God Does Not Care What You Think of Him

Why is it that it seems that believers lives and their behavior is often more of a disgrace than those who do not believe? Believers sin, believers are often weak in faith and in conviction, have a plethora of personal and family issues, they fall prey to the whiles of phony leaders, they sin and commit shameful acts — sometimes even in the name of God. Even the scriptures proclaim that the Gentiles blaspheme because of you [the believer].

I am convinced that the reason believers are what they are, the reason they fail, the reason they continue to struggle with sin, is because God really does not care about what anyone thinks of His choice of who is a believer. People may think that it is the believer who choses to believe, but that is nonsense. It is God who chooses the believer, not the other way around.

None of you who believe should pat yourselves on the back for making the choice to believe. If you had anything much to do with believing, you could boast before God and before angels. But no man will boast before God. If you are a believer it is because God chose you and not because you chose to believe (even though to you it may seem like you had a choice). Considered in those terms, then whatever righteousness the believer obtains is not about the man or woman who runs, but about God who chooses.

Men (and women) think that righteousness is the result of acts of kindness and charity, about sacrifice and self-denial, about doing good when the world presses the believer to do evil. None of that is righteousness, even though the righteous may do all of those things. The whole law and the prophets was intended to demonstrate that no man is righteous and that all are deserving of death. But through the law and the prophets the grace of God was demonstrated in Christ who came to fulfill the law and put an end to sin and through Him to death also.

Adam sinned and through that one man death entered the world. Some may argue that is simply not fair. Each man should be judged worthy on their own merit. But even by that measure every person has sinned and fallen short, being proven worthy of death. You may protest saying that “I have never done anything worthy of death.” On what basis can anyone say that? We all live and support a society that makes war and murders in the name of the national interest. The most innocent child is capable from birth of the worst kind of depravity. Put in the right circumstances any person could be a thief, a prostitute or a murderer. It does not matter then what acts you have committed or did not commit. Each of us is worthy of the judgement leading to death.

But Christ through one sacrifice delivered all men and women from sin and its wages — death. But that deliverance is not the reward of a life measured in good deeds that outweigh the bad ones. It is the result of faith. Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Then that is your salvation, that is your deliverance. Try all you want to find salvation through good deeds, you will never succeed, and your judgement will be even greater having turned down that marvelous provision that God has given through His only son Jesus Christ.

Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. In many respects, Abraham was rather weak. To me, in some ways, he seemed to be spineless and not really the role model the scriptures make him out to be. While in Egypt, Pharaoh came and took Abraham’s wife Sarah from him because she was beautiful. Abraham told her to tell the Egyptians that she was his sister (not his wife) because he was afraid that they might kill him over her. Asking Sarah to say she was Abraham’s sister was a half-truth, but it was also rather cowardly. In spite of that, God looked out for Abraham, made him rich, gave him a son by a miracle, and through his line all of the descendants of Israel arose, including Christ Himself. God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness, and through that faith he became everything God planned for him to be. He became quite a warrior and rescued his brother in law Lot.

If you want to be counted righteous, then believe in God — believe in His Son Jesus Christ. You may still fail, you may still sin, but all of that is meaningless compared to your faith. You are God’s handiwork, and He is able to finish what He started in you. We may complain about the way God is going about fashioning us, but as Paul wrote the pot has no right to complain to the potter, “Why did you make me this way?” God is fashioning some to be vessels of honor and some as vessels of dishonor, and in the end, you will become what He chose you to be.

While we are being fashioned, we may not see it, but this nature of sin we battle is being defeated. Do you think it matters to God what people think of you the believer who is still weak? Do you think it matters even the slightest to God that other people point fingers at you and other believers and accuse you of failing? It did not matter to God what people thought of Abraham either. Pharaoh who took Sarah away found out soon enough that he was playing with fire. Had Pharaoh not returned Sarah to Abraham, God would have destroyed them.

Do you think that God cared that the Egyptians thought nothing of Moses? Through Moses He humbled all of Egypt and wiped it out as a world power. Consider Sampson — the guy was a moral disgrace, and yet he was one of Israel’s greatest leaders. Even Jesus hung out with drunks and sinners. Over and over again in the scriptures, there is example after example of men and women who by every standard were nothing but complete losers standing up through faith to become some of the greatest spiritual leaders. God has always chosen the weak, and the base, and men and women with the worst kind of moral and social handicaps, people who are nothing, and through them He demonstrates His power. One would think that God could pick people with a better resume, but He simply does not care about impressing anyone.

There are many powerful men, many powerful religious leaders who will be put to shame by men and women who are nothing, who have no money, no power base, no political connections, and no social standing. They are becoming those vessels of honor on whom His glory will be poured out. The believer’s standing before God is not the track record of success — it is faith. You believers who are grappling with the ashes of your life, you who have failed, who have made a mess of everything — don’t think for a moment that God cannot use you until you clean up your act. The mess you have made and the problems you have may be your greatest spiritual asset. Let God finish His handiwork and stop judging yourself. Look up, for your salvation is nearer to you than when you first believed.

Pen Qwill

Copyright (C) 2014 Letter from Amos

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The Coming Perfection Experience

Jesus was tempted just like us, but He did not sin. Every one of us, no matter how hard we try, has sinned and will sin again in the future. Our intentions, good or bad, do not matter.

Why was Jesus different? It has to do with His nature. He was incapable of sin. Understand the implications of that statement. Even if He wanted to, Jesus could not sin.

Contrast that with our experience. Even if we do not want to sin — we sin. We are incapable of not sinning. It does not seem to matter whether we are Christian or not — sin it seems is inevitable.

The book of Romans writes at length about the battle we face with our nature. Paul laments that the good that he wants to do he does not do. But he also gives thanks because he writes that Christ came to deliver us from the body of sin and of death.

History describes the experiences that Christians have been blessed with. The salvation experience, the born again experience, being filled with the Holy Spirit, some experience healing, others visions and dreams.

What I believe is coming is a perfection experience that will put and end to this war in our members. It is an experience by which afterwards, just like Jesus Himself we will no longer be capable of sin. The implications are profound because the struggle we face each day resisting sin will be over.

When will it happen, I don’t yet know, but I think soon and it will be the first step toward the redemption of our bodies. This mortal will put on immortality. God will put an end to sin and to death. It’s time.

Pen Qwill

Copyright (C) 2014 Letter from Amos

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Christ In You Is the Hope of Glory

Hope and faith are related, but they are not the same. According to Hebrews 11:1 in the New King James Version (HKJV), “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hope is sometimes disappointed because what is hoped for does not always come to pass. With hope there are no guarantees, but without hope, there is no true faith. At some point if a person has faith, they will have to roll the dice, take the plunge, and gamble against the odds that God will be true to His Word. Even God has hope that His creation will someday be set free from futility (Romans 8:20), and like our hope in God, there are not necessarily any guarantees. God pinned a lot of hope on the children He redeemed by the blood of His only begotten Son, hoping that they would be worthy of that sacrifice. In Romans 8, the Apostle writes:

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Romans 8:19-25; [New American Standard Bible (NASB)]

Why did the Apostle Paul write in the 22nd verse of Romans 8 “until now?” The language is odd because for nearly 2000 years the Christian Church has so far failed to live up what was hoped for. The glory of the New Testament Church described in the books of Acts faded away after a few generations, and other than a few revivals every now and again, much of church history is a disgrace. Modern Christian leaders are a litany of immorality, greed, and ambition. They look for their name in lights and act like rock stars, preying on the weak, and exploiting their followers with promises that they have no capacity to fulfill. Those who cling to movements, leaders, and doctrines are imprisoned by a hope that will never be fulfilled. Whether you fancy yourself on the forefront of things Godly like those in the Living Word Fellowship, or whether you count rosary beads and eat the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, you have no spiritual leg up over anyone else. To enter the Kingdom of God it is a near certainty that every believer will be required to look beyond the trappings of their religion.

In Romans 8, Paul characterized himself and the other followers of Christ as having “the first fruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23). He was using a metaphor to describe that first Christian Church as the beginning of something. Christians look back to that first Christian Church as an historical event in their heritage, and some try to incorporate its organizational pattern into their own in a vain effort to rekindle some of the power described in the New Testament. It will never work, because organization was never the key to the church’s power in the first place. The key to the first Christian Church’s power was the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the author of an organization, it is the seed of an organism. What you believe by way of doctrine or belong to by way of organization will never result in the power of the New Testament Church. The spring from which the promises of God flow is not the group to whom you belong; it is what you become through the Holy Spirit.

That first Christian church has given way to about 40,000 Christian denominations. There are so many that they can hardly be counted. All of them share certain similarities in basic beliefs yet are subtly distinct in their specific interpretations of the scriptures and in their rituals. Each of them practices a form of religion handed down by their spiritual fathers and founders, many now dead. They all celebrate a hallowed past, rehearsing over and over what was said and what was done in the hope that some of the glory that once was will be again. But the glory of the New Testament Church will never be rekindled by rehearsing the sayings of dead men. Whatever your spiritual fathers believed, it is meaningless and without power unless Christ is alive in you.

Many contemporary Christian movements mistake the gospel with talking about the great things that Jesus did. Talking about what Jesus did is not the gospel. The evangelists of the New Testament like Phillip and Stephen did not create the stir they did by talking about what Jesus did. They turned the world upside down by demonstrating that Jesus was alive. All of the anecdotes about miracles in the Bible, how Jesus died for sins, and was raised from the dead are all meaningless unless He is alive today. Living believers demonstrating (not talking about) a living Christ is the gospel. Those first believers touched Jesus with their hands, saw Him with their eyes, and heard Him with their ears, just as the apostle describes:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life — and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us — what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

I John 1:1-3 (NASB)

The believers that followed after Jesus had died saw Him, touched Him, and heard Him through the first apostles and through the other believers. For the gospel to have any meaning at all, it must be alive in you. Christ [living] in you is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). In fact, you can talk all you want about how great your leaders are, about how they are a manifestation of Christ in the flesh, but it is all worthless boasting if you are not a manifestation of Christ in your flesh.

The gospel isn’t good news at all if it is about some guy who did a bunch of wonderful things, whether that guy was Jesus or some other Christian leader. Every Christian movement, every denomination and every sect has someone they admire, someone they romanticize, and someone who they tell stories about. All of those wonderful stories, all of that grand past is worthless if Christ isn’t alive in you and alive in the other believers who make up whatever organization you associate with. If the best you can muster are stories about what Jesus did, stories about what the fathers of your movement did (or are doing), then you may as well close the lid on that casket now instead of hoping that somehow the smell of [spiritual] death will go unnoticed.

Every person who has ever had an experience with God usually wants to relive that experience over and over again. They often think that those experiences are the best things that will ever happen. The disciples who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, who saw the miracles and who traveled with him from place-to-place were completely shattered after He died. After all, they expected Him to usher in the Kingdom of God. What happened instead was unexpected. Jesus died, and it seemed to them, everything He said died with Him. Some of those disciples went back to the things they did before they met Jesus. Anyone who has ever been part of a move of God and watched it decline, or worked with a spiritual father who passed away (or who fell into disgrace) likely feels the same way. Those people feel betrayed, and wonder if God has abandoned them, or perhaps has forgotten His promises. Be assured that He has not betrayed you, abandoned you, or forgotten His promises.

The promise of God is so much greater than anything that has come before, and He writes about it through the prophet Jeremiah,

“It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land,” declares the LORD, “they will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again.”

Jeremiah 3:16 (NASB)

Most Christians have someone or something they look to that to them is like what the ark of the covenant of the Lord was to the Jews. Carried from place to place by the Jews until Solomon built a permanent home for it in the first temple, the ark was to the Jews the presence of the Lord – as long as the ark was with them, they knew God was with them. The ark of the covenant of the Lord was constructed [at Moses request] out of Acacia wood. It was a little over three feet long and around two feet wide and overlaid inside and out with gold. Inside the ark, Moses placed the tablets of stone on which he God had written the covenant, a golden jar of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded. Until Samuel the prophet, only the Levitical priests were allowed to go near or carry the ark, but even they could not touch it, so it was carried on their backs using two poles of wood overlaid in gold. Anyone who touched the ark – died, as David (2 Samuel 6:6-10, I Chronicles 13:9-13) and others discovered to their peril. In Beth-shemesh fifty thousand people died because some men of that town had looked inside the ark (1 Samuel 6:19).

Yet, for all of its power, the ark of the covenant of the Lord was a type and a shadow of something better to come. Like the Law of Moses, the ark foreshadowed Christ.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:24-27 (NASB)

The hope of glory is Christ in you – not in arks and other religious artifacts, not in buildings and other grand Christian edifices, not in the leaders you respect and admire (dead or otherwise), not in the written pages of the scriptures, not in religious doctrines. The hope of glory is not acting like Christ, not knowing a lot about Christ, not worshipping Christ. The hope of glory is Christ in you. What God was saying through the prophet Jeremiah is that the time would come when arks and all of those things you have come to depend upon as assurances that God is with you would no longer be necessary. Perhaps you knew an apostle, or experienced miracles, or participated in an outpouring. Like the ark of the covenant of the Lord, those things are gone and they are not coming back. And you should thank God that they are not, “because God had provided something better [for us]” (Hebrews 11:40).

