“Are There Few That Be Saved?”

noah_ark_people_drowing1“I have eight thousand souls in my parish whom I want to get to  heaven. It seems to me at the present time only about two percent will for certain arrive there.”

So wrote a Bristol vicar, despondently, in his parish magazine some years ago. One can sympathize with his solicitude for the salivation of those unheeding parishioners. But — is this the right view of the matter? Is it true that the mass of unbelieving mankind is headed straight for Hell, or whatever the equivalent which modern times have substituted for the old-time fire and brimstone, and only a relatively few pious folk manage to escape to Heaven, as it were by the skin of their teeth? Are we to conclude that Divine wisdom and power is unequal to any more than this scanty fruitage of all that God has said and done since the dawn of history? Is this hopeless creed really what Christianity is all about?

In this skeptical age questions like these demand answers. Of those who do stop to think about the matter at all, a great many just will not accept that if there really is a supreme Deity who created all things, he could possibly be so petty and vengeful as our forefathers believed. If we truly do owe life and being and all that we are and have to an all wise and all-powerful Creator, such will argue, he must have brought us into existence for a purpose; we must have been created primarily for life and not for death. This is sound argument; there is such purpose, a purpose that will be achieved! So far from only two percent getting past the “pearly gates”, it is much more likely by the time the Divine Plan for mankind is fully effected that considerably less than two percent will have failed to respond to the appeal of Christ, in such failure proving themselves unworthy of continuing life. We may be sure of that.

The idea that only a relative few will win Divine approval and eternal life, and the greater part of mankind, at the close of a usually unsatisfactory and generally unhappy earthly experience, be cast off forever, has grown up and become a feature of Christian belief through the centuries, but it was no part of the message of Christ. he came to seek and to save that which was lost, to draw all men to himself, not to condemn the world but to save it. (Luke 19:10; John 12:32; John 3:16-17). One might reasonably expect, surely, that the return upon such an outlay of Divine love and power is going to be a lot more than two percent. The traditional Christian view is well-founded when it lays stress upon the necessity of faith in Christ and loyalty to God as the essential prerequisites for eternal life, but it is unnecessarily pessimistic in its estimate of the effectiveness of God’s methods in dealing with the consequences of sin.

It is likely that the present generation is able more readily to accept that man was created and intended for a definite purpose and place in the Divine scheme of things than were those of earlier centuries. People of medieval times thought of the future life mainly in terms of standing around the Heavenly throne playing harps and blowing trumpets to all eternity — occupations which must surely pall after a while! Our modern wider knowledge of the visible universe, and our deeper conception of the infinite Intelligence and Power that is God, logically leads to the realization that this present earthly life is but a stage — the first stage, a very important stage — in a continuing experience which will progress through constantly expanding spheres of development and achievement in eternity. Whether that destiny involves a future and everlasting life on this material planet, or upon another like it, or in a sphere of life based upon fundamentally different environmental conditions from the one we know, and involving a form of life which may be quite incomprehensible to us in our present state, does not affect that cardinal principle. The Apostle Paul declared that there do exist such different worlds and spheres of life when in the Fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians he spoke of a celestial world and a terrestrial world, celestial beings contrasting with human, a world whose life forms have little or perhaps nothing in common with the atomic structure to which terrestrial creatures over their organisms and environment. And our Lord is authority for the fact that there is no sin in that other, celestial, world, only goodness, harmony and order. He told us, too, to pray for the day when the same happy state shall subsist upon this earth (Matthew 6:10). St. Paul tells us, further, that in the “fullness of time” God will unite in Christ all things in heaven and earth (Ephesians 1:10). That not only implies the eradication of sin, and of irrecoverable sinners, from Divine creation, but also points to the fundamental truth that only “in Christ”, by belief in him and acceptance of him and devotion to him, can any of God’s created sentient beings, whether terrestrial or celestial, receive and enjoy continuing, “eternal”, life. We are told plainly that Christ is to “fill all things”, “far above all heavens” (Ephesians 4:10), that in his Name will every knee bow, upon earth as well as in heaven (Philippians 2:9). Such tremendous words must certainly denote a stupendous Divine purpose within which the human race is assigned a definite place; the conclusion is irresistible that, despite the ignorance and lack of comprehension which is inevitable under the conditions of this present embryo life, that purpose will be accomplished.

Such high destiny demands prior training — a time of instruction and probation followed by final judgment as to fitness or unfitness, worthiness or unworthiness. That judgment cannot be passed on any man until he first has had full and abundant opportunity to learn of the Divine design, to appreciate its implications, to accept it for himself and by means of the transforming power of God to divest himself of all that is antagonistic to that purpose and so attain the moral stature which enables him to take his rightful place in Divine creation. Not until every man, woman and child of every generation back to the beginning has enjoyed such an opportunity and made his or her eternal decision for good or evil, for Christ or against him, will the great Day of Judgment come to an end and the human race enter its perpetual inheritance. And be it noted that the Last Judgment of Scripture is not confined to a moment, the moment in which sentence is passed; it covers a period, a period which includes the process of investigating and of distinguishing between right and wrong and of separating the two. Furthermore the purport and intent of the Day of Judgment is not for the condemnation and destruction of sinners without opportunity for conversion; it is for the reclamation and reconciliation of as many as can by any means be reclaimed and reconciled and it is only when this endeavor has failed in any particular case that the final condemnatory sentence is passed. Hence the Day of Judgment is depicted in Scripture, not as a time of unrelieved terror and gloom and despair, but one of joy and happiness and hope. The Psalmist is Psalm 96 depicts the Lord coming at this Judgment as at a time of universal rejoicing. “Let the heavens rejoice, and the earth be glad . . . . the fields be joyful . . . . before the Lord, for he cometh to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.” It is not always realized that the Day of Judgment is in some of its aspects a very joyous occasion, notwithstanding that it is also a time when, to sue the language of Isaiah, justice shall be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet, the Divine law of retribution will operate and every man “receive the things done in his body”. None will escape the implication of the principle so clearly enunciated by St. Paul — “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Yet parallel with this somber but very necessary theme of disciplinary retribution there also runs the brighter one of conversion and restoration, for one very definite factor in the Day of Judgment is the presence of Christ with his Church for the express purpose of saving those of the unregenerate who can be saved. The whole Biblical presentation of the reign of Christ and the Church over the world prior to the culmination of all things in eternity has no meaning — and no conceivable purpose — unless that reign is for the conversion of the nations; the Bible is positive that in fact this is so. If the Millennial reign of Christ and the Day of Judgment are regarded as running in parallel, so to speak, over the same period of time, as being to a great extent synonymous terms, then a number of apparently contradictory Scriptural themes and statements are harmonized and a foundation laid for an understanding of the Divine purpose which will satisfy every instinct both of justice and love. It will go far to explaining the apparent enigma of the Divine permission of evil and provide a convincing answer to the question why, two thousand years after Christ appeared as the Light of the world, to seek and to save that which was lost, the greater part of mankind have not yet seen the Light, and the lost, although sought, consistently and persistently, not only by the Lord himself in person, but by his followers in every generation and land, are still not saved.

