leaders need to be accountable to their congregations, and that means their people should be able to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. In some extreme cases Satan has been able to remove the Bible completely from the hands of most Christians and thereby has removed their ability to hold leaders accountable to the truth. For a thousand years it was illegal to translate the Bible into languages laypeople could read. Today, thousands of churches still have their members convinced that the Bible is indecipherable and useless unless one has professional training. In this environment, the church is rendered defenseless against false teaching. Entertainment has replaced the teaching of God’s word. Prosperity has replaced spiritual growth and relationship has been replaced by membership. Disciple has been replaced by expecting a blessing bench warmers.
Subtle Corporate Deception
Satan’s subtle forms of deception are far more germane to mainstream evangelicals, and these can be just as effective in blocking God’s purpose in the church. Satan doesn’t need to convince us that evil is good to achieve victory; all he has to do is move the church somewhat off the center of God’s revealed counsel. This arguably can be even more effective than outlandish deception; it’s harder to recognize and therefore has great staying power.
In subtle deception, Satan also doesn’t need to persuade believers to deny central teachings, such as Christ’s atoning death, his resurrection, or even biblical authority. Instead, he seeks to shift the emphasis from the important to the unimportant and misleads people on more peripheral issues. The resulting group may bear little resemblance to the church described in the New Testament.
We’ve already seen one clear of this. Churches in the grip of fottress theology become incapable of being “all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22) like Paul did, and the result is predictable: Ingrown churches don’t reach meaningful numbers of people for Christ and instead merely compare to attract one another’s members. These groups usually agree with all the major scriptural doctrines but have put a spin on more peripheral biblical teaching in a way that stalemates their witness.
Extremist groups abound today, and they often unintentionally heap disgrace and contempt on Jesus. Many TV preachers, snake-handlers, and legalistic groups are in this category. All of us know local groups that are exceedingly strange not because they deny central Christian teaching but because they dwell on minor or even questionable issues to such an extreme that it overshadows any truth they may teach. The overall picture presented to the world is bizarre and creates aversion to Christ.
To counter subtle deception, Christians must learn not only to teach what Scripture teaches but also to emphasize what Scripture emphasizes. Emphasis matters when we seek to reflect the full council of God. Thinking Christians should constantly be asking themselves. “Does this take on Scripture accurately reflect the emphases found there or are we camping out on issues the Bible hardly mentions? Are the issues we talk about out of date because the Bible itself says they’ve been superseded by later development? Are we ignoring important teachings in the Word? Scripture repeats emphasized truths often or teaches them with emphatic language, and we should do likewise.
Members also should examine the effect a group’s teaching has on their progress toward achieving God’s mission for the church. Careful discernment is important. Huge churches may only be filled with people lured away from others churches, and we’ve noted that mere numbers say little about weather churches are impacting Satan’s kingdom. Popularity contests between churches have nothing to do with our mission, and they don’t win people to Christ and seeing those new believers discipled, trained, and released into ministry must have something right. Speaking about how to discern false teachers, Jesus said, “A god tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit (Matthew 7:17)
Jesus said, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.” (Matthew 12:25) Contextually, he was pointing out that Satan is too smart to allow his household to be divided. Unfortunately, the church can’t make that claim.
After warring for millennia, Satan knows military doctrine like nobody else, and one of war’s basics is “divide and conquer.” Anytime a general can divide enemy forces, he’s in a position to defeat them in detail; the smaller segments are no match for the power he can concentrate against them.
To divide Christian groups, Satan uses his preferred weapon, the one for which he’s named: accusation (diabolos, the devil, means accuser). We often think of his accusation as being against God, or accusing a believer in the sense of making him feel too guilty to draw close to God. But he also launches accusation against fellow Christians. Satan plants hostile interpretations of others’ actions and words in the minds of his victims.
This is the very thing that happened to me and others after they left the church before me. I never had the intension of commenting on my decision to leave the church. What’s so funny there was never an argument, confrontation or conversation between me, the pastor or anyone. There were things I didn’t agree with and opted to leave and not to talk to people about it. However, Satan was not content with that, so the accuser begins to plant accusations in the minds of people and those who knew better including the pastor went mute.
