To Fall From Our Steadfastness

There is something that has been impressed upon me in recent years while observing the walk and the ways of Christians, and I include myself here. It is this, that there is a tendency in our hearts to decline from a more devoted and conscientious state to a state that is less characterized by these godly traits.

No doubt this decline was foretold by the Scriptures in passages such as Revelation 3 (the degraded state of Laodicea), and in the spirit of the Lord’s words when He told His disciples that false prophets would arise in a coming day to deceive many, and that iniquity would abound because the love of many would grow cold.¹  But although this decline ought not be a surprise to us, we are at the same time encouraged in the Word of God to guard against it, and to not fall from our steadfastness.²

A local radio talk show host (perhaps a believer, for he is favorable to Christianity) recently discovered that a moral  deviance he had condemned in the past was being accepted and lived out by his child, up until very recently unbeknownst to him. He now regrets his earlier stance on the issue, and is promoting tolerance, if not yet outright acceptance.  The question that arises is whether he had held his former position on the matter by faith and then gave it up, or whether he had spoken out in the past on the basis of what he merely preferred because of what was acceptable within his socially conservative circle.

The appearance of changing preferences due to shifting societal and ecclesiastical norms is troubling to witness when those norms are moral in nature. Now, if there was a legalistic motive for one’s former preferences, then a movement toward living the Christian life with the Lord Jesus as the object for faith, by the Spirit and in obedience to the Scriptures, is a praiseworthy cause for a change in one’s ways.  However, the matter of setting aside values or doctrines that a believer once truly held by faith is a very sad thing. How many parents have given up truth they once enjoyed by faith, in common with other spiritual Christians, primarily because devotion to their children (who became involved in activities or accepted liberal views their parents once shunned) gradually superseded devotion to Christ and faithfulness to the truth? Cases like this are no doubt included in Peter’s warnings to believers in a corrupt world, when he tells them to “beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness”.²  Loss of salvation or eternal life is of course not suggested here, but rather, the potential for losing a reward or a crown of righteousness.³

It is encouraging to see parents who maintain their exercises of faith and godliness in spite of the heartache or disappointment their children may cause them when there has been failure in transmitting those godly exercises from one generation to the next. And it is a happy thing to have observed many saints over the years still holding the moral and spiritual ground they held decades ago, still walking “worthily of the Lord unto all well-pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing by the true knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10 JND translation).

Jude wrote his epistle near the end of the apostolic era, and like Peter, he grieved over the decline and corruption in the Christian profession that threatened to have a deleterious effect on true believers. I will close by repeating Jude’s bright and positive encouragement to his beloved brethren, which I desire for myself and for my brethren as well: “But ye, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the [enjoyment of] the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Build, pray, keep, and look!


¹  Matthew 24:11-12 (although Jesus is speaking particularly of a period after the Church is gone, during the “beginning of sorrows”)    ²    II Peter 3:17     ³  Revelation 3:11; Colossians 2:18; I Corinthians 3:12-15

Woman – Glory of the Man

Addressing the subject of gender roles and gender identity from a Biblical perspective is fraught with peril in modern Western society, because Scripture truth on it has perhaps never been more unpopular.  For many decades, there has been a drive toward gender “equality” in the workplace, in government, at home, and in the church, and it seems that few Christians even question the values and principles of this “equal rights” movement. More recently, the line of demarcation between the sexes in our society has been blurred even further, to the extent that genderless clothing, women in military combat roles, and the transgender agenda are being pressed upon society for its toleration and eventual acceptance.

A godly Christian might well ask the question: “Why this movement toward a gender-neutral culture, and why now?”  I would submit that what began perhaps somewhat innocently with women’s suffrage over 150 years ago gained steam from there and has developed to a point where nearly all restraint has been cast off, and society is not the better for it. Meanwhile, Western Christianity has suffered from accepting these societal innovations. No doubt there has been a concerted effort by the powers of darkness in these last days to weaken the church’s testimony to the world and to the whole angelic realm, by bringing innovation and the resulting confusion into the historical relationship between man and woman instituted in the beginning by God.¹  The Biblical practice of ladies covering their heads (while men properly uncover) in worship has almost disappeared in the West, and women taking on church leadership and public ministry roles is commonplace. Could a spiritual person truly characterize these recent changes as “growing by the true knowledge of God”² in His assembly?

