Beware of Political Allegiances

My previous two posts have been about the divisions between believers arising out of disagreements related to the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Despite the hostility often displayed over the difference of views about spiritual gifts there seems to be one area of regrettable agreement bridging across that spiritual divide.

Politics.

Both “evangelicals” and “charismatics” kowtow to political forces in misguided hope of returning their nation to alleged past greatness, and especially to a mythical Christian past.

Such hopes are a dangerous fantasy, that not only lead to false expectations of “national revival”, they lead to an unholy hybrid of politics and religion (NOT Christianity as participants assume) that hinders the gospel, leads to false prophetic expectations, and will ultimately pave the way for a future political saviour: identified by Paul as the man of lawlessness.

I see this as being far more dangerous than anything alleged by either side of the divide addressed in my previous posts. Despite their condemnation of alleged “NAR” political ambitions, the other side of that divide are no less devoted to political outcomes than those they condemn as false prophets.

I regularly see and hear professing believers condemning “socialism” and/or “leftists” – as if those terms are describing Satan himself.
I’ve seen an American pastor/author justifying frequent anti-“left” tirades by saying:

” My issue is, which imperfect system aligns more with reality, i.e. the Word of God?”

The clear suggestion is that right-wing, non-leftist politics is more in line with scripture than the alternative.

Ironically this brings him in close political alliance with those he has condemned as false prophets in numerous books he’s written. Those who have also been accused of having a nefarious political agenda via alleged NAR affiliations. Only today I saw part of a video in which someone that the pastor would see as a false prophet was declaring the same kind of political rhetoric.

It’s a delusion based more on the lingering propaganda of McCarthyism than on anything associated with God or His word.

No human political system comes close to God’s word. Both socialism and capitalism are deeply flawed. In their extremes, one leads to authoritarian Communism as per Soviet Russia, the other leads to authoritarian Nazism as per Hitler’s Germany.

All trust (no matter how small) in particular human political systems to bring about godly solutions needs to be abandoned by those professing to be followers of Jesus. We are supposed to be part of HIS Kingdom and not promoting men’s systems or politicians.
We cannot serve two masters, but many try with their devoted allegiance to political powers, their hand-on -heart patriotism, and enthusiastic flag waving.

Those who have fallen for that kind of national and political allegiance need to look deeply at their priorities.

God’s Kingdom is NOT of this world.

Instead of finding common ground in ungodly political systems, surely it’s time to reconcile and come to a biblical agreement over KINGDOM issues: obeying Jesus, preaching the gospel as HE commanded (and the early church demonstrated – with signs) and loving each other as He loved His disciples.

Beware of the “Ministry” of Division (2)

(Continued from previous post)

To replace the current “ministry of division” there is an urgent need for the “ministry of reconciliation” between believers, that can only come by putting off prejudices and favoured theologies and putting on love – for each other and for the Word of God.

Among the commands given to His disciples towards the end of His ministry, Jesus gave a “new commandment”.

John 13

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another

This was something important enough for Jesus to say it would be the distinguishing feature revealing to EVERYONE that we are His disciples. Surely a vital ingredient when taking the gospel to an unbelieving world.

It was also important enough for Jesus to repeat in John 16:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command

Not only does this statement repeat His command to love each other, the latter part clearly infers that failing to do so disqualifies someone from being Jesus’ friend.

The command for believers to love one another is also repeated several times in 1 John and Peter adds another voice saying in 1 Peter 1: 22

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

1 Peter 3: 8-9

love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.

1 Peter 4: 8

Above all, love each other deeply

I now suspect that some might try to find a bit of wiggle room by insisting that those they are labelling as false teachers/prophets/etc aren’t really fellow believers so the obligation to love them as Jesus loved His disciples doesn’t apply.
But even if we allow that presumptuous conclusion, Jesus also said we should love our enemies, so there’s no avoiding the commandment to love. And who are we to judge who belongs to Him, and who doesn’t – thereby excusing ourselves from loving them as fellow disciples?