I begin to be attacked with lies from people I would have never believed would do such a thing. Christian Crisis Team was formed to mount accusations and even went on one of my friend’s job to try to get him fired. I even remember going back to the church a few weeks after I had left for a funeral and felt very uncomfortable. Later, I was told by one of the security guys they were told to watch me if I came in because they didn’t know what state of mind I was in. I said, WOW! Just because I decide to leave a church now I am not in my right mind. So, accusations flew and once they involved my children I countered, with facts and documentation to back it up.
See, this is how Satan works; by planting accusations in the minds on both sides of the divide, he makes communication and reconciliation difficult. (“These people can’t be trusted, they can’t be dealt with, they are our enemy, and they must be fought or avoided.”) Sowing suspicion in the name of Satan’s game. He can usually ground suspicions in facts, at least partially, subtly adding assumptions about people’s motives. But even when people are in the wrong, we are called to help fellow believers overcome their problems, not fight with them or hold them in contempt. I thank God that I learned and grew and continue to grow as I write this piece.
Some people are remarkably susceptible to suspicious thoughts about follow Christians. They never consider that the accusing voice in their heads might be Satan. The Evil One knows which individuals in any fellowship have immature conflict-management skills. These self-centered believers rarely go to people they harbor suspicions against with a humble spirit and open mind. Instead they become bitter and spread their suspicions to others, often exaggerating for effect. Believers tell tales heedless of the effect they may have on local church unity, and they do so without fairness, context, or key information that would ruin their intended spin-job.
Satan watches churches, indentifies negative players with unresolved bitterness, and moves in to fan the flames. Paul says that in the context of bitterness and enmity, “anger gives foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27). Again, discussing lack of forgiveness, he says we should forgive “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan” (2Corinthians 2:11). I even took the time to go to one of my friends in the ministry, knowing he would be overtaken by the accuser and told not to let this come between our relationships. I knew firsthand how he was going to be used and low and behold Satan began his wedge.
Some biblical evidence suggests that Satan can virtually take over the minds of certain people in the church. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul tells Timothy to gently reprove those in opposition in the hope they “will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants” (v.26). In the context of this pastoral advice, these prisoners of Satan could well be believers. They aren’t demon possessed; they’re just so deceived and guilty that they can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong or between the voice of God and the voice of Satan.
This process of taking people under bondage for use in the church is usually associated with unresolved sin. In another passage Paul tells Titus, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:30-11). Satan knows how to use sin in a believer’s life to alienate him from God, confuse him, and create a host of destructive measures for self- justification. High in the list of these strategies are blame-shifting and bitterness (especially for those untaught in God’s grace). If he wants to, Satan can progressively take control of the thinking of those who fail to repent.
Lying dormant until the right moment, these people are secret weapons that Satan can unleash when he’s ready. Experience suggests he may have several people substantially under his control in the same church. The sudden nexus of several bitter people with the same agenda is a sure mark of Satan’s handiwork. Bitterness and suspicion then spread with incredible speed from person to person. The danger such coordinated attacks pose is so severe that it justifies the most serious form of church discipline: remove from fellowship.
In division, Satan is able to orchestrate the best of all worlds for his side. Christians not only stop pursuing their mission of growing disciples for the kingdom of God, they actually begin destroying each other. The lingering effects of division can go on for years, those left in the church usually feel a spiritual depression that inhibits ministry efforts. Distrust and cynicism afflict leaders and workers, making it more difficult to love from the heart.
Not all division involves active conflict; passive division is also dangerous. God calls us to unity that is tangible and characterized by love (Ephesians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 12:25). A disengaged group where people don’t bother to relate deeply to one another is also divided, for Satan knows that fostering apathy and distraction can produce a disunited church just as easily as hostility.
Many Christians worry about mega-divisions like those that have created the many denominations today. As problematic as such large-scale conflicts may be, though I believe Satan is most interested in division within particular local churches. After all, when the church was all one denomination he was effective at working his ways. Global unity is entirely impossible until we can get it right as members of the local body. Personal love relationships are the basic of true unity in the church. We will never find true unity within the institutionalized church; healthy churches need to focus on relationship and not membership. Whenever imperatives come up in the New Testament about preserving unity, these have to do with relational unity in a locality (Ephesians 4:3; 1 Corinthians).
The satanic flavor of church division is unmistakable, so is the outcomes —most in this group lose their walk with God altogether. It is time to come together to bind the accuser for good within the local assemblies of members of the body. It is time to stand together as a UNITED FORCE within the body of Christ. Satan has us against the ropes what are we going to do? No matter what side of the divide you are on; not until we bring it together WE LOSE!
