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

   by Jeannette Haley

          Thinking back to around the year 1947, I remember watching with wide-eyed interest as my great-grandmother carefully packed her hand-knit baby clothes, quilts and other items for missionaries in Europe. I still recall that long-ago day, sitting cross-legged on her quilt-covered bed in the old, two-story farmhouse by the river in Arlington, Washington. As I did my best to perform the important job she had given me of stringing an odd assortment of old buttons, I asked her about the “mithonaries” in “Eurp.” It was all quite intriguing to me as a pre-school child, and it was through her commitment to Jesus, and her dedication to His work, that the seeds of real ministry were forever planted in my heart.

            Great-grandma never missed an opportunity to share the Gospel with people. It didn’t matter who they were or where they were. With unashamed, good old-fashioned “vim and vinegar” she boldly challenged many a sinner with the facts concerning the wages of sin, and the gift of eternal life. In other words, Great-grandma didn’t limit her witness to the confines of the church she attended, even though she played the organ and taught Sunday school. Back in those days, “church” was a far cry from what “church” is today.

            What I especially remember and appreciate about her is how she went after and ministered to children. One day when I was visiting her, some children were happily playing outdoors. Shrieking loudly, they chased one another past the front of her apartment. She promptly marched to the door, opened it and sternly yelled after them, “Stop that screeching and come here!” She ushered them into her tiny living room, and gathered them around her old pump organ. Seating herself on the rickety wood stool, her feet began pumping air into it while she sang and played songs such as “Jesus Loves Me” from her worn hymn book. (Among my personal treasures is that beloved hymn book, well marked by her handwriting and personal notations.)

            Great-grandma made sure that I received a Moody Bible Institute correspondence course among other useful Christian materials and books that helped lay a solid foundation in the Christian faith while I was still in my youth. Scripture reading and memorization was exciting and challenging to me, and has proved to be an invaluable and priceless foundation as the years have slipped by.

            It would be wonderful to be able to complete this trip down memory lane by claiming to have had the picture-perfect “Christian” life. As time went on, however, and the so-called “normal life” that the world tries to mold us into became my priority, my goal of serving Christ took a back seat. It’s not that I ever denied Jesus in my heart, it’s just that I had allowed the worldliness of the American “dream” (along with other influences) to send me on destructive detours.

            Even though I never forgot the examples of true ministry I inherited from Great-grandma, I failed to discern or recognize the difference between God’s heart as revealed in His Word and the generally accepted presentation given of Christianity by the institutionalized church. In other words, I fell into the familiar trap of outward appearance of religion and dead works, which allowed me to pretty much live for myself except for a couple of hours on Sunday mornings. After all, I was saved, wasn’t I? Hadn’t I “accepted” Christ at a young age, and then periodically “accepted” Him again, just to make sure?

            In spite of spending many years in God’s permissive will rather than His perfect will, in the back of my mind that initial goal of serving Christ was always there. If I had only realized that one can never reach their goal in life until their priorities line up to that goal, things definitely would have been different. As time went on, my decisions to live for Christ intensified, along with involvement in church and church activities.

            But, the more I became involved with churches through the years, the more agitated, frustrated and unfulfilled my spirit became. Obviously, something was very wrong. Finally the day came, when through a series of events, the Lord, like the good Parent He is, picked me up and sat me down outside of my beloved church. In my confused and miserable state, His Spirit spoke to me these words: “I will have no other gods before Me.” As I wept tears of repentance for my idolatry, His words sunk deep into my heart. I had made my church my god. Inviting people to church, working for the church, being in the church, supporting the church, and lifting up the church was idolatry in God’s eyes. That day, I learned a valuable lesson about priorities.

            Discerning Christians today are aware of “Replacement Theology”; that is, the heretical belief that the Church has replaced Israel in the scheme of things, and that all of God’s blessings and promises belong to her. This type of Replacement Theology is unscriptural and perverted, but there is another form of “replacement theology” prevalent today that is even more subtle. This subtle perversion silently replaces the Head (that is, Christ) with the Body (or, the Church.) Such is the makeup of the new monstrosity called the “Emergent Church” which has exalted itself above all that constitutes true ministry and the real Church that Jesus died for, perverting and profaning that which is holy for its own self-glorification. The Bible has a fitting name for it—harlot. (See Revelation 17:5.)

