Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees

Jesus had a strained relationship with the religious leaders and authorities of His time. The following quote shows one of the reasons (see bold type) why He saw it necessary to warn His disciples about them.

… the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him

In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy”. (Luke 11-12)

Is His warning equally valid today? If so who do we need to beware of? Who would be the present day Pharisees and Sadducees? What individuals or groups reflect the attitudes and behaviors of those bible-era opponents of Jesus and His gospel? What did the historical Pharisees and Sadducess do in their desire to oppose Jesus?

There is one example in the quote above “seeking to catch Him in something He might say“. They scrutinised everything (not with integrity like the later Bereans, who wanted to find whether Paul’s preaching was valid or not) but with the intention of finding fault with anything Jesus was saying. They just wanted ammunition with which they could accuse and condemn Him. Eventually, when they found none, they chose to take His words out of context and give them unintended meaning.

Another trait was their unwillingness to recognise and accept the miracles that Jesus did. Instead, again, they tried to find fault because Jesus didn’t do things according to their own traditions and teachings. They even attributed His works to the power of Satan. When everything else failed they resorted to outright lies.

Eventually they condemned Him because He told them the truth – truth they refused to accept.

I suggest that any present day equivalent of those religious leaders would demonstrate the same attitudes and same tactics as their historical counterparts and similarly deceive their undiscerningly devoted followers, steering them away from the the opportunity to enter and experience the fullness of the gospel and the ministry life that Jesus came to give those who genuinely follow Him.

“Woe to you … For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” (Luke 11)

Beware of those who deny the power of God and its continuation in the present day.

Beware of those whose major “ministry” is finding fault with what others are saying and doing.

Beware of believing accusations made against others without checking the truthfulness of those accusations.

Beware of those who CLAIM to honour the word of God, and yet see the need to dismiss or reinterpret those parts of it that don’t suit their particular theological agenda and traditions.

Jesus answered [the Sadducees] and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.
(Matt 22)

Beware of that same kind of blindness.

Beware of Distraction

I’ve been reading some of the writings of early Pentecostals and also observing what has been going on among the present day “Charismatics”.
There are some common features.

What started out with genuine revelation from scripture (the ongoing reality and validity of Spiritual gifts) started to be accompanied by teachings and experiences that were contrary to scripture – or had no reasonable biblical precedent.

Unfortunately, it seems like people have been more interested in focusing on the problems instead of addressing those things that clearly WERE biblical and had been lacking from the church.
Their approach was to take the easy way of rejecting everything instead of searching the scriptures for themselves and practicing REAL discernment as contrasted to applying broad-brush condemnation.

Often that broad-brush approach leads to the unwise condemnation of truth along with the distracting lies. Maybe we should recognise the likelihood that Satan will try to undermine a true move of God by introducing distracting elements that will draw attention away from what God wants to do within His church and by His church.

As examples I’ll mention the gift of the Holy Spirit, (given by the Father); the gifts of the Holy Spirit, distibuted by the Holy Spirit Himself; and the empowered ministry of preaching the gospel with confirming signs. ALL of those have strong biblical foundations and all are an essential part of an effective obedient church.

Jesus told a parable about a man who sowed good seed within a field, but while everyone was sleeping an enemy sowed weeds among the wheat. When it was noticed that weeds had sprung up among the good crop, the man’s servants were told to leave the two growing together until the harvest to avoid destroying the good crop along with the bad.

He explained the parable by saying the good seed was sown by the Son of Man (Himself) and the weeds were sown by the devil.
I see this parable describes something in common with the situation I’ve observed above. What starts as something sown by God, is complicated  by the devil’s attempt to sabotage the work of God by mixing bad among the good. We should therefore be cautious about tearing up the whole field and throwing it all away because we see something wrong.

Many years ago I heard a sermon based on the parable of the wheat and the weeds (tares) – in which the preacher said that “tares” resembled wheat in every way until the wheat fruited. While I don’t know how true that claim was, his point echoes what Jesus said was the way to distinguish between the true and the false: by their fruit you will known them.

While the devil might try to distract from and disrupt God’s work, we need to ensure we don’t give him the victory by us dismissing God’s good work along with those devil-inspired distracting elements.

Not long ago a friend of mine objected to some posts featuring ministry from individuals whose influences  he claimed were “a mixture” of bad along with whatever good there might be. His conclusion was to avoid everything from those ministries.