Be it remembered moreover that no man has life in himself and no man can save himself by his own efforts. The New Testament lays down as an immutable law that there is salvation only in the Name of Christ, that no man can be saved except through the channel of acceptance of Christ and his life given on man’s behalf, and unquestioning loyalty and allegiance to him in eternity. Christ is the medium through whom Divine life comes to man, and there is no other way.

This, then, is the task; to discern the Divine purpose for mankind in the light of all that is known about the Creator, his attributes and his works, under the guidance of his revelation in the Scriptures. There must be added, to some small degree, the words and writings of outstanding Christians of the past and present who have had laid on their hearts this concern for the triumph of good over evil, and the reconciliation of such proportion of men to God, and their triumphant entry into eternal life, that it can with conviction be claimed that our Lord Jesus Christ has truly and gloriously become “All in All”! (see Colossians 3:11)

Exposing Error: Is It Worthwhile?

errorObjection is often raised even by some sound in the faith-regarding the exposure of error as being entirely negative and of no real edification. Of late, the hue and cry has been against any and all negative teaching. But the brethren who assume this attitude forget that a large part of the New Testament, both of the teaching of our blessed Lord Himself and the writings of the apostles, is made up of this very character of ministry-namely, showing the Satanic origin and, therefore, the unsettling results of the propagation of erroneous systems which Peter, in his second epistle, so definitely refers to as “damnable heresies.” Our Lord prophesied, “Many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” Within our own day, how many false prophets have risen; and oh, how many are the deceived! Paul predicted, “I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch.” My own observation is that these “grievous wolves,” alone and in packs, are not sparing even the most favored flocks. Elders in these “perilous times” will do well to note the apostle’s warning: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the holy Spirit hath made you overseers.” It is as important in these days as in Paul’s-in fact, it is increasingly important-to expose the many types of false teaching that, on every hand, abound more and more. We are called upon to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” while we hold the truth in love. The faith means the whole body of revealed truth, and to contend for all of God’s truth necessitates some negative teaching. The choice is not left with us. Jude said he preferred a different, a pleasanter theme-“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 3, 4). Paul likewise admonishes us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). This does not imply harsh treatment of those entrapped by error-quite the opposite. If it be objected that exposure to error necessitates unkind reflection upon others who do not see as we do, our answer is: it has always been the duty of every loyal servant of Christ to warn against any teaching that would make Him less precious or cast reflection upon His finished redemptive work and the all-sufficiency of His present service as our great High Priest and Advocate. Every system of teaching can be judged by what it sets forth as to these fundamental truths of the faith. “What think ye of Christ?” is still the true test of every creed. The Christ of the Bible is certainly not the Christ of any false “-ism.” Each of the cults has its hideous caricature of our lovely Lord. Let us who have been redeemed at the cost of His precious blood be “good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” As the battle against the forces of evil waxes ever more hot, we have need for God-given valour. There is constant temptation to compromise. “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.” It is always right to stand firmly for what God has revealed concerning His blessed Son’s person and work. The “father of lies” deals in half-truths and specializes in most subtle fallacies concerning the Lord Jesus, our sole and sufficient Savior. Error is like leaven of which we read, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Truth mixed with error is equivalent to all error, except that it is more innocent looking and, therefore, more dangerous. God hates such a mixture! Any error, or any truth-and-error mixture, calls for definite exposure and repudiation. To condone such is to be unfaithful to God and His Word and treacherous to imperiled souls for whom Christ died. Exposing error is most unpopular work. But from every true standpoint it is worthwhile work. To our Savior, it means that He receives from us, His blood-bought ones, the loyalty that is His due. To ourselves, if we consider “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt,” it ensures future reward, a thousand-fold. And to those “caught in the snare of the fowler”-how many of them God only knows-it may mean light and life, abundant and everlasting.

The Prince of Peace

crown“His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – R.V. Isa 9:1-7

EVEN though Christmas day is not the real anniversary of our Lord’s birth, but more properly the annunciation day or the date of his human begetting (Luke 1:28), nevertheless, since the celebration of our Lord’s birth is not a matter of divine appointment or injunction, but merely a tribute of respect to him, it is not necessary for us to quibble particularly about the date. We may as well join with the civilized world in celebrating the grand event on the day which the majority celebrate – “Christmas day.” The lesson for the occasion is a most happy choice, fitting well to the series of lessons it follows.

The first verse seems much better translated in the Revised Version, thus: “But there will be no gloom in her that was in anguish. In former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time hath he made it glorious, by way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” The Prophet penned these words probably shortly after the ten-tribe kingdom known as Ephraim had gone into captivity to Assyria. Zebulun and Naphtali were the names of the principal districts of Ephraim; and Isaiah, prophetically looking from those desolated lands of his time, under the guidance of the holy Spirit, points out that in the latter time a great blessing is coming to those very lands.

It was centuries after Isaiah’s prophecy that our dear Redeemer appeared among men and spent most of his time, did most of his mighty works, and performed most of his mighty miracles in these lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, called Galilee, which in the time of Isaiah had been denuded of its Jewish population and had been settled by Gentile emigrants, “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Subsequently these Gentiles gathered more particularly in the vicinity of the city of Samaria, and became known as Samaritans, and, noting the hopes of the Israelites, were inclined to claim a certain share in the blessings belonging to the people into whose lands they had been introduced. The Jews, however, disowned them as being still Gentiles, and would have no dealings with the Samaritans, as the Apostle pointed out.

