Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by  Jeannette Haley

We live in a day and age of continual change. It’s next to impossible to keep up with the latest fads, styles, fashions, philosophies, entertainment, and advancements in technology. Add to this the drastic changes that are occurring on a national and international scale, and it boggles the mind.

The moral and godly traditions that have held our country together since its discovery and foundation are being challenged by those who have no fear or reverence for God. Our precious freedoms that we have long held dear are being eroded away by paganism that cloaks itself in pseudo-sophistication and political rhetoric. That which has long been recognized as evil is now called good, and that which is good is called evil. Isaiah 5:20-21 states: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!”

Needless to say, as time has progressed, some changes have been for the better, while others have been for the worse. Many of us older Americans lament that “they just don’t build things the way they used to.” Uppermost on my list are automobiles, appliances, houses, furniture, and apparel. Quality has been sacrificed for quantity, and only the wealthy can afford items of superior craftsmanship. Even customer service is non-existent in some businesses that thirty or forty years ago specialized in customer satisfaction.

The truth is every person who has ever lived has had to deal with change. Our bodies change as we grow to maturity, and then old age. Relationships change as people mature and either grow closer to one another or grow farther apart. The loss of friends and loved ones brings drastic change into one’s life. The same holds true for financial gain or loss.

Suburbia America is not as neighborly, hospitable and friendly as it was when I was growing up. People nowadays hardly know or even care about their neighbors or those living around them. We have become a self-centered, self-sufficient people who only come together in time of great crisis. Let’s face it, we cannot control the changes that life hands to us.

In the midst of all this change, where does a person find unchangeable security? The answer is, of course, in the Creator of the Universe who changes not. Immutability is one of the characteristics of God, and that fact alone can bring great comfort in times of turmoil and stress. Jesus, after His discourse on the last days and the terrifying changes that are to occur just prior to His appearing, made this statement: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” Matthew 24:35.

This fact should cause us to pause and ask ourselves this: If God and His Word never change, then how are we to view the changes that have, and are, occurring in the Church? How can we determine which changes are acceptable to God and which changes are not? In order to answer these questions, we need to step outside of our preconceived notions about God and the Church and our assumed beliefs (beliefs that are not ours, but what others have told us to believe). We need to be open to what the Spirit would say to us concerning these matters.

Let us consider the formation of the Church after the ascension of Christ. In obedience to His instruction, about 120 believers assembled in an upper room in Jerusalem, and “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” Acts 1:14. The beautiful thing about this first assembly of believers is that they were all in one accord, meaning unanimously, with one mind. Can you imagine how pure, how powerful, how awesome it was for this great company of people to be praying and supplicating God in one spirit?

This was only possible because they all knew Jesus for Who He is—God Incarnate. They had all witnessed His death, burial and resurrection, and they were all wholly committed to Him and to doing His will. They had no personal agendas or causes other than waiting upon God; therefore, there was no spirit of competition, pettiness, self-exaltation, or pride. Everyone there possessed holy fear, awe and reverence for God Almighty.

The Bible tells us, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” Acts 2:1-4. This was a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Comforter in John 16:7-16.

It goes on to tell us in the Book of Acts that power was given to the disciples to proclaim the Gospel. Thousands of souls were saved and baptized as a result. (See Acts 2:38-41.) Then, we read in verse 42, “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

   The result? “And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” Verses 43-47.

This account of the formation of the Church is only one of many biblical examples by which we can compare and measure where the Church is today. The foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ Himself. That is our beginning point. Therefore, the question that must be asked is this: What is the foundation of your particular church or group? Is it Jesus Christ, or some other cause or agenda with Jesus merely tacked on, to somehow give it credibility? Who or what is exalted and lifted up in every gathering?

One of the glaring changes that has occurred since the formation of the early Church is the exaltation of man and man-made programs over the Lord Himself. The purity and simplicity of the Gospel (which is the power of God unto salvation) has all too often been sacrificed on the altars of dead-letter religion on the one end of the spectrum, to silliness and entertainment on the other. Of course the result of this is a weak presentation of the one true and living, holy God who never changes and who calls all men to repent and to be holy. His judgments to come against unrepentant sinners are ignored, along with strong admonition to obedience to His Word. God’s love and grace are taken out of context and expounded upon to such an extent that there is no longer an understanding of the holiness of God, or His other unchangeable attributes.