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches’ (Revelation 3:22).
I ask my readers to observe that in every epistle the Lord Jesus makes a promise to the man that overcomes. Seven times over Jesus gives to the churches exceeding great and precious promises. Each is different, and each full of strong consolation: but each is addressed to the overcoming Christian. It is always ‘he that overcometh’, or ‘to him that overcometh’. I ask you to take notice of this.
Every professing Christian is the soldier of Christ. He is bound by his baptism to fight Christ’s battle against sin, the world and the devil. The man that does not do this breaks his vow. He is a spiritual defaulter. He does not fulfill the engagements made for him. The man that does not do this is practically renouncing his Christianity. The very fact that he belongs to a church, attends a Christian place of worship, and calls himself a Christian, is a public declaration that he desires to be reckoned a soldier of Jesus Christ.
Armor is provided for the professing Christian, if he will only use it. ‘Take unto you’, says Paul to the Ephesians, ‘the whole armor of God’. ‘Stand, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness’. ‘Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God’. ‘Above all, take the shield of faith’ (Ephesians 6:13–17). And, not least, the professing Christian has the best of leaders: Jesus the Captain of salvation, through whom he may be more than conqueror; the best of provisions, the bread and water of life, and the best of pay promised to him, an eternal weight of glory.
All these are ancient things. I will not be drawn off from my subject, in order to dwell on them now.
The one point I want to impress upon your soul just now is this, that the true believer is not only a soldier, but a victorious soldier. He not only professes to fight on Christ’s side against sin, the world and the devil, but he does actually fight and overcome.
Now this is one grand distinguishing mark of true Christians. Other men, perhaps, like to be numbered in the ranks of Christ’s army. Other men may have lazy wishes and languid desires after the crown of glory. But it is the true Christian alone who does the work of a soldier. He alone fairly meets the enemies of his soul, really fights with them and in that fight overcomes them.
One great lesson I want men to learn from these seven epistles is this, that if you would prove you are born again and going to heaven, you must be a victorious soldier of Christ. If you would make it clear that you have any title to Christ’s precious promises, you must fight the good fight in Christ’s cause, and in that fight you must conquer.
Victory is the only satisfactory evidence that you have a saving religion. You like good sermons perhaps You respect the Bible, and read it occasionally. You say your prayers night and morning. You have family prayers, and give to religious societies. I thank God for this. It is all very good. But how goes the battle? How does the great conflict go on all this time? Are you overcoming the love of the world and the fear of man? Are you overcoming the passions, tempers and lusts of your own heart? Are you resisting the devil and making him flee from you? How is it in this matter? You must either rule or serve sin and the devil and the world. There is no middle course. You must either conquer or be lost.
I know well it is a hard battle that you have to fight, and I want you to know it, too. You must fight the good fight of faith and endure hardships if you would lay hold of eternal life. You must make up your mind to a daily struggle if you would reach heaven. There may be short roads to heaven invented by man, but ancient Christianity, the good old way, is the way of the cross, the way of conflict. Sin, the world and the devil must be actually mortified, resisted and overcome.
This is the road that saints of old have trodden in, and left their record on high.
a. When Moses refused the pleasures of sin in Egypt, and chose affliction with the people of God, this was overcoming he overcame the love of pleasure.
b. When Micaiah refused to prophesy smooth things to king Ahab, though he knew he would be persecuted if he spoke the truth, this was overcoming he overcame the love of ease.
c. When Daniel refused to give up praying, though he knew the den of lions was prepared for him, this was overcoming he overcame the fear of death.
d. When Matthew rose from the receipt of custom at our Lord’s bidding, left all and followed Him, this was overcoming he overcame the love of money.
e. When Peter and John stood up boldly before the council and said, ‘We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard,’ this was overcoming; they overcame the fear of man.
f. When Saul the Pharisee gave up all his prospects of preferment among the Jews, and preached that very Jesus whom he had once persecuted, this was overcoming he overcame the love of man’s praise.
The same kind of thing which these men did you must also do if you would be saved. They were men of like passions with yourself, and yet they overcame. They had as many trials as you can possibly have, and yet they overcame. They fought. They wrestled. They struggled. You must do the same.