Our Lord himself instructed the apostles to go not in the way of the Gentiles nor into any city of the Samaritans to announce him, declaring that he was not sent to any but the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He again declared to one of these Samaritans, “Ye worship ye know not what: we [the Jews] know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22.) Outside of the Samaritan districts all of Galilee became repopulated with Jews, though they represented generally the less noble class, so that it was rather as a mark of disrespect that our Lord and the apostles were called Galileans, Nazareth of Galilee being our Lord’s home in his youth – a dis-esteemed city, as in the expression, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Our Lord indeed was born in Bethlehem, a more honorable city. Under divine providence he was taken to Nazareth, to the intent that a certain amount of odium might attach to him and to his cause. Thus often the Lord permits some unsavory influence to attach to the Truth, to the intent that none may receive his message except from the love of the Truth – that none should be influenced to receive it from any earthly consideration.

THE LIGHT SHINED IN THE DARK VALLEY.

The second verse of the lesson fitted well to Galilee: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.” As our Lord declared, “The light shined in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.” He was the light of the world and was in the world and the world knew him not. But there is a higher and deeper and broader sense in which these words are to be understood – they apply to all peoples who have been favored with the opening of the eyes of their understanding during this Gospel age.

The people of Galilee in the day of our Lord’s personal ministry, and other parts of the earth since with a similar humble class of people, have more or less had amongst them representatives of the true light, and in every case the light has shined in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not, as our Lord declared to be the case. Only a few appreciate this shining now because, as the Apostle declared, “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not” – the eyes of their understanding are so darkened by false doctrines, misunderstanding and superstition that they cannot see those glorious things which can now be seen only by the eye of faith, the eyes of their understanding being opened.

That the prophecy was not confined to the people of Galilee is evident from the last clause of the second verse, “They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” The land of the shadow of death is the whole world, for the shadow of death has been on the whole world ever since the first transgression in Eden, ever since the curse or sentence of death was pronounced against our race. As the Prophet David describes it, the Lord’s true people are blessed even while in the present valley and under the shadow of death: he says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” It is to this class who walk with the Lord, who trust him, that the true light now shines – not as the glorious Sun of Righteousness, as it will shine by and by when the Millennial Kingdom is established, but merely as the little lamp, “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet, a lantern to my footsteps.”

This lamp shines not for the world but for those who are the Lord’s special people, to whom the light of his revelation, the lamp of enlightenment is granted. All these thus walking in this valley, under the guidance and care of the great Captain of our Salvation, have indeed seen a great light in him, have seen a light which the world sees not. But, thank God, the world’s time to see the great light is shortly coming, drawing nigh. As soon as the present work of selecting the Church, the Bride, the body members, is complete, these – changed, glorified – shall constitute the great Sun of Righteousness to shine forth upon the world, the light of divine Truth, the message of divine love and mercy and instruction in righteousness. These – Christ the Head and the Church his body – shall be the great Teacher of the world, who shall instruct all, and shall bring as many as are willing into full fellowship and perfection – destroying the unwilling and unworthy in the Second Death.

JACOB’S RESCUE NEAR.

But evidently the Prophet’s vision, while it glanced upon the preaching of our Lord and the apostles in Galilee, and glanced down through the Gospel age and noted how this light glinted here and there as a wonderful “lamp,” nevertheless rested not until it reached the very end of this age. There in prophetic vision Isaiah seems to see the end of Jacob’s trouble – Israel’s deliverance from the blindness that has been upon her, her acceptance of the Lord as the Messiah at the time mentioned by another Prophet, when the Lord would pour upon them the spirit of prayer and supplication and they should look upon him whom they had pierced and mourn for him – at the time mentioned by the Apostle Paul, when the fulness of the Gentiles having come in (the full number of the Gentiles to complete the elect number of the Church), divine mercy shall go forth from the Church to bless the world and shall rest first of all upon Israel according to the flesh, “They shall obtain mercy through your mercy.” – Rom. 11:31.

The third and fourth verses of our lesson, we believe, are near fulfilment. In the Revised Version it reads, “Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased her joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as in the day of Midian.” The nation of Israel is much increased today, the estimate at the present time being between ten and twelve millions. Their joy is not yet accomplished because this great deliverance here mentioned has not yet been accomplished. It is to be accomplished in the day of trouble, we believe. The reference here to their deliverance being similar to that in the day of Midian signifies that, as in the days of Midian the Lord specially manifested divine power by which Gideon and a handful with him smote an immense army and delivered Israel from the oppressor, so here in the end of this age the glorified Lord and his glorified Church, the little flock, the antitype of Gideon and his band, will deliver Israel with a similar mighty manifestation of divine power.

This coming deliverance is mentioned particularly in the prophecy of Zechariah, as follows: – “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled and the women ravished: And half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the Lord go forth and fight against those nations as when he fought in the day of battle [the ancient time when the Lord worked miracles for Israel’s deliverance as at Midian]. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives.” – Zech. 14:1-4.

The fifth verse seems to be more intelligently rendered in the Revised Version thus: “For all the armor of the armed man in the tumult, and the garments rolled in blood, shall even be for burning, for fuel of fire.” The thought seems to be that at that time will come the end of warfare, as the Scriptures have declared. The time of trouble with which the Millennium will be introduced will be the means by which the Lord will overthrow all the powers of evil, as it is written, “He shall cause wars to cease unto the ends of the earth.” Under the righteous reign which will then follow men will learn war no more, but will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. At the present time the reverse of all this is in operation, nor can we hope for a change such as the Lord’s Word here and elsewhere predicts by any other power than that from above. Hence our prayer as our Lord instructed and in harmony with our hopes, “Thy Kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.”

THE GOVERNMENT UPON HIS SHOULDERS.

As the verses three to five indicate the coming joys and blessings and cessation of war, verse six points out how this would be accomplished. This is shown by its introduction with the word “for.” This verse is the Golden Text of our lesson, its center, its pivot point. It goes back of the promised blessings to point out how they will be introduced. (1) A child will be born – a Son will be given – a gift from God. (2) Passing over his earthly ministry and faithfulness, whereby the Lord Jesus was tested and proven worthy of the favors here prophetically assured him as the overcomer, we have the declaration that the government will be upon his shoulders. This is an old-style figurative way of declaring that the authority and honor will be laid upon the Lord Jesus. The same thought is still carried out in the armies of the world, whose generals have upon their shoulders epaulets in which the dignity of their rank is noted, is indicated. So upon our Lord Jesus the heavenly Father has placed the dignity and responsibility of being the great King who in due time, as the Father’s representative, as the great glorified Mediator, shall reign for a thousand years to restore order in the world, to put down all insubordination, to destroy every enemy of righteousness and truth and to exalt every one who is the friend of these divine principles.