But let us now turn to the positive and edifying teaching of the Word of God in this matter. We find principles in the New Testament that give us to understand the simple truth, should our minds and wills be open to it. This wonderful subject cannot satisfactorily be reduced to a short column like this one, so I would like to focus on one aspect of it for now.

The Apostle Paul makes an amazing statement when he writes that “the woman is the glory of the man” (I Corinthians 11:7).  What does it mean for something to be the “glory of” a person?  Generally, the glory of a being or entity is the thing that brings out the excellence or the worth of its subject, displaying it before a particular audience. A “glory” is made apparent to that audience by means of either physical or spiritual perception, and is something the subject of that glory may rightly take pleasure in, subject to godly order. So, for example, when it is said that a woman’s long hair is a glory to her, it is not difficult for us to grasp that her long hair manifests what is naturally excellent and praiseworthy as to her womanhood. Accordingly, she should not be ashamed of that glory nor hide it, except when it is appropriate that she cover her head and her hair because of a greater glory that ought not be eclipsed or usurped; that is, the glory of God on display in the man during collective prayer and ministry.³

What respectable man does not take pleasure in appearing publicly with the woman he loves?  For she is his glory, being the one who completes him. Would there be glory for the man, or would his excellence be on display, had he not her to fulfill him?  The notion of a man glorying in his own appearance or hair is unnatural, for it is his “better half” that he ought to glory in.  It is clear from the Scriptures we have noticed that the woman was made of and for the man (while the man now comes by the woman), and that the chain of typical glories was only complete when God brought the woman to the man as bone of his bone. Only then, after His work on the sixth day of creating Man male and female, did God pronounce His creative work “very good”, and not before then (Genesis 1:26-31).

The glorious mystery of Christ and the church,¹ as well as God’s display of His own manifold excellence before the universe,³ is compromised in the minds of those (including Christians) who bring their own thoughts to bear on the matter of gender roles and distinctions.  Let it suffice for us to maintain that God is always wiser than men, and that He has revealed to us His mind on the work of His own hands, the man and the woman. It will be our glory and joy to submit in simplicity to God’s infinite wisdom. How blessed are we who have the privilege of participating in a scheme that brings such glory to Him!


¹ Read these scriptures together: Genesis 2:18-24; Ephesians 3:8-11; 5:22-32; and I Corinthians 11:3-10.    ²  Colossians 1:10 JND trans.     ³  I Corinthians 11:7-15


Why Political Candidates Shouldn’t Worry Christians

I hesitate to write on the dreary subject of politics, but since some of my Christian friends feel very strongly about current political maneuverings in the United States, I believe it might be an appropriate time for it.

I suppose there are a few reasons why many Christians are troubled by the decision they feel they must make, particularly this year.  One reason may be that they are concerned about the future of America, including possible compromises of freedom or economic losses. Another cause for concern may be the moral character, or lack thereof, that they perceive in multiple political candidates, one of whom they believe they must support or vote for in order to fulfill their civic duty, or perhaps to remain socially relevant. Some may be asking themselves a version of this question: “Am I compromising the high moral ground I seek to stand on, if I vote for someone who obviously has traded moral scruples for political power?”

I do not wish to detract from the concerns of thoughtful believers about the personal morality of leaders or as to societal decline, but I contend that it is not a shirking of some moral duty or disobedience to U.S. law if a Christian seeks to remain neutral by refraining from participating in the political process, if a higher spiritual claim takes precedence in his or her conscience. I have written a little more on this subject at this link.

My purpose here is to offer comfort to the hearts of believers whose worry and consternation is detracting from or eclipsing their peace and joy. To that end, I offer a few verses of Scripture with brief comments.

The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will (Daniel 4:25).  This passage by itself should serve to calm the minds of all who entrust themselves to God who claims for Himself universal sovereignty over kings and rulers.  But the Word of God gives us much more than this for the encouragement of our souls.

Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? (I Peter 3:13) Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil (Romans 13:3).  The Apostles Peter and Paul both write these words of encouragement to follow the good and do good works, even though they faced difficult times and persecution in the early church.  Now we know that these verses of Scripture are not absolute statements, for there have been positively evil rulers whom Satan has aroused against believers in spite of all they seek to do right, and for the blessing of others.  But American Christians ought to be very thankful to be living under the rule of law, where the election (God’s choice) of one man or woman over another to be the president will probably not in short order bring disaster upon us.

Let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (I Peter 4:19)  If real religious persecution should begin in America because it has chosen godless leaders who manage to overturn the rule of law, we have the greatest comfort of all put before us in this and other similar portions of Scripture. The loving and righteous Creator who gave us our being and made us a new creation in Christ will in the final analysis preserve our souls for Himself, no matter if the worst should come, and no matter whether our faith fails under extreme duress, for He will complete what He has created in us until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6).

If a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked (Proverbs 29:12).  What should really give believers pause is the moral connection the Scriptures make between the ruler and the ruled. Given the steep moral slide in American society, it is no wonder that those leaders who become most popular are often deeply flawed morally, while promoting themselves by preying on the lusts and fears of a populace, and the “people love to have it so” (Jeremiah 5:31). While these thoughts may not be very cheerful in themselves, a Christian ought to take courage in the truth that, not only is the Lord ruling over all, but that He is returning for His own very soon.

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you . . . Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence . . . Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord . . . Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:1-8 ESV).

Do You Really Believe?

This question is admittedly rather open-ended, even if grammatically it requires only a simple affirmative or negative. Your logical response would be another question: “Do I believe in what?”  A belief about something, or confidence in a person (perhaps in oneself), is often what people are referring to when they speak of “faith”. But a faith that is more than a general or vague belief, one that is transformative and effectual, must have God as revealed in Christ as its object and basis.

God has indeed revealed Himself to this world in Jesus Christ, and we find the record of that in the New Testament scriptures. From the beginning of His ministry here among His people, Jesus presented Himself as the only proper object of faith, for the receiving of eternal life. The Gospel of John is filled with the Lord Jesus’ claims of being the Son of God, and alone worthy to be trusted in. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “Ye believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1).  We could multiply references, and they are all precious. In order to clearly exclude any other object as legitimate for faith to be placed in, Jesus told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit  down to earth after He went back to the Father, and that the Spirit would “bring demonstration to the world of sin . . . because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:8-9 JND).

We have just established from the Word of God that in order to gain eternal life, your faith must be placed in the Son of God, who came down from heaven to die for our sins and rose again on the third day. Refusing or neglecting to believe this simple gospel renders vain or futile any faith a person may think he has (I Corinthians 15:1-17).  Now if you do not yet have the assurance of possessing eternal life in your soul, please do take that simple yet momentous step right now: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ who came into this world to die for you. The change will be wonderful, you will become a new creation in Christ, and all things will become new and different for you.¹

In addition to presenting Christ as the proper object for our faith, we find one important qualifying adjective in the Word of God that is used when referring to personal “faith”.  For the most part, the Spirit has not seen fit to qualify faith, nor to speak much of it quantitatively (see Matthew 17:20), as if to emphasize the overarching importance of faith’s divine Object that is everywhere assumed in the Word. However, because there is a need to guard against a superficial or careless use of the term, the adjective “unfeigned” is used twice with “faith” by the Apostle Paul, once in each of his letters to Timothy.  I contend that one can only claim to possess eternal life if his faith is “unfeigned”, or sincere (I Timothy 1:5 and II Timothy 1:5).

We have some examples in Scripture of feigned or insincere faith, and I will mention just one of them briefly. Simon the sorcerer “believed also” when the people in that Samaritan city “with one accord gave heed” to Philip’s preaching of Christ (Acts 8:5-24). But notice there is nothing said of the Spirit falling upon Simon personally, and indeed, he is represented to us in the account as being just an opportunistic onlooker who gave in to covetous thoughts and words because of the miraculous evidence of the Spirit he saw in his countrymen.  Peter’s condemnation of the thoughts of Simon’s heart indicate that no conversion had taken place there:  “Thy money perish with thee . . . Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right with God . . . thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”  Simon’s faith was proved to be counterfeit, and Peter possessed the spiritual discernment along with the apostolic authority that empowered him to condemn Simon for it. This same carnal impulse of professing faith because of miracles, rather than possessing sincere faith in Christ, is also addressed in John 2:23-25.