For the disciples of Jesus who walked with Him during His earthly ministry and who hung in there; for those who were there in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, something better happened than even being with Jesus when He was alive and with them. What happened is described in Acts chapter two:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

That event launched the Christian movement, but the founding of the New Testament Church and everything that followed even to this day was more than the product of a powerful experience. The New Testament Church was a side-effect of something that had happened within those believers. I write “side-effect” because starting and organizing churches was not part of the disciple’s plan. The disciples had no plan. God had a plan. For centuries, before the events described in Acts chapter two, the Jews were practicing the rituals of Pentecost never knowing that what they were doing was a type and a shadow of the Holy Spirit filling the believer.

Those men and women who were with Jesus before He died, and the others who participated with them later, did not found churches and evangelize the world by talking about a Jesus who was dead and who did a bunch of wonderful things. The New Testament Church described in the Book of Acts (and the other books of the New Testament) was not a description of a church that was rehearsing past events over and over – like so many contemporary churches try to do. Those believers were the witnesses of a Jesus who was raised from the dead and they were the product of a Christ who was alive – not a Christ who was a historical figure. What those believers had become was the driver of everything else that happened in and around those believers and their churches. Churches sprung up wherever those believers went because Christ was alive in them.

But God has provided something better for us than even what is described in the New Testament. For all of its power, the New Testament Church and all of the glory associated with it faded away. Within just a few generations, the power of that first church became nothing more than a legend. The apostles, those who walked with Jesus, for all that they were able to accomplish were still frail, weak, and subject to their own base nature. Peter who raised the dead fell into hypocrisy with the party of the circumcision (Galatians 2:12). The church at Corinth, abounded in gifts of the spirit, was subject to division, arrogance and immorality. The promise of God is that there would be a glory that would not fade away.

Glory and the Lord Himself are inseparable in the scriptures. Glory is an attribute of the almighty. When Moses saw the glory of the Lord, it was quite a show (Exodus 33:17-33), and afterwards his face glowed to such an extent that it frightened the children of Israel (Exodus 34:30). That glory is something every Christian is to participate in, and unlike what happened to Moses, it will not fade away.

Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (NASB)

What happened to Moses was fading and external like the Law he delivered penned by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18). Even though the Law of Moses was delivered with glory, that Law was never able to change the nature of man. The Law of Moses reads “thou shalt not kill,” but men and women have been killing every since. The Law tells us not to steal, commit adultery, and to honor our parents. But who has not stolen, cheated or done the opposite of what our parents asked? Men have been unable to keep a single commandment. On the other hand, what Christ promised in the Holy Spirit is a transformation of character. Christ promises an end to the war between what we know we should do and what we actually do.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

What Christian does not understand the battle that Paul was writing about in the book of Romans? Christians fight all of their lives, with varying degrees of success, against the impulses of their human nature. But the promise of God is unfading glory through a change of nature. Christ in you, the hope of glory means that the sinless nature of Jesus Himself will be resident in the believers flesh. Just as Jesus was subject to temptation, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15), that is what the followers of Christ are to be. Jesus perfection was not the result of disciplined adherence to a moral code that restrained His impulses. Jesus could not sin because sin was not in His nature. The followers of Christ shall also have a nature that cannot sin.

The New Testament Church and those believers described in the Book of Acts were the “first-fruits,” but you are the harvest. All of creation has been groaning until now, waiting for you to be revealed as the son of God. Religious people will have a hard time accepting that statement. Even the Pharisees and the religious leaders of Jesus day were offended by the implications, and so Jesus called Himself the “son of man.” Regardless, for Jesus’ death to have any meaning at all this must happen – you must be adopted as a Son of God and your body must be redeemed. The goal of your salvation is not simply the forgiveness of sin. You were saved in hope. You are to be perfect just as your heavenly father is perfect (Matthew 5:48) and by one offering He has forever perfected you who are sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). Christ sacrificed Himself to put away sin, and He will appear again without reference to sin (Hebrews 9: 26-28).

These statements by the writer of Hebrews does not indicate perfection as some future event, it indicates perfection as a present truth. There needs to be greater faith in the believer to lay hold of that promise because most are still looking to Christ as a savior. So many go from place-to-place, from Christian personality to Christian personality, looking for something or someone to save them from illness, from sin, and from the circumstances of life, not realizing that everything they need to be a child of God is already within them. If the average believer would only sit down at the table that God has prepared for them and feast at the bounty of His promises, the Christian church would cease to be plagued with “big-name” Christian leaders who one after another self-destruct and disgrace themselves and their followers. When the average believer puts on the nature of Christ, the church as we have known it, like the ark of the covenant of the Lord will made obsolete.

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:

I will put My laws into their minds,
And I will write them on their hearts.
And I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.
And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen,
And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them.
For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

Hebrews 8: 10-12 (NASB)

When Christ appears again it will be without reference to sin (Hebrews 9:28), but I wonder if like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day if Christians will be taken by surprise even though all of the Old Testament wrote of His coming? People look for rapture or some other kind of external event to deliver them from their captivity just as the Jews thought Christ was coming to set them free from the Romans. It never happened quite that way and Jesus told the seventy to say to the cities they visited that “the Kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9). The Romans were irrelevant just as life’s circumstances are irrelevant. Will you, the believer, recognize that Christ is coming in you? No doubt He will come on a white horse just as Revelations 19:11 describes, but that is not what creation longs for: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19).” Christ in you is the hope of Glory.

 

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A Word to the Living Word Fellowship

The word to Amos for the Living Word Fellowship at Palmer Lake,

You said in arrogance, “Like South Gate I shall never be.”

Defending your apostles whom I did not send, your chosen ones and your light bearers who have no light, you found enemies in every corner, and you turned away and slaughtered the sheep whom I loved.

They cried out but you would not listen.

And so, like Jeroboam one shall arise who will tear away your numbers and scatter the rest.

From your own midst, from the one you trust the most, shall division arise.

Your buildings shall be abandoned,

Some shall burn to the ground

And to another shall they be given.

The word to Amos for the churches of John that remain and call themselves the churches of the Living Word Fellowship,

Woe to the children who cherish their father’s sayings but do not follow them.

I sent you prophets but you would not listen.

I warned you, but you would not change your ways.

So I have hardened your hearts lest you turn and hear.

Like Ahab, I have given you prophets who lie to you with comforting words.

You will go out to battle, but victory will elude you.

I will remove you from your thrones, And I will deliver My people.

You call yourselves apostles, but I have not sent you.

Seating yourselves in the chair of the Apostle, you have forgotten his message.

My lambs gave themselves to you, and you oversaw their slaughter.

They cried out to you and you did not defend them.

So I will strip from you both the young and the old.

And the rest I will scatter.

2011 Copyright

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All Are Not Apostles

There is a troubling trend – unqualified Christian leaders calling themselves apostles. It is nothing new, of course. Even the apostle Paul wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 11:

But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.

2 Corinthians 11: 12-15 (NASB)

Make no mistake about it. Any person calling themselves an apostle, when they are not, is serving Satan, just as Paul writes. The word apostle means “one who is sent,” and with respect to the Christian Church in the New Testament it refers to someone who is sent by the Lord Jesus Christ. The question that needs to be asked by the believer when any person claims the apostolic ministry is, “Who sent you?” It is clearly apparent that there are two categories: apostles sent by Christ and apostles sent by the devil – there is no middle ground.

I am not sure; however, which is worse: people who call themselves apostles when they are without the qualifications to do so, or the individuals in the churches who allow them to get away with it when they know better. The Lord Himself seems to have little patience for either category and congratulated the Ephesians for refusing to acknowledge those who falsely make the claim.

I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.

Revelations 2: 2-3 (NASB)

Many churches claim to have contemporary apostles in their midst. The two largest I am aware of are the Catholic Church is and the other the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). There are also a plethora of smaller groups who also make the claim, including the churches of the Living Word Fellowship founded by John Robert Stevens in 1951. The question all of these churches should be asking themselves is “have you put those who call themselves apostles to the test?” I suspect all of them would answer “yes” to the question, but that answer begs the question, how exactly does one put an apostle to the test?

The apostle Paul offers a couple of hints. The first in 1 Corinthians 9:1-2, when he writes “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” And the second in 2 Corinthians 12:1, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” It seems that there are at least three qualifications for an apostle: first, a personal commission from the Lord Himself; second, a seal consisting of people and churches that follow the apostle’s message; and finally signs, wonders and miracles. All three seem to be associated with every apostle described in the scriptures.

Of all of the three qualifications, the first is the real test and the foundation for all of the rest. Without a personal commission from the Lord Himself there is no apostle. Jesus is the one who sends the apostle. Paul himself describes his credentials to the Galatians in just that way.

Paul, an apostle (not sent from men [or] through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead) …

Galatians 1:1 (NASB)

Unlike most of the other apostles mentioned in the New Testament, Paul did not know Jesus during His earthly ministry. The original twelve apostles were commissioned by Jesus before He died, followed Him for about three years until He was crucified, and were all witnesses of His resurrection. Paul (formerly called Saul), on the other hand, encountered Jesus after the crucifixion on the way to Damascus.

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Acts 9: 1-9 (NASB)

Even Matthias who was chosen by lots by the eleven to replace Judas (who turned aside from his apostleship) was required to be with Jesus from the time of His baptism by John until the time He was taken up to Heaven and be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. All of the apostles named in the scriptures, from the first (Peter and Andrew) to the last (Paul) have been witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus because they have seen Jesus with their eyes. Unless an apostle has seen Jesus with his eyes, their claim to the ministry is without merit.

Although a personal commission by Jesus is the foundation of every apostolic ministry, the other tests are equally important. Schizophrenics often claim to see Jesus, and even sometimes claim to be Jesus. From the beginning, people have made grandiose claims, garnered a following, and led their disciples into scandal or worse. A following of believers may be the seal of apostleship as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:2; however, the proof is the signs. The apostles raised the dead, healed the sick, cast out demons, and gave sight to the blind.

Are you an apostle? Prove it by the signs that follow your ministry. It doesn’t matter how well you preach or how many churches you have. An apostle is not defined by the churches that follow or by the charisma of the pulpit ministry. If there are no signs then there is no apostle. Even Paul admitted in 1 Corinthians 2:4 that “my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”

You churches out there who claim to have apostles in your midst – it is time to put up or shut up. Unless you have put your apostles to the test, unless your apostles are witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus because they have seen Him with their eyes, and unless your apostles demonstrate the signs of a true apostle, both you and they are serving the interests of Satan.

2011 Copyright

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Pastor Not Master

Divine order is a poorly understood concept. I am convinced that even those who teach it, who make confident assertions about how it works (or should work), have no idea what they are talking about. It is always easy enough to describe divine order as an organizational pattern, one in which Christian interpersonal relationships are a hierarchy. That particular view is almost always predicated entirely on a divine mandate that demands unqualified submission of spiritual sheep to spiritual shepherds and other leaders. By the end of this writing, what I hope you will come to understand is that there is no such divine mandate.

Consider this: the term “divine order” appears nowhere in the scriptures. It is the invention of clever theology. For all of the volumes that have been written on the topic, it is really nothing more than a manufactured term used to categorize a set of doctrines that justify and establish a hierarchy of relationships. The New Testament Church pattern is one such hierarchy. The relationship of husbands to wives and parents to children are another. For most people, divine order settles the question “Who is in charge?” In this hierarchal view of relationships, the world is divided up into two camps: those who are submissive and obedient, and those who are not. It is a simple view, based on a lopsided emphasis on submission and obedience that over the years has proven to be fraught with difficulty.

In fact, there is almost no evidence that any of the organizational machinations cleverly crafted by religious leaders in the name of divine order have ever benefited anyone other than those very leaders who invented it. Spiritual sheep have always received the short end of the stick wherever divine order has been applied. The beneficiaries of divine order have always been the leaders who invented the concept. Over and over again it has always been those few apostles, few pastors, and their families have enjoyed its protections; using its precepts to deflect the consequences of their own questionable choices and offensive behavior, often at the expense of the sheep they were charged to protect. Using their pulpits as platforms for battle, they marshal their forces and draw their swords to hack down friends and family – anyone with a conscience who would call them to account.