It is worthy of note that this authority or government is conferred upon our Lord before he assumes the various offices subsequently made: remarkably few recognize the authority of this great Captain of our Salvation whom God has set forth. Only comparatively few recognize him truly and render him obedience and refuse not him who speaketh from heaven. These few have the eyes of their understanding opened and see what the others do not see, and the ears of their understanding opened that they hear and comprehend what others do not comprehend. To them the Master is the Father’s representative and all in all even now – even before the time has come for him to take his great power and reign, even before he has established truth and righteousness in the world. By the eye of faith they see him, recognize him, worship, adore, obey and follow him.

KNOWLEDGE OF HIS GLORY WORLD-WIDE.

But our lesson implies much more than such an acknowledgment of our Lord Jesus by the Church. It implies a world-wide knowledge, as it is written, “Unto him every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, to the glory of God the Father.” The government or authority is not laid upon his shoulders in vain, and the fact that he has not exercised this authority in now nearly two thousand years’ triumph and ascension up on high is merely in accord with the scriptural declaration that the Father has a due time set at which the Son shall take unto himself his great power and reign, and in association with himself the Church, the little flock, now being gathered out from the world during this Gospel age.

The time when the Lord shall manifest to the world his government, his authority, his rule, is represented in Daniel 12:1,2, by the words, “stand up.” “At that time shall Michael [another name for our glorious Lord] stand up, and there shall be a time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one found written in the book.” Our Lord will not have the authority in vain. When he shall have the authority he will use it, and one of the first works, we are assured, will be the suppression of evil – not only the suppression of Satan, the prince of this world, who now worketh in the hearts of the children of disobedience, and who, we are assured, will be bound at the beginning of that Millennial reign, but additionally all the works of the devil, all institutions of evil, moral, social, financial, that are now injuring the world of mankind and co-operating in effecting the groaning and travailing of the whole creation. All these will be suppressed as soon as the proper time shall come, and he upon whose shoulders the power and authority have been placed shall take unto himself his great power and shall begin his reign. No longer, we may be sure, will any evil be licensed; no longer will the making of spirituous liquors be permitted, authorized and licensed, nor the sale of these nor any other harmful thing be allowed to do injury in God’s holy Kingdom. – Isa. 11:9.

It will be then, at that time, that the whole world shall begin to recognize the great King whom God will thus set in the throne of the world’s dominions to rule it, to order it to subdue it, to lift it up out of sin and degradation and to bring it into harmony again with God as it was before sin entered.

“COUNSELLOR,” MIGHTY ONE, FATHER.

The great Mediator, the Christ, “Prophet, Priest and King,” Judge, the Seed of Abraham in whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed, shall have various names; his character and work shall be recognized from various standpoints. He will be the Wonderful in that in himself he will manifest more than others the Father’s character and likeness and nature; he will be Counsellor, Teacher, Instructor, Helper, Guide, for the whole world of mankind; he will be Mighty God – the one with all power and authority to deal with mankind throughout the Millennial age.

There will be no appeal from his righteous laws, regulations and decisions because the Father hath committed all judgment unto the Son: the whole matter will be left in his hands. From another standpoint he will be the Everlasting Father; having purchased the life of Adam and his race with the sacrifice of his own human life, our Lord having been granted a new life in his resurrection, will have at his disposal the life which he bought in the sacrificing of his own in such measure as will be sufficient to supply every member of Adam’s race. Each member of our race as he shall respond to the knowledge that shall then be filling the whole earth, may receive life more and more abundantly from the glorified Christ – everlasting life, the life that was lost in Adam’s disobedience and that was redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice of himself.

The one from whom all life for the world must proceed is fitly called the Father of the world, since the word father signifies life-giver; and since this Father gives life everlasting, it is eminently proper that he should be called the Father of everlasting life or the Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace is another of his titles, but this one evidently will not be appropriate to him until, toward the close of the Millennial age, he shall have accomplished the putting down of everything obnoxious to divine righteousness, the subjugation of all things to himself – until he shall have finished the use of the iron rod in smiting the nations in dashing them to pieces as a potter’s vessel. Then it will be seen that the motive beyond all this activity against unrighteousness was the bringing in of everlasting righteousness, the bringing in of everlasting peace, and it will be seen that the title well fits our great King, Prince of Peace.

NO END OF RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT.

The seventh verse of our lesson gives another precious assurance, and that is that this Kingdom once being attained by our Lord will never be surrendered to another, never pass into other hands. Of his government and of his peace which he will establish there will be no end. Not only Israel, but all mankind have been witnesses that the best of kings as well as the worst of kings have at times surrendered their dominions, and that the best of kings might be followed by the worst. How appropriate then the suggestion that when the Kingdom of this great King of kings and Lord of lords shall have conquered the world and have subdued all things unto him and brought all things into harmony with the divine will, it shall never again be overturned by evil.

The expression, “upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to establish it and to uphold it with judgment and righteousness from henceforth even forever; the zeal of the Lord shall perform this,” signifies that this great Kingdom which our Lord Jesus at his second advent will establish – his Church as members of his body, members of his Kingdom class, his Bride associated with him – will be the outcome, the antitype of that which was typically presented to Israel in the kingdom, the government of David. As previously seen, the name David signifies “Beloved,” and the David who was the first king on Israel’s throne, and of whom it was said that he sat upon the throne of the Lord, was merely a type, a figure of the greater David, the Anointed, the Messiah. Jesus Christ, the first Lord of all, and the Church his body associated with him, constitute the antitypical David, the antitypical Beloved of the Lord, whose kingdom shall be an everlasting Kingdom “henceforth even forevermore.”

UNENDING KINGDOM TRANSFERRED.