True faith is never the temporary impulse of the natural human heart; rather, it is a gift of God and a work of God², and is always accompanied by new creation life in the believer’s soul. The testimony of God’s Spirit with the believer’s spirit, and a desire in his or her heart to obey and to please Him³, provide abundant assurance of eternal life to the soul who has looked away from self to Christ in true faith.


¹  II Cor. 5:14-17   ²  Eph. 2:8; John 6:29; Phil. 1:6   ³  Romans 8:14-16; I John 2:5-8

The Road to Laodicea

The road from Philadelphia to Laodicea in the old Roman province of Asia could have been traversed in a couple of days on foot.  Much of the way would have been upriver, but morally, it was all downgrade. That is, if the spiritual state of the assemblies in those cities had been taken into account, late in the first century of the Christian era.

Many Bible teachers understand the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 as not only moral in their bearing, but prophetic as well, and that each assembly sequentially brought into view gives us a perspective on successive periods in the history of the church of God.  Among those who hold this view, there is not perfect agreement on the historical periods outlined by these letters from the Lord Jesus Christ, who walks among the candlesticks as Judge, rather than as Savior. All the same, there are a few principles that present themselves when these churches are viewed prophetically, and my comments are really intended for those who are not set against such an interpretation.

In bringing a few observations to the attention of my readers, I wish to avoid the controversy that may be caused by circumscribing these periods too concretely. No doubt most would agree that we do indeed live in the latter days of the church period, and that the moral state of Christendom (the realm of professing Christianity), is at a very low ebb.  So-called “evangelical” Christianity has deteriorated over the decades as well, and all of us who seek to honor Christ in this scene must hang our heads in shame at our own failure in that endeavor.

I would encourage a fresh reading of Revelation 3, where we find Sardis as well, which will provide some context. What characterized Philadelphia, in contrast to the deadness found in Sardis?  (Sardis is what Protestantism had degenerated into.)  Two phrases are key here:  ” . . . thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied My name” (v. 8), and ” . . . thou hast kept the word of my patience . . . ” (v.10). There was no boasting of Pentecostal power among that despised company, neither in A.D. 90, nor in their more recent spiritual heirs.  However, there was a devoted adherence to the “word of Christ”¹ and a refusal to deny or compromise His name, as many others around them and before them doubtless had.  This opened up before them (as a door – v. 8) the opportunity for great blessing, and we see that historically there was much precious truth recovered to the church of God during that brief time period:  A fuller understanding of justification by faith, the recovery of the truth of the pre-tribulation rapture of the church (the promise of v. 10), the great principles of dispensational truth,  the heavenly character of the church and the purposes of God, a renewed understanding and practicing of the truth of the body of Christ and the house of God, and more.  Dr. Paul Wilkinson has spoken of the spiritual activity in this period as a “Bible reading or Bible study movement” in which the church was taken back to the word of God as interpreted literally.

So what has changed in the house of God² on earth that accounts for the stark difference in the Lord’s addresses to the last two churches in this series?  The church began to boast in the knowledge and blessing it had received, while losing the sense of dependence upon the Lord that so marked those of Philadelphian character.  The Lord’s condemnation is on account of Laodicea’s claim:  “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (v.17).  The Lord Jesus is seen on the outside now, for it is evident that the church saw little need for Him, or to be dependent upon Him, any longer.  How quickly things changed in the course of decades over the last half of the 19th century!  In a recent piece on Fox News’ Opinion page, Jeremiah J. Johnston asks the question: “Why are so many Christians biblically illiterate?”  He answers his own question in part by saying: “The Bible is not held in the esteem it once was. Over the last 150 years, America has drifted from its Biblical focus . . . Clearly, the challenge of biblical illiteracy in America is not because of a shortage of Bibles, but rather [because of a lack of] knowledge and appreciation of the Bible’s message.” I was struck that his period of 150 years corroborated what I believe the Laodicean period approximately covers, but the disease of lukewarmness has permeated the entirety of Christendom, not just America.