However I can’t help but notice the state of the churches addressed by Jesus in the first chapters of Revelation. ALL but two were a mixture of good and bad – but Jesus didn’t condemn the whole church. He praised them for what they did right and rebuked them for their errors, encouraging their members to be overcomers.

The exceptions were Smyrna, of whom there was no condemnation and Laodicea for whom there was no praise. But even in the case of the rebuked Laodicea there was no outright rejection. He encouraged them to open the door to Him, and left open the possibility of its members being overcomers, despite the absence of good within the church when He addressed it.

In recent months I’ve observed and read about much maligned Charismatic ministries and their work. I’ve also seen some of the work of their critics, and despite seeing many questionable aspects of those Charismatic groups and people, I’ve seen more of God’s work (AS COMMISSIONED BY JESUS) being done – no matter how imperfectly – than I’ve seen among most of their critics who have relied too much on misrepresentation (lies), and false theology (cessationism) and a distinct lack of demonstrated love.

In one of my recent posts I mentioned the importance of discernment. True discernment needs far more than the kind of blanket condemnations made by many of the misnamed “discernment ministries”. True discernment needs to have a foundation of sound theology based on what scripture actually says and not according to church tradition,  experience or even LACK of experience. True discernment will often challenge our own beliefs, our own theological stance, and our view of truth and falsehood, as we learn to make assessments according to the demonstrated fruit and not ingrained prejudice of tradition.

And what kind of fruit should we expect to see?
In a previous post I mentioned the fruit of the Spirit but to that I think we should add the fruit of obedience. By that I mean evidence of Jesus’ commands being obeyed, such as:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13) NIV

And fulfilling His commission regarding taking the gospel to the world.

And doing the works HE did and greater works – something He said would happen IF we believe in Him.

An additional fruit to expect would be the reflection of Jesus in the ministry or experience being assessed. Jesus said that seeing Him was seeing the Father. Jesus also said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you,” so those sent in Jesus’ name should be reflections of Jesus in the same way that He was the image of the Father. When we see His disciples, we should see Jesus in their deeds and attitudes.

If there’s anything being done “in His name” that doesn’t reflect Jesus’ character, it’s probably very wise to be suspicious of it. Those things are more than likely distractions sown to choke the growth of God’s seed: God’s work.

Look back at past “moves of God” and consider what gained the most attention and ask whether they were the kinds of thing Jesus Himself would do. Then consider what MAY have arisen out of those situations if there had been better discernment exercised, and the distractions had not been allowed to become the main feature.

And most importantly, don’t judge the present by past distractions. Judge according to today’s fruit.

Beware of the “Great Escape”.

I’ve come across a few references to “the rapture” over recent weeks, in blog articles, YouTube videos and even from an elder of the church I attend – it seems some people are looking to the current virus situation as an indication that “the rapture” will be soon.

I want to address these expectations (hopes?) by looking at what the Bible says about this event, and especially the timing of it, by looking at specific references and what they actually say, without (hopefully) projecting meaning onto them that is not genuinely  there.

If I miss a “rapture” reference – please let me know.

What do the following say about “the rapture”,  what do they indicate about it’s timing, particularly with regard to the “timeline” of Revelation?

Gospel of Matthew

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Gospel of Mark

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.

  1. These two gospel accounts state that the gathering of Jesus’ elect happen after the tribulation. The account in Matthew mentions it is accompanied by the sound of  a great trumpet – something also mentioned in the first of the Thessalonian quotes below as well as the one from 1 Corinthians.
  2. Both gospels say it is also preceded by the darkening of the sun, changes in the moon, and falling stars.

I recall that a few years ago I read a pre-tribulation believer expressing surprise that Jesus didn’t mention the rapture in His Matthew 24 discourse. I wonder how he could have overlooked the above references.

Letters to the Thessalonians 

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thess 4: 13-18) NIV

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed. (2 Thess 2: 1-3) NIV

From these two references we learn the following:

  1. The gathering to be with Him will  not occur before the man of lawlessness is revealed.
  2. There will also be “the rebellion” before that day. This “rebellion” is described in the NKJV as “the falling away” other translations use the word “apostasy”.
  3. The catching up of the saints, the rapture, will occur after the resurrection of the dead.