A new god is emerging in these end times who just “loves everybody” so much that there is no need to repent, no need to tremble at the Word of the Lord (or even read, study and meditate upon it) and who is powerless to bring solutions to people’s unresolved issues. Therefore, lacking wise counselors who understand the ways of God, most churches employ one or several psychologists.

An historical review of the New Testament Church for about the first three centuries, until Constantine established the papacy, reveals that believers continued meeting together in homes for true fellowship in the Spirit; that they were all of one accord; that they prevailed in prayer even to healing the sick and raising the dead; and that they spread the Gospel everywhere they went. It wasn’t until persecution of the Church ceased and prosperity came on the scene that the Church began to lose its salt and light.

Imagine for a moment that you are a Christian in the first century Church. Your life is committed to Jesus Christ—He is your Lord, and He alone. All of you who gather together understand that you are no longer your own, but that you are bought with a price. You have forsaken all to follow Christ, including ties with family and friends who reject Christ. You have accepted the fact that separation from the world and unbelievers, including loved ones, is necessary in order to gain Christ, for light can have no fellowship or agreement with darkness. You have become a new creation in Christ, and you now know that this world is not your home, you are just passing through. You are crucified to the world, and the world to you. There is no essence of the world in either your life when meeting with other believers, or in your private life.

Everywhere you go, you proclaim the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, God Incarnate. To see lost souls saved is your burning desire. There are no seminaries to prepare you to share your testimony, but you know that you were once a lost, hell-bound sinner, but now, you are saved, forgiven and baptized in identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. You meet in a humble home with fellow believers who are all in one accord in the fear of the Lord. No one exalts himself above the others, and all are willing to give not only what they have to benefit those who are without, but also are quick to give of themselves in different labors, regardless of how inconvenient it may be.

The people in this small group have unfeigned love for one another. Each person views the others as better than self, and is careful to not commit the sins of omission (failing to do right by others). Unbelievers are drawn to the Lord, as they witness the love each has for the other through self-sacrifice, compassion and commitment.

In this small sheepfold, everyone searches the Scriptures daily to ensure that no false doctrine or heresy takes root. Each person is held accountable for his or her own disposition, attitudes and actions. Personal faults are confessed to one another, and offenses are privately taken care of between the parties involved. Any individual who commits sin is confronted, and if he or she refuses to repent, he or she is put out of the fellowship. The Word of God is the final authority as to what is right, and what is wrong. There are no debates about “what it really means” because God does not change, and His Word does not change.

As a first-century believer, you don’t just “go to church” every Sunday—there is no such thing as “belonging to a church” or denomination because you, as a member of the Body of Christ, are the Church, and you meet daily, if possible. Your greatest joy is gathering together with other believers for prayer and supplication—for hours. As you enter the house, you immediately feel the presence of the risen Lord. Of course, there is no such thing as a foyer with Starbuck’s coffee, donuts and other pleasures. Entertainment is unheard of in your group because gathering together in one accord in the Name of the Lord is a sober estate.

Holy reverence permeates the house. The worship is pure and reverent, reaches heaven and takes place in the biblical fashion, after hearts are prepared to enter into worship by the preaching of the Word by the overseer—not before it. There is no earsplitting band, cheerleaders for Jesus, overhead screen, flashing lights, jumping up and down, banner waving, and hypnotic choruses.

Within this special gathering there are those who are gifted by the Spirit with words of wisdom or knowledge, admonitions, exhortations, prophecy, teaching, or preaching to share. No one is there to impress anybody else or try to be a “somebody.” Your heart rejoices at the Word of the Lord as it is presented in spirit and truth from unaltered, not watered-down “modern,” manuscripts. God’s Word is spirit and life to you, and causes your heart and lips to joyfully praise the One who sits on the throne. You are disappointed when the time comes for all to return to their own dwelling places. This church has no clock, no liturgy, and no man-controlled or man-exalting program.