Because of the spiritual state in modern Christendom, I would add with some trepidation that healthy skepticism would be in order with regard to doctrines and practices that have their origins in the past century-and-a-half, or in the discarding of doctrines and practices that were maintained while the church was in a better spiritual state. In far too many cases, I would suggest that these recent additions or deletions are accommodations to the Laodicean spirit, rather than a further recovery of truth opened up to spiritual men by the Spirit of God.³

We have altogether gone down the moral grade toward Laodicea, and we ought to confess we are there.  But in the measure that we desire for ourselves a Philadelphian character, our souls may still find an open door of blessing, and may “rejoice in the Lord always” at His sweet assurance: “I have loved thee.”


¹  Colossians 3:16     ²  I Timothy 3:15; I Peter 4:17    ³ I Corinthians 2:12-13; 4:7

Born Again – Of Incorruptible Seed

If I were selling seeds, and you purchased apple tree seeds from me, you would expect to assume the risk that those seeds may not properly germinate. Even if they did, the new seedlings would be vulnerable to any number of dangers to its fragile life. But if I could offer you an “incorruptible” seed, one that would be positively perfect, that would mature to bear perfect fruit, that would never grow old and die, and that furthermore couldn’t be killed, you would certainly consider that a “miracle” seed.

It is just such a claim that the Spirit of God makes in the Word of God, and the incorruptible seed is that very Word created in us as a new and perfect life, a divine nature, by the Spirit.¹  Divine life in the human soul truly is a miracle.  Within that quickened soul, where there was once only an old fleshly nature that rejected God’s testimony and a mind that loved darkness (as we discussed in the previous column), there is now also a new nature embodied in a new man, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV).

Evangelical Christian teachers make much of the act of believing, and of the fruit that follows faith, and it is well that they should.  However, many pay regrettably little attention to the new life in the soul that makes that faith and its fruit possible, even though the Bible has more to say on the matter than one may initially realize. New birth from above enables a soul once dead in sins to receive and believe on Jesus Christ: “As many as received Him . . . that believe on His name . . . who have been born . . . of God” (John 1:12-13 JND). Being born of water (a figure of the Word) and the Spirit brings spiritual eyesight to those who were once spiritually blind: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”. When God implants divine life into a soul, then an apprehension of God’s spiritual kingdom or realm is possible by faith.  The initiative and the “seed” are both God’s: “Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth” (James 1:18).

The old nature (the flesh) that once left us “children of wrath”² still remains within the believer, and sadly may be used as a tool by the enemy of our souls to our detriment and loss; but there is nothing that the world, the flesh, or the Devil can do to impair or destroy that new and perfect nature, until at last the believer is freed from the effect of evil when the Lord calls him home. How is it that we can make these claims as to the newly created life’s perfection and permanence?  Let’s look at a few more Scriptures.

In I John 3:9, we are told that the one who has been “begotten (caused to be born) of God does not practice sin, because His seed abides in him, and he cannot sin, because he has been begotten of God.”  The Apostle John often presents his case in the abstract and absolute, and so we learn from this verse that the saint as viewed by God (whose very seed, nature, and life are in the new man) cannot sin. That’s a remarkable statement that often goes unnoticed.

Not only is that new man morally perfect because it is like God, as we noticed above in Ephesians 4:24, but it is also permanent, immune from decay and death.  A seed always imparts its characteristics to the plant, and parents always impart their characteristics to their children. The nature of the seed by which we have been born of God is manifestly “incorruptible”, so that its progeny must be incorruptible as well. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Peter 1:22-25).  What joy and assurance is in store for the believer who begins to appreciate the truth of all that comes with being born again!