What was the secret of their victory? Their faith. They believed on Jesus and, believing, were made strong. They believed on Jesus and, believing, were held up. In all their battles, they kept their eyes on Jesus, and He never left them nor forsook them. ‘They overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony,’ and so may you (Revelation 12:11).
I set these words before you. I ask you to lay them to heart. Resolve, by the grace of God, to be an overcoming Christian.
I fear much for many professing Christians. I see no sign of fighting in them, much less of victory. They never strike one stroke on the side of Christ. They are at peace with His enemies. They have no quarrel with sin. I warn you, this is not Christianity. This is not the way to heaven.
I often fear much for those who hear the gospel regularly. I fear, lest you become so familiar with the sound of its doctrines, that insensibly you become dead to its power. I fear, lest your religion should sink down into a little vague talk about your own weakness and corruption, and a few sentimental expressions about Christ, while real practical fighting on Christ’s side is altogether neglected. Oh, beware of this state of mind. ‘Be doers of the word, and not hearers only’. No victory—no crown! Fight and overcome! (James 1:22).
Young men and women, and specially those who have been brought up in religious families, I fear much for you. I fear lest you get a habit of giving way to every temptation. I fear lest you become afraid of saying, ‘No!’ to the world and the devil and, when sinners entice you, think it least trouble to consent. Beware, I do beseech you, of giving way. Every concession will make you weaker. Go into the world resolved to fight Christ’s battle, and fight your way on.
Believers in the Lord Jesus, of every church and rank in life, I feel much for you. I know your course is hard. I know it is a sore battle you have to fight. I know you are often tempted to say, ‘It is of no use,’ and to lay down your arms altogether.
Cheer up, dear brothers and sisters. Take comfort, I entreat you. Look at the bright side of your position. Be encouraged to fight on. The time is short. The Lord is at hand. The night is far spent. Millions as weak as you have fought the same fight. Not one of all those millions has been finally led captive by Satan. Mighty are your enemies, but the Captain of your salvation is mightier still. His arm, His grace and His Spirit shall hold you up. Cheer up. Be not cast down.
What though you lose a battle or two? You shall not lose all. What though you faint sometimes? You shall not be quite cast down. What though you fall seven times? You shall not be destroyed. Watch against sin, and sin shall not have dominion over you. Resist the devil, and he shall flee from you. Come out boldly from the world, and the world shall be obliged to let you go. You shall find yourselves in the end more than conquerors; you shall ‘overcome’.
Considering the relevancy of this whole subject, let us look into how this whole doctrine touches upon us in practical terms:
1. For one thing, let me warn all who are living only for the world, to take heed what they are doing. You are enemies to Christ, though you may not know it. He marks your ways, though you turn your back on Him and refuse to give Him your hearts. He is observing your daily life, and reading your daily ways. There will yet be a resurrection of all your thoughts, words and actions. You may forget them, but God does not. You may be careless about them, but they are carefully marked down in the book of remembrance. Oh, worldly man, think of this! Tremble, tremble and repent.
2. Let me warn all formalists and self–righteous people to take heed that they are not deceived. You fancy you will go to heaven because you go regularly to church. You indulge an expectation of eternal life, because you are always at the Lord’s table, and are never missing in your pew. But where is your repentance? Where is your faith? Where are your evidences of a new heart? Where is the work of the Spirit? Where are your evidences of regeneration? Oh, formal Christian, consider these questions! Tremble, tremble and repent.
3. Let me warn all careless members of churches to beware lest they trifle their souls into hell. You live on year after year as if there was no battle to be fought with sin, the world and the devil. You pass through life a smiling, laughing, gentleman–like, or lady–like person, and behave as if there was no devil, no heaven and no hell. Oh, careless churchman, or careless Dissenter, careless Episcopalian, careless Presbyterian, careless Independent, careless Baptist, awake to see eternal realities in their true light! Awake and put on the armor of God! Awake and fight hard for life! Tremble, tremble and repent.
4. Let me warn everyone who wants to be saved, not to be content with the world’s standard of religion. Surely no man with his eyes open can fail to see that the Christianity of the New Testament is something far higher and deeper than the Christianity of most professing Christians. That formal, easy–going, do–little thing, which most people call ‘religion’, is evidently not the religion of the Lord Jesus. The things that He praises in these seven epistles are not praised by the world. The things that He blames are not things in which the world sees any harm. Oh, if you would follow Christ, be not content with the world’s Christianity! Tremble, tremble and repent.