            The accelerating momentum of the “Emergent Church” is due to their people-pleasing platform. Instead of lifting up the Jesus of the Bible who proclaimed that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” [Emphasis added.] The bottom line of the “Emergent Church” spotlights self on center stage, which is gross idolatry.

            Subtle perversions usually begin when the original definition of a word is altered. This changes the intent and spirit behind it. Take the word Church for example. What do you immediately think of when you hear that word? Do you think of a specific denomination that meets in a certain building? Or, do you rightfully identify it as the individual believers who make up the universal Body of Christ—the Church that Jesus is returning for? How silly we are to think that at Christ’s return only certain “denominations” are going to meet Him in the air! Remember, pride and arrogance are the makeup of religious fools, who, while wearing self-righteousness as a badge, use their legalistic ideas and standards to bring undiscerning and ignorant people into bondage.

            Once this subtle shift has taken place in a person’s focus and emphasis, not only are the characteristics that make up the real church perverted, but the meaning of true ministry is also drastically altered. Instead of looking first to Jesus and the Word of God as being the final authority in regards to what true ministry is, individuals blindly embrace (and will defiantly defend) any definition (implied or otherwise) as taught, by their church. One might well question at this point: What is the difference between idolizing the “infallibility” of the Roman Catholic Church and idolizing any other Protestant church? In other words, what difference does it make if the “blind leading the blind” are Roman Catholic or Protestant? Either way, the end result is the same—destruction!

            As our perception of what constitutes the real Church is altered, or perverted, so is our understanding of what constitutes true ministry. The Apostle Paul feared this very thing when he wrote: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” 2 Corinthians 11:3  [Emphasis added.] It is through the simplicity of the Gospel, the simplicity of Jesus’ commandments, and the simplicity of His obedience to the Father’s will that we gain, not only a complete understanding of God’s will for our lives, but insight into the heart of God.

            It was through the simplicity of Jesus’ life and teachings, which mirrored the heart of God that exposed the complicated and burdensome religious traditions of the Jewish leaders. Likewise today, it is the same simplicity of Christ that confounds the intellectual “wisdom” of man, and brings the necessary contrast that enables humble and wise believers to discern that which is truly of God from that which derives from mere man.

            As Rayola emphasizes, “All true ministry begins with God and always ends with a greater revelation of Jesus Christ. (Note: A greater revelation is not the same as a “new” revelation as being taught today by certain false teachers.) The simplicity of true ministry has indeed been corrupted in the minds of most clergy and laymen alike who now serve a form of “Phariseeism” that is a far cry from true ministry as presented in the Word of God, and repeatedly taught and demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ. This subtle shift involves preoccupation with edifices and religious traditions instead of simply meeting the needs of people whom God brings “right under your nose.”

            The tendency to exalt the idea of ministry is not new. Jesus’ disciples squabbled among themselves who would be given the highest positions in His kingdom. Jesus settled the argument by using a small child as an example of greatness, and He demonstrated Himself true ministry by washing the disciples’ feet.

            The teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 concerning true ministry is plain for anyone to read and understand. In this passage of Scripture we see that ministry is wherever there is a basic human need, which reiterates God’s commandments to the children of Israel in the Old Testament. No act of kindness or mercy is insignificant in God’s eyes. “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” Matthew 25:40b. Jesus goes on to say that those who refuse to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick or those in prison are cursed.

            1 John 3:15-18 makes the duty of Christians crystal clear: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” Real Christianity and true ministry is practical. It can take place right where you are, with the people right in front of you.

            I am eternally grateful to the lessons my great-grandmother taught me by her example. To her, every person she met, every day of her life, was a soul in need of Christ’s salvation. She could not have cared less if they were young or old, black or white, rich or poor, healthy or handicapped, naughty or nice, loveable or unlovable because she was consumed with the burning passion of our Lord God that “none should perish.”

            What about you? Are you desirous of a position of importance in the Body of Christ, or some “glamorous” ministry that brings the accolades of man? Are you looking for worldwide fame and notoriety within the so-called “Christian” world of who is who? Is your idea of ministry a high-paying position within the church system? Or, are you caught up with the delusion that the only “real ministry” that means anything is in a foreign country?

            If you fit into any of the above categories or one similar, now is the time to repent of your pride and selfish motivation. Ask the Lord to give you His heart for the lost, and to open your blind eyes to the needs around you.

            Rest assured that as you become an obedient servant to the Lord, you will discover the secret of true ministry that is acceptable to God.

“Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the
labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he
will send forth labourers into his harvest” Matthew 9:37, 38