Personal Reflection – The Church #2

Because the Church represents Jesus in all of His glory upon the earth, like Jesus, there are many facets to the Church. In Scripture, the New Testament, there are fourteen different descriptive words used to describe this amazing world-wide community that Jesus is building.

1> A New Race 

See Galatians 6; Ephesians 2; 1 Peter 2

The Scriptures listed above tell us that we are ‘a new humanity,’ ‘a chosen generation,’ ‘one new man,’ and ‘a new creation.’ 

When Jesus made His entrance into human history, He was an endangered species on this planet. He was the first of a new kind of person. Jesus was God’s original thought for humanity, but God’s original intent for humanity became corrupt with the fall. In His death and resurrection, Christ introduced a new species. The Church is neither Jew nor Gentile, male or female, slave or free, but “a new human” altogether. 

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Galatians 6:15 “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”

So we should be looking at our local church to see if the members see themselves as part of a new humanity, a new species, and a new wave. Or, do they relate to the other believers in their local church based on their natural distinctions of physical race, nationality, gender, and social class? Are they loving and accepting or are they critical and judgmental of anyone who is not like them?

2> A Family

See Galatians 6; Ephesians 2: 1 John 2

This is one of the most striking images presented in all of the New Testament. Visions of family dominated Paul’s writings. All throughout his letters (epistles), Paul speaks of brethren, children, fathers, and mothers. We are ‘regenerated’ or ‘born anew’ into the blameless family of God. 

God becomes our Father and Jesus our Elder Brother. Fellow believers, Christians, become our sisters and brothers. The writings of John and Peter are also sprinkled with the language and imagery of family. 

Ephesians 2:19 “You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God.”

So, do the members of your local church treat one another as part of the same family? Do they know one another on a personal, even intimate, level? Do they experience themselves as members of an extended household? Do they take care of one another just as the members of a healthy family do?

Personal Reflection – The Church #1

God, our heavenly Father is after a people who live for one purpose – His ultimate passion. These are people of faith who do not feel that they are special or elite in any sense. They understand that without Jesus they are nothing and can accomplish nothing of any eternal significance. However, these people do believe and stand in a strong faith that forms a solid foundation for all that they do. These people form the Church of Jesus Christ.

Many today are simply cultural Christians. They have a head knowledge of the Gospel but it has not touched their heart. Their lives have not been impacted by the life-changing power of the Spirit. They live life from their soul realm and do not walk in the Spirit. The same was true in Paul the apostle’s day. So, in 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul talks about believers testing themselves to see if they really are in the faith… really born again.

Of course, if they are cultural Christians and have not had a conversion experience they are not members of the Church. Those who are members of the Church have made Jesus Lord and not just Saviour. The have encountered Jesus and had a life-changing experience of His love. And, He is Head of the Church that is made up of those who are truly born again. It is an amazing Church.

The Lord Jesus Christ is multi-splendid in His awe and beauty. He is so vast that one image or title cannot adequately represent Him. Consider the many images and titles that Scripture employs in its attempt to describe Christ: Son of God. King of kings. Prince of peace. Heavenly bridegroom. Lord. Master. Saviour. Lamb of God. Bright and Morning Star. Good Shepherd. Great High Priest. Light of the world. Root of David. The Righteous Branch … and the list goes on.

The Church is inseparable from Christ. As a result, the Church is also multi-splendid in her awe and beauty. Like her Lord, the Church is too rich to be defined. She is too vast to be depicted by one image. For this reason the New Testament paints fourteen different images to present the Church.

I would like to take the next few blogs to examine briefly each image. And, please feel free to compare your local church to what the Bible states regarding the Church. Ponder the question: “Does my church fit the image that the New Testament paints for the Church?”

To start with we need to note that all these images have two key elements in common:

1> Every image is intensely corporate. All of them teach us that the church is a close-knit, intimate community of people. Often, we are, by contrast, profoundly individualistic. The early Church embodied a togetherness-in-community. Each image makes this truth abundantly clear.

2> Each image teaches us that Jesus Christ, and not a human being, is the head, the leader, and the glue that cements the members of the church together.

All fourteen Bible images of the Church give us insight into the anatomy of the Church. They show us how her DNA naturally expresses itself in the earth. So, let’s jump in and hopefully by the time we are finished all fourteen images of the Church we will have a fresh understanding of the vastness of the Church that Jesus is building.   

Personal Reflections – Abandoning the Faith 5

The seventh reason people are leaving the Church and renouncing the faith they once publicly professed is that the cares of this life have choked the spiritual life out of them and they simply no longer see a reason to believe.