5. Lastly, let me warn everyone who professes to be a believer in the Lord Jesus, not to be content with a little religion.
Of all sights in the church of Christ, I know none more painful to my own eyes, than a Christian contented and satisfied with a little grace, a little repentance, a little faith, a little knowledge, a little charity and a little holiness. I do beseech and entreat every believing soul that reads this tract not to be that kind of man. If you have any desires after usefulness, if you have any wishes to promote your Lord’s glory, if you have any longings after much inward peace, be not content with a little religion.
Let us rather seek, every year we live, to make more spiritual progress than we have done, to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus; to grow in humility and self–acquaintance; to grow in spirituality and heavenly–mindedness; to grow in conformity to the image of our Lord.
Let us beware of leaving our first love like Ephesus, of becoming lukewarm like Laodicea, of tolerating false practices like Pergamos, of tampering with false doctrine like Thyatira, of becoming half dead, ready to die, Iike Sardis.
Let us rather covet the best gifts. Let us aim at eminent holiness Let us endeavor to be like Smyrna and Philadelphia. Let us hold fast what we have already, and continually seek to have more. Let us labor to be unmistakable Christians. Let it not be our distinctive character, that we are men of science, or men of literary attainments, or men of the world, or men of pleasure, or men of business, but ‘men of God’. Let us so live that all may see that to us the things of God are the first things, and the glory of God the first aim in our lives, to follow Christ our grand object in time present, to be with Christ our grand desire in time to come.
Let us live in this way, and we shall be happy. Let us live in this way, and we shall do good to the world. Let us live in this way, and we shall leave good evidence behind us when we are buried. Let us live in this way, and the Spirit’s word to the churches will not have been spoken to us in vain.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches’ (Revelation 3:22).
I ask my readers to observe that in every epistle the Lord Jesus says, ‘I know thy works’. That repeated expression is very striking. It is not for nothing that we read these words seven times over.
To one church the Lord Jesus says, ‘I know thy labour and patience’, to another, ‘thy tribulation and poverty’, to a third, ‘thy charity and service and faith’. But to all He uses the words I now dwell on ‘I know thy works’. It is not ‘I know thy profession, thy desires, thy resolutions, thy wishes’, but ‘thy works’. ‘I know thy works’.
The works of a professing Christian are of great importance. They cannot save your soul. They cannot justify you. They cannot wipe out your sins. They cannot deliver you from the wrath of God. But it does not follow because they cannot save you, that they are of no importance. Take heed and beware of such a notion. The man who thinks so is fearfully deceived.
I often think I could willingly die for the doctrine of justification by faith without the deeds of the law. But I must earnestly contend, as a general principle, that a man’s works are the evidence of a man’s religion. If you call yourself a Christian, you must show it in your daily ways and daily behavior. Call to mind that the faith of Abraham and of Rahab was proved by their works (James 2:21–25). Remember it avails you and me nothing to profess we know God, if in works we deny Him (Titus 1:16). Remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘Every tree is known by its own fruit’ (Luke 6:44).
But whatever the works of a professing Christian may be, Jesus says, ‘I know them!’ His eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3). You never did an action, however private, but Jesus saw it. You never spoke a word, no, not even in a whisper, but Jesus heard it. You never wrote a letter, even to your dearest friend, but Jesus read it. You never thought a thought, however secret, but Jesus was familiar with it. His eyes are as a flaming fire. The darkness is no darkness with Him. All things are open and manifest before Him. He says to every one, ‘I know thy works’.
a. The Lord Jesus knows the works of all impenitent and unbelieving souls, and will one day punish them. They are not forgotten in heaven, though they may be upon earth. When the great white throne is set, and the books are opened, the wicked dead will be judged ‘according to their works’.
b. The Lord Jesus knows the works of His own people, and weighs them. ‘By Him actions are weighed’ (1 Samuel 2:3). He knows the why and the wherefore of the deeds of all believers. He sees their motives in every step they take. He discerns how much is done for His sake, and how much is done for the sake of praise. Alas, not a few things are done by believers, which seem very good to you and me, but are rated very low by Christ.
c. The Lord Jesus knows the works of all His own people, and will one day reward them. He never overlooks a kind word, or a kind deed done in His name. He will own the least fruit of faith, and declare it before the world in the day of His appearing. If you love the Lord Jesus, and follow Him, you may be sure your work and labor shall not be in vain in the Lord. The works of those that die in the Lord ‘shall follow them’ (Revelation 14:13). They shall not go before them, nor yet by their side, but they shall follow them, and be owned in the day of Christ’s appearing. The parable of the pounds shall be made good. ‘Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour’ (1 Corinthians 3:8). The world knows you not, for it knows not your Master. But Jesus sees and knows all. ‘I know thy works’.
