BELIEVERS AND BELIEVERS

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. 
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The Greatest Among You

Posted on 11/14/2013 by 

A collaborative post by Erroll Mulder, Jim Puntney and David Bolton
for “The WORD in 3D” initiative.

~ ~ ~

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.”
Luke 22:24-26 ESV

Erroll says:

William Barclay once remarked, ‘It is one of the most poignantly tragic things in the gospel story that the disciples could quarrel about precedence in the very shadow of the Cross!’

Judas had already agreed to betray his master, and Jesus is aware of Peter’s pending denial. Despite these things, Jesus intensely ‘desired with desire’ (KJV) to share this last Passover with His friends.

However, the disciples, instead of being caught up with Jesus and His self-giving, were caught up with themselves and personal power. Who would sit where at the table? Who would be most important in relation to Messiah? Despite Christ’s spectacular self-humiliation (Jn. 13:1-17), here they are bickering over who would end up the greatest. It seems they were acting purely out of a worldly, materialistic understanding of Jesus and His kingdom.

Jesus reminds them that those in His kingdom march to a different drum [cf his repeated ‘you have heard that it was said… but I say to you’ in Mt. 5] In His kingdom, different to earthly kingdoms, it’s not about position or power but servanthood – a servanthood flowing out of the Father’s love in Christ.

Even the business world grasps the importance of service. One Service Station claimed,  ‘We will crawl under your car oftener and get ourselves dirtier than any of our competitors!’ The anomaly is that there is often more argument about precedence, place and power in the Church than anywhere else.

I sometimes grieve over the ‘professional leadership’ in so many churches today in contrast to the ‘servant leadership’ of the ‘Good Shepherd’ (Jn.10:1-18). Centuries before, God had told Zechariah to ‘Dress up like a stupid shepherd. I’m going to install just such a shepherd in this land – a shepherd indifferent to victims, who ignores the lost, abandons the injured, and disdains decent citizens. He’ll only be in it for what he can get out of it, using and abusing any and all’(Zech. 11:16/MSG). Recognize the scenario?

To those servants who stick by him through thick and thin, Jesus promises a greater destiny, both now and in the future (Lk. 22:28-30/MSG): ‘I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God’s people.’

We have to be practical at all times. How do we implement Jesus’ example in serving?

  • By perennial meditation on Jesus and His majestic servanthood: His incarnation, earthly ministry and death on Calvary. Re-read Paul’s great hymn to Christ in Phil. 2:5-11.
  • By taking up our cross with seriousness and hilarity (Mt. 16:24-25), in the assurance of God’s prior and unconditional love for us. Cape Canaveral astronomers have just discovered the most distant galaxy yet, a billion times the mass of the sun, its light taking 13.1 billion years to reach Hubble Telescope! How much vaster is God’s love for us in Jesus? Why not pray again Paul’s Ephesian prayer in 3:14-21…
  • By serving Jesus in ‘organic church’ mode, marked by divine rather than human institution; face-to-face community; every-member functioning; open-participatory meetings; non-hierarchical leadership and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as functional leader and head (F. Viola).
  • By following Jesus into the world of the poor and the lost, being and doing and making disciples (Lk. 4:18-20; Mt. 28:18-20).

All this is impossible apart from being in Christ and He in us. Col. 1:27 (MSG) exclaims,  ‘Christ is in you… It’s that simple.That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ!’

Jim says:

The passage of Scripture we are pondering here needs a little context, it seems, to bring this into proper view. Jesus is with His disciples in the Upper Room sharing with them the Passover meal just hours before His betrayal and crucifixion. Here is what He was talking about just prior to His comment, “…it shall not be so among you.”:

“Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.’ He did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you.’”

Jesus is literally pouring His heart out to His dearly loved disciples, and when He touches on the betrayal, they instantly start judging among themselves. Here we see the “flesh” man rising up to establish position and judgment.

So how does The King respond to His band of brothers? With an example they all were familiar with, authority, lordship, and rules: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.” This is how the soulish man rules, and Jesus was introducing them to a true paradigm shift from the soul man’s point of view to our Father in Heaven’s point of view. And the results are vastly different.

“you must be born again.”

As I look at the statement made by Jesus as He responded to the desire for position, Jesus and His talk with Nicodemus come to mind.

“But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest…”

Becoming the youngest can have many meanings, but how about the new birth into His Kingdom, seeing with new ‘eyes’, hearing the teachings of The Rabbi with a new heart, and living by His New Covenant, His very Life.