¹ John 3:5,8; I Peter 1:22-25; II Peter 1:4; II Cor. 5:17; James 1:18    ²  Ephesians 2:3

The Truth About Being Born Again

The phrase “born-again Christian” is not an uncommon one in our day, and is often used to describe a person who is devout and committed to the tenets of the Christian faith, is very often on the conservative end of the religious (or political) spectrum, and claims to have had a spiritual conversion experience. But to discover what being born again really entails, and why it is necessary and beneficial, we must go to the Bible, the source of the term and the concept.

We ought to discuss first the necessity of “new birth”, a term that may be used interchangeably with the phrase “born again”. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:1-21 of the need of the people of Israel to be born again as a prerequisite for entering, or even to “see” (perceive by faith), the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was evidently about to inquire further about the Lord’s miracles and mission from God. Why then did Jesus change the subject in order to impress upon him an Old Testament teaching¹ that was seemingly unrelated? He did that because the Jews in general wanted a Messiah, a Teacher from God, on their own terms; that is, according to their nature as being “in the flesh”,² and Jesus was being faithful in speaking the truth of God concerning that fleshly nature.

The truth is that “that which is born of the flesh is flesh”. At first glance, that might seem to be a simplistic statement, but it is full of meaning as to how fallen human nature has been passed down to us. Now God has never found anything good in the flesh, not even an inclination toward Him. “There is none that seeketh after God” (Romans 3:11), and “in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). A baby does not begin life with a “clean slate”, but with a fallen nature, and time and maturity have manifested literally billions of times over that our fleshly nature is at enmity with God, no matter how many times and ways He has or will yet test it. God tested our first parents (yet unfallen) in the garden of Eden, He tested men for a few thousand years under the influence of their consciences until the flood, and then under human government and under God’s perfect Law. In every case, and even given the most favorable circumstances, He got the same results, because the flesh can never improve, and certainly cannot attain to the level of “spirit”, for only “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Here is a parallel to consider: When the Lord Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the Devil for forty days, the tempter could find nothing in Jesus³ that answered to his temptations, for the Lord’s holy human nature was “of the Spirit”, and He came forth as pure gold from that temptation. He had a nature that “cannot sin” (I John 3:9). Conversely, the natural man is born with a fleshly nature that will not obey nor seek God, no matter how much he is courted, no matter how much benefit or blessing is promised him if only he would obey. A work of the Spirit of God must take place in a person’s soul before there will be any response to the drawing of God (Romans 8:5-8).

Before you rise up in disbelief at the gloomy picture that the Scriptures paint of the depravity of our common fleshly nature, think about the tendencies of your own heart, and let’s look at ourselves (at least our former selves) in light of the testimony of the Lord Jesus to Nicodemus: “Men loved (past tense) darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil”. This is universal, just as Jeremiah’s description of the human heart is universal in Jeremiah 17:9:  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” We surely cannot “know” or tell the depths to which our own hearts could or would go if left to themselves apart from new life created in our souls when the Spirit of God initiates our new birth.

Next time in this column I hope to address the more hopeful and positive aspect of this subject: God’s work in human souls for their eternal blessing and for His ultimate glory.


¹ Ezekiel 36:25-27     ² Romans 7:5     ³ Matthew 4:1-11; John 14:30.

Megachurches: Gathering or Scattering?

Willow Creek Community Church, a large megachurch in the Chicago area, sought to attract seekers and the “unchurched” several decades ago by creating an environment in which they could say: “This is not your ordinary church.”  The church’s minister, Bill Hybels, performed a neighborhood survey prior to organizing the congregation. He went door-to-door asking residents what they disliked about church and what they would want in a church. From this, he constructed a “user friendly” worship service with sermons oriented to practical life and devoid of appeals for money, religious jargon and “heavy guilt trips.” Fast-forward 35 years, and a recent article in Time reports that “Hybels has been meeting privately for the past year with LGBTQ congregants to learn to better understand their stories.” His massive religious organization is not alone in the gradual acceptance of unscriptural lifestyles because changing times warrant a more inclusive message in order to continue to attract crowds.

Willow Creek is just one of hundreds of megachurches that have sprung up in a movement over the past 50 years. While there are without doubt many sincere Christians and godly leaders in this movement, the question I would like to consider briefly (given this short format) is whether this great gathering of souls to many large, suburban campuses answers to the Lord Jesus’ thought and words on the matter of gathering believers.