Think what a solemn warning there is here to all worldly and hypocritical professors of religion. Let all such read, mark and digest these words. Jesus says to you, ‘I know thy works’. You may deceive me or any other minister; it is easy to do so. You may receive the bread and wine from my hands, and yet be cleaving to iniquity in your hearts. You may sit under the pulpit of an evangelical preacher, week after week, and hear his words with a serious face, but believe them not. But, remember this, you cannot deceive Christ. He who discovered the deadness of Sardis and the lukewarmness of Laodicea, sees you through and through, and will expose you at the last day, except you repent.
Oh, believe me, hypocrisy is a losing game. It will never answer to seem one thing and be another; to have the name of Christian, and not the reality. Be sure, if your conscience smites you and condemns you in this matter, be sure your sin will find you out. The eye that saw Achan steal the golden wedge and hide it is upon you. The book that recorded the deeds of Gehazi and Ananias and Sapphira is recording your ways. Jesus mercifully sends you a word of warning today. He says, ‘I know thy works’.
But think also, what encouragement there is here for every honest and true–hearted believer. To you also, Jesus says, ‘I know thy works’. You see no beauty in any action that you do. All seems imperfect, blemished and defiled. You are often sick at heart of your own shortcomings. You often feel that your whole life is one great arrear, and that every day is either a blank or a blot. But know now, that Jesus can see some beauty in everything that you do from a conscientious desire to please Him. His eye can discern excellence in the least thing which is a fruit of His own Spirit. He can pick out the grains of gold from amid the dross of your performances, and sift the wheat from amid the chaff in all your doings. Your tears are all put into His bottle. Your endeavors to do good to others, however feeble, are written in His book of remembrance. The least cup of cold water given in His name shall not lose its reward. He does not forget your work and labor of love, however little the world may regard it.
It is very wonderful, but so it is. Jesus loves to honor the work of His Spirit in His people, and to pass over their frailties. He dwells on the faith of Rahab, but not on her lie. He commends His apostles for continuing with Him in His temptations, and passes over their ignorance and want of faith (Luke 22:28). ‘Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him’ (Psalms 103:13). And as a father finds a pleasure in the least acts of his children, of which a stranger knows nothing, so I suppose the Lord finds a pleasure in our poor feeble efforts to serve Him.
I can well understand the righteous in the day of judgment saying, ‘Lord, when saw we Thee an hungred, and fed Thee, or thirsty, and gave Thee drink? When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? Or naked, and clothed Thee? Or when saw we Thee sick or in prison, and came unto Thee?’ (Matthew 25:37–39). It may well seem incredible and impossible that they can have done anything worth naming in the great day! Yet so it is. Let all believers take the comfort of it. The Lord says, ‘I know thy works.’ It ought to humble you. But it ought not to make you afraid.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches’ (Revelation 3:22).
I ask my readers to observe that the Lord Jesus, in all the seven epistles, speaks of nothing but matters of doctrine, practice, warning and promise.
I ask you to look over these seven epistles to the churches, quietly and at your leisure, and you will soon see what I mean.
You will observe that the Lord Jesus sometimes finds fault with false doctrines and ungodly inconsistent practices, and rebukes them sharply.
You will observe that He sometimes praises faith, patience, work, labor, perseverance and bestows on these graces high commendation.
You will sometimes find Him enjoining repentance, amendment, return to the first love, renewed application to Himself, and the like.
But I want you to observe that you will not find the Lord, in any of the epistles, dwelling upon church government or ceremonies. He says nothing about sacraments or ordinances. He makes no mention of liturgies or forms. He does not instruct John to write one word about baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, or the apostolical succession of ministers. In short, the leading principles of what may be called ‘the sacramental system’ are not brought forward in any one of the seven epistles from first to last.
