In today’s world there seem to be believers and believers. Those who profess faith seem to divide into two camps, those apparently genuine followers of Jesus and those apparently not.
A popular Christian blogger in a recent blog, Justin Bieber on Jesus, makes the point that the nineteen year old mega pop star according to his own testimony is a practising Christian, speaking clearly of a personal relationship with Jesus and what this has meant to him in his career. The blogger, I believe rightly so, urges us to pray for the young man amid horrendous temptations. He also urges us, again rightly so, not to gullibly swallow everything written, spoken and posted concerning world celebrities. Which needs discernment – NEWS 24 in South Africa posted an article today (19/11/13) headed, Justin Bieber sings about where he wants to have sex, which according to the lyrics includes just about all the time and everywhere. Which makes you think. Let’s for the time being give him the benefit of the doubt for it’s so easy to be unwise at his age (where are the mature Christian mentors?) and it’s easy to condemn others when we ourselves fall short in other ways.
If you are sometimes puzzled like I am about who’s who in the zoo, we are in the good company of Paul the apostle. In his Second Letter to the Thessalonian church he requests prayer for himself and his co-workers (2 Thess. 3:2-3) to the effect that they ‘may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith…’ or, as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in the Message, ‘I’m finding that not all ‘believers’ are believers.’ According to the Greek text Paul seems to have in mind a definite group of people, not adversaries of the gospel in general. Probably he was thinking of the ultra religious Jews who gave him so much trouble in Corinth and elsewhere (Acts 18:12ff). They were behaving in a way that was improper to true faith. ‘Faith’ (Gr. pistis) here could refer to: belief and trust; or the body of Christian teaching; or faithfulness. Most likely Paul was referring to one of the first two, i.e. ‘not all men exercise faith’ or ‘not all men accept the Christian faith.’ From this lack of true faith among professing believers Paul turns to the marvellous faithfulness of God (v. 3) and the consequent perseverance of the Thessalonian believers (v. 4-5).
We are today constantly faced with the need to discern between true belief and false belief (ultimately this will be clarified in the final day: cf Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds in Mt. 13:24ff). There are all kinds of ramifications. E.g. where do we find true fellowship, with whom do we co-operate in the Lord’s work, whom do we challenge and whom do we encourage, etc. Here are some puzzling scenarios:
- Why do many, if not most believers in contemporary local congregations (especially in the West) seem so passive and complacent in their pursuit of Christ and his will? I think controversial US Christian leader Mark Driscoll has rightly stated, ‘Christendom may have created a favorable environment for Christians, but it did so at the expense of true Christianity.’
- Why, in a certain meeting where I am a board member, did we struggle to identify one church leader in our Metro (1.5 million people) who was actively and successfully promoting the cause of mission in the world, local and global? (cf Mt. 28:16-20; Acts 1:8)
- Why are so many believers being deceived by the ‘prosperity gospel,’ the ‘self-development and success gospel,’ ‘easy believism,’ materialism, syncretism, etc? As to the latter, in Africa and my own country we have a huge dilemma where many ‘professing Christians’ are caught up in a religious system in which, in reality, the ‘spirits of the ancestors’ massively tower in importance over the person of Jesus. Such people will be found by the million in church services on Sundays, giving R.10 for the cause of their church and by contrast R.1,000’s for the slaughter of animals to placate their ever angry and hungry ancestors (see Port Elizabethan Pr. Afrika Mhlope’s recently published expose of ‘Christianity and the veneration of the ancestors’). In my opinion our whole nation is suffering under the curse of this idolatry, starting with our State President who (with respect) is an outspoken proponent of such syncretistic worship.
- In yesterday’s local newspaper the headlines read, ‘Unholy row at bishops’ ordinations.’ It was accompanied by a large colour photo of bishops, church officers and members, confronting and even assaulting each other, with members of the police trying to restore calm among those who differed about the fitness of the ordinands (one is facing a charge of rape). Children and young people were terrified by the sight, one teen boy saying ‘We are ashamed.’ Classic institutional church at work…
- Why is there often such a disconnect between Christian profession and Christian ethics? One business company has the commendable slogan, Unashamedly Ethical.
- And so we could continue…
Perhaps a few guidelines:
- Ps. 139 has always been one of my favourites. If you have a moment, read it again. David concludes with the prayer (v. 23), ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’
- Note our Master’s words in his Sermon on the Mount where he speaks about ‘a tree and its fruit’ (Mt. 7:15ff): v. 20, ‘by their fruit you will recognise them…’ v. 21, ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven’… v. 23, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
- When Jesus sends out the twelve he says (Mt. 10:22), ‘he who stands firm to the end will be saved.’ The Christian life is an ultra-marathon, not a 50 meter dash. Many start, fewer finish.
- Let’s be encouraged by the explosion of true faith all over the globe, especially in those nations where persecution of believers is open and fierce: China, Iran, and many Islamic countries, including some in N. Africa.
- On Justin Mulder’s recent blog Where will we find the church, Chris Thomas responded with a statement by the great Chinese Christian pastor and martyr Watchman Nee: If we cling to the Head, Jesus, we will find ourselves in lockstep with those who do likewise. Wise counsel! If you and I cling to Christ as Head of the Church, we will find ourselves in the wonderful company of a great and growing host who by sheer grace alone truly love the Lord and one another and a broken world for his sake.