Another Thessalonians reference.

you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. (1 Thess 5: 2)NKJV

While this doesn’t specifically refer to a catching up of the saints, it has been used by pre-tribulation believers to convey the secret and unexpected nature of their version of Jesus coming to catch up His saints. It was also used as the title of a popular Christian film from the 1970s portraying a post rapture world in which those left behind had to live through the tribulation.

From 1 Corinthians.

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)NKJV

This also mentions a trumpet sound but specifies that it is the LAST trumpet. How many trumpets are there after the last one? That suggests that all other trumpets related to prophecy would come before this one.

Now, where does the rapture occur within the Revelation timeline? There are many claims made by supporters of a pre-tribulation rapture, but they are very questionable – such as suggesting it is represented here:

I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” (Rev 4:1)NKJV

While there is a kind of “catching up” of John, and there is a mention of a trumpet, it clearly isn’t the last trumpet mentioned in other references to the catching up of the saints.

While pre-tribulation proponents struggle to provide a convincing Revelation reference to support their belief, there ARE references in Revelation that fit with the “rapture” occurring later in the end time narrative as disclosed in other parts of scripture

The signs of a darkening sun, blood red moon and falling stars, mentioned in the gospel references,  happen at the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6: 11-13.

I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.

The last trumpet sounded in Revelation and therefore in scripture as a whole, is the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11: 15.

Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”

Any trumpet before this can therefore not be a “last trumpet” as per the rapture reference in 1 Cor 15, so the rapture needs to be after Revelation 11 and the trumpet judgements.

Finally, the reference to the day of the Lord coming like a thief, used by pre-tribulation adherents, is actually included in Revelation 16.

Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.(Rev 16: 15) NIV

This comes after the pouring of the sixth bowl judgement.

So in the above I believe I have shown how none of the references to the catching up of the saints, (the rapture) support belief in that event being prior to the tribulation.

Why is this so important?

Apart from the need for truth, especially regarding prophecy, one of the Thessalonians’ references above speaks about a falling away from the faith, and Jesus warned:

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. (Matt 24: 10) NIV

Could the shock and disappointment of realising they hadn’t been raptured before they faced the terrible events associated with the tribulation be enough for people to abandon the faith?

 

 

Beware False Prophecy.

Beware of those who claim there are good days ahead leading up to the return of the Lord: saying that there will be no time of tribulation, instead they say, the world will get better.

Consider their claims against the scriptural warnings about false prophets and their messages quoted below.

I post this because I’ve recently read two disturbing articles by the same man.

I’d read other articles by him that were encouraging and enlightening – but the two latest things on his site show how easy it can be to get things so badly wrong if you allow outside influences to shape understanding of scripture rather than let scripture speak for itself.

The first one promoted a view that a media conspiracy of exaggeration was behind the present Corona virus situation; that things weren’t as bad as they were being portrayed.*
The second presented a view launching from that assertion, claiming that the end times wouldn’t be as bad as commonly portrayed – that things would effectively get better not worse.

As far as I can see the writer came to these topics from a desire to combat fear – fear of the virus, fear of bad times ahead. But fear is not overcome through misrepresentation of reality and truth, or by denying the thing being feared.

Fear is overcome through faith in Jesus who regularly commanded his followers to “fear not”. He didn’t say this because there were no fearful circumstances, but because He was bigger than those circumstances. His provision is greater than any lack we might be afraid of, or any difficult situation we might face, and faith in Him is more than sufficient, equipping for us to overcome fear.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart,I have overcome the world” (John 16)

Jesus told His disciples the following regarding the time leading up to the end of the age and His return.

…you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matt 24 (NIV)

That’s only a small excerpt of what HE said would be ahead, including a warning of the rise of false prophets.

Jeremiah had previously addressed the issue of false prophets, giving description of them and the messages they presented.

This is what the Lord Almighty says:
Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you;
they fill you with false hopes
.
They speak visions from their own minds,
not from the mouth of the Lord.

They keep saying to those who despise me,
‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’
And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts
they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’

But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord
to see or to hear his word?
Who has listened and heard his word? (Jer 23)NIV

“I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

“Therefore,” declares the Lord, “I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. Yes,” declares the Lord, “I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” declares the Lord. “They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,” declares the Lord. (Jer 23) NIV

The above excerpts from Jeremiah are referring to false prophets who gave assurances that good times were ahead, despite the sin of the people and approaching judgement from God.

The issue of end time prophecy being misrepresented is not so much assuring God’s people they are not going to be judged, but that they don’t need to face hardships from an increasingly hostile world (despite Jesus’ warnings), because the world will allegedly become more favourably inclined towards them.

