Monday, January 25, 2010

Antidote for Sectarianism

Most people have some doctrinal issue that can be a hobby horse. It is wise to avoid spending too much time on this issue since you can ride it to death. My personal one is sectarianism. For this reason I rarely post on it, however I would like to write a little bit about it now as it is an evil that is hard to avoid as it is not as easily spotted as other evils. It is also a serious evil in that it can cost us much of the reward we would receive for our good deeds.
It is not bad to believe that the organization we are with is the one that we should be with, to think otherwise would be a good sign to pray and consider moving on. Sectarianism is more than that. As Christians we are called to be members of a local body, that local body will likely also be joined to a denomination or fellowship of some sort. The joining will be based on having a likeness in doctrinal issues (yes, even in so called emerging churches this is there, in this case they are joined by a desire for a lack of doctrine) and a similar focus and goal. If we are where God wants us to be, we should be in-line with these things, and should flow with the leadership of the church we are in. The priority and order of all Christian service is found in 2 Cor. 8:5, “…first they gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us through the will of God.” The order here is important, we give ourselves to the Lord first and out of that flows our giving of ourselves to the local, denominational and even extra-denominational body. The evil of sectarianism lies in the reversal of these two priorities, or sometimes a confounding them.

I would now like to give a few symptoms of what I see as sectarianism and then give a few scriptures that will help us avoid it. It is a motive issue and that is why it can be so insidious, but God’s Word is able to judge our thoughts and motives and bring cleansing where needed.

Symptom Number One

Are you more angry that someone has violated the standard and teaching of your organization than that they have gone against the Lord? That is sectarian.

I remember talking once with someone concerning a certain pastor who had done something. The person I was talking to spoke more about what their organization had done for the person and how he had disappointed them than they did about what the person had done in the light of God’s Word and what that meant.

This is like a judge in courtroom of a man charged with murder saying, “How dare you break the law of our land?” If a man is willing to overcome the law of nature which God has placed in His heart in order to do something like that and justify himself in doing it, what is any human law to him? We rob God of the honor which is His due and then act affronted when someone crosses our way of doing things. Even if we are right, are we angry because God’s law was violated or we were despised?

“But,” it may be said, “Our organization did much for this person.” Did not God do more? God created him and gave him breath and life, and even used you to supply somewhat, yet all was of God. If he has betrayed the organization then let the organization work its wrath upon him, but if God what is the wrath of any man or men compared to that? If men will not listen to God and their own conscience, who do we think we are that they should hear us? If we are angry because of what was given, then why did we give it? If it was for Christ’s sake will He not still reward us. If it was to control, then we are well requited in losing control.

Symptom Number Two

When are considering a course of action and discuss it with someone do you talk more about why it is right or wrong in and of itself, or do you make more mention of how others in your organization would view it?

The approval of others will never justify bad conduct, nor will the scowl of others condemn what God has required. The bad thing about this attitude is that even if we do the right thing we receive no eternal reward for it. If we follow so and so, because they are so and so and we want to please so and so, then our reward is that person’s approval and when we approach the Throne of Christ for our reward He will tell us that we have already been rewarded for that. However if we choose to please Christ, and seek to know His will in these things, at least we will have pleased Him even if no one else, and quite likely we will also have the approval of those over us. Even better our reward will still await us. The reward of seeking men’s approval is men’s approval (Mat. 6:1-6), but the reward of seeking God’s approval is His approval both now and in eternity and at times also the approval of good men (who wants the approval of any other kind?).

Symptom Number Three

In doctrinal disputes and discussions do you often quote a man as the final word in whatever is said? We all quote men of God at sometime or other, but if this is a constant occurrence, we do the one we quote a disservice. Every minister will one day stand before the Lord and give an account for his ministry. No godly man would be flattered to be told by someone on that day, “I wouldn’t listen to God’s Word or anyone else on this matter, but when I heard that this is what you taught I believed it because of you!”

