Thursday, August 23, 2012

Examining the Church's Fruit

A somewhat rhetorical question was asked by a brother this morning, "If, as Jesus said, a tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 7:17-20), what are we to conclude when degenerate lives are being lived by professing Christians?"

Profession of the Spirit does not equate to possession of the Spirit. I can claim I am an Olympic athlete, but one look at my body will prove the claim false. In the same way, "the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious" (1 John 3:10).

The apostle of love is also an apostle of truth. In the context leading up to his determination of obvious behavior, he uses words like "lie"  (1:6; 2:21, 27), "deceiving," "deceive" or "deceives" (1:8; 2:26; 3:7), "liar" (1:10; 2:4, 22), "in the darkness" (2:8, 11) and "blinded" (2:11). He speaks of those that "were not of us" (2:19).

Fruit is abundant in the modern church. The problem is that there are very few qualified fruit inspectors left who can tell that it's rotten. The "lies" and "deceit" have done their work, creating a pseudo-Christianity. The "false prophet" (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10) is alive and well.

Degenerate lives signify a "worldly-minded" people "devoid of the Spirit" (Jude 19). It is obvious to those who "judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).

So how can we help them to see the truth? By continually preaching the truth! "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5). The preaching of light will very quickly expose those who prefer the darkness.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Premier Work of the Church

The modern church has put an inordinate emphasis upon soul-winning, moving forward under the banner of what they have called the Great Commission. While over emphasized today, that does not mean that there isn't a kernel of truth that caused the plant to sprout.

What IS the premier work of the church, if not evangelism? The original command to man was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Such a command did not have to be constantly repeated, since the basic biological function occurred naturally. That this biological function would be replaced with a spiritual function was made clear in the prophecy of Jeremiah, “Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply” (Jeremiah 23:3). And the fulfillment of that prophecy is seen in the fact that “the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied” (Acts 12:24).

Is soul-winning the preeminent function of the church? Is procreation the preeminent function of marriage? How often do the Scriptures use the bride/bridegroom metaphor? If we – the bride of Christ – are not procreating, then what other premier purpose would we have? To be married is not the premier function of marriage, nor is companionship, nor is the honeymoon, nor are the anniversaries. “Women will be preserved through the bearing of children” (1 Timothy 2:15).

I agree that little is said in the epistles concerning the commands issued by Christ, not because it is not central but because it occurred naturally (God's nature, not man's) within the church. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” (John 12:32) … which is exactly that the church did! “We preach Christ crucified,” said the apostle (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Why was Christ preached? “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Is soul-winning the premier function of the church? Equally so with the edification of the body, per the authority of our Master. “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Where in the New Testament is the work of pastors and teachers exalted over the work of the evangelists? Both are fundamental to body function, thus Paul told Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:4).

Lest anyone try to make a case from this that soul-winning is only the concern of those labeled as “evangelists,” may it be said that it is we the Christians who are told to have our “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). We are the ones who should show “every consideration for all men. 3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures ...” (Titus 3:2-3). We are the “royal priesthood” who should “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; [10] for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). If we do not show mercy as the Lord has shown us mercy, how will we stand in the Day of Judgment? “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

So to answer the question as to why the church wasn't specifically told to evangelize after the Day of Pentecost? For the same reason you don't tell sheep in the field to procreate. They will do so on their own, whether you tell them to or not. The same thing occurred within the church, and there are ample Scriptures demonstrating that such work was taking place – and was to take place (i.e., 2 Corinthians 10:4-5; Romans 1:5, 16; 15:9; 1 Corinthians 9:22; 2 Corinthians 2:15; 4:15; 5:11; Philippians 2:15; Colossians 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; 1 Timothy 1:15-16; 2 Timothy 2:24-26: 1 Peter 2:12; 3 John 6-8; Jude 22-23).

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Considering Our Associations

The belief of many homosexuals today - a belief encouraged by those with a liberal agenda - is that Christians are anti-gay. This should not be true, and the Bible says so!

Peter was anti-Gentile (as were all Jews), until God granted him a vision. "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean" (Acts 10:28).

How will I save sinners if I have no association with them? I do not have to participate in their deeds, but I do have to participate in their lives.This was the pattern of Jesus, and the world saw it. "This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). What was Jesus' response? "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). Jesus shared in the lives of sinners, but we know He did not share in their deeds.

So Jesus participated in the lives of sinners. Peter associated with the sinners. What about us? How can any Christian - in light of the Biblical evidence - refuse to associate with sinners? The Lord is "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

In fact, the apostle Paul gives the church clear instruction as to our associations ... and it's far different from what most people believe or practice. Listen! "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one" (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

Yes, I must consider my associations, for the sake of Christ. I WILL associate with the world - with fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards and swindlers (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) ... because I want to save their souls!

But I will NOT associate with false Christians. I will NOT labor beside "deceitful workers" who "disguise themselves as servants of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). I will NOT give a greeting to "false brethren" who want nothing more than "to bring us into bondage" (Galatians 2:4). I will NOT give ear to "false teachers" who "secretly introduce destructive heresies" (2 Peter 2:1). I will eat with the sinners, but not with "so-called" saints. If you say you're a Christian, then act like a Christian ... otherwise, stay away from me and mine.

There is no language in the Bible that speaks of being anti-gay or anti-"any other sin." There is only one "anti-" in the Bible, and that is antichrist ... a term which is very specifically aimed, not at those who oppose Christ in the world (They're sinners! What else would they do? Duh!) but at those who oppose Christ in the church. "... even now many antichrists have come ... They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us" ( 1 John 2:18-19, NIV).

When considering your associations, remember that it was the supposed people of God and their religious leaders who crucified Jesus (Luke 23:13). Pilate, the worldly pagan, tried everything he could to get Jesus released (Luke 23:14-15, 22). Even to this day, the greatest obstacle to salvation is the hypocrisy of false Christians ... and the harshest persecution against God's chosen servants will be from those called "brothers."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I'm not anti-gay ... I'm pro-Christ.

Wow! What's happening in our nation? A man cannot declare the values of his own company without being labeled a "hate-monger"? If I say that I believe it's wrong to steal, is it because I hate all thieves or simply because I value my property? In declaring my belief that homosexuality is wrong, why is it assumed I hate all homosexuals? I simply value God's word. I believe it. I don't hate homosexuality any more than I hate anything else declared by the Lord as sin. I'm not anti-gay ... I'm pro-Christ. In all cases, it is my task to urge those who commit sin to repent of it, and to forsake worldly things in favor of heavenly things.

I am worried though that soon it will be a criminal offense to speak the word of God. Will it soon be labeled as "hate speech" if I merely read what the Bible says? I have reason to be concerned, because I find this in the Scriptures: "Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1-2).

Saul, as one of the Jewish religious leaders, asked for a standing warrant for all who declared themselves to be Christians. These people were not violent - in fact, they were just the opposite - yet he asked for and received permission to bring them back to Jerusalem "bound." Is this the direction America is headed? Will my beliefs be criminalized and vilified?

I oppose gay marriage ... because the Bible opposes it. But I also oppose those who are anti-gay. Groups like Westboro Baptist prove by their actions that they are not Christians ... not because I say so, but because they are in conflict with the word of God.

So how should we treat those who do not want to hear what we have to say? Well, two of Jesus' disciples - James and John - shared the attitude of many today, "'Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But [Jesus] turned and rebuked them, and said, 'You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; 56 for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.' And they went on to another village" (Luke 9:54-56).

We must defend our faith - absolutely! - but not at the expense of our Christian behavior. "The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will" (2 Timothy 2:24-26).