In His famous “Parable of the Soil,” also known as the ‘Parable of the four hearts’ Jesus talked about the seed of God’s Word being choked to death because of the cares of this life. The daily grind of day-to-day life with all of its twists, turns, and problems can be a perpetual distraction to the spiritual person flooding their hearts with unbelief and doubt. So much so that it can easily choke the God-life out of them. The spiritual life; their relationship with God the Father and Jesus whom He sent (John 17:3) or what is referred to as ‘eternal life.’ So, where there was once ‘life’ and ‘light’ there is now only death and darkness.

The eighth reason people are leaving the Church and their faith in large numbers is because the  Church (and thus the Christian faith) no longer addresses the issues people are facing in their daily life. Thus they are finding the Church irrelevant to how they are living and the issues that they are facing and living with in their daily life. 

However, the Bible and the true faith as proclaimed in the early Church is always relevant. The message of the early Church was two-fold – the coming of the Kingdom and the resurrection from the dead of the King, Jesus the Christ. This message in its many forms is always relevant and powerful. 

But, the Church in many nations has watered down the true Gospel and no longer preaches the need to repent to enter the Kingdom. And, they no longer exalt Jesus who said that if He was lifted up He would draw people to Himself. They now simply say a Sinner’s Prayer after making mental ascent to the Good News. They ‘believe’ in their heads but their hearts have not been transformed by a life-changing encounter with the resurrected Lord and Saviour. They have a mental understanding of the information but have not come to believe (which means to 100% trust) in Jesus as their Lord and Master. So, they truly are not born again and thus remain separated from God in their sin and see little relevance in the Church or the faith. 

So, because the Church is preaching the gospel of salvation and not the Gospel of the Kingdom people are not truly saved or born again. They think they are because because they have wrongfully been told that they are. However, 2 Corinthians clearly states that ‘without repentance there is no salvation.’ So, they have not encountered the life-changing power of the Gospel and do not see God working in their lives. As a result, they become frustrated and think that the message of the Christian faith does not work and thus there is little to no purpose in attending a local church where the service is the same each and every week and the message has no impact upon what they are experiencing in live and face on a daily basis. The Church and the faith are irrelevant in their minds. 

In the world today millions a year are leaving the institutional Church and many are actually leaving the faith. It is time to take a deep and honest look at what we believe and what we are preaching and declaring. It is time to take a close look at the true faith and embrace the changes needed to return to the faith once preached by the early Church. 

Next up in the series of Personal Reflections … “The Bible Understanding of the true Church”

Personal Reflections – Abandoning the Faith 4

We have been looking at the reasons people leave both the Church and, at times, the Christian faith.  We have covered the first four of 8 reasons … 

1> The horrible way that Christians treat each other both publicly and privately, in person and online.

2> The canned superficial answers they had been given to complicated life questions.

3> Believers totally abandon the faith because their “God” did not meet their expectations.

4>  The stupidity and ignorance of so many people who call themselves Christians.

The fifth reason people live the faith and no longer believe in Jesus is because they were taught “another gospel” which, of course, simply deceives them and does not work. 

Paul talks of “another gospel” in 2 Corinthians 11:4 where he states, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough…”

There are many “other gospels” out there:

Salvation through the Church

Salvation through the sacraments

Salvation through good works

The prosperity gospel

The great grace gospel

The gospel of legalism

The gospel of salvation

The one that trips people up the quickest and that is the most prominent today is legalism. That is, salvation through keeping the rules and fulfilling the standards set out by the church – a holiness code.

I have watched Christians leave the Lord because they were taught a gospel of legalism – namely, that God will be upset with them if they don’t live a perfect life… ‘perfect’ being determined by the church or a church leader. Despite how hard they tried, they kept failing to keep the standard in various areas of their lives. They prayed, fasted, and sought victory over the problem with no results. Eventually they got so weary that they concluded it is just not worth it to follow the Lord, so they left Him. 

The legalistic gospel leaves people feeling guilty, shameful, and without hope. So, in frustration and often anger they leave ‘the faith’ never to return. In reality, they never did grasp the true gospel that brings them into God the Father’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness. They did not respond to the gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) because they never really heard it. 

The sixth reason some leave the faith and the Church is simply that they loved the world and the things of the world more than Jesus. 

Jesus was not enough in their eyes to satisfy their heart’s desire – or what they thought were their real desires. The loved “the pleasure of sin” more than the pleasures of God. Paul said of Demas, a Christian worker who had abandoned him and the team, that “he loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10).