It seems that so many features of the gospel preached and commanded by Jesus – some of the very important aspects of it, by which unbelievers will see its validity – are being far too casually denied by professing believers. That denial includes the rejection of present day confirming signs following the preaching of the gospel (something affirmed most times that preaching of the gospel is mentioned in scripture) as well as a distinct lack of love being shown between those claiming to follow Jesus.

Through that ongoing denial, the church is allowing Satan to do a very effective job of disempowering what little gospel message remains within the church, by convincing professing believers to avoid and dismiss instructions Jesus gave in the latter days of His time on earth. Instructions regarding a gospel confirmed by signs, and instructions regarding the love of believers for each other.

There is an urgent need for us all to make sure that ALL of our beliefs and practices are consistent with God’s word, without closing our eyes to inconvenient passages, and without resorting to childish clichés to excuse ungodly excesses.

That means NOT trying to explain away Spiritual gifts and/or miracles. It also means abandoning inane claims like ‘you can’t put God in a box’ to justify some of the more dubious things that some charismatics have promoted for too long as being genuine works of the Holy Spirit.

I recently read an astute statement, saying something like the following: “we might not be able to put God in a box, but He did put Himself in a book” – meaning He has revealed Himself, His character and His purposes in scripture; written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Himself and won’t act in anyway contrary to that revelation.

And it is the revelation given by God through scripture that is the key to resolve the problems on both sides of the divide being addressed. Both sides need to give scripture its rightful place as the foundational revelation of truth, against which any belief and practice can be measured. That does NOT mean that all truth is contained within the pages of scripture, but it does mean that anything inconsistent with scripture is NOT truth.

There is a need for honesty – to be honest to ourselves – and truly examine our lives and beliefs alongside scripture. To put aside assumptions and take the time to search the scriptures; not through the lens of someone else’s teaching, not through a theological system, but going to scripture itself, scripture alone with the aid of the Holy Spirit. But we do it with the intention and desire to find Jesus and what HE wants of us. Both the scriptures and the Holy Spirit testify of Him.

Unfortunately the division I’ve been addressing is being fuelled by erroneous beliefs, practices and attitudes FROM BOTH SIDES, things that compromise Christian gospel witness.

That has to change – and maybe THAT is what God intends to address through the current world situation.

But will we take the opportunity to use this time of isolation and disruption wisely?

Beware of the “Ministry” of Division (part 1)

 

… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5)NIV

What does the ministry of reconciliation involve?

Firstly, God reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, which starts with Jesus’ ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection.

Secondly it continues in the ministry that Jesus commissioned His followers to carry on after His return to the Father: the commission revealed through the instructions He gave prior to that return.

Each gospel gives a variation of those instructions with different levels of detail. Sadly they are instructions that seem to have mostly been ignored, dismissed, reduced, denied or otherwise avoided by most who profess to be followers of Jesus.

Matthew 28:

Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Mark 16:

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

John 14:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it

John 20:

Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

From Luke in Acts 1:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Then we should see the example of the early church throughout the book of Acts, and how Paul often linked preaching the gospel with power, and confirming signs.

Do ANY of those describe anything resembling the ministry and experience of the majority of churches and those within the church today?

Sadly, I’d have to say no.
And even more sadly, most professing believers seem to be okay with that and find it acceptable.

Recently I’ve had my attention brought to some ministries who are doing what they can to go into the their communities, sharing the gospel with those outside of church walls, and are taking the other parts of Jesus’ commission regarding healing and deliverance seriously. And they are reportedly seeing people healed and delivered, and as a result turning to Jesus, whose reality has been confirmed to them through the signs they’ve observed or experienced.

Not long ago I posted videos related to two of those people. One of the videos showed a practical example, praying for the sick and seeing them healed. The other was more teaching related, with a very sound scriptural foundation, given through countless bible references for viewers to search the scriptures for themselves. That teaching was followed by a practical application of what was learned, with people testifying to being healed after the teaching was put into practice.