Of all the doctrines, divine order has caused more stumbling and destruction of individuals, families and churches than any other. Churches have torn themselves apart in self-destructive infighting when people choose sides and go to war over arguments about divine order. Families have either been torn apart in those same conflicts or by a husband’s misguided attempts to use scriptural weapons and force his family to accept an abusive relationship in the name of “divine” order. Individuals have left the churches in droves where pastors and other spiritual leaders have attempted to assume a position of power over them that even the Lord Himself did not dare attempt. If any doctrine deserves its place on the trash heap of history, the form of divine order that has been practiced up until now has earned a place there.

Truth be told, the best thing that could happen is for the term “divine order” to disappear forever from the Christian lexicon. “Divine order” and its organizational progeny, “the New Testament Church pattern,” are built on the foundational assertion that divinely appointed individuals are empowered by God to command others. This concept arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of scriptural passages like the one below:

Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to another by the word of the LORD, “Please strike me.” But the man refused to strike him. Then he said to him, “Because you have not listened to the voice of the LORD, behold, as soon as you have departed from me, a lion will kill you.” And as soon as he had departed from him a lion found him and killed him.

I Kings 20:35-36 (NASB)

 

The idea that God raises the social status on one person over another is the basis for monarchies and popes, paternalism and elitism, autocrats and oligarchies, all of which have found their way into the Christian church. People have become so enslaved to this idea that they render themselves incapable of making life choices, having ceded their God given rights to others who select on their behalf professions, schools, ministries, houses, marriage partners, friends and social standing. Over time, Christian leaders who should be nothing more than servants are set apart as a class of their own, thought to have somehow shed human fallibility, they are elevated to royal status in the eyes of their followers, aspiring kings who call themselves apostles.

Tragically, there are contemporary Christian organizations where the idea that a divinely appointed messenger is empowered by God to hand out orders has become so deeply entrenched in their culture that the emphasis of their gospel is no longer the good news of faith in Christ. Instead of good news, their gospel has become a litany of commandments (which they label divine order) that compels obedience to those they call apostles. In these places, leaders are transformed from men of faith into prison guards who lock away believers behind bars of submission in cells of obedience.

In contrast, the emphasis of the scriptures is not submission or obedience. The emphasis of the scriptures is faith. Not once did Christ say, “Your obedience has made you well. He did say (repeatedly), “Your faith has made you well.” Those who counter the assertion that the scriptures emphasize faith not obedience will no doubt quote Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (NASB). While there is nothing wrong with either obedience or submission, the problem is the spirit behind those who insist on it. Anyone who argues that obedience and submission should be offered unconditionally to spiritual leaders would also have to conclude that Jesus, His disciples, and the believers who followed, were guilty of sin for failing to submit to the traditions of the scribes and Pharisees.

Like the Pharisees did with the Law of Moses, people have been fouling up the intent of the scriptures since the day they were first penned. On its face, the New Testament Church pattern is not only divinely inspired – it is divinely required. Nevertheless, when an organization presumptuously asserts that they have some special spiritual standing because it has filled in blocks on an org-chart with the names of the New Testament gift ministries, its organizers have become little better than Pharisees who thought they represented God’s chosen ones because they kept the Law of Moses. In fact there are many churches that resemble the organization of the New Testament who offer nothing even remotely resembling the power recorded in the book of Acts. Carrying out the will of God will never be accomplished by an organization whether it is erected by the Pharisees or by the greatest apostle. Divine order is meaningless unless the “order” is divine.

A divine order with interpersonal relationships based on the subservience of one person to the divine claim of another is fueled by a basic mischaracterization of the relationship of Christ to the church. People tend to think of Jesus Christ as master and the church His slaves. Many readily accept a similar relationship with their spiritual leaders, because to them, those leaders represent Christ. The problem with this kind of thinking is that Jesus, who is both Lord and King, never related to His followers as if He was master. In spite of all the religious teaching to the contrary, the kinds of hierarchical relationships most have experienced in the church are in reality a very human, a very carnal way of relating.

In the first church, the New Testament Church on which the contemporary Christian church should be patterned, church authority was characterized by the Apostle Peter in a very different way. Peter’s writings portray a different kind of leadership than what is practiced in most churches.

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.

I Peter 5:1-3 (NASB)

 

Peter cautioned elders not to lord it over those who were allotted to their charge. Someone who behaves like a lord is someone who insists on obedience from followers. It is a master to slave relationship. The master insists on obedience from the slave. The master insists on submission by the slave. In this kind of relationship the slave serves the master. In this kind of relationship, the slave has no power in the relationship. A slave has no choices. A slave cannot choose to obey – a slave must obey.

Leading by example is not a master slave relationship. Leaders who lead by example do not insist on obedience. Leaders who lead by example have no expectation of submission. Obedience is optional. No pastor has a divine right to demand on any basis that spiritual sheep submit to what they are instructed to do. When leading by example, if a pastor believes that he has a word from the Lord, he submits it to the believer.

Correct spiritual leadership is all about perspective. The perspective of leaders who preach a kind of order where spiritual sheep exist to serve leaders, what some call the upward flow, is flawed at its foundation. The congregation of believers does not exist to serve the apostles – the apostles exist to serve the congregation. Spiritual sheep do not exist to serve pastors and elders – pastors and elders exist to serve spiritual sheep.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.”It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28 (NASB)

 

Jesus was a king. If anyone had the right to demand obedience, to rule and to reign – it was Jesus. Even so, He never exercised that right. He equated spiritual authority with being a slave. From the human perspective, a slave with authority is upside down. How can a slave be great? How can a slave have authority? How can anyone lead if obedience of followers is not assumed? That is the paradox of the Kingdom. It was this perspective from which all of Christ’s authority flowed. Miracles, signs and wonders were the result. Following His example, Jesus’ disciples delivered similar results.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NASB)

 

The disciples followed Jesus because of what He was. He did not compel obedience from anyone in spite of His flaws like many contemporary leaders do. Believers followed the first apostles because they saw Christ in them. They performed the same miracles and lived the same way He did. They were examples and the first Christians obeyed them because of what they were, not because they had to overlook their flaws and reconcile the discrepancies between their behavior and their religious titles. Everyone has flaws; however, the rub is apparent when leaders begin to compel the flock to ignore their example and obey them in spite of those flaws. Men (and women) who do that are “lording” it over.

Once a Christian movement loses sight of the emphasis of the gospel and starts concerning itself more with the submission of its congregation to its leaders, anything that once made it remarkable is soon lost. Evangelism stops working. The miracles and signs that were once its hallmark become nostalgia. After a while the only remarkable thing about them is their remarkable inability to do anything remarkable. Forged in the fires of a living word spoken by a man of God that laid a foundation that other churches and movements build on, its disciples try in vain to rekindle again the flames that people once flocked to by cherishing a hallowed past and building monuments to their spiritual fathers.

For them the proverb has come to pass:

    Woe to the children who cherish their father’s sayings but do not follow them.

I sent them prophets but they would not listen.

I warned them, but they would not change their ways.

    So I have hardened their hearts lest they turn and hear

Like Ahab, I will send them prophets who lie to them with comforting words.

They will come out to battle, but victory will elude them.

    I will remove them from their thrones,
    And I will deliver My people.

    You call yourselves apostles, but I have not sent you.
    Seating yourselves in the chair of the Apostle, you have forgotten his message.

My lambs gave themselves to you, and you oversaw their slaughter.

They cried out to you and you did not defend them.

    So I will strip from you both the young and the old
    And the rest I will scatter.

 The difficulty many leaders and followers face is that many of the contemporary examples they pattern themselves after have failed to heed the Apostle Peter’s exhortation to lead by example, or the Lord’s instruction to serve. It is going to require a great deal of courage and resolve to change what has come to be expected of both leaders and followers. There are going to be difficulties because some have come to appreciate the perks of Christian leadership. Some are calling themselves apostles (even though they fail to meet the scriptural requirements of the office) because of the power over others the title confers. Arguably, titles should mean nothing to anyone and do not be fooled, just as Paul exhorts:

But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men arefalse apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little. What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also. For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face.

2 Corinthians 11: 12-20 (NASB)

 

Clearly Paul’s sarcasm should convey that he was not complementing the Corinthians for allowing themselves to be enslaved, devoured, taken advantage of, allowing others to exalt themselves, or being hit in the face – which many believers allow their leaders to do, all because they believe that is what the Lordship of Jesus Christ compels them to do. I would argue that such things should not be tolerated regardless of the religious office they hold. It is apparent that far too many pastors and apostles behave like Pharisees who are content to beat their spiritual sheep into submission using their office, their pulpits and their doctrines as clubs. There are some who think it admirable to distance themselves from their congregations, assuming that their religious office confers on them a royal title that exempts them from questions about their behavior.

Consider how Jesus characterized that kind of behavior:

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.”They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.”Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.”But the greatest among you shall be your servant. “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

Matthew 23:1-12 (NASB)

 

What a great life the Pharisees must have had. Hanging out with all of the other important people and never having to bother with those troublesome sheep (the elders can take care of them so long as they check before deciding anything important). Building little circles of select “A-list” people and working with them while excluding everyone else is definitely a personal status builder. And nothing is better than being included in that little group. Some would do just about anything to be included. Such behavior may be fine for Pharisees. The Lord, however, does not do things that way. He hung out with the least of men, the tax collectors and the prostitutes, and a bunch of fishermen. All of them had some serious problems and it must have been a time consuming and frustrating experience dealing with it all. It never seemed to bother Jesus. He is a servant.

The churches will never get anywhere in the kingdom until there is no social distinction between shepherds, pastors, elders, apostles, any of the other gift ministries and the congregation. What is the point of putting leaders up front or on a platform so everyone else will know who is in charge? If the Holy Spirit was in charge there would be no need to be concerned about who is in charge. In fact, the root problem is that the Holy Spirit is not in charge. In many places the Holy Spirit is being quenched by misguided concerns about order in the churches and by leaders who think they are doing the business of the Kingdom by managing every aspect of what goes on. That is a fool’s errand that has done more damage than good, leaving the congregation in fear of doing anything without permission.

Arguably the Apostle Paul was concerned about order in the services, and no person should favor disorder; however, like most spiritual things, when concerns about order and obedience are not balanced with faith, the organization becomes little more than a prison. The role of spiritual leaders in the Kingdom is not to hog the driver’s seat. Their role is to create an environment by faith that puts the Holy Spirit in the driver’s seat. There is no scriptural precedent for pastors or apostles (or anyone) dominating the pulpit week after week. The regular oratory contemporary Christians refer to as preaching the word from the pulpit is likely an invention of the Greek sophists who used that style of persuasive argument long before Christ appeared. In a fashion similar to the way the Bible records the preaching of Jesus, the teaching and preaching of early Christians in the church was more likely a two-or-more-way discourse, just as Paul describes in I Corinthians 14: 29-30: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent.” Any aspiring New Testament Church should do the same.

Changes are afoot, and it is time for the slaves of divine order to be set free, first in their thinking and then in their churches. Christian organizations that desire to survive into the Kingdom ought to take what is written here to heart before the shaking begins – and in some places it has already begun. I am most concerned about those organizations where paternalism concentrates positional authority in the hands of one or two people – where everyone, from spiritual sheep to spiritual shepherd is obligated to concede their own personal aspirations to a spiritual father figure. If everything you think and everything you do needs to be approved by another there is spiritual danger, not spiritual protection. Wherever the freedom of faith has been put in the backseat to obedience and submission, you would do well to shake off those shackles. Jesus never asked the temple leaders for permission to perform miracles beforehand – He did them. You ought to do the same, just as Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”

 2011 Copyright

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Confirmation or Permission?

There are a plethora of fallacies concerning the principle of confirmation. Of all the topics that have been incorrectly taught, often from the pulpit, submission and confirmation are preeminent among them. God instituted these principles as a safeguard for His people. Unfortunately, what usually happens, in practice, is that the leaders of an organization pervert the principles of confirmation and submission, turning them into doctrinal ammunition, which they use to establish and defend a religious hierarchy – a hierarchy that in turn considers the sheep of God’s flock as their personal property, over whose minds and hearts they rule with an iron hand. Within these organizations, the sheep are not free to look to the Lord for direction and guidance in their lives. Instead, they must always look to the leaders of their organization for direction and counsel. Those who teach the principle of confirmation in this way are confusing confirmation with permission, and it is this fallacious perspective that instills in congregations a false sense of subordination to the leaders of an organization. Confirmation is intended to be a safeguard for men and women at all levels in a walk with God. What has been misunderstood is that the source of true confirmation must remain divinely supernatural in origin. Whenever confirmation becomes disjoint from the supernatural, it only serves to establish secular and denominational patterns of authority.

Jesus Christ, making reference to the principle of confirmation said concerning church discipline that, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed” (Matthew 18:17). It is this principle of two or three that is the basis of all spiritual confirmation. What becomes apparent is that when God speaks, He always does so at the mouth of two or three, and this theme runs throughout the scriptures. When God spoke to Pharaoh He gave him two similar but distinct dreams that none could interpret but Joseph (Genesis 41). Gideon in Judges 6 entreats the Lord twice to deal differently (and miraculously) with the dew and a fleece before he fully trusted that the Lord had really spoken concerning deliverance from the Midianites. In Acts chapter 10, when the Apostle Peter received a revelation concerning the grace that was to be poured out upon the Gentiles, he was given the same vision three times.