Surely there can be no clearer sign of false prophecy than outright denials of the Lord’s own words.

By promoting false expectation of escape for the church from persecution and hostility, these false prophetic claims make end time believers unready for what (according to the Lord) will come upon them. What could be more fear inducing than finding yourself, unprepared, in a terrible situation that you were taught would not eventuate?

 

____________________________

*  I’m becoming more convinced that the conspiracy claims about the Corona virus are the latest attempt by Satan to bring contempt upon the church and to denigrate the gospel by attacking our credibility.

Instead of denying reality by claiming it’s all media exaggeration – the world needs Christians to preach THE TRUTH of hope and freedom from fear through Jesus.

 

Beware of Seeking Political Solutions

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. John 18:36 NIV

Looking for political ways to address a nation’s moral issues is futile.

Without a miraculous change of moral character from within – without countless individuals turning to Jesus, no nation will ever be changed. Legislation or any other political means will not, and cannot achieve it.

If we look at the first chapter of Romans, we see that moral decline in any society comes about through rejection of God. Then, because of mankind’s rejection of God, God gives mankind over to the many perversions that we often think of as things that will bring God’s judgement on our nations.

Therefore, it seems to me that we’ve misunderstood what’s happening in our world. For example, instead of society’s increased acceptance of sexual perversion being something that will lead TO God’s judgement on our nations, they are actually an expression OF God’s judgement.

See Romans 1: 18-32 and note the statements “Therefore God also gave them up to…”, and “God gave them over to…”, which describe God acting to reinforce humanity’s sin.

This is very much in line with 2 Thess 2: 11-12, in which God will send a strong delusion to people who “did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
That strong delusion will make them believe the lie – effectively reinforcing the choices already made.

Nations already under God’s judgement will never be turned around through any political process, so we should stop supporting political ideologies in the hope that they will effect righteous change.
They won’t.

God is not working politically to make our nations more godly (or even “great again”). They have been given over to the sin they have chosen instead of Him. They are increasing in darkness as a result, giving a clear contrast with the light of God.
Those desiring the light will be drawn to the light of the world. We need to be ready to welcome them with the gospel.

As ambassadors of Christ we are not commissioned to improve the worldly nations in which we live.
It is our job to help its citizens migrate from the kingdoms of this world into God’s Kingdom, reconciling them with God. Only through significant numbers making that change of allegiance, could there ever be the possibility of nation being brought back from the judgement already on it.
But apart from Israel, does scripture give an indication that any other nation will travel that route of “revival”?

Maybe we need to ask ourselves why the desire for revival in our nations?

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 1 John 2:15 NIV

And what motivates that desire when scripture continually tells us to expect persecution in this world, not national acceptance.

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. Matt 10:22 NIV

Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. Matt 24:9 NIV

If those predictions have never had some kind of fulfillment in our lives (and I confess they haven’t in mine – apart from some small incidents a few decades ago) then perhaps we should ask ourselves what we’ve been doing wrong – or maybe more appropriately, what we HAVEN’T been doing right, that would attract that kind of attention.

Beware of Ignorance

Today the following statement from Jesus stood out as I read Matt 22:

Jesus replied, ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God’. (Matt 22:29) NIV.

This was spoken to the Sadducees who tried to argue against Him, with their own faulty logic, to dispute belief in the resurrection of the dead.

Jesus’ words can also be applied to any people who share the ignorance of the Sadducees in full or in part.

Some may be ignorant of the scriptures, others of the power of God – many like the Sadducees are ignorant of both.

Those who want to serve Jesus can’t afford to be ignorant of either.

Disciples of Jesus need to know BOTH the scriptures and the power of God. It’s not acceptable to focus on one at the expense of the other. Both played a vital role in the early church and their preaching of the gospel and SHOULD be seen as vital today.

For some reason (Satanic influence I’d suggest) the church long ago turned its back on the power of God, suggesting it was no longer needed after the canon of scripture had been compiled. *

In more recent years some have swung the pendulum in the opposite direction and have sought the power without the balance of a scriptural foundation.
Both have produced detrimental outcomes to the church and our commission to take the gospel to those outside of the Kingdom.

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* Those who have chosen to follow that path show their ignorance of both the Scriptures and the power of God, as scripture is very clear in its teaching about God’s power continuing as a means of confirming the preached gospel.

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)

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.