As we sojourn together in this greatest of all adventures, living by His indwelling presence, we can see how vital it is to become ‘little’, or childlike… to embrace Jesus with the wide-eyed open innocence of a child; to be supple in His hands like moist clay on The Potters wheel; to esteem others out of reverence for and toward our true Teacher, our true Leader…Jesus Christ.

“…and the leader as one who serves”

To serve we must give His Life, express His Life, and Love. Jesus has provided us not only the example, He provides for us the ‘Way’.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.”

To Love as He Loves, this is His ‘Way’ and it flows from Him through us to those we meet in our daily lives. This is Kingdom Life, and this Love is what is so desperately lacking today…to serve our neighbor with His Love.

So in conclusion, I ‘see’ this passage as Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, to live here and now through His indwelling presence, and to begin to “Love like God.”

David says:

With these words of Jesus, we see the stark contrast between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of heaven. We see two diametrically opposed directions in which they operate and by which greatness and leadership are defined.

The kingdoms of this world are infused with the spirit of “the god of this world”, Lucifer. His attitude is one of “I will ascend”.

Isaiah says,

“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! …You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ Is.14:12-14

This inordinate grasping for greatness is the mark of “the god of this world” and defines the spirit of the kingdoms of this world. Greatness and leadership are defined by the ability toascend to the highest place.

The Kingdom of heaven, on the other hand, is infused with the Spirit of “the God of heaven.” This Spirit is embodied in fullness in the Person of Christ and is manifest in and by Him as one of“selfdescension.

Paul says,

“Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.” Phil.2:6-8

This self-descending spirit of Christ is one of the most glorious marks of “the God of heaven” and significantly defines the spirit of the Kingdom of heaven. Greatness and leadership are defined by the willingness to descend to the lowest place.

These two kingdoms are at war and their opposing spirits constitute the epic battle line of the ages.

In this cosmic conflict, one of Lucifer’s primary tactics is to corrupt the vessel through which the Kingdom of heaven is manifest on earth, the ekklesia. Since He cannot corrupt its Head, he goes after the next best thing, its leadership. If He can inject his “I will ascend” spirit into them, he can most effectively corrupt the whole system that follows after them.

So what does it look like when “spiritual” leadership embraces this self-ascending spirit?

Jesus gave some tell-tale signs in Matthew 23:5-12.

Those who embrace it love:

• Displaying their religiosity publicly – vs.5

• Wearing distinguishing religious garb – vs.5

• Sitting in the preeminent seats at social and sacred assemblies – vs.6

• Being called by honorific titles – vs.7

Jesus followed His exposé of the religious elite of His day by saying,  “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” vs.3,16-17

Greatness and leadership in the Kingdom of God, therefore, embrace the complete opposite spirit from, “I will ascend.”

So, whom should we esteem in the church? Whom should we follow as our leaders? Is it those who bear the tell-tale marks that Jesus clearly rebuked, or those who are the most humble of servants among us, whom Jesus clearly praised?

Two Kingdoms are at war. One’s spirit is ascending, the other, descending; one lords-over, the other serves under; one is self-promoting, the other self-sacrificing; one is based on the love of power, the other on the power of love.

May we seek the greatness and leadership that come solely from the self-descending ways of Christ …the Lamb upon the Throne.

Together we say: (A collaborated prayer)

With awe and wide-eyed wonder we worship You, glorious Lord Jesus Christ, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth; Who became flesh and lived for a while among us. We trust in You and thank You for the precious gift of Life we have in You. As we follow You, we ask that You would work in us the self-emptying way of the cross, that we may become like You and, so, faithfully serve Your people in humility and love.
Amen.

_________________________

Please take time to visit and explore the contributing authors’ respective blogs for more Christ-honoring content by them:

Erroll Mulder at “Erroll Mulder’s Blog
Jim Puntney at “Treasures in Jars of Clay“ 
David Bolton at “Christ-Centered Christianity

For more information about this initiative, please see the “The WORD in 3D” About page

TEENS, YOUTH GROUPS AND REAL CHURCH

New studies are revealing that a majority of teens in the US abandon their faith on graduating from High School. The reputable George Barna, some time ago, documented that 61% of N. American 20-somethings who had been churched at some point during their teen years are now spiritually disengaged, i.e. neither attending church (I thought we are the church), reading their Bible or praying.