Now why do I dwell on this? I do it because many professing Christians in the present day would have us believe these things are of first, of cardinal, of paramount importance.
There are not a few who seem to hold that there can be no church without a bishop, and no godliness without a liturgy. They appear to believe that to teach the value of the sacraments is the first work of a minister, and to keep to their parish church the first business of a people.
Now let no man misunderstand me when I say this. Do not run away with the notion that I see no importance in sacraments. On the contrary, I regard them as great blessings to all who receive them ‘rightly, worthily and with faith’. Do not fancy that I attach no value to episcopacy, a liturgy and the parochial system. On the contrary, I consider that a church well administered, which has these three things, and an evangelical ministry, is a far more complete and useful church than one in which they are not to be found.
But this I say, that sacraments, church government, the use of a liturgy, the observance of ceremonies and forms, are all as nothing compared to faith, repentance and holiness. And my authority for so saying is the whole tenor of our Lord’s words to the seven churches.
I never can believe, if a certain form of church government was so very important as some say, that the great Head of the church would have said nothing about it here. I should have expected to have found something said about it to Sardis and Laodicea. But I find nothing at all. And I think that silence is a great fact.
I cannot help remarking just the same fact in Paul’s parting words to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:27–35). He was then leaving them for ever. He was giving his last charge on earth, and spoke as one who would see the faces of his hearers no more. And yet there is not a word in the charge about the sacraments and church government. If ever there was a time for speaking of them, it was then. But he says nothing at all, and I believe it was an intentional silence.
Now here lies one reason why we who, rightly or wrongly, are called evangelical clergy, do not preach about bishops, and the Prayer Book, and ordinances more than we do. It is not because we do not value them, in their place, proportion and way. We do value them as really and truly as any, and are thankful for them. But we believe that repentance towards God, faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ and a holy conversation are subjects of far more importance to men’s souls. Without these no man can be saved. These are the first and most weighty matters, and therefore on these we dwell.
Here again lies one reason why we so often urge on men not to be content with the mere outward part of religion. You must have observed that we often warn you not to rest on church membership and church privileges. We tell you not to be satisfied all is right because you come to church on Sunday, and come up to the Lord’s table. We often urge you to remember, that he is not a Christian who is one outwardly, that you must be ‘born again,’ that you must have a ‘faith that worketh by love,’ that there must be a ‘new creation’ by the Spirit in your heart. We do it because this seems to us the mind of Christ. These are the kind of things He dwells upon, when writing seven times over to seven different churches. We feel that if we follow Him we cannot greatly err.
I am aware that men charge us with taking ‘low views’ of the subjects to which I have adverted. It is a small thing that our views are thought ‘low,’ so long as our consciences tell us they are scriptural. High ground, as it is called, is not always safe ground. What Balaam said must be our answer ‘What the Lord saith, that will I speak’ (Numbers 24:13).
The plain truth is, there are two distinct and separate systems of Christianity at the present day. It is useless to deny it. Their existence is a great fact and one that cannot be too clearly known.
According to one system, religion is a mere corporate business. You are to belong to a certain body of people. By virtue of your membership of this body, vast privileges, both for time and eternity, are conferred upon you. It matters little what you are and what you feel. You are not to try yourself by your feelings. You are a member of a great ecclesiastical corporation. Then all its privileges and immunities are your own. Do you belong to the one true visible ecclesiastical corporation? That is the grand question.
According to the other system, religion is eminently a personal business between yourself and Christ. It will not save your soul to be an outward member of any ecclesiastical body whatever, however sound that body may be. Such membership will not wash away one sin, or give you confidence in the day of judgment. There must be personal faith in Christ, personal dealings between yourself and God, personal felt communion between your own heart and the Holy Spirit. Have you this personal faith? Have you this felt work of the Spirit in your soul? This is the grand question. If not you will be lost.
This last system is the system which those who are called evangelical ministers cleave to and teach. They do so, because they are satisfied that it is the system of Holy Scripture. They do so, because they are convinced that any other system is productive of most dangerous consequences, and calculated to delude men fatally as to their actual state. They do so because they believe it to be the only system of teaching which God will bless, and that no church will flourish so much as that in which repentance, faith, conversion and the work of the Spirit are the grand subjects of the minister’s sermon.