God, it seems, has never had a problem with repeating Himself. It is this wonderful commitment to repetition that is the foundation for a personal conviction that a word of direction is, in reality, a Word from God. In fact, without confirmation, a person is dismissed from any responsibility to follow any so-called “word,” because God will always find a way to confirm what He speaks. What must be understood is that true confirmation does not necessarily arise from the leadership or authority structure of any church organization. Often, confirmation arises from entirely independent sources. This idea is probably the most difficult theme for any person indoctrinated in the precepts of the Christian church to accept, because it challenges the relevance of organized religion. What it implies is that God is not limited to the artificial confines of any human concept of divine order. He can and does use anyone, inside or outside of an established church order to confirm His word. If God can open the mouth of a donkey to rebuke the madness of the prophet Balaam, why is it that people remain so stalwart in their defense of the doctrinal limitations of their religious organizations?

Although there were others Gideon could have deferred to in his pursuit of confirmation, he wisely chose to put the Lord on the spot, insisting that the confirmation of His word be given in an unmistakable way. In fact, what Gideon chose to require placed the responsibility entirely upon God to confirm that word by a miracle. Gideon asked God to confirm His word first by wetting a fleece and not the ground with the morning dew one day, and then wetting the ground but not the fleece with the dew the following day (Judges 6:36-40). Jehovah warned Pharaoh three times in a dream of the famine that was about to overtake the entire world. Yet the real confirmation that God had indeed spoken was that Joseph, by revelation, was able to relate to Pharaoh the interpretation of the dream, which no other person was able to do (Genesis 41). Peter’s revelation of the grace God was pouring out to the Gentiles came entirely by revelation, and Peter did not even bother to check the accuracy of his revelation with the other apostles before announcing with surety God’s intention. What is distinct in each of these examples is that there is always a supernatural element to confirmation. Unfortunately, this is where many religious organizations go awry. Whenever people are required by doctrine to seek confirmation among the leaders of their organization the supernatural aspect of confirmation is immediately subordinated to the requirements of church order. People imprisoned by this artificial requirement must then ask permission rather than seek confirmation. Soon, no one bothers seeking the Lord for a word that needs to be confirmed, and instead they begin simply to await new instructions from their leaders, who by doctrine are the only individuals qualified to determine what God is saying anyway. This sorry state of affairs is endemic of all organized Christian religion. These doctrinal constructs that limit the avenue of confirmation to a group of church leaders merely serve to protract the infancy of the congregation, and to keep the current leadership in power. God, of course, is not limited by any church structure, and will eventually bypass it, leaving those organizations and their foolish doctrinal restraints behind.

The Pharisees and other religious contemporaries of Christ were in constant conflict with Him because He failed to walk in submission to their traditions. From their standpoint, Christ should have consulted with them before He raised the dead or healed the sick on the Sabbath. Yet Christ never allowed the artificial constraints of accepted religious practice to limit the spontaneity of faith. This is perhaps the greatest problem with the way confirmation and submission has been imposed on people – the incorrect application of those principles always limits what a person may do on his own. When confirmation and submission are taught in a wrong way, congregations become enslaved to the narrow-minded viewpoints of a few leaders. Any congregation trapped in that unfortunate prison will fail to develop beyond the artificial boundaries of their leadership.

This is where so many organizations have missed the mark in their pursuit of the will of God. Divine order has no value to the individual believer unless it is functioning correctly. Once any religious church order departs from the will of God, that order itself becomes an impediment to everything God wants. It is ridiculous to believe that any valid confirmation to anything God speaks will be forthcoming through individuals whose only merit is that they are submissive to an organizational hierarchy. Submission alone is meaningless if it is not offered in a right way. There are many, many good men and women trapped in submission to organized Christianity who have no authority because they are in submission to leaders who have no authority. All authority comes from Christ alone; it does not descend through a religious organization, regardless of who originally established it.

The fallacy of Roman Catholicism is that the divine authority of the vicar is resident in the Pope, because the divine authority of the Apostle Peter was passed down from antiquity to the modern church. This is known as the Doctrine of Petrine Succession. All doctrines of succession make similar claims. Almost every organized Christian religion boasts of leaders who were appointed or endorsed by their predecessors – and who rule their organizations from that standpoint. Yet, no doctrine of succession can ever establish divine authority all it can ever do is maintain organizational continuity. After the first apostles died, the Christian church continued on, yet there was a dramatic decline in its spiritual quality. The Christian church as it exists today is a far cry from what is described in the Book of Acts. Every Christian movement follows a similar allegory – a monumental start, followed by a precipitous decline. This is a great lesson to every Christian believer. Christ does not dwell in the organization. To find Christ, the believer must look elsewhere.

Is that statement offensive? If so, it is important that to consider what the scriptures teach about the subject rather than relying on men and women with a vested interest in maintaining their religious positions to describe how divine order should work. If God has given a word, then the hearer is responsible for its performance even if a thousand apostles and prophets deny that it is a word from God. A person must be certain that he or she knows what the will of God is personally, or that person may be in for real difficulty. One young man described in the scriptures learned that lesson the hard way, and he paid for it with his life! In 1st Kings 14, Jehovah instructed a young man to go to Bethel and prophesy against the idolatrous alter that Jeroboam had built. That young man was specifically instructed not to eat any food, or drink any water, and to return home on a different route than the one he used to get to Bethel in the first place. His downfall was that he allowed another prophet to talk him out of the original word.

Now an old prophet was living in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the deeds which the man of God had done that day in Bethel; the words which he had spoken to the king, these also they related to their father. Their father said to them, “Which way did he go?” Now his sons had seen the way which the man of God who came from Judah had gone. Then he said to his sons, “Saddle the donkey for me.” So they saddled the donkey for him and he rode away on it. So he went after the man of God and found him sitting under an oak; and he said to him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?” And he said, “I am.” Then he said to him, “Come home with me and eat bread.” He said, “I cannot return with you, nor go with you, nor will I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. For a command came to me by the word of the LORD, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water there; do not return by going the way which you came.’” He said to him, “I also am a prophet like you, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’” But he lied to him.

So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house and drank water. Now it came about, as they were sitting down at the table, that the word of the LORD came to the prophet who had brought him back; and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, Because you have disobeyed the command of the LORD, and have not observed the commandment which the LORD your God commanded you, but have returned and eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which He said to you, Eat no bread and drink no water; your body shall not come to the grave of your fathers.” It came about after he had eaten bread and after he had drunk, that he saddled the donkey for him, for the prophet whom he had brought back. Now when he had gone, a lion met him on the way and killed him …

I Kings 13:11-24 (NASB)

 

This story illustrates is how seriously God takes the word that He delivers. If anyone is allowed to contravene a word from the Lord, even if that person is a recognized prophet or apostle, there is still jeopardy. This is why recognition of proper confirmation becomes all the more important. Once God confirms His word, by whatever means, God holds the hearer responsible.

Perhaps the most dangerous and endemic fallacy of all is that messages delivered from the pulpit, or other official channels, are implicitly confirmed words from God. They are not. In fact, it is the subscription to this fallacy by the congregation that has resulted in the destruction of entire churches. One problem with the pulpit and other official channels is that in times of crisis both are used as forums for political gain, instead of conduits for the will of God. Some years ago there was a church that became entrenched in issues that caused a rift to develop in its leadership. Instead of seeking the Lord for confirmation, there was a great move to exclude the dissenting parties, and the pulpit became a political forum that was used to disseminate the sanctioned viewpoint. Many of those who engineered that exclusion became the de-facto leaders of that church, but God did not honor it, and the church eventually ceased to exist. They stumbled over the confirmation stumbling block, mistaking popular agreement, for Godly confirmation.

Even if a multitude of apostles, prophets and other ministries agree together that a certain policy is God’s word, does not necessarily mean that God said anything about it. Should a lone prophet stand and dispute what the others are saying, it is in the best interests of all involved to take heed and listen. 1st Kings 22 relates a story concerning a multitude of prophets assembled by King Ahab to speak to him the voice of the Lord concerning an upcoming battle. All of these prophets, to a man, spoke favorable words to King Ahab, encouraging him to pursue the battle. They assured him that the Lord would be with him, and that he would be victorious. King Jehoshaphat, with whom Ahab was allied, was not convinced. He pressed Ahab to present just one more prophet. Ahab reluctantly agreed, summoning Macaiah, who Ahab hated, saying, “He always speaks evil concerning me.” Macaiah disagreed with all of the other so-called prophets, prophesying that a lying spirit from the Lord was speaking through them to entice Ahab to destruction. Ahab failed to heed Macaiah’s warning and was killed. A multitude of agreement is not confirmation.

These statements on the surface may seem to contradict so much of what has been taught concerning the principles of authority and confirmation within the framework of divine order. Without a doubt shepherds, elders and other ministries should be capable of bearing witness to the voice of the Lord. However, Godly principles only work when they are correctly applied. Merely building a framework that appears on the surface to be “divine-order” is meaningless, unless it functions correctly on the inside. Many men who claim to have authority are in reality only organizational appointees without any real divine backing. If God does not back the ministry, then the ministry is useless, and the organizational credentials are nothing but a sham. There are so many claiming the ministry of apostle or prophet, yet there is so little understanding of the chasm between what they manifest in their lives and the scriptural definition of those ministries. This deficiency must be corrected or the Christian fellowship will continue its decline.

The single most important element in confirmation is revelation. To seek confirmation from individuals without revelation is foolishness. While some have correctly asserted that authority is more important than revelation, they overlook the fact that authority without revelation is useless. In fact, I question that any godly authority is granted without revelation. Certainly the Apostle Paul understood that since he writes in Galatians that he submitted the gospel to the other apostles because of a revelation.

Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.

But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.

But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

Galatians 2:1-9 (NASB)

 

Realize that Paul went to the other apostles because it was a revelation to him that he should do so. Many have construed this passage to mean that Paul was setting some sort of an apostolic precedent that all must follow. That is simply not the case. Paul did not submit to these men because he had to, or because they were men of reputation, he did not care about their religious positions. In fact, Paul had already been preaching his gospel for fourteen years before he submitted it to anyone. He was already convinced that he had heard the Lord’s voice long before he brought before the other apostles. He submitted what he already knew to be a word from the Lord, a word he had actively pursued for many years – he was not asking permission to begin. While many religious leaders shackle their people in the chains of confirmation doctrines, God is speaking something else about it. Confirmation was never meant to be some sort of a doctrinal restriction that a person must satisfy before embarking on some endeavor of faith. Confirmation encompasses much more than the small circle of a religious organization’s leadership. If God can speak through Balaam’s ass (Numbers 22:28-30), why is it that so many so-called leaders reserve for themselves that ability?

Now in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him. Then the king gave orders to call in the magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. The king said to them, “I had a dream and my spirit is anxious to understand the dream.”

Then the Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic: “O king, live forever! Tell the dream to your servants, and we will declare the interpretation” The king replied to the Chaldeans, “The command from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you will be torn limb from limb and your houses will be made a rubbish heap.”

Daniel 2:2-5 (NASB)

 

No one but Daniel the prophet was able to relate to the king both the content of the dream and its interpretation. God was speaking to the king, and Daniel confirmed it. The king’s requirement nearly cost every wise man in Babylon his life. Nevertheless, Nebuchadnezzar was wise enough to understand that the veracity of the interpretation could only be established if someone could relate it entirely by revelation. This is why revelation is so important. Without revelation there is no reliable confirmation.

How then is the voice of the Lord established? The first and most important step is that an individual must have a personal conviction that God has spoken. Too many people submit themselves to their leaders long before this occurs, and the result is perpetual spiritual infancy. A personal relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ is the single most important factor in the life of every Christian. That personal relationship cannot be developed by an unhealthy reliance on the spiritual faculties of other people. There should be constant personal prayer, not only about personal revelations, but concerning every word that is disseminated from the pulpit or other channels. No “so-called” word from the Lord should be taken implicitly. Every word is subject to confirmation, and the most important confirmation is a personal witness first. Secondly, seek the Lord sincerely to confirm the word. Gideon put the Lord on the spot, as did Nebuchadnezzar. Beware of the multitude of voices that stand like cheerleaders offering overwhelming approval. God may be speaking, but sometimes it is Macaiah, the only contrary voice, who is correctly relating God’s intention. Confirmation does not necessarily arise through human channels either. Perhaps a dream or vision is repeated many times. Look for these things.