Of course, Jesus spoke about this in the Parable of the soils (hearts) and stated, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

Personal Reflections – Abandoning the Faith 3

Christians Who Abandon the Faith – Part Three

We are looking at why people who professed to be believers, Christians, and who confessed Jesus as their Lord and Saviour no longer believe and have totally walked away from the Christian faith.

We saw in recent blogs that the reasons are varied and include:

1> The horrible way that Christians treat each other both publicly and privately, in person and online.

2> The canned superficial answers they had been given to complicated life questions. Questions that we don’t answer because we live a surface faith without ever dealing with the hard life issues and apparent contradictions within the Scriptures. 

The third reason believers totally abandon the faith is that their “God” did not meet their expectations.

When a person becomes a believer they often enter into the faith with expectations – of the God they are now getting to know, of the church that they have chosen to attend, aa well as expectations of other believers. Add to this the “promises” that are found in the Bible and that they are often told they can claim, and you have a serious opportunity for disappointment and failure in their walk as believers.

It could be a tragedy that they experience. It could be a painful life event. It could be something dark and horrible that they have prayed to be delivered from for years and God does not come through at the right time – thus, God simply does not care. Or, as mentioned above, a promise in Scripture the they stood on in faith and believed was their’s, but never saw materialize.

As a result, they totally walk away from the faith disillusioned and defeated.

The fourth reason many leave the faith and live without any belief in Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross is the stupidity and ignorance of so many people who call themselves Christians.

Too many Christians that I know actually believe what they read on the internet – Facebook, Twitter, and all the other numerous social apps. And, actually believe what they read without checking out the facts or the source of the content. This goes for what they also see on television and in the news. And worse than that, they then spread what they have read or heard as if it were 100% true and accurate. 

Regrettably, many believers believe whatever they read or hear. And some of it is obviously stupid and “from another planet.” 

Those who are wiser and smarter don’t want to be associated with these people. They eventually think, “If Jesus was the Saviour of the world, who are so many of His followers so stupid?” … “If Jesus is the head of the Church, why is His Church so dysfunctional and so toxic in so many cases?” So, they start questioning the claims of the Lord Himself. And, as a result, walk away from the faith because of what others believe and how they live out their faith. 

I am personally bothered by both these reasons why people totally abandon the Christian faith. I have always said that the Christian faith needs to be examined and found to be true by each person for themselves. A person’s faith needs to be based on personal experience and not on what others have told you and what others believe and propagate. You cannot determine your walk with Jesus by what others are saying or how they are living. It is a faith that requires we seek for the truth for yourself and then build your life upon that foundation. It is a faith that must first be rooted and grounded in love – a love that we encounter when we are born again and that we then experience on a daily basis throughout our Christian walk. 

There will always be those who believe whatever they hear regardless of the source and the content. There will always be those who live the Christian faith on the surface and never put down roots discovering the truth of the faith for themselves. Thus, they believe everything they hear and live a superficial faith based on half-truths and lies. There will always be those who design their own ‘religion’ believing what they want to believe and treating many of the absolutes and commands of Scripture as options that they can choose or reject. 

But, we need to keep our eyes of Jesus and forgive the attitude, behaviour, and beliefs of others who say they are followers. We are accountable for our own lives and should not be basing our faith on our own personal expectations or what others believe and teach. 

Personal Reflections – Abandoning the Faith 2

Christians Who Abandon the Faith – Part Two

We are looking at the reason good, faith-based believers leave the church and no longer follow Jesus. I am not speaking of those who leave the church and still follow Jesus having simply given up on the institutional church. We are looking at those who have turned their back totally on the Christian faith.

The first reason we looked at for this is the horrible, disgusting, nasty way that Christians treat one another in person and on line.

2> The second reason people leave the faith is the canned superficial answers they have been given to serious and complicated questions.

Several years ago I was talking with a university student and his significant other and the question of “creation” came up. He was studying towards an engineering degree in university. In his courses the whole concept of Genesis, chapters one and two, had been challenged. With the empirical evidence he had been shown in class the whole concept of God creating the universe in six days and resting on the seventh simply no longer held to be true in his mind. And, the geological data he was being taught did more than suggest that the world was much older than 6,000 years – much, much older. 

And, I did not, at that time, have an adequate explanation for what we, as Christians, believed. I did not know how to “defend” the creation story against the information and scientific data he was being taught. I don’t give him some canned religious answer as I also hate these kinds of responses, but I did have to admit that I did not know how to reconcile the two views or how, as a believer, to speak to his concern. He was good with that because I was being honest. Up to that point every believer he had spoken to about his questions had simply given him a “canned answer” and he knew it. And, because of it, he was about to leave the faith and become an atheist. He was thankful for an honest, non-canned religious response and is continuing to examine and question the faith. He has not walked away as many others have. 