The Holy Spirit’s testimony in John’s gospel as to the Lord Jesus’ mission in this world is that that He “should die for that nation (Israel) . . . but that also He should gather together in one all the children of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11:52-53). Christianity and the church are here alluded to, though not mentioned, the Lord Himself being the gatherer. In Matthew, having introduced the church by name, He assures His disciples that “where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). The passive voice in the phrase “are gathered” points to an external gathering power. Elsewhere in another context, Jesus says “he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Matt. 12:30). In these passages we note that He has been, and still is, at work gathering believing souls to Himself in the power of the Spirit, and if we desire to have fellowship with Christ in that work, it must be according to the principles in the Word of God, which He always honored. Otherwise, our attempts at gathering may have the effect of scattering.

Megachurches are most often the product of one highly gifted, charismatic leader. How many Christians are drawn away from fellowship with those whom the Lord Jesus has gathered to Himself on the ground of truth, and are attracted to such a leader, whether by force of his personality, or by the “social vortex” that his organization has created?

In ancient times, the masses were drawn to the likes of Joseph, Moses, and David, no doubt some of the greatest leaders in history, and it was according to God’s mind in all of those cases. But there is no earthly answer to those great leaders during the church age, and I will contend that it is so by God’s design. The Lord Jesus Christ is alone worthy to have “the gathering of the people be” unto Himself now, and in that coming day of His glory in this world (Genesis 49:10). Christ is the one pictured and previewed in those leaders of old, and not the charismatic megachurch leaders we’ve seen rise to prominence in our day.

The Apostle Paul was God’s “chosen vessel”, but he distinctly lacked charisma and was allowed of the Lord to suffer difficulties to keep him from glorying¹. It was Paul that warned the Ephesian elders of the scattering effect, not only of “grievous wolves”, but of men arising from among believers to “draw away disciples after them” by speaking perverted things². Would not Paul have considered it a perversion of the ministry the Lord had given him, should John Mark or Demas have left him to start their own movement by taking counsel with sinners for the purpose of learning how to most effectively gather both the saved and the lost into great assemblies headed by themselves? Preach a clear gospel to the lost in venues and forums appropriate to that, as many thankfully have and still do, but assembling for worship and ministry pertains to saints, not sinners.

The Lord Jesus assured his disciples that He would sometimes gather saints to His name in numbers as few as two or three, and not merely for casual fellowship. All administrative authority to bind and loose is given to even a small assembly gathered in the Lord’s name, for that gathering represents the whole church of God, “the pillar and base of the truth”³.  If that great Head of the Church is content to bless and sanction even only a few in many places throughout the world who cling to the truth, ought not you and I be content to have it so?

(Some background material was taken from “Exploring the Megachurch Phenomena”, by Scott Thumma, PhD)

¹ I Corinthians 2:1-5; II Corinthians 12:7-11  ² Acts 20:29-30  ³ Matthew 18:17-20; I Timothy 3:15 JND


Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Most of us know the context in which this question was asked, far back in time near the dawn of human history. Cain spoke these words after killing his brother Abel, and after blatantly lying to God when he was asked: “Where is Abel thy brother?” (Genesis 4:9). What might have been going through Cain’s mind, in addition to that carnal impulse to deny culpability for his brutal act? He was asserting his independence, both as to being accountable to God, and as to any accountability for his brother’s welfare.

Asserting or defending one’s independence in moral and spiritual matters is never commended by God.  Spiritual independence is the rejection of the idea of accountability to God. Moral independence is the refusal to be accountable to another person or group for your actions, and often includes despising God-given accountability for the welfare of others. We find manifestations of this spirit of independence in the heart of the natural man in many other Bible characters, and we will briefly notice just two more of them.

Pharaoh shows his character and begins his downward spiral toward destruction by uttering this contemptuous question: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him to let Israel go?” (Exodus 5:2)  He immediately answers the question to his own condemnation: “I know not the Lord.”  There is no doubt that Pharaoh’s conscience spoke to him of God’s claims upon him, but he scorned all accountability to his Creator, and all accountability for the well-being of Jehovah’s people.