We are friends of the Bridegroom, He is the One that has the bride. If they will not hear Him, may they not hear us! If a man teaches what I teach may it only be because he has studied and seen that it is in the Scriptures. Who is Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas? A vicar is one who rules on behalf of another who is absent, an ambassador is one who speaks on behalf of one who may be either absent or present. Christ has called us to be ambassadors, we have no authority in and of ourselves. The Roman Catholics can have a vicar because Christ is absent from them, but we who have Christ have no such need. The apostle Paul was pleased with Bereans because they took nothing on his authority, but searched the Scriptures to see if these things were so (Acts 17:10-11). This is the hallmark of true ministry. The hallmark of false ministry is to desire to have men follow them and their own authority (Acts 20:30).

Symptom Number Four

This last one is tied in with some of the others and perhaps could be regarded as a half symptom, but it relates to respect of persons. Do you receive only from other Christians who are in your approved circle or are you able to receive encouragement and even rebuke from those outside?

We must discern the body of the Lord. Yes, some people are better conduits for the voice of God than others, but God holds us accountable for whether or not we hear Him, not who He used. Josiah was held accountable because he did not listen to God when He spoke through a pagan (2 Chr. 35:20-24), and we delude ourselves if we think that no harm will accrue to us if we ignore Him when He speaks through a brother who belongs to a Church we disapprove of or holds a false doctrine. By all means ignore the man when he tries to convince you of something that is clearly false, but if he speaks something in the Name of the Lord, weigh it to see if it is so. We receive not the person but the Word of God. On the other hand, no matter how trusted the person, we should not take what they say out of hand, but should weigh that to see if they spoke of themselves or spoke on behalf of God. The unnamed prophet of 1 Kings 13, died because he listened to another man who was a prophet but was not speaking for God at that time. God allows these things to test our hearts as to whether we are really following Him or are following man.

Our faith is not in the member that Christ uses, but in Christ who uses every member in his body to supply each other. Not every one who claims to be a Christian is a member of Christ, but every true member of Christ has a function and can minister to us. If we receive from them we are receiving of Christ through them, if we reject or ignore we are really ignoring Him.

I will now climb off my soap box, lest my poor coordination cause me to slip off. May God grant that each of us whatever other name we bear may truly be worthy of the best one – Christian, one who is like Christ. Amen.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

John 14 As A Betrothal

A few weeks ago as I was reading in John, I read again through some of the best passages of Scripture. John chapters 13-17 are really a life times worth of study to extract even a little of what is said.

One things that struck me as I read John 14 again is how it almost seems to bear certain aspects of betrothal in it. I may be a little off on this, but I lay it out for the consideration of those who read this.

1. In Jewish custom of the day shortly after the betrothal and before the wedding the groom-to-be would go to his area and prepare the house for the bride, then return for her when it was ready. The wedding was then celebrated. The fact that the journey could be longer or shorter made it necessary for the wedding party who carried lamps to be ready whenever he arrived, as seen in the parable of the ten virgins. After the wedding feast the groom would take the bride to their home where they would live together and make their new life together. Compare that with John 14:2-3.

Joh 14:2-3 "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, so that where I am, you may be also."

2. Another aspect of betrothal in the Jewish custom of the time was the intermutuality of property. From the time of betrothal the woman was seen to be under the authority of her husband to be and to have surrendered all property to him. On the other hand she also at the same time obtained a right to all that was his. I think this might have some bearing on verses 13 and 14.

"And whatever you may ask in My name, that I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it."

3. The responsibilities of the relationship are spelled out. These are very simple yet also very comprehensive. If you love Me keep My commandments.

4. For a betrothal to be valid it had to be done in a clearly provable way. Either with a written document declaring that intention or in the presence of witnesses. Also it invariably was done with the presentation of a gift or token of the intention, much like our engagement ring is used today.

I think Christ's gift which is a token of His betrothal is found in verse 27, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

His peace is thus a token that we belong to Him and we should always be found wearing it. we should let the peace of God keep our hearts and minds.

To God be the glory! Amen.