The Apostle points out (I Cor. 15:28) that, at the close of his thousand-year reign, our Lord (his Church associated with him) will abdicate the throne of earth. Having accomplished the work which the Father has set apart to be accomplished by the Anointed in this Millennial reign, at its close the entire authority, with the world in complete subjection to the divine law and fully restored to the divine likeness and all wilful transgressors cut off, will be surrendered to the Father’s hands, and in accordance with his pre-arrangement will be redelivered to mankind, that the perfect human family, in the image and likeness of God, may rule the world in harmony with the divine regulations. But the government will never cease, because the government which Christ establishes is the divine government, and having given up this special work, the Christ will be even more particularly associated with the Father in his throne in the general government of the universe; and since the government of earth is merely a part of the government of the universe, it will still be in that particular sense under the supervision of the glorified Christ.

The zeal of the Lord shall perform this. It will not be the arm of man nor the zeal of man, however good or well meaning, which could bring to pass such wonderful changes as those which the Lord has pointed out. The Lord himself will accomplish it; he will put all things into subjection to the Son – all things, the Apostle explains, except himself, for he is excepted who thus puts all things under the Son. – I Cor. 15:27.

From this standpoint, looking back over the history of the world, we get a grand view of the divine power and wisdom and justice and love. We see how God has been continually overruling in respect to the efforts of man, to the intent that ultimately, without interfering with the free moral agency of any, every man of the whole race of Adam shall be fully and thoroughly tested and proven respecting his loyalty to the Lord, and thus respecting his worthiness of life eternal. How glorious is the divine plan! What wonder is there that with its accomplishment every voice in heaven and in earth shall be heard expressing praise and thankfulness, glory, honor, dominion and might to him that sitteth upon the throne and to the Lamb?

 

Jesus’ Birthday and December 25th

NavtivityDecember 25 is being called in question by many as the date of Jesus’ birth. As far as can be learned this date was first mentioned during the third century. Many believe that the existence of heathen festivals celebrated on or about December 25 had great influence on its being accepted by the Roman church for special religious services, including ultimately the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

While the exact day on which Jesus was born cannot be determined, it is certain we think, that it was not in December, but rather about the first of October. When Jesus was born the shepherds of Judea were watching their sheep through the night in open pastures. Palestine does not have extremely cold weather in winter, but it would be too cold near the end of December for shepherds to be spending their nights in the open fields.
The Prophecy of Daniel (Dan. 9:24-27) reveals that Jesus’ ministry was to last for three and one-half years. It is a prophecy of sixty-nine symbolic weeks to the coming of the Messiah. Then another “week” is mentioned, the seventieth, in the midst, or middle, of which the Messiah would be “cut off,” this being a reference to Jesus’ death.
A week has seven days, and in prophecy each day represents a year. The rule is set forth in Ezekiel 4:6. This means that each prophetic week is seven years in length. The middle of such a week would therefore mark off a period of three and one-half years. It is very generally agreed that this was the length of Jesus’ ministry.
It is definitely known that Jesus was crucified in the spring of the year, at a date corresponding approximately to the early part of our month of April. This means that his ministry must have begun in the Fall, about the first of October. We are informed in Luke 3:23 that Jesus began his ministry when he was thirty years of age – perhaps even on his thirtieth birthday. Since three and one half years from that date terminated in early April it means that his birthday was about October 1, and not December 25.
Is it proper, then, to celebrate Christmas on the wrong date? Well, in the first place, there is nothing in the Scriptures enjoining Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus at all. Naturally, however, those who appreciate what his birth means both to the church and to the world will always desire to praise the Lord for this evidence of his great love for mankind. Surely it is proper to acknowledge the goodness of God at any time of the year.
The word “Christmas” is not, of course, of biblical origin. It is a contraction of the words, “Christ’s mass,” which naturally associates it with the Roman church. The majority of those who know this still feel that they can enter into the spirit of the occasion, and give thanks to God for the gift of his Son. To what extent an enlightened Christian should enter into the festivities of the day is a question for individual decision.

The FULL Armor of God

armor-of-godIt’s a fact and one supported by Scripture, that when a person sets out to serve God he is going to meet with a great deal of trouble, and this trouble will be in addition to any that he may meet with in the ordinary course of life. This being so, he must consider if he will be able to stand against the apparently overwhelming pressure of persecution and trouble. He might put it somewhat in this way—”If I take up this service and swear allegiance to God, shall it be only to fall under the fiery trials that shall come upon me!”

This question may be answered by another—”If there is additional pressure brought against me, shall I not receive additional protection against it?”

If we look to the Scriptures we shall soon find that for all who decide to serve Him, God has made ample provision in every way. Even in the natural order of things when a man offers bis service to the King, after the first necessary steps have been taken the man is accepted and sent off to camp where he receives his equipment. So with the Christian: after the first necessary steps have been taken, he is accepted; and, taking up the new mode of life, he receives his equipment. It is to this equipment that I wish particularly to draw your attention; and if we look at Eph. 6:13-17 we shall see that part of this equipment is a whole protective armor—

“Wherefore take unto you the whole amour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”—Eph. 6: 13-17.

There is no room here to doubt the completeness of the armour, and seeing that we live in the evil day we do well to take heed to the Apostle’s exhortation and take unto ourselves this armour of God.

The Girdle of Truth

First we have the girdle of truth. What is truth? Is it fully able to sustain? and is it perfect in its

working? The Scriptures abundantly declare that truth is one of God’s attributes; that being so, truth is unlimited. One of the most important truths to take is in 1 Tim. 2: 3-6—

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come Unto the [accurate] knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time .”

These are very definite statements. “There is one God.” Both the Old and the New Testaments

agree on this. In Deut. 4: 35 we have the word of God through Moses—

The Lord he is God, there is none else beside Him .”

Verse 39— “The Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else.” Deut. 6: 4—“Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord .”

In Mark 12: 29 we have Jesus Himself quoting these words in answer to one of the scribes—

And Jesus answered him: The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.”

These will suffice to show that there is but one God. “And one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” The Apostle has certainly given us very plain language in these verses. Heb. 8: 6 bears out the fact that Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant. Speaking of Jesus as a” high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec the Apostle says—

But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.”—Heb. 8: 6.

And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament Tor covenant.”—Heb. 9: 15.

And to Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant.”—Heb. 12: 24.

So far we have got two links in the girdle of truth. I t would take far too long at present to detail to any extent the whole amount of truth we can obtain, but this will give us a start; and in further examining the armour we shall find a good deal more of truth will make an appearance.