Nabal was a “churlish and evil” man, the very opposite of his good and beautiful wife, Abigail (I Samuel 25). When David and his men rightly desired some consideration from Nabal, he retorts with a question very similar to Pharaoh’s:  “Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse?”  And not content to leave it there, he adds insult to injury and opines as to David’s motives: “There be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master.”  In other words, Nabal casts David as a rebel who achieved independence from Saul, and if David requires some sustenance for himself and his followers, let him return and subject himself to his former master. But David was a fugitive, not a rebel.

Now David is a lovely picture for us of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the account just mentioned, Nabal reproached David just as the Pharisees much later, and in the same proud spirit, reproached Jesus, accusing Him of having an independent mission, saying “Thou barest record of Thyself; Thy record is not true!” (John 8:13-14)  But there never was a more dependent man on this earth than our blessed Lord, so that the Pharisees’ accusations against David’s greater Son just serve to manifest their own estrangement from God and His truth (John 5:30-38; 6:38-40).

It is not surprising to us that sinners would insist upon their moral and spiritual independence, but what is the lesson for Christians in pictures such as these?  “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself” (Romans 14:7-9). Let our hearts and consciences always exercise themselves in dependence upon God, with the Lord Jesus as our example, and let us own and act upon our accountability to and for others in the body of Christ. He came not to please Himself, but “took upon Him the form of a servant”.  An independent spirit may be acceptable in a society that values political independence, but what ought to characterize the spirits of the godly? Our God is certain to honor and reward the life that is dependent and accountable, conformed to the image of His Son.

As Often As You Eat . . . and Drink

Are you able to remember the Lord Jesus often? How prominent a place does that poignant and special memorial, the Lord’s Supper, have in your church life? I ask not because I seek a definitive answer, but in order to encourage reflection on a matter that is not often addressed in evangelical Christian circles.

It ought to be a habit for those of us who are believers in the Lord Jesus to seek to discern first of all what He thinks about a matter, and how important a thing is to our Lord’s heart. We must all confess that we fall far short of that ideal paradigm, that godly filter for our thoughts, and so the Apostle Paul even expressed his disappointment in his brethren in this way: “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Philippians 2:21).

But if we would enter into the sentiments of our Savior when He asked His disciples to remember Him by the tokens of bread and wine, how might it change our thoughts, our feelings, our practices regarding it?  Would the Lord’s Supper then be to our souls an afterthought, or a burdensome ritual, or even an occasion marked by dread and awe* in which leaders seek to maintain order among their followers? My hope is that asking such questions is not a wearying exercise, but rather, that we would be stirred in our hearts to respond to what is still in the loving heart of our Lord Jesus, who is about to come for us, to bring us home to be with Himself forever.

In touching on the subject of that “blessed hope”, the rapture of the church by the returning Son of God (I Thessalonians 1:10 and 4:13-18), we are led in our thoughts to the wonderful revelation the Lord Jesus gave to Paul regarding the remembrance meal He instituted on the night in which He was betrayed. By eating the bread and drinking the cup, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV). The Lord asks us to look back to His death in remembrance, while looking forward in expectation to His return for us.

It is not really disputed among Bible scholars that the “breaking of bread” was at least a weekly practice among the early Christians, and several phrases from Scripture looked at in context will bear this out. “They continued steadfastly . . . in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). “Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread . . . ” (Acts 20:7). “When ye come together therefore into one place . . . to eat the Lord’s supper” (I Corinthians 11:20). There are other allusions to its normal frequency, including the Lord’s own words: “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup . . .”

An earnest soul might well ask at this point: “Is it really all that important how prominent or frequent the Lord’s supper is in my Christian experience?” I would only refer such a one back to those words of the Lord Jesus: “As often as . . .”  How important is this act of remembrance and proclamation to Him? Did He intend to exercise us to fulfill His heart’s desire? May our hearts answer to what is on His heart, and what He still so vividly remembers in His soul – His atoning death for us.


* (An article in a certain denomination’s online encyclopedia uses the terms “dread and awe” to describe how the “communion service” has been perceived by many historically in that denomination.)