Finally, should the Lord make it real that a revelation is to be submitted to the leaders and shepherds; do not be satisfied with a tacit response from unqualified individuals. Look for men and women with faith, divine authority and revelation. For matters of great importance, consider the stance that Nebuchadnezzar took with his wise men, and expect an answer to come by revelation. Such a requirement is neither unscriptural, nor is it out of order. Try laying it before the shepherds in the following way, “I believe that God has spoken a word to me. Please pray about it, and tell me what he said.” Requiring such a response removes the answer completely from the realm of human wisdom, and places it entirely in God’s hands. That is the greatest confirmation of all.

There are so many people to whom God has spoken who are sitting on the sidelines, discouraged and confused, because the leaders to whom they look will not support or acknowledge that God has given them a word. These are the people for whom this message is intended. God is determined to liberate you from the bondages of false religious obligations. Take to heart what has been written in these pages and begin to do the very thing the Lord has told you to do. Without a doubt, there will be those who will react, just as the Pharisees did, but no one will ever accomplish God’s will without opposition. You do not need permission from other men to begin. If God has given you a Word, and confirmed it, then get out there and do it!

2011 Copyright

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Whose Label Do You Wear?

As the Kingdom of God unfolds, the form of the church we have known continues toward obsolescence, having been replaced by a heavenly church that has no official membership role and which cannot be categorized by its organizational hierarchy. To this church all the members of Christ’s body belong, and none are excluded on the basis of doctrinal standing or because they refuse obedience to the foolishness of human hierarchies. Membership in this heavenly church cannot be attained by swearing obedience to an organization or by attesting to doctrinal creeds, which do nothing more than divide the body of Christ on the basis of worthless philosophies conceived in the minds of men; membership in this church is achieved first in the heart, attested to by the Spirit, and affirmed by faith. This heavenly church is (and has always been) the intention of God, and it now stands in opposition to those useless forms of human government that refer to themselves as churches of God on one hand, while on the other hand they are rife with hypocrisy. Regardless of form, the churches of men have failed to measure up to the standard raised by the Kingdom. The evil that exists in the hearts of men takes root in their churches, and those churches will not partake of the Kingdom, nor can they ever be reformed.

Corruptible religious organizations enjoy success because few people have the faith required to walk with God without the artificial confines of religious doctrine and religious hierarchy that offers them something concrete to lean on. People devote themselves to religious organizations, and to religious leaders, in exchange for a sense of eternal security, for comfort and consolation, for reassurance that their lives have some divine purpose, and for social acceptance. People are willing to overlook the corruption and hypocrisy so evident in every religious group because they believe in their hearts that they are exercising a divinely inspired choice. Unfortunately, the modern Christian believer is in many respects like those misguided temple worshippers who offered devotion to a form of religion that was passing away even though Jesus, the very embodiment of everything the temple and its worship had promised, was in their midst. It requires great faith to abandon a comfortable and acceptable form of religion, even though it has become obsolete and worthless. Instead of abandoning the comfortable confines of the religion with which they are familiar, people hang on, hoping that God will somehow salvage it (even though He has abandoned it). They hope against hope (believing that is what God wants them to do) that their church will somehow mutate into something better. People affiliate with religious organizations that have sponsored theft, murder and immorality; organizations with corrupt, greedy and sexually perverse priesthoods; organizations with leaders they do not even trust – all because at one time in antiquity God made His hand known. People do this because the familiar practice of popular religion requires no faith. It takes no faith to agree to a set of doctrines and covenants, and live in conformity with the expectations of religion. On the other hand, it takes a lot of faith to live each day in the hands of God without the security of the confining walls of religious practice that offer shelter and a sense of belonging.

It is people like that, ones who have walked away from the comfortable confines of religion to which the writer of Hebrews refers, when He wrote,

… They went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith …

Hebrews 11:37-39 (NASB)

These are those who rejected the familiar practice of the traditions of Judaism while searching for something greater. How difficult it must have been for those first Jewish Christians to accept that all of their traditions and practices had become useless once faith in Christ Jesus had been revealed. It was so difficult in fact, that many Christian Jews refused to abandon the traditions, which were passing away, and they were so devoted to them that they even attempted to impose them upon the Gentiles. Yet Paul swore to them in Galatians 5:2, that “if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” This man Paul wrote in Philippians 3:8 of the very practices to which he had formerly devoted himself, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ …” Thus, those who continued the practice of the traditions of Moses had become the enemy of Christ. Nor does this passage merely refer to those who practice circumcision. Whether it is the practice of Judaism or the practice of Christianity, people always seem intent on transforming spiritual principles that are intended to liberate into rules and regulations that imprison. Whenever that occurs those who practice a religion that imprisons run the risk of rejecting the God who liberates.

For this reason, Christians who continue in the practice of the traditions of Christianity may reject the liberty of the Kingdom just as the Jew who practiced the traditions of Moses rejected Christ. Just as the Gentiles who never knew Moses became the progenitors of a new gospel, the progenitors of the Kingdom may turn out to be men and women who have never been a part of any Christian religion. The difficulties that the Christian will face as the Kingdom unfolds will be very similar to the dilemma that the Jews faced when Christ was revealed. Christ did not quite fit into the Jewish mold. He refused to submit to the traditions of accepted religious practice, and for that reason He was in opposition to the temple leadership. Yet it was not the Law of Moses that Christ was opposed to, it was the foolishness of the traditions that men had built up around the Law to which Christ was opposed: traditions that often nullified the very purposes of God in giving the Law.

The same issues will arise among Christians who will perceive that the Kingdom of God is altering or discarding the traditions they consider sacred. Like the Pharisee who accused Christ of rebellion because He healed on the Sabbath, the leaders of the Christian religion will accuse the messengers of the Kingdom of rebellion because they will not embrace all of the traditional forms of worship and doctrine that have become such an integral component of organized religion. In this respect Moses, the Pharisee and Christ have become an allegory with respect to Christ, the Christian and the Kingdom. That is to say that the Pharisee who embraced Moses rejected Christ just as the Christian who embraces Christ may reject the Kingdom. The Pharisee could not accept Christ because in Christ there is no need for Pharisees. The Christian will discover that in the Kingdom of God there is no need for much of the foolishness of Christian order, what some have labeled “divine-order,” and those leaders whose office is guaranteed by the practice of that so-called “divine-order” will discover, like the Pharisees, that their office is no longer necessary in the Kingdom of God.

So the Pharisee and the religion he practiced became obsolete in Christ. In a similar fashion, the religion of the Christian and the Church order we have known must also end. Just as the covenant of commandments, decrees and blood sacrifices ended in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, the Kingdom has made the practice of Church order obsolete. The covenant of the Law, given by Moses, was only a foreshadowing of a better covenant yet to come, a new covenant in the blood of Christ, a covenant that became the salvation of all those who believe, both Jew and Gentile. Yet in the offering of a new covenant, the first was declared obsolete, having been replaced by something better. Thus the Law in the form of commandments spoken by the mouth of Moses became the forerunner of Christ, and it is Christ Jesus of whom the Law speaks. Yet the Law itself was not Christ, it merely testified of Him. In like fashion, the church that we have known merely foreshadows the Kingdom of Heaven. Like the Law, it is an imperfect copy of the divine intent, and will soon pass away, having also been replaced by something better.

Jesus Himself, spoke little of the church, using that term only twice in all of the gospels. Instead, Christ declared that the “Kingdom of Heaven is upon you,” announcing the intention of God. Much of the New Testament describes both the form and function of that Church of which Christ spoke so little. Yet even in it purest form, the church and its administrations are merely crude human copies of a divine intent, an intent that cannot be forged by human hands. All churches are subject to the corruption that is a part of every human attempt at government: indeed churches are really just another form of human government. Although men and women aspire to great ideals, the mechanisms they contrive to put those ideals into motion have all fallen short. Carnal men and despots have corrupted all human kingdoms and all human religions. But the Kingdom of Heaven must of necessity be unlike any corruptible form of human government, for if it were not so, Christ would have no reason to distinguish one from the other. So the Kingdom of Heaven does not refer to the church, or any other human kingdom, it is something yet to be revealed, something that is not the product of any human endeavor.

The Kingdom of Heaven is described by Daniel, who testified that a stone cut out without hands would grind all human kingdoms into chaff to be blown away with the wind until there is no trace left, and then that stone will become a mountain that fills the whole earth. That stone does not refer to churches or of Christian believers, both of which are the products of human culture, for the stone was cut from the mountain without hands. God said, “If you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it” (Exodus 20:25) specifying that His altar was to be made up entirely of untouched stones. Now we know that God has no interest in an altar constructed of rocks, for the scriptures testify that He is building a temple of lively stones: that is of believers. So when He says, “you shall not build it of cut stones” He is not referring to quarry stones, but to people. However, leaving believers untouched is not the way of religion, for religion endeavors to build an altar of believers carved into the image of doctrines and theology. Religion is determined to mold men and women into conformity with a canon of belief; and its members are willingly shaped by the culture of religion. It is the influence of religion of which God is saying, “If you wield your tool on it, you will profane it.” So God is not looking for an altar that has been shaped by religion.

So it is foolishness to claim that religious doctrine is God’s holy message, and nonsense to assert that the followers of doctrine are divine messengers. Religious practice and the Word of God are in conflict because religion by its nature mandates the practice of traditions related to human interpretation that corrupt the intent of God. It is the traditions of religion that ultimately bring its practitioners into conflict with God’s true messengers because the former are in bondage to liturgy and seek to enslave others also, while the latter seek only to set men free. Although Jesus was not opposed to the Law, those who were the keepers of the Law opposed Him, even though their Law testified of Him, because He would not be subject Himself to their traditions. In a similar fashion, all Christian religions impose a form of traditional practice upon the believer, mandating such foolishness as: what to eat, what to wear, what to pray, and what to say – all of these things are of no profit with respect to salvation and they serve only to enslave the believer. Yet the Gospel has come to liberate men and women from the foolishness of religion – but there are always those who lie in wait for the unsuspecting and will attempt to snare the weak ones with slick words. What greater enemies of the Gospel were there other than the cult of the Circumcision, who opposed Paul, and fought to enslave the Gentiles in a bondage to their Law? Did they not oppose the purposes of God by perverting the Word of God, distorting the Gospel of freedom and turning it into a gospel of slavery?

Now the Law did not enslave Jesus, although Moses who spoke those things God told him to speak gave the Law to the Jews. Rather Christ fulfilled the intent of the Law by manifesting its precepts in His body without subjecting Himself to the rituals and traditions of His countrymen. On the other hand, the Pharisees who kept the letter of the Law utterly failed to please God because their hearts were wrong. Nevertheless, Christ and the apostles fulfilled the spirit of the Law, keeping it in the inner-man.

In doing so, they condemned the religion of the Pharisee, who kept the Law outwardly while they were inwardly full of darkness. Nevertheless, the Pharisees believed they were the defenders of the Law because they were the descendants of Moses entrusted by God with the keys of salvation. Yet there was no salvation in the religion of the Pharisee, nor did God acknowledge them. The Pharisees became the enemies of God by seeking to destroy the works of God using the Law of God as a weapon. In the same way all religions have become guilty of the blood of Christ because they all seek to defend themselves from the will of God by using the Word of God as a shield.

Thus the example of the Pharisee is a warning to the believer, for the believer has been entrusted with the keys to salvation just as the Jew was entrusted with the Law. Christ did not oppose the Law, but those who kept the Law opposed Him. In like fashion, the Kingdom of Heaven is not in opposition to the church, but the keepers of the church should beware lest they, like the Pharisees, end up opposing the Kingdom of God in the name of God. Yet it is certain that there are many with positions and titles granted by a church, who like the Pharisee, will be unable to surrender those places of honor to the messengers of the Kingdom who will arise without credentials and without religious standing. In this regard, the greatest jeopardy of all will be among the leaders and ministries of the dying church age who are committed to a form of religion that is obsolete, and which will soon fade away. These leaders and ministries are forever trumpeting the mandates of doctrine that keep them in places of power, yet they have no divine authority. They seek to brand their followers like cattle, locking them inside corrals encircled by fences of religious form and religious doctrine.

That religious brand is the mark of the beast written about in Revelation chapter 13, a chapter that few have understood. The mark of the beast is a mark of religious affiliation. Baptists behave like Baptists; Catholics behave like Catholics; Jews like Jews; Mormons like Mormons – each group allows itself to be branded like cattle with the traditions and beliefs of whatever doctrine they embrace. Every religious organization, Christian or otherwise, brands its members with a spiritual mark, one that can be seen by both angels and men. Sadly, that spiritual brand locks its bearer into a form of belief from which escape is difficult. The religious judge themselves and others by the brand they wear or by the brand they fail to wear. If a person leaves a religious organization, they become outcasts – cut off from all social contact – because they have rejected the brand that formerly granted them approval.  The beast is really the system of religion, which has dominated the entire world, yet we know that the beast will be destroyed, just as it is written:

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.”