The Breastplate of Righteousness

Take now “the breastplate of righteousness.” One of the first texts we come across is Rom. 3: 10—

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” Consider this for a moment. Of all people there is not one righteous, and we may well enquire how shall we put on this breastplate of righteousness ? How is it obtained? Can we attain to it ourselves? That we cannot attain to it by any works of our own is quite clear. Look at the case of Abraham—

For what saith the Scripture! Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”—Rom. 4: 3.

This is the only way in which we can obtain righteousness; it is imputed unto us through our belief in God—

Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”—Bom. 4: 23-25.

We are justified by faith”, the Apostle says in Rom. 5: 1. If we believe God, we must believe that His Son died for our sins and was raised for our justification. In Rom. 5: 8, 9 and 3: 21-24 the Apostle explains this justification through Jesus in a very excellent manner—

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”

But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Christ Jesus unto all them that believe; for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

In verse 21 the Apostle says that there is now no need of the law to show forth the righteousness of God by demonstrating, as it were, the unrighteousness of those that were under the law. The law was but a shadow of good things to come, and witnesses with the prophets to the righteousness of God, in that he has provided a way of escape for us from sin by faith in Christ Jesus. Not that we can altogether cease from committing any sin at all; we cannot do that entirely,

because of the weakness of the flesh which lusteth against the Spirit; but as far as in us lies we must be dead to sin, and if so be that at any time we do sin, provided that we sin not wilfully, we do not come under the penalty of death (as was the case under the law). Under the terms of the New Covenant we can apply for forgiveness through Christ Jesus, in whom we have not only our Mediator, but also an Advocate with the Father.

Feet Shod with the Gospel of Peace

The gospel of peace brings forth more of the truth as related to ourselves and to others. In speaking to the disciples on one occasion shortly before he was betrayed, Jesus said (John 14: 27)—”Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Again, in Phil. 4: 7, Paul says—”And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Now we know that whereas we were once enemies of God, Christ hath by His sacrifice arranged the way by which we may be reconciled to God; therefore we, having accepted this means of reconciliation, are no longer enemies but children. “We live in peace with God; and, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are able to manifest the fruit of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance. The wisdom that is from above is first

pure, then peaceable; says the Apostle James.—Eph. 2: 11-18; Gal. 5: 22, 23; Jas. 3 : 17, 18.

We have the peace of God in our hearts, therefore we should manifest peacefulness in all our actions. To this we are exhorted in Rom. 14: 19—”Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” These things that we should follow after and seek to attain to as much as possible are well laid out in the Scripture; for instance, after speaking of various evil things Paul says:—

But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.”— 1 Tim. 6: 11.

“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which’ no man shall see the Lord.”—Heb. 12: 14.

“Flee also youthful lusts’; but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”—2 Tim. 2: 22.

That is to say, while first in harmony with God’s people, we shall as much as in us lies follow peace

with all men, and we should carry to them the gospel of peace.

We have ceased from our own works of unrighteousness, and we have undertaken the works of God; and, and peace of God” as stated in Heb. 4: 9, 10—

There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he hath also ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefor to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”

This rest will not be limited to the present life, but if we continue in the works of God now until the close of this life, and are accounted by the grace of God worthy, we may certainly expect that we shall be given greater powers in the next life, and continue in the works of God, having entered into eternal peace and rest.

There is a far broader view of the gospel of peace than,we have seen as yet, which will extend over the whole people, when “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: And all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the Lord \s.” (Psa. 22: 27, 28.) This is- corroborated in-—

“Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: All nations shall serve him.”—Psa. 72: 11.

“Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works. All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; ami shall glorify thy name. For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.”

Psa. 86: 8-10.

All the kindreds of the nations with the kings shall remember, and turn, and serve, and worship God. This being so, they will all enter into harmony and peace with each other and with God.

The Shield of Faith

Without the quality of faith we cannot accomplish anything; we might have a very good knowledge of God and His purposes, but that would not be of any benefit if we had no faith. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” We must believe and obey what we have been permitted to learn from the Scriptures, and this belief of and obedience to what we cannot see constitutes faith. The effect of faith on the Christian is very apparent when we consider that—

By faith we are the children of God.

By faith our hearts are purified.

By faith we are sanctified.

By faith through the Spirit we wait for the hope of righteousness.

By faith we shall live.

Armed with the shield of faith we are able to “quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” The evil day is the day of trouble and temptation, the day in which one is in the most danger of doing evil. We do well to watch ourselves and check our actions. (For) Even a child is known by his doings. Whether his work be pure, and whether it be right. (Prov. 20: 11.) So we must be careful to keep under, to purge out, such things as pride, anger, hatred, envy, talebearing, lying, idleness. A few of the Proverbs will show us the effect of these evils and their contraries— “When pride cometh, then cometh shame; but with the lowly is wisdom.”—Prov. 11: 2.

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”—Prov. 15: 1.

Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.”— Prov. 10: 12.

Let 0ot thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all day long. (Or, a better translation has it) but let it envy in the Lord all the day long.”—Prov. 23: 17.

A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”—Prov. 11: 13.

Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight.”—Prov. 12: 22.

“Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger. He that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul; but he that despiseth his ways shall die.”—Prov. 19:-15, 16.

“Be ye kind one to.another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”— Eph: 4: 32.

We have now seen quite a good deal concerning the armour of God, and there can be no doubt about its being able to sustain and keep safe those who receive it even though the day is evil. That the truth is also quite perfect in its working is directly stated in Psa. 19: 7-9

The doctrine of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: The judgments of the Lord are truth, and righteous altogether.”— Psa. 19: 7-9.

The Helmet—the Hope of Salvation

The helmet is another important piece of the armour. It is the hope of salvation, and this hope must rest on a sure foundation. The basis of salvation is very elearlv set out in Rom. 10: 9; 1 Cor. 15: 1-4; 1 John5:9-12

” T h a t if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt bo saved.”

Moreover brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

If we receive the witness of men the witness of God is greater: for this is the, witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the “Son of God hath the witness in himself; he’ that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because b.9 believeth not the record that” God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life .”

After one recognises the need of salvation and receives through the blood of the New Covenant forgiveness and life, he receives also the gift of the Holy Spirit—”Hereby we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”—1 John 4: 13.