Any offering that is taken is for the benefit of the saints in need, including the poor, widows (unmarried women who need help) and those who preach the Gospel (live off the Gospel) or who are sent out as apostles (missionaries) to establish other churches. There is no such thing as building programs, fund raisers, committees, adult classes, teen classes, children’s classes, entertainment committees or committees of any kind, for that matter. And, fellowship does not mean getting together for fun and food. It means being one in the spirit, with the same mind, one toward another in the Lord, knowing that gathering together is risky, and could very well cost you your very life.

Imagine this: One Sunday, as you are breaking bread with the believers, soldiers knock down the door and drag you in chains to be scourged, beaten, mocked, and flung into prison for your faith. Your heart rejoices because you have now been counted worthy to suffer for Christ. Your joy in suffering and sacrifice of praise to God is a testimony to others within the prison, including the guards. After all, God has prepared you through prayer and His Word how to deny yourself and live for God. Soon, others ask you how they, too, can be saved. Sinners repent and the angels in heaven rejoice. The Gospel is spread. You have done your “reasonable service.”

It is my sincere hope that this simple illustration gives you a glimpse into how far the evangelical Church has fallen from her first love, yet, in her worldliness, she boasts, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing” Revelation 3:17a. With very few exceptions, the Church is no longer the salt and the light in the world. Rather, the world has come into the institutionalized Church to the point that you cannot tell the one from the other.

We are seeing a fulfillment of 2 Timothy 3:1-7, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” [Emphasis mine.]

Some of the subtle (and not so subtle) changes that have occurred over the past few decades in the modern Church are as follows: The word sanctuary has been replaced by “auditorium.” The platform upon which the altar stands is now referred to as the “stage” (for the performers?). As previously mentioned, the word church, which originally meant the Body of Christ, now refers either to a building, a particular denomination or both. Sin has been replaced with “faults,” “error;” or “mistakes;” the fear of judgment and hell with “God loves you no matter what;” the hymnal discarded in favor of repetitious choruses; and the KJV Bible with watered-down, man-exalting versions. An expectant watchfulness for the second coming of Christ in power and glory has been changed to “taking the kingdoms for Christ (or, He is returning in us). Praying “not my will, but thine be done” is considered a lack of faith. Bible studies are now book studies; prayer meetings are sparsely attended, ineffective and all too often gossip sessions; offerings “for the Lord” have little, if anything, to do with God’s will; giving to the poor is on the bottom of the financial list, if it’s there at all; “serving the Lord” translates as “serving the church institution;” visitation is all about gaining church members, not bringing people to Christ; and the fear of the Lord has been replaced with respect or reverence (both important, but fear means fear.)  We have seen Holy Communion served with leavened bread (unleavened bread represents Christ’s sinless body) and water or white grape juice instead of red grape juice which represents the blood of Christ. Powerful preaching that convicts of sin has been replaced with an entertaining, soft-on-sin approach that can save no one. Volumes could be written about the apostate Church. I often wonder how many people have even taken note that God is not in any of it. The Divine Presence is missing, but who can tell?

Allow me to conclude with a quote from A. W. Tozer:  “If you want to pray strategically, in a way which would please God, pray that God might raise up men who would see the beauty of the Lord our God and would begin to preach it and hold it out to people, instead of offering peace of mind, deliverance from cigarettes, a better job and nicer cottage….

   “What good is all our busy religion if God isn’t in it? What good is it if we’ve lost majesty, reverence, worship—an awareness of the divine? What good is it if we’ve lost a sense of the Presence and the ability to retreat within our own hearts and meet God in the garden? If we’ve lost that, why build another church? Why make more converts to an effete Christianity? Why bring people to follow after a Savior so far off that He doesn’t own them?

   “We need to improve the quality of our Christianity, and we never will until we raise our concept of God back to that held by apostle, sage, prophet, saint and reformer. When we put God back where He belongs, we will instinctively and automatically move up again; the whole spiral of our religious direction will be upward.”

Prayer: God help us to follow hard after You, and to cling to our first love. Deliver us from the sin of idolatry—of putting church, church leaders, church activities and other “good” things before You. May we truly be broken at the foot of the Cross, so that we may humbly receive Your forgiveness, mercy and Holy Spirit. Amen.