Those of us who are believers need to not avoid these complicated challenges to our faith. We need to be exposed to the sophisticated answers to modernity, to empiricism, to the problem of evil in the world. We, the leaders, to need to show believers that some passages can be interpreted more than one way. And that this does not mean doubting the authority, reliability, or inspiration of Scripture. We need to answer the questions being asked and answer them with depth and intelligence and not in a pat, religious, and nonsensical way.

We need to see the Christian faith as a thinking person’s faith (not a religion) and be actively engaged in answering the real questions that both believers and non-believers are asking. It is no longer possible nor wise to live a surface faith where you simply make everyone feel good about being a believer and never deal with the issues being faced by people in their every day lives. And, we need to have the answers to the many challenges that the faith is facing in the light of new scientific and archaeological discoveries. 

An example: As I travel the world I ask people who created evil. Some say the devil. Some say people did. Some have a number of other answers that simply can be dismissed as soon as they are spoken out loud. But seldom does anyone bring forth the right answer. You see the Bible states that God created evil because He is the Creator. And without there being “evil” then we, the height of His creation, would not have the free will to choose because there would not be an alternative to “good.” Thus God created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and placed it in the garden of Eden. But, most people have never grappled with the concept of evil and the Christian doctrine (dogma) of evil. We simply slide across the surface of life and belief and never deal with the real, often complicated issues of every day life.

So, when a major crisis of faith arises in a believer’s life they don’t find a biblical answer nor an adequate explanation of the apparent contradiction to their faith that they are experiencing. So, they leave the faith and seek answers elsewhere. 

Personal Reflections – Abandoning the Faith

Christians Who Abandon the Faith – Part One

I have ministered in the same city now for 40 years and I have seen many come to faith in Christ. I have watched as they responded to the spiritual hunger deep in their heart and grew and matured in their walk with the Lord. I have watched as they were baptized in the Holy Spirit and began to move in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. I have been excited to see them minister to non-believers and live an evangelistic, soul-winning life style. 

However, I have also watched many true believers abandon the faith and go back into the world. These were true believers who were faithful and even zealous for the Lord but have chosen to no longer follow Him and who have renounced the faith they once held. Some have simply gone back into the world, others have become atheists, still others have switched beliefs and now follow the precepts and teachings of another world religion.

Now, I am not talking about drifting from the faith. Hebrews 2:1 states that this is a definite possibility f we are not careful to hold on tight to the faith. It states, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Many unintentionally do drift for a wide variety of reasons. However, they have not left the faith and can turn things around and become strong in the faith once again.

And, I am not wanting to delve into the whole discussion on whether they were really saved. You know, did they understand and accept the gospel on an intellectual level only – without any true change of heart and sincere repentance. And, as a result, became ‘cultural Christians’ without ever embracing a personal relationship with Jesus. 

I am speaking of those who had a real personal encounter with the Living Christ, repented, and became born again. And then, turned away from this relationship and the foundational beliefs of the faith and have truly renounced their belief in Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life.”

If you know me you are aware that I don’t believe in “once saved, always saved.” I believe that a person makes a decision to follow Jesus and enter the Kingdom that He rules – the Kingdom of God. And, I believe that a person can make another decision to step out of the Kingdom and away from allowing Jesus to be Lord and Saviour of their life. Many scriptures confirm this belief for me – the one I like the most is found in Hebrews, chapter six…

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”  (Hebrews 6:4-6)  

So, let’s explore and think through why these people – who in most cases had al lthe outward marks of being a true follower and disciple of Jesus – decided to serve Jesus divorce papers and turn their back on the true Christian faith and thus on the one true God.

Reason One: The way that Christians treat each other

The reason why some believers want nothing to do with following Jesus or associating with believers in a local church who say that they are following Jesus is due to the way that professing Jesus-followers treat others who also follow Jesus. Christians treating others in non-Christian ways. Christians who are critical and judgmental and reject the thoughts and feelings of others if they disagree with what they think and feel. 

This, of course, breaks the cardinal commandment of the Head of the Church, Jesus. And, indicates that maybe the Christians who are critical and judgmental are not really following nor do they have a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12). And, of course, does not in any way fulfill His comments about love found in Matthew 22:39 “…You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

We can look at another two reasons next time…