Those two videos caused a great deal of controversy, because of the alleged “associations” the men featured had with others – in other words, they were covered with a broad-brush application of guilt because of friendships, acquaintances, or links to people with whom they’d shared a preaching engagement.

For  more than a decade and a half I took that broad-brush approach myself; dismissing anyone who had a hint of being linked to any kind of group or individual with questionable practices and theology.
My recent situation has made me seriously reconsider that attitude, an attitude I’m now seeing as being a “ministry” of division.

In trying to convince me that the men in those videos should be avoided, I was sent links to articles “proving” they were involved in very dubious things – except, for the most part the articles offered no evidence, just unsubstantiated claims and rumours. Even worse, there were also misrepresentations and outright lies. Again the strongest reason for “condemnation” came down to some people they were linked to rather than what they themselves were saying and doing in the posted videos.

As a result I had to reconsider any trust I may have had in many of those people and groups who would call themselves “discernment ministries”, finding there was little if any discernment involved in anything they were doing or the conclusions they were drawing.

Discernment is something believers need, probably more than ever.
But, discernment is NOT gained through trawling web-pages for information allegedly exposing the wrong doings and wrong teachings of others. It’s not gained through spending hours of dissecting every word or phrase uttered by someone targeted for exposure to find a problem statement or claim. And its not a demonstration of discernment when someone is dismissed because of who they may know or have met with.

Discernment comes through searching the scriptures for ourselves, with the help of the Holy Spirit who inspired the writers of scripture. Discernment comes through believing scripture and DOING what scripture directs us to do instead of turning to theological opinions and teachings that try to explain why scripture doesn’t really mean what it actually says according to its context.

Genuine discernment is needed so we can assess ALL teachings and practices no matter what or who the source may be – whether it comes from a favoured teacher or from someone we’ve been advised to avoid. Ultimately WE are responsible for what WE accept or reject, so it would be wise to make informed judgements that align with scripture and not rely on potentially biased opinion from others.

Genuine discernment also allows us to respond with a lot more grace and wisdom towards others than outright broad-brush judgements allow. Genuine discernment can make room for us to learn from others and recognise the value of what they are doing when and if they are conforming to scripture, and it allows us to recognise and reject anything that IS genuinely erroneous, without seeing the need to reject everything they say and do.

This goes both ways – we should all make room in our lives to learn from others and to shape our own Christian lives to conform more and more with God’s requirements of us. But while it goes both ways, to date I’ve seen the aggression and condemnation has mostly been going in one direction, often from groups and people who dismiss the ongoing validity of Spiritual gifts and miraculous signs to accompany the gospel.

While charismatic groups have often ventured into questionable, extra-biblical territory, it is no less the case that those opposing them have virtually erased large sections of scripture from their bibles by seeing them as being no longer valid, as if the canonical compilation of the very scriptures that record them have nullified the gifts and miracles that the Bible itself teaches ARE and will continue to be valid.
Which of those groups present the greater problem? Those who add to scripture or those who subtract from it by disempowering the gospel?

I’d suggest that BOTH are equally a danger to themselves and to anyone who makes undiscerning judgements about their teachings. Both sides need to find reconciliation with God and each other through respect for, and obedience to, His word.

Have I wandered off track with the latter part of this article?

NO!

To replace the current “ministry of division” there is an urgent need for the “ministry of reconciliation”. There is a need for reconciliation between believers, that can only come with the putting off of prejudices and favoured theologies and putting on love – for each other and for the Word of God.

(To be continued)

Urgent Call to the Church

A passionately delivered sermon containing a lot of what the Lord has been addressing in my own life in recent months.

I don’t know anything about the preacher. I’m just presenting the content of this message as something worth noting.

Again the idea of “revival” is brought up within this talk, so firstly I’d like to share the following personal thoughts and observations.