Revelation 14:9-10 (NASB)

Christian religion is about to undergo a tremendous transformation, much of which is decreed in Revelations 17: 16-17 where the prophet writes that “… the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.” This passage reads of a time when the great financial resources of religion will be stripped away. It is the property and the financial and political resources that grant religion an illusion of divinity when inwardly the entire system is corrupt. Those false indicators are the barometers by which people inside and outside of a religion gauge divine acceptance. People have a difficult time perceiving a treasure hidden in the field when there is no great religious edifice built on it, and they mistakenly believe that if there is are outward signs of success then there must be a treasure somewhere. How many religions own buildings and property and possess great financial resources? Nearly all of them and those that have none aspire to acquire these things as quickly as possible. Once a religion acquires finance, social acceptance soon follows and people are attracted to that outward expression of success. Unfortunately, spiritual standing cannot be measured with a financial measuring stick. The first Christian church possessed no property. They did not collect money for building programs and their offerings were directed to the poor among them. The first church had very little acceptance among its contemporaries. It was not until the church began to acquire property, and with it, political influence, that Christianity became acceptable. Yet the inevitable consequence of the accumulation of religious wealth is religious corruption.

When God begins to deal with that corruption, it will be a difficult time for people who are committed to their organizations because much of what they have given their time and energy to is worthless and about to pass away. The dilemma that the Christian will face is much like the dilemma that the Jews encountered as they witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70AD. There was no greater representation of the presence of God to the Jew than Jerusalem. The temple that was built there was, in the mind of the Jew, a testimony to God’s commitment to them as a people and of His covenant with them. Yet, when Titus was finished, not even a single stone of the temple remained atop another. The destruction was absolute. When people believe all of their lives that God is with them because of the splendor of their temples, and then watch the destruction of every outward symbol, it is very difficult to reconcile. Yet what God through Titus was trying to accomplish was not merely the destruction of a building, it was in reality the destruction of a system that had become corrupt. In the same manner, as God begins stripping away the property of that religious beast His target is not just the property, it is the organizations and religious forms that have given rise to corruption in the name of Christ. Just as the Jews fashioned a corrupt religious form around the godly teachings of Moses, so the Christians have erected a corrupt religious form around the teachings of Christ. These corruptible forms of religion must give way to something better. The age of religion must give way to the age of the Kingdom of God.

The Holy Spirit is speaking again of this very thing: the passing of one age, and the beginning of another. Just as the covenant of Laws and blood sacrifices gave way to a covenant of faith with an eternal sacrifice, so too must the age of the church give way to the age of the Kingdom. Yet who rejected Christ? Was it not His countrymen, who by heritage in the Law should have accepted Him, whereas, the Gentiles, who were without hope embraced Him whom they should have rejected. This is in keeping with the word that Jesus spoke when He said, “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Many are likewise in danger of rejecting the Kingdom and its messengers because those messengers fail to measure up to the expectations of doctrine. Now the Pharisees rejected Christ because He failed to submit to them and their traditions. Is it not on that basis that all messengers of God are rejected – that is, they fail to submit? Why did the Catholics reject Luther? They rejected him because he would not submit to the Pope or to the decrees of the Pope. Yet when they demand submission when God instructs otherwise do they not witness against themselves that they are the enemies of God?

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, “Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”” But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?” And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 22:1-14 (NASB)

So we see that God has rejected those leaders of religion that abused their heritage and He has removed them from places of authority. Now because the ones for whom the feast was prepared rejected God’s gracious invitation, God has opened the doors of the Kingdom to anyone who will attend, both “good and evil,” inviting both believers and unbelievers alike. Thus, participation in the Kingdom does not require church membership and many who have failed to measure up to even the least of the requirements of the church are invited along with the others. Just as the Gentiles became the beneficiaries of Christ’s gracious gift, even though Christ was sent to the Jews; so too, others will inherit the Kingdom along with the believer, even though it was prepared for those who name the name of Christ. Does this mean that the believer is excluded, while the unbeliever is included? By no means, for the invitation is open to anyone. The first believers added to the Church were among the Jews present for the Feast of Pentecost and witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Thus, God has not rejected the Jews or the Christian believer, but He has expanded the circle so that no one is excluded.

What shall we say then about the unbelievers who have no heritage in the church? Has Jesus become obsolete? By no means, for the King threw out the man who wore no wedding clothes and the clothes refer to Christ. Nevertheless, whereas salvation has been linked with church membership up to this time, God has been saying all along that the form of the church we have known was never His intent, any more than the Pharisees expressed His intention by their faulty pursuit of the Law. Nonetheless, Christ has been maligned among the unbelievers because the church has failed to express the character of Christ and the church itself has become as guilty of the blood of the prophets and saints as are the worst of the heathen. And what of those who claim they follow the scriptural pattern more closely than do others; what does the scripture say about them?

THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”

Romans 3: 10-12 (NASB)

Therefore there is no advantage by way of liturgy, and those who claim to possess a greater divine light than the rest only witness against themselves, for if they had such great light why then have they failed so miserably?

Indeed the true form of Christ’s Church has yet to be revealed, for the Church is neither an organization, nor a building, nor a set of common creeds; rather its membership encompasses all of those who are called out from this present age. So while the churches of men have become the exclusive playgrounds for those who mutually submit to the same bondage of liturgy, the Kingdom of God includes all people who confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and who have been baptized in His name. Thus while the Catholic declares that salvation is the result of acts of Charity or by Sacrament, and the Baptist embraces the New Testament without interpretation, what God is saying is that neither Catholic or Baptist or any other name under heaven means anything; it is all foolishness.

To what then does the believer belong; and into what is the unbeliever baptized? In former times men were baptized into churches, and thus swore allegiance to those organizations; yet it has not been so from the beginning. Indeed, Phillip did not baptize the Ethiopian eunuch into anything other than into Christ Jesus, and then the Holy Spirit took Phillip, leaving that Ethiopian behind. Or did Paul rebuke the Corinthians for no reason when he wrote, “I thank [my] God that I baptized none of you so that no one would say you were baptized in my name?” For the Corinthians had already begun making distinctions among themselves just as all believers have since that time, and these distinctions are meaningless to God, for Christ cannot be divided. And on what basis are these distinctions made? Is it not over theories and supposition about the shape of things that cannot be discerned by mortal eyes, things that can only be spiritually discerned? Distinctions and disputes over doctrines and creeds are nothing but the foolishness of blind men arguing over the colors of a world that they cannot see. Now Christ made no effort with the Pharisees to argue points of doctrine, rather He demonstrated by deeds that God was with Him by giving sight to the blind and reason to the dumb, delivering men from demons and from the power of death. Thus Christ demonstrated by deeds that He knew the things of which He spoke, and that His words were able to save men from the power of sin.

Nevertheless, foolish men seek out those who offer hope without substance, believing that the confident assertions they make about spiritual matters has the power to save, taking comfort among the multitudes, and confusing popularity with godliness. Yet the popularity of religion has no bearing on the choice of God who could take stones and raise up believers, rather the popularity of religion only demonstrates how hopeless the plight of man is without God, yet God’s message to the world has not been delivered by the religions of the world, rather the message of religion is a message that benefits the organizations of religion. In this respect then there are apostles sent by men to do the bidding of man, and there are apostles sent by Christ in who is resident the authority of Christ and who share kinship with the first apostles. Now these apostles of Christ do not acquire their authority or message from man or religion having been appointed to their ministry by the One in whom all authority resides, yet we see that in the church religious authority is delegated to men by men in rites of succession. Now although men respect and honor those whom religion so designates, God recognizes only those whom Christ designates.

Thus the messengers of the Kingdom are not distinguished because they offer credentials granted by the organizations of men, but because they “manifest” the authority of Christ to whom the Kingdom belongs. Now the Scribes were experts at the dissertation of matters related to the Law, some of whom had committed the Pentateuch to memory, yet the people marveled at the words of Jesus, whose message was proclaimed with authority. So the knowledge of the Scribe was of no benefit, yet the words of Jesus profited all who listened. The Apostle Paul was criticized because his speech was contemptible, yet he demonstrated great authority.

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NASB)

So then the preaching of the church age is of little benefit because it lacks authority. Nor is the teaching of the church age sound merely because of its heritage since it has become little more than dissertations of theory, which lack any practical earthly application. Did not the Gospel of Jesus benefit the sick? Did He not heal, raise the dead and cast out demons? Did not the first apostles do the same? Why is it then has the believer become so content with a contemporary gospel that proclaims wonderful things to come at some indeterminate future time, while lacking any present earthly benefit? How is it that some regard the message of salvation as some sort of spiritual insurance policy because their religions fail to make them the beneficiaries of the unfathomable riches of Christ? This is not the heritage in Christ that was meant for the believer; nor is it the promise that the Gospel of Christ extends to the unbeliever who opens their heart. Or what was the Apostle making reference to when he wrote in Hebrews 6 of the powers of the age to come? It is these very powers of which the believer should be so familiar, yet few ever experience them because of bondage to a form of religion that denies power.

For this reason we do not respect the credentials of men granted by the organizations of religion, nor do we honor the grandeur of the pulpits from which they preach, nor are we impressed by the exuberance of their preaching, nor are we distracted by the reason behind their doctrines, rather we look to Christ to establish His messengers whose authority is evident by their deeds, and in the power of their Gospel. Now the Gospel of Christ was not an empty promise of what was to come at some future time, but a demonstration of the power of Kingdom and its authority by those whom He healed. So too, the words of the first apostles were not merely the proclamations of religious doctrine or the dissertations of religious theory, the words of the first apostles were a demonstration of Christ’s authority: an authority that was resident in them as well. These are the apostles we seek out, for the rest have no divine calling, and merely claim the ministry in order to justify their false dominion. It is this false dominion that God has sworn will come to an end, for His people are not to be forever subject to the dominion of religion, just as the prophet Isaiah swears, “O LORD our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us: but by thee only will we make mention of thy name. They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.” (Isaiah 26:13-14 KJV)

The religion and the churches we have known are destined to pass into oblivion and even their memory is to be blotted out. What then shall become of the believer? Has God abandoned the believer? By no means, for God’s intention has always been to relate to the believer without the intermediaries of religion. Just as He wrote in Jeremiah 31:34 (KJV) “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” So there is no longer any need for those false representatives of Christ who forever claim that the believer is confined to eternal infancy and thereby in need of the spiritual food only they can provide. Indeed, what form would a church take when there is no longer any need for the preaching of the men who love to bottle feed those whom they have imprisoned? Would it not be more like that first church of whom Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians 14:31, “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted”? Yet that Church shall continue to be merely a promise without fulfillment as long as the believer is content to submit the corruption of those who dominate it for personal gain. The believer shall not forever remain in bondage to organizations whose wealth and influence is channeled to the pockets of a few. Since the corruption of the apostolic church, organizations have collected fabulous sums in the name of the Kingdom. Yet all of the accumulated property, all of the salaries that have been paid, all of the tape and publication ministries and charitable causes have done nothing to further the Gospel of the Kingdom; those things have done a great deal to enrich a few men and women who have become the beneficiaries of the wealth of their congregations.

Nor is it merely the pursuit of monetary gain that corrupt churches, for men are corrupted by power and influence as surely as they are corrupted by wealth. The regality of religious position corrupted the apostolic church, transforming the power of salvation into a faint echo of a great promise. Any person who has become accustomed to the prestige of leadership will become subject to the temptation of Lucifer, who fell because of pride. Therefore, no person should hold an official position of leadership for a long period of time, nor should a religious title be conferred, for that is an invitation to sin. Instead, every person should be content to serve without official distinctions, and those who have led in the past should endeavor to follow those who have not. The Kingdom Church cannot founded on doctrines that entrench men in positions of religion with titles like “Apostle,”  “Prophet,” or “Pastor,”  “Pope,”  “Cardinal” or “Father.” It has been the foolishness of religion that has conferred upon men and women titles. The titles of religion always imply that one has been granted divine authority over another in a fashion that is reminiscent of the “divine right of Kings,” a legal doctrine that formerly granted a king the right to rule his subjects with impunity. Yet there is no conveyance of divine authority in a title. Only God Himself may convey authority, and Christ chooses His apostles by personally appointing them.

It is the true apostles, appointed by Christ, to whom the believer is obligated, not those counterfeit apostles who demand obedience on the basis of the doctrines and traditions of an obsolete religion that fails to measure up to the standard of God’s Kingdom. Those phony apostles assert that they have been appointed by God to do Christ’s bidding, yet Christ did not appoint them, and the believer is under no obligation to follow them. Should not all men who claim to be apostles be tested — just as the Lord declares in Revelation 2:2 that “you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false?” For if they are indeed false, then on what basis should the believer submit to them? If they are not false, then would they not demonstrate the power and character of Christ Himself — whose power was resident in the first Twelve and in Paul? Moreover, if you submit to one who is false, do you not share his guilt, and will not Christ hold you accountable?