To become actual partakers of the promises of the life to come we must be faithful and overcome in this life. if we do this successfully we shall become joint-heirs of Christ in the Kingdom, to rule and to reign with Him a thousand years, and help forward the great plan of God for the blessing of all the families of the earth, and so to bring to its culmination in peace and glory the most perfect will of God. Shall we not with this grand prospect in view, of so wide a salvation of so great glory, be faithful and overcome? Let us take unto ourselves the whole armor of God, and keep it shining bright, so that we may stand in the evil day. May the God of all grace keep, strengthen, and sustain us by Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Weapons Offensive

We have just been hearing from the previous speaker how necessary it is for the soldier to have an armour on, and also what a splendid and effective one has been provided for all who are engaged in this glorious fight, with which to defend ourselves.

But there is something more to be considered; and that is, all those who take part in this fight of faith have not,only to defend themselves from attacks by the enemy, they have also (to use a saying that we are all familiar with at the present time) to “take the offensive,” and with all our armour on carry the war right into the enemy’s ranks.. To do that we must not only have ourselves shielde’d with the armour, but. must use the weapons that are provided for all good soldiers of the King. And these weapons are to be used both when we are attacked by the enemy and when we do the attacking.

The weapons that are provided for the soldiers are very powerful and effective, and indeed they would need to be when we consider what a very subtle enemy we have to fight against, who is ever on the alert to try and deprive us of this faith, which means so much to us, which Paul enjoins Timothy to so earnestly engage in, and which he himself throughout his Christian life so bravely fought and won.

The Sword

In Eph. 6: 17 we have mention of one of the weapons that we are to use—”The sword of the Spirit,

which is the word of God.” A sword is a weapon with a very sharp edge, and it would be of no use

to a soldier unless it were sharp—either to defend himself with, or to attack the enemy. Hence the

sword of the Spirit would represent something very sharp and cutting.

Heb. 4: 12 gives us a good description of how sharp the Word of God is, still using the symbol of

the sword—” For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Nothing could be mope penetrating than that.

Having been told that we are to take this weapon and make good use of it, the first thing we must do is to learn how to use it; for one who is ignorant of how to use a weapon would have no chance against an expert on the enemv’s side.

In modern warfare men are trained in the use of the weapons they are to handle. It would not be of any use to put a man in charge of, say, a big gun such as the nations are using at the present time, if he had no knowledge of it. These men make a study of that gun, they set themselves to learn all its different parts, and how they are fitted and used. In short, they learn all they can about it, so that they can* use that gun with the best effect. And so it is with the. soldiers of the Cross. They must get acquainted with the Scriptures; they must believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures as spoken of*bv Peter (2 Pet. 1: 21), and also by Paul (2 Tim. 3 : 16)— “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” Having begun there, they must set themselves to have a thorough knowledge of the word of God. It is only by so doing that we will be able to use the sword of the Spirit in the most effective way.

Our Lord is a beautiful example to us in the way He defeated the devil, who came to Him with temptations in the wilderness. Our Lord answered him every time by reference to the Scriptures—” it is written”—and the devil had to leave Him. We also should so study the Word of God that we may be able to resist and defeat the enemy by our knowledge of the Word.

That knowledge of the inspired Word is very necessary is shown to us in John 14: 26, where our

Lord said that the Holy Spirit would “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said

unto you.” The Holy Spirit could not bring to our remembrance things which we had never known. But how often have we proved these words when delivering the message of glad tidings. The text of Scripture that we had read instantly comes to our mind, and we are enabled to use it to the best advantage. Our Lord constantly answered the Pharisees and other Jews by referring to the inspired Word, and so silenced them.

The Sword turned Inward

Not only must this sword of the Spirit be used to drive off the enemy that attacks us from outside, it must also be turned in on the enemy that is within. In Heb. 4: 12, already quoted, the Word of God is referred to as being “sharper than any two-edged sword,” and as ” a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” We know that the heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17: 9), the heart being looked upon as the centre of our being. We read that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Rom. 10: 10), and it is in the heart that there is- the danger of one of the most subtle enemies we have to contend with getting a footing, that is, unbelief; for once let unbelief get uppermost, and our faith is gone.

The 3rd and 4th chapters of Hebrews deal largely with that particular enemy, which overcame the

Israelites in the wilderness; and we are told to ‘ ‘ take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief (Heb. 3 : 12), and also 4: 11, 12—”Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any

man fall after the same example of unbelief. For the word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword.” So we must use this weapon, and let it penetrate right to the inmost recesses of our heart, and cut and destroy everything there that would endanger our faith.

The Prayer Weapon

Prayer is another valuable weapon, and is an absolute necessity to the believer if he hopes to win in the fight of faith. It is a powerful weapon, as we heard— . ‘

“Satan trembles when he sees The weakest saint upon his knees.”

The child of God is too weak in his own strength to do battle with the enemy of his soul, whose purpose is to wreck if possible the faith of that one; but with the weapon of prayer the believer has no need to fear; for our Heavenly Father, to Whom we look for strength, is well able to keep us and help us to resist the onslaughts of the Evil One. But the Lord will be enquired of, and it is by prayer we enquire of the Lord.

Our blessed Saviour had recourse to prayer very often in His earthly life, and if our Lord, Who was

perfect and holy, had need of it, how much more we, who are so very imperfect and prone to fall into sin, have need to use it. Our Lord taught us to pray that we might not be led into temptation, but might be delivered from evil, and also He specifically enjoined His disciples to “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. “—Matt. 6: 13; Mark 13: 38.

We see, then, that prayer is a safeguard against falling when the adversary assails us with his temptations, one of which is to make us falter in our faith, and, if possible, overthrow us completely.

We can all look back in our experience in the faith and remember how at times our feet came nigh to slipping, and doubts and fears alarmed us. We felt our strength gone, as the opposing forces of evil closed in on us, but we remembered that God our Father was very ready and willing to help all those who sought His aid, and that we could come boldly to the throne of mercy and find grace to help in time of need; and by doing so, by using this weapon of prayer, the opposing forces fell back, our faith was strengthened, and we were enabled to continue in the good fight.

It is by prayer that we keep ourselves in the love of God—”But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God.”—Jude 20, 21.

Prayer to Assist Others

Not only have we to make use of prayer for ourserves, but also for others, that they also may be

enabled to continue in the good fight. Our Lord set us the example when He prayed for the disciples; so we ought to pray for one another.