  1. “Revival”  is centred on God’s people  bringing the church back in line with His Kingdom.
  2. It will lead to an awareness of who we are and what is required of us in Christ.
  3. It requires a turning from other allegiances, whether to nation, politics  and political solutions, or the pleasures and distracting entertainments of this world. We can only serve one Master.
  4. “Revival” won’t make the gospel more acceptable to the wider world, it will put us more at odds with the world, creating an increased contrast and greater conflict between the people of God and those who reject God.
  5. “Revival” will be an outcome of refining/pruning within the church to make it more fruitful.

COVID-19 and “Prophecy”

I’ve hesitated to post this because it involves something I’ve not previously experienced, and something that I’ve seen abused and misused in the past by others who have made “prophetic” claims. I can only submit this for consideration, in the hope that I’m not going off track. I’ve also been reluctant to jump on the corona virus bandwagon, considering it’s been given more than enough publicity everywhere else.

In recent months I’ve occasionally woken in the morning with particular phrases stuck in my mind.

The first time it was straight from scripture and related to a cancer diagnosis I’d been given: “To live is Christ, to die is gain”.

I’ve shared some of that on my blog recently, how I came to the understanding that God’s will relates to the first part – that life in service to Christ here and now is the preferred option, over the “selfishness” of going to be with the Lord.

The second time it was again scripture: ” God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”. This led me to study the context, which took me into some realities of the new creation we have become, that requires us to take off the old and put on the new. I’m still learning the consequences of that and how it SHOULD be reflected in our lives and ministry of the gospel. I’ve also been sharing some of that.

Most recently it wasn’t a phrase of scripture, but a simple and seemingly obvious statement, considering what’s happening in the world at the moment. “Things are going to change”.

The following morning, there was a “flood” of thoughts continuing on from that, the first was “things are not going to return to ‘normal’, along with the term “tipping point”.

I got out of bed to write these things down and the phrase “bringing down nations” was added.

Then finally, “revival has started, but not in the form expected” brought an end to the morning “flood” of phrases.

I shared these things with a few trusted brothers and sisters to get their impressions.

To me there seems to be a flow – starting with something I personally needed, then on to truths applicable to the wider church, regarding our identity and God’s equipping of His saints for ministry. Then finally (so far) putting those things into a context of urgency.

I can only see my health diagnosis and the medical prognosis as part of a personal shake-up I needed to get me on track in preparation for wider change in the world.

It’s now a week later and I’ve come across a few claimed prophetic views of the current virus situation. Most of them are predicting that it will all be over very shortly – prior to Passover, which is only about two weeks away. That’s a message that seems to  have been grasped by the US President too – looking at returning business to usual by Easter. All of that in spite of what’s evident in the world right now, and particularly in the US which has just been reported as currently having the most cases of COVID-19 in a single nation. An end within two weeks would clearly be a miraculous outcome.

Those prophetic views have been expressed by several high profile individuals who all expect “revival” to come out of the current crisis. However their views of revival tend to focus on NATIONAL revivals – a turning around of nations (the US in particular since that’s where those expressing that “prophetic” insight are located).

While the optimistic outlook of a miraculous end to a world health catastrophe would be very welcome, and I would be pleased to be proven wrong, I don’t share that optimism.

One reason is that I find the “revival” they expect is based on a false hope. Revival has been on the minds of many in charismatic/Pentecostal churches for as long as I can remember, since my first association with them in the mid 1970s. I recall how much I longed for revival – basically because I thought it would make it easier for my family to hear the gospel and be saved, without me having to say much to them.

I see no reason for expectation of national revivals in scripture – apart from the many clear prophecies about Israel turning to the Lord AS A WHOLE NATION in the very last days. I suspect some of the expectation for revival in our own nations has been fuelled by a misapplication of promises made to and about Israel.