For this reason, we are abandoning the comfortable confines of religions like that in order to earnestly seek the Kingdom of God that Daniel described, one that is not rooted in any religious form that we have known. All of those worthless forms of religious expression are about to be destroyed. God is calling to the believer just as He declares in Revelation 18: 4, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues.” May God grant ears to hear.

2011 Copyright

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Light-Bearers or Pall-Bearers?

Everything that God does even what He did in the past and has since discarded, begins in glory. There are many wonderful stories in the Book of Exodus about the exploits Moses performed against the Egyptians and later with the children of Israel in the wilderness. Moses beheld the face of God and carried the tablets of the Law written by the very finger of God Himself. Yet all of the glory of the Law faded away, and the Apostle in 2nd Corinthians 3 later refers to it as “the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones.” While the Apostle was contrasting the Law given by Moses that was etched on tablets with the ministry of the Spirit that would write on people’s hearts, his message is a metaphor that describes how God moves through His spirit in every generation. What the people of the Lord must learn is to quickly abandon what God did yesterday and embrace what He is doing now, or risk being lost like the Pharisees in a rehearsal of a ministry of death. Whenever people cling to what God did through a great man of God they become, like the Pharisees, his pallbearers, rehearsing age-old traditions in an endless funeral.

Whenever a move of God begins there are always wonderful things that happen through those spiritual fathers to whom God commits Himself. There are often spiritual signs that confirm the Word that is proclaimed: people are healed, the dead are sometimes raised, and the Word of Wisdom and Knowledge are in evidence. These are God’s way of getting people’s attention. Yet once those spiritual fathers die, their followers seldom continue pressing on into new and wonderful things. What happens instead is that they talk about how great so-and-so was, and then work to preserve what he did. They organize the movement so it can be efficiently administered, and record the canon of teaching so that it is always available. Soon they become experts in everything that God did, and becoming its preservers and defenders, much like the Scribes and the Pharisees became concerning the Law of Moses. The only problem is that God has moved on, and like the Jews they are stuck in the past, rehearsing their father’s traditions in the synagogues – yet no one is being healed any longer, the dead stay dead, and the Word of Knowledge and Wisdom are replaced by counselors who rely on their own personal wisdom to diagnose and console. Next, they come up with a good name for their movement, so everyone on the outside will know who they are and what they represent – and voila, a new Christian denomination is born.

Yet God has moved on, and that is where the problem arises, because when He does He often ignores the expectations of those poor folks who are still vested in the past. Why did the Pharisees have such a big problem with Jesus? One reason was that Jesus was not stuck with them in the mire of tradition. He did not buy into the requirements and limitations their form of religion imposed. How many times have men of God come in conflict with those ardent defenders of the faith who believe it is their mandate to impose their interpretation of God’s will on everyone? People become so imprisoned in their thinking by a concept of divine order that they are incapable of recognizing anything better. Those Pharisees complained when Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Why? Because they thought performing miracles was synonymous with work, and after all, God said, “don’t work on the Sabbath.” Yet they completely missed the point of the very Law they so ardently defended. That Law was supposed to point them to this Jesus whom they chose instead to doubt, persecute and later murder. Yet this pattern has been repeated throughout history. The leaders and ministries of every established religious movement, people who should know better, become the persecutors and nay Sayers of everything new that comes along.

Why do people who have experienced God so deeply in the past become so inflexible? Perhaps, in one respect, it is the fault of God Himself, just as the Apostle Paul writes:

But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

2 Corinthians 3:14-16 (NASB)

 

How amazing it is that people can read the scriptures and still have a veil over their heart to such an extent that it does them no good at all. They devote themselves to the teachings and traditions of their spiritual fathers, and yet they are imprisoned by those very teachings. God hardens their hearts because they miss the point. Moses and what he did and said were important, but stopping there was not God’s intention. God wanted a whole nation of people who would be just like Moses. He wanted a nation of kings and priests. The Israelites, however, were not interested in having a relationship with God. They wanted Moses to be their intermediary. They wanted Moses to go up on the mountain and talk to God, and then come down from the mountain and tell them what He said. How convenient. They wanted their manna delivered to them every day; they did not want to have faith every day for a miracle. Having faith every day gets rather old. Things are a whole lot easier when people can find someone else who will have faith for them.

This is why people flock to obscure places when someone claims they saw the face of the Virgin Mary on a wall. Why have faith and believe God to solve your problems when you can pay the cost of a plane ticket to some out of the way place where a crumbling wall will solve your problems for you? Why bother having faith, when you can run to a service hosted by a well known ministry who will preach and exhort you until you can finally believe that God can move on your behalf? This is why “big-name” evangelical ministries stay in business. They can fill coliseums with multitudes of desperate people who are willing to plunk down their dollars in an offering plate in exchange for a miracle. Yet the real miracles never happen in those places, and people leave, thinking they have received a Word from God, when all they have really received was a spiritual sedative — and they feel better until it wears off. Those people are like spiritual drug addicts who constantly require some sort of religious “fix” because they cannot seem to get what they need on their own.

This is not the kind of faith God had in mind and so God hardens the hearts of people who will not correctly relate to Him. People who are constantly looking to a popular ministry to preach to them and teach them the ways of the Lord instead of walking with God themselves are sooner or later going to lose out. Churches where a small handful of men or women do all of the preaching and ministry will sooner or later fail to live up to what God had in mind, because such an organization was never God’s intention. There is a big difference between “continually abiding in the apostles teaching” (Acts 2:42) and continually remaining a spiritual infant, always looking for some apostle or prophet to minister to you and counsel you every time your life takes a wrong turn. Many people have done that for decades, never able to discover what God is saying without someone else bottle-feeding them.

Part of the problem is that the Christian concept of who is a minister of the gospel has departed from the intent of God. Christians to a large extent consider pastors and ministers to be a distinct class of people who are somehow separate from the congregation of believers as a whole. The pastors and ministers are the ones whom the organization has recognized. Thus, pastors and ministers have credentials that give them the right to minister, and the average believer lacking those credentials is restricted to certain less sensitive areas of ministry. This concept is simply incorrect from the standpoint of the gospel. The deacons are among the greatest miracle workers mentioned in the scriptures, yet these men were the servers of soup, not apostles. Why then were they so free to accomplish so much? It was because they were not limited by the mandates of religious tradition, nor were they intimidated because they lacked religious credentials. There is hardly a deacon today who measures up to those first deacons. There are so many promises that currently lie dormant and powerless because the believer has been conditioned by religious traditions that circumscribe the limits of his or her potential based on a lack of religious credentials.

What good are religious credentials anyway? The first apostles lacked any. Even the hardhearted Sadducees “perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) The truth is that people do not need decades of religious training. The first apostles spent less than a handful of years with Jesus, and they turned the world upside down. None of the religious schools of their day were able to produce anyone like them. What was their secret? They had a relationship with a living Christ. That relationship was far more important than any religious training they might have missed. In fact, religious training without a relationship to a living Christ is a recipe for disaster. It does not matter what scriptures a person memorizes, or what religious beliefs people champion, unless the relationship with Christ is correct, religion imprisons people behinds walls of doctrines and traditions until they are bereft of any spiritual life.

Many of those apostles knew Jesus after the flesh. Yet they continued a relationship with Him on a different basis even after the resurrection. The teachings of those apostles always remained current and alive because they were not imposing upon the believers the traditions and teachings of a man who died, but they were relating experiences and spiritual truths that were alive and vibrant. This is where many contemporary believers go astray.  Instead of looking to the Lord to reveal to them the meaning of the scriptures, they apply them like a rulebook — as if everything that were written in a different age could be directly applied to this modern age. There are still churches that exist where women cannot speak or minister because Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians 14:34 that “women should keep silent in the churches.” Doctrines like that become oppressive when they are applied in a wrong way because they have no life in them. It was never the intention of the Lord to perpetually keep women consigned to a role as second class citizens, yet unless people open their hearts to the Lord they are unable to understand the folly of religious doctrine.

Even the Apostle Paul knew Christ, although He never met Him in the flesh. Christ appeared to Him and commissioned him to be an apostle to the Gentiles — a ministry he faithfully executed. In spite of the fact that Paul was indoctrinated in the traditions of the Law, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, he was able to break away from the Sect of the Circumcision, who desired to imprison the Gentiles with the shackles of their Law. In those days, the Sect of the Circumcision went from church to church teaching that the Gentiles must be circumcised and submit to the Law of Moses, or they could not be saved. Yet Paul proclaimed the true Gospel, the very one Christ revealed by the Spirit: that salvation is the result of faith, not acts in conformity with the Law. Paul realized that the teachings of the Sect of the Circumcision would result in spiritual death if they were applied, because they were nothing but useless traditions and doctrines from an age that had passed away.

In this respect, Paul has become the progenitor of every modern believer who cannot know Christ after the flesh yet can come to know Him after the spirit. Like Paul, the believer must remain diligent to guard against those who think they know Christ because they are experts in the traditions and teachings of the past. Like the Law of Moses, even the Word of God proclaimed from the mouth of an apostle can become a cauldron of death when it is applied incorrectly. The Sect of the Circumcision was never able to correctly relate to Christ or to the Gentiles because they were locked into the past. So many Christians get stuck in the same boat, and they never are able to open up to the liberty of the Son’s of God described in Romans chapter eight because they are forever stuck in the doctrines and traditions of the religious organizations to which they belong. For this reason, the believer must exercise a living personal relationship with Christ, or risk becoming a victim and a casualty of their religious training. Paul was not hindered by his training as a Pharisee because his relationship to Christ unshackled him from the bondage of his training as a Pharisee. Paul stopped thinking like a Pharisee, and started thinking like a Son of God.

This same relationship is available to every believer, just as the prophet Jeremiah proclaims, “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest …” Yet this knowledge is not the result of a devotion to merely listen to teaching, even if the teacher is a man of God, it is always the result of a devotion to discover how God wants the teaching applied. A person must progress beyond mere acceptance of precepts and doctrines that describe the will of God in an abstract way and advance into firsthand knowledge of the One those doctrines describe. Paul spent a great deal of time after his first experience with the Lord alone in the desert of Arabia fostering and nurturing that relationship. How many other people ever do that? How many people ever get away by themselves and begin to talk to the Lord about what their church organizations are telling them? How many people ever examine what they have been taught all of their lives to see if those lessons are being applied correctly? This is what a walk with God is all about. Walk with the Lord, talk to Him, and relate to Him. Test everything you hear against that internal barometer the Holy Spirit has given you to see if it really is true. If something does not sound right, then put it on the shelf and pray about it until God either makes it real to you, or He tells you to discard it.

Moving cautiously is not rebellion; it is prudence and a requirement of divine order. When churches get caught up into trying to enforce what they consider the “Word” of God, forcing it down everyone’s throat, even those to whom God has not made the policy real, they do themselves a great disservice. Yet this sort of behavior often happens during times of controversy. When the elders and shepherds of a church are unable to agree on what God is saying, nothing should be done until there is a common witness. What has frequently happened, however, is that one side or the other will move forward, excluding the other, and the result is usually a division that becomes irreconcilable. So much can go wrong when people bypass the honor and consideration that should be extended to any person who wants to look to the Lord before embracing what other people claim God is saying. The New Testament requirement of submission was never intended to force people to abandon their own conscience, and adopt the popular view. Whenever the principle of submission is misapplied, and people are required against their own judgment to surrender to a mandate from above, sooner or later something will go awry.

Why did the apostolic church collapse? It collapsed because the disciples of those first men of God lost their way and became more interested in preserving the traditions of the apostles than they did in preserving the spirit of the apostles. How on earth could a movement that began with such power end up sponsoring the wholesale murder of entire populations in the name of Christ, under the direction of the popes, who claimed to be the descendants of Peter? Yet those popes would never have been able to accomplish their horrific intentions if they were unable to enlist armies of willing “Christian” volunteers who were eager to rape, murder and pillage because they were promised salvation if they joined the crusades against the infidels. How stupid they were to believe that the pope was a representative of Christ, and yet they became believers in a lie because they had no relationship with Him, and the church to which they belonged had none either. Yet all Christian movements fail for the same reasons. The descendants of the church fathers abandon the spirit on which the movement was founded and instead work to preserve the doctrines and traditions; yet the doctrines and traditions, even the very Word of God, can become weapons against everything else God tries to do, when believers have no personal relationship to Christ.