The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) is saying that the church youth group itself is to blame, claiming it’s too shallow, entertainment-focused, and unable to train mature believers. In fact the Center has stated that youth groups themselves are not even biblical. Center spokesman, Adam McManus, states he is not surprised by the statistics, adding that youth groups create peer dependency, i.e. teens focus on their equally confused peers rather than their parents or their pastors (any less confused?! my comment). Such peer dependency leads to immaturity, greater sexual activity, drug experimentation and rejection of the authority of the Bible. I quote McManus, ‘American Christians are finally waking up to the disconnect between the clear teaching in Scripture in favor of family-integration and the modern-day church’s obsession with dividing the family at every turn… the good news is that practices in the churches related to youth groups are changing dramatically. Twenty years ago no one was even asking the question.’

Let me further ‘confuse’ the issue by stating that ‘church’ as generally understood and practised today is hugely disconnected from a truly biblical ecclesiology. ‘Church’ as we know it today has its roots in its 3rd century institutionalisation and professionalisation by Emperor Constantine [see my relevant blogs and dissertation  in support of this statement – also the writings of many on the church today, both popular and academic].

A few random principles, off the top of my head (not much left there):

  • The Church is the expression of a divine family, viz the Trinity.
  • The first church (Eden) was a family [my dissertation, p. 71ff].
  • The family was basic to the OT revelation of God and the fulfilling of God’s purposes in his created world. We can read up on Abram’s call in Gen. 13 and God’s promise that through his familial and spiritual offspring all peoples on earth would be blessed. Moses preaches his last sermon (series of sermons) on the plains of Moab with all Israel assembled before him, reminding them of God’s steadfast love for his people and their familial responsibilities: Dt. 6:1ff, ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up… Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates…’
  • Take the inter-testamental period. The synagogue model within Judaism arose out of the twin destructions of the Jerusalem temple in 586 BC and 70 AD. During this period, while much religious activity rotated around the temple and eventually the synagogue, the Jewish home remained the most important centre of spiritual life. ‘Foundational to all theory on the biblical concept of family is the Jewish teaching that the home is more important than the synagogue‘ [B. Knowles, my dissertation p. 167]. The ‘Church’ as we know it is yet to grapple with this crucial concept and implement it.
  • On to the NT revelation. Jesus learns from his parents, and takes care of his mother and siblings until the age of 30 – only then does he commence his earthly ministry as described in the Gospels. The apostle Paul in Eph. 6:1ff indicates that parents, in the power and wisdom of the Spirit (5:18) and attended by the promised blessing of God, are to model Jesus to one another and to their children, bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
  • The Reformation (1500’s), while reforming Christian doctrine (grace, faith and scripture) unfortunately left ecclesiology largely untouched. Martin Luther glimpsed the real thing (as to the ekklesia) but would never see his dream realised. In fact the Reformers (Calvin, etc) just fell into another form of church institutionalism, present with us to this day.
  • The 18th century theologian and revivalist, Jonathan Edwards, stated ‘Every Christian family ought to be, as it were, a little church.’ This is in fact being realised in ‘organic house churches’ around the globe today.
  • We can conclude that the Church has done a poor job of communicating to parents that they are the primary disciplers of their children.

Some practical observations, from my experience as ‘pastor’ of traditional, denominational churches for too many years:

  • Why is that contemporary churches insist on appointing a ‘children’s pastor’ or a ‘youth pastor,’ the latter often being a young adult a few years out of school, with very little life experience, physically and emotionally immature (hormones raging) and spiritually ill-equipped to head up the youth ‘program?’ (I hate that term!).  A mature, respected, married Youth Developer in his mid-forties admitted to me at a pastors’ fraternal that the above scenario was a scourge in his denomination, possibly the largest in the world. A week ago I heard of another young adult youth pastor who had been sexually intimate with a member in his youth group, with huge negative fall out  – frankly, I blame the church leadership rather than the young man in question.
  • Has the Sunday School (Family Bible Hour, Children’s Church, Youth Church) been totally without impact? By no means, as I myself can testify. Is it the primary spiritual care-giver? Not on your life.
  • Am I saying there is no need for teens to gather socially and with their Christian peers for fun and fellowship, as opportunity arises? Of course not. I facilitate teen groups at a local township school. Are such gatherings meant to be the heart-beat of the Church? I think not.
  • The joy of inter-cultural, inter-generational inter-action in a small, healthy organic fellowship is unbelievable. Kidz with dysfunctional parents get to see parenthood modelled and demonstrated toward them. Healthy parents and grandparents become spiritual fathers and mothers, after the example of the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 4:14-17), and much more.

The real challenge is getting from institutional, traditional church to ‘real church.’ Its hard to reverse a river that has been flowing in a particular direction for 1,700 years. But then the God of the Bible specialises in doing the impossible! It seems he might just be doing that outside of the institutional and traditional church structures we have been familiar with for so long…