One example of this is the common reference to 2 Chronicles 7:14, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

That is a promise/directive given specifically to Israel, a people of God who actually HAD a land to be healed – a land given to them by God Himself.

While disciples of Jesus are God’s people, we have no land to which that promise can be applied – the nations in which we live are not ours. We are part of God’s Kingdom and His Kingdom is not of this world. And can we really consider that anyone with current “wicked ways” could be thought of as a disciple of Jesus?

In this world believers will have trouble, not acceptance and comfort, something that we in the west seem to view with aversion, having never really suffered in the way those in the early church did and those in other nations currently do.

It seems to me that the current emphasis on national revival is focused on politics and political outcomes. I believe that contrasts significantly with God’s focus on His Kingdom and those who claim to represent it. And it is among those representatives that revival  is needed – to stir up, experience and share the abundant life Jesus came to give, to encourage others to migrate from the world’s Kingdoms to God’s Kingdom. There is no answer through worldly politics or politicians, and I suspect that the association of evangelicals with partisan politics will backfire as the sandy foundation of their political expectations are exposed.

Things are going to change and will not return to “normal”, no matter how much some people may expect and insist that we’ll push through the current situation and get things back on track on the other side. Whether that change is in process now or not, scripture makes it clear that it IS eventually coming, and in a much more disastrous way than anything we’ve experienced so far.

As for the term “tipping point”, it’s one I came across a few times over the days following my own reference to it, I assume it refers to the earlier two statements regarding change.

There will be a bringing down of nations – whether politically, economically, or in any other natural way, I’m not sure – but hopefully it will mean a bringing down of nations in the esteem and expectation of Jesus’ disciples, redirecting their attention and hopes solely upon His Kingdom.

Revival has started but not in the form expected – I can only write from personal experience that my commitment to God has been significantly revived, ignited by the need to face adverse personal circumstance in my own life. Maybe others are being faced with similar experiences.

As for revival beyond the personal, and particularly regarding any expected “end time ” revival upon the earth, I’ve long seen that as being associated with the kind of intense persecution against the saints prophesied in scripture. As persecution causes many uncommitted to fall away, this “pruning” of fruitless branches will lead to more fruitfulness in those branches that remain, those who are genuinely committed to Christ.

That increased fruitfulness will lead to a more genuine witness of, and  bringing more people into, the Kingdom.

But that kind of revival OF THE CHURCH is far different to the “glorious” nation-changing move of God that seems to be the expectation of others.

 

 

 

Beware of Minimising The Gospel

My first interest in “the gospel” centred on avoiding hell.

In my early teens, a schoolfriend who had recently started attending church, tried to convince me that a general belief in God was not enough. To escape hell I needed to believe in Jesus, say a sinner’s prayer, and ask Him into my heart.

It was a long time before I realised there was so much more to the gospel than acquiring a get out of hell free card.

Today, it seems, that most people still see salvation through Jesus as primarily being about avoiding hell and getting to heaven after death, and yet that is NOT the gospel’s primary message.

God didn’t give His Son to provide an escape from hell. Jesus came to make it possible for us to enter the Kingdom of God and ALL that the Kingdom entails.

If you are walking along a road to the garbage dump wearing filthy rags, and someone comes along, cleans you up and provides you with a meaningful job working for the King, with a promise of accommodation in the palace when your work has been accomplished, would you see that primarily as being “saved” from the garbage dump?

God’s gospel message is not “come to Me and avoid hell”. The gospel is come to Him and He’ll make us fit and clean enough for the new creation He has planned. A creation free of all of the problems caused by man’s sin – a creation where only righteousness is allowed.

Until then He has “good works” – an Ambassadorial job – for us to do, representing Him in the Kingdoms of this world, encouraging others to follow the path we took, migrating to His Kingdom and becoming citizens of it.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2) NIV.

And what does that Ambassadorial job entail?.

God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

On re-reading that last quote, the section I have now highlighted in bold print really jumped out. I believe that statement is one deserving some serious meditation.