Why was there so much difficulty when God opened the door for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Many traditional churches were unable to make the transition from their old forms into a more dynamic kind of worship. Some churches finally ended up accepting a limited form of Charismatic expression because they feared a wholesale exodus of believers into other less restrictive organizations. Some churches began to allow two different kinds of services, one for those people who wanted the more traditional expressions, and another for people who wanted a format that was more conducive to the expression of the Holy Spirit. Wherever there were difficulties in accepting that spirit-filled expression, the resistance and the restrictions were always based on doctrines and traditions derived from the scriptures themselves to limit the experiences the believer could embrace. To this day there are many Christian organizations that consider speaking in tongues, or any other expression of the spirit filled life, to be demonic. Yet if any of these organizations were relating correctly to the Lord, there would be no difficulties of that sort. Yet because people abandon their walk with God, trading it for the security of doctrines, anything that threatens the stability of tradition becomes a source of controversy. Nor does it matter how progressive a movement considers itself to be, whenever people begin to restrict progress based upon the writings and traditions of their spiritual fathers, without carefully maintaining the same spiritual relationship with the Lord of those fathers, sooner or later the door to new truths and new expressions will close, and that movement will end up locked into a unique religious expression that is without spiritual life. The heart that relies on tradition and doctrine, instead of a relationship with the Lord will be unable to recognize new truths as God unfolds them, because God puts a veil over that heart.

There is a veil over the believer’s heart when there is no relationship to the Lord, a veil that is removed when the believer turns to the Lord, just as the apostle writes in 2nd Corinthians. The mission of those first apostles was not to replace that relationship with doctrines and traditions on which the believer could recline, but their mission was to create and nurture that relationship. Those first apostles did not attempt to put down on paper with pen and ink a canon of religious belief that would forever circumscribe the limits of the Christian faith, they wrote the spirit of their message on the believer’s hearts. Whenever doctrines are chiseled onto stone, or written on paper with pen and ink, they are unchangeable. So the Law written on tablets of stone became an expression of death because it could not grow. A spiritual message written on flesh can change and grow and take on a new character as the believer matures. Thus, the apostles endeavored to write their message on the believer’s heart, because a message written there becomes a living truth.

You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

2 Corinthians 3:2 (NASB)

 

A true apostle will work to see that God’s people mature out of their spiritual infancy to the place that they are able to become men and women of God capable of hearing the voice of the Lord without an intermediary. The believer is Christ’s letter; they are not to be locked into any particular minister’s expression. When religious leaders arise with other intentions, there is reason to be concerned. There have been so many insecure ministers who promulgate doctrines that on the surface would seem designed to protect people from deception, yet all these doctrines do is keep that minister forever in the catbird seat. Doctrines like that always limit the resources a believer should explore to the literature and tape ministry of one individual. These narrow-minded ministers produce disciples that are carbon copies of themselves, and the diversity of Christ is lost. Their churches never progress spiritually beyond the level of those leaders, and after they die, their followers remain bound in orbit around the doctrines of a corpse. Such is the nature of denominational Christianity. No member is particularly open or receptive to any other point of view, and every organization believes it is a keeper of the purest form of truth. What was the real problem with the Pharisees? The fact that they worked to preserve the traditions of Moses was not the issue. What became an issue was that they locked people into a system of belief that always kept the Pharisees in a position of power and leadership. They did not oppose Jesus simply because he preached a gospel of which they did not approve, they opposed and later murdered Jesus because His teaching made them and their teachings obsolete.

Yet the dilemma of the Pharisee is really in the plan of God. The Christian church has faced it for a long time, and has not done a very good job at reconciling it. The truth is that leadership of the church must change from time to time, or people become locked into traditions and forms of leadership that result in spiritual death. The Kingdom will be very much like a game of leapfrog with those who at one time were ministers come to the place where they willingly sit under the ministry of those they formerly taught, just as Jesus described:

And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, “What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?” But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all”.

Mark 9:33-35 ( KJV)

 

Christ was pointing out a divine principle on which all authority and leadership in the Kingdom is based. Authority in the Kingdom is based on service, not position. Humans measure relative authority by comparing the prestige of the position an individual occupies. The person who is the ruler of everyone else is believed to have the most authority. This is why people aspire to become religious leaders with power and influence. There is nothing quite so intoxicating as the power associated with assuming a throne of influence over people. No human being in their right mind would desire to be the slave of another. It is degrading, particularly when that person has abilities and talents that he or she feels make him or her leadership material. Yet therein lies a great spiritual trap, the one into which all Christian religions have fallen. Something goes awry in the spirit of a person when they stop serving and start leading. When the character of leadership changes from an expression of humble service to an expression of superiority, it no longer liberates, it suppresses. Nor does it matter how humble the person was when they began the ministry. If they remain in a position of power and influence too long, and are never at some point required to themselves submit to the people over whom they have become accustomed to leading, they will stop growing spiritually, and the character of their leadership will change from an expression of Christ to an oppressive form of human leadership.

Every religious leader will face this sooner or later. It is a difficult thing to be taught by those you formerly taught, and to submit to them the same way you expected them to submit to you. Often though, religious leaders do themselves and their organizations a disservice when they refuse to relinquish the reigns of control. In those churches there is frequently an outflow of fine ministries who come to the place where their growth and spiritual development is inhibited. Divine order ceases to function correctly when people lock themselves into an exclusive position for too long. At some point they forget that the people of God do not belong to them, and they begin to think like the Pharisees and temple leaders who believed the flock of God was their own personal property.

Religious leaders often deceive themselves into believing that they have some sort of mandate from God to forever remain on the top of the heap, overseeing everything, having the last word on everything.  The Pharisees and other temple leaders did it because they believed they were Moses’ descendants, and as such they considered themselves the final authority on all matters of religion. They were unable to recognize that God had bypassed them, choosing instead to manifest Himself through a bunch of lower-class Jews and lawless Gentiles. Any person who assumes a religious position, or who is pushed into it by followers, may eventually find themselves in jeopardy. Sooner or later, the influence and prestige of that position will begin to affect their spirit until they forget that all ministries have authority only because Christ gives it to them; and that He can take it away just as surely.

And He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time. At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, so that they would give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed. And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out. The owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, “This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance will be ours.” So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others. When they heard it, they said, “May it never be!” But Jesus looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written: THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them.

Luke 20:9-19

 

Once a person becomes so locked into a particular religious position that they cannot walk away from it when the Lord directs them to, they become a hindrance to everything He wants from that time forward. Once that happens, unless they are removed, everything will begin to fall apart, and God Himself will abandon them and their disciples. That is exactly what happened to the Pharisees, Sadducees, the temple leadership and the entire Jewish nation. They lost their mantle to the Gentiles who arose with open hearts to hear the message the Jews rejected.

There are many, many Christian movements in that same boat. They have long since lost their relevance to the Kingdom because they have stopped opening up to the unfolding plan of God, and instead spend their time rehearsing traditions and preserving their culture. The great move of restoration that God began with Luther nearly six centuries ago is littered with the bones of movements He has abandoned, and even the very thing God is doing today will be next unless the men and women who make it up take heed to the warning. Just because you admired a man of God yesterday, or admire someone today, means nothing. Admiring a man of God is not the will of God. You must become a person of God yourself.

2011 Copyright

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Shepherd by Example Not by Mandate

When a scriptural principle is incorrectly applied, or applied with a wrong spirit, the result is spiritual death. Nothing illustrates this problem more clearly than the way the Pharisees and temple leaders imposed the Law of Moses upon the Jews. What began as righteous principles that were intended to pave the way for Jesus Christ became a ministry of death, used by the Pharisees as a weapon against the Lord Himself. No principle in the Christian age has more potential to be used in the same way against the intentions of God than the principle of authority and submission. What shepherds and ministries must learn is that the authority they have been given to assist God’s people on their journey into His Kingdom will become oppressive when those shepherds and ministries assert their authority because of a mandate, instead of leading by example.

In human terms, all authority is the result of a mandate. When leaders are appointed by an organization, or elected by a body of people, authority is assumed by reason of a mandate given to them by the organization or by the electing body. Christian groups organize themselves in this same way, submitting themselves to leaders who have either been appointed by other leaders, or who have been elected by the congregation. Popes and kings have always ruled by mandate, both of which believe they rule by reason of a divine mandate. Popes consider themselves infallible representatives of Christ who sit in the seat of the Apostle Peter. Kings believe they rule by divine right. When a person has a mandate, particularly when they believe it is a divine mandate, there is no need for them to lead exemplary lives. After all, they have the right to assert themselves regardless of what they are personally. This is the very reason why popes and kings throughout history have become corrupt and immoral, and yet parade around as if they were God’s representatives. They believe that a divine mandate has given them the right to do so.

Whenever religious leaders assert control by reason of a mandate they do so because they believe that either God or God’s representative has appointed them to a particular position. When they do this, they become subject to the same corrupting influences as kings and popes. Their leadership will eventually assume an oppressive tone, because their spiritual character is no longer the source of their authority; the source of their authority is the mandate itself. A true godly ministry, however, has spiritual authority because of their nature, not because it has been granted to them by mandate. Jesus possessed no mandate. He was never officially recognized by any of the religions of His day, yet His ministry was indisputable. The Pharisees and temple leaders all believed they possessed a divine mandate. They were officially recognized, and yet their recognition meant nothing to God. The shepherds and ministers of the Kingdom are like Christ Himself. Their authority is not the result of a mandate; it is the result of what they have become in their hearts. Understanding this, it becomes apparent why the Apostle Peter characterizes shepherding in the following way:

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

I Peter 5:1-4

Believers give themselves to Christ because He gave His life for them. Our trust in Christ is implicit because He set an example of sacrifice. A person’s relationship to a shepherd should be no different. The trust a shepherd garners from the sheep should be the result of the faithful way that shepherd walks before the Lord. Sheep give their lives to a shepherd because they realize that like Christ, that shepherd has laid down his life for his sheep. Whenever shepherding is exercised on another basis, the result is oppressive since shepherds become lords instead of examples. The Pharisees and temple leaders behaved that way toward the rest of the Jews. They became men of elevated social status, who loved the prestige their religious positions afforded them. Yet Christ had compassion on those poor Israelites over whom those false shepherds exercised authority “…because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).” The sorry state of any church is the same when the pastors and shepherds fail to lead by example, and instead rely on the weight of their mandate, which is the root of all religious position, to enforce their oversight. Eventually, the members of that church will become distressed and dispirited. Ultimately God will intervene and remove those men from authority.

Peter was careful to emphasize how elders were to exercise oversight. They were instructed not to “lord it over” those allotted to their charge. This term “lording it over,” refers to the assumption of a superior position. Christ is often referred to as “Lord and master,” or “King.” All of these terms imply right of ownership over another individual. They imply superiority of position. But, Christ never exercised any of those rights and privileges. In fact, He said that he who was greatest must become servant of all. One who is a servant has an entirely different attitude toward those he or she serves than one who oversees because he or she has been granted a superior position. A ministry is not superior to his charges. A spiritual counselor cannot council as if he was issuing orders. Everything that is ministered should be submitted as if it were being related to one who is the master from one who is the slave. The real question is who serves whom? Do the sheep serve the shepherd, or does the shepherd serve the sheep? Paul answers this question in Philippians, when he writes:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant …

Philippians 2:5-7

Divine order should never be taught in a way that turns the requirement of submission around, imposing submission upon the congregation with respect to leaders, yet ignoring the submission the leaders must have with respect to the congregation. Whenever divine order is exercised in that way, it breaks down into a hierarchy that is bereft of all spiritual authority. To a large extent this is what has happened over the millennia to the Christian church itself. What began as the body of Christ has become stratified into a hierarchy of religious positions, and when that occurred all of the power and authority of the New Testament Church described in the Book of Acts evaporated. Religious positions are always the result of an assumption of authority by people who believe they have received a divine mandate. Religious positions do not serve, they rule just as did the papal monarchies after the collapse of the apostolic church. Whenever authority is exercised because of a right it becomes a representation of everything Christ was not. True spiritual authority is always vested in an individual because of their spiritual character. True spiritual authority is always an attribute of a person who serves, not a person who rules.

How does a slave lead? Slaves take orders they do not issue them. This is a difficult question, because it exposes the contradiction between human leadership and divine leadership. Human leadership is rooted entirely in the assertion of status, while divine leadership has another basis. Why did Christ lay His life down and die on the cross, instead of asserting Himself like a king (which He was), ordering His angels to dispatch the Romans and boot the Pharisees from power? He was demonstrating one of the most basic of all spiritual principles, one that few religious leaders ever grasp. Christ did not have authority because He asserted His right to assume a human throne; His authority arose from His submission to the Father and the faithful way He carried out the Father’s intentions for His life. The authority of any ministry originates the same way. A person has no authority merely because he or she asserts a divine right to authority. Spiritual authority is the result of the faithful way they carry out the will of God.

Thus shepherds, ministries and elders must take care in the way they exercise their oversight over the flock. Men and women in positions of oversight should endeavor to be examples, not mere leaders who hand out directives like little pontiffs. When a person walks carefully before the Lord, just as Jesus faithfully carried out His ministry without asserting His right to a throne, then he or she will have the kind of authority that can effect real change in the lives of people.

2011 Copyright

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