The Apostle Paul, in his epistles to the Church, often asked that the brethren would pray for him,

and he told the Colossian brethren that he never ceased to pray for them; also the Thessalonians jrfrat he prayed always for them. He was very eager that they might all stand fast in the faith. He

knew the value of prayer, and so exhorted them all to pray without ceasing. If we are to kill the influences of the evil forces around us, we must keep our minds in the attitude of prayer.

It does not matter where we are, in our homes, at our daily occupations, riding in trams or trains, there can always be communion between our hearts and God. It is in this way that we can render harmless all the darts of the evil one.

It is said that electricity travels at the rate of 17,000 miles a second. That is marvellously quick travelling. But sincere, earnest prayer travels-quicker than that to the Throne of Grace; and when we appeal for help to resist the evil one the help comes at once. Let us then, dear friends, avail ourselves of this most powerful weapon.

Sharp Arrows

Another weapon often alluded to in the Scriptures is the arrow. Arrows have very sharp points, and, when shot out of a bow, can pierce very deep. In Psa. 45: 5 we read—”Thine [that is, God’s] arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies, whereby the people fall under thee.”

What are these arrows? We know it does not mean literal arrows or darts, such as were used in

ancient warfare; therefore they must have a symbolic meaning.

Psa. 64: 3 gives an explanation of the meaning of “arrows.” It is speaking of the workers of iniquity— ” Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter

words: that they may shoot in secret at the perfect.”

In verse 7 we read that “God shall shoot at them [the wicked] with an arrow: suddenly shall they be wounded.” As arrows in the hands of the wicked are said to be bitter words, that they hurl at the believer to wound him, we can depend upon it the arrows of the Lord are sharp and piercing truths that will sink deep into the hearts of the people who are against Him.

Some people are of the opinion that God being a God of love, they can go on and do as they like, and God will not punish them; but Psa. 7: 11-13 says— “God is angry with the wicked every day. If he turn not, He will wbet his sword; he hath bent his bow and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against his persecutors.”

And, as we have previously seen, they are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies. We should never be guilty of using the arrows of the wicked; that is, bitter words spoken in malice to wound each other. The arrows we are to use are words of divine truth—from the inspired Scriptures

which will pierce the hearts of those who try to oppose us in our war against evil, and perhaps be the means of bringing them to see their error and turn them from their wickedness into the way that will lead them unto God.

Not Carnal Weapons

Now, although we have been talking about warfare and weapons, such as swords and arrows, it is explained in 2 Cor. 10: 3-6 that—”For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal., . . .”

The nations at the present time are warring after the flesh; that is, they arm themselves with carnal weapons, such as tremendous guns, and call to their aid all that science can do for them in getting deadly weapons with which to destroy human life and property.

They array themselves in great armies against each other, in order to obtain a victory over the nations opposing them.

But look at what it says in 2 Cor. 10—Our weapons are not carnal, not the weapons that the

nations are using; and our weapons are not used by us to destroy human life and property. Yet they are “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”

“What are these strongholds that the Sword of the rit and prayer can pull down? In Eph. 6 it is

stated that—”We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the rulers of the darkness of

this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” and there is no doubt that they are veritable strongholds of evil forces. But we can be confident that our weapons are able to penetrate even there, and Tender those evil forces powerless to conquer the -child of God, who wields these weapons.

Then again what a stronghold unbelief is. It dates back to the very beginning of the human race.

When God said, ” I f thou eatest of the forbidden tree thou shalt surely die,” and Satan said, “Thou shalt not die,” our first parents did not believe God, and so they died.

Unbelief started there, and has continued right down the ages, and everyone who takes up arms in this glorious fight of faith will have that enemy to overcome. It behoves us to make good use of the Word of God and prayer, as only by these means can we hope to get strength to conquer.

Verse 5 goes on to say that the weapons are mighty in “Casting down imaginations,” or reasonings, as the marginal reading has it. We see that arguments are very prevalent in the present day, such as higher criticism, which tries to undermine the faith of the believer in the inspired Word of God, and is one of” the high things that exalteth itself as a fortification against the knowledge of God. But no matter how strong these fortifications are, the weapons that the

soldiers of God are provided with are mighty through Him to the pulling down of them.

And this is not all, as the end of the 5th verse says —they are able to “bring into captivity every

thought to the obedience of Christ.” What a marvellous victory that is; even our very thoughts made captive to Christ! How wonderfully kind is God, Who has provided us with His blessed Word, so that we need have no fear as to the result of our fight, if we only use the weapons in the manner that He has laid down for us to do!

We must be very careful throughout all our warfare, to see that nothing is done in the spirit of hatred or vain-glory with which earthly nations carry on their warfare. We are “not to war for any earthly glory or reward, but what we do must be done for the glory of God, and in the spirit of love to one another, with the view of helping all we can some other believer to fight on to the end against all the powers of wickedness that are arrayed against God, knowing that a rich reward, promised by the Captain of our salvation, awaits the conqueror—with which no earthly glory can be compared; and that is, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as “I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”—Rev. 3 : 21.

God grant that this may be the portion of each one of us!

The Blind Spot

blindspotThe human eye is a wonderful thing. Blind people think a lot more about eyes and sight than those with normal vision because it is common to take for granted the many blessings we enjoy and only think about the things we want and do not have.

Most of us are blessed with vision of some degree, yet we all possess what is commonly called blind spots. These are two areas located on the right and left side. An eye doctor can draw the exact size and shape of our blind spot by use of a curved black flannel board and a little pointer with a white dot on it. We can see above and below, in front and behind, but within these blind spots we cannot see a thing.

Spiritual blindspots

Now most natural things have a spiritual counterpart and this is true of our blind spots. A blind person cannot see at all. A normal person can see clearly in most areas but is also completely blind in two specific areas.

We all know extremely intelligent people who have a wonderful knowledge of mathematics or physics, who can explain the workings of intricate machinery, or who are diligent in business and skilful in some sport but who know nothing, absolutely nothing about the Bible and what’s more, they don’t want to.

Religion is their blind spot.

Developing our blind spots!

When we turn our hearts to God, we do not lose our natural blind spots, we just try and make ourselves become blind to different things. If we can only learn to become blind to the evil that is around us instead of focusing our eyes upon it, how wise we shall be. The lust of the eye is one of the three causes of sin and if we can only learn to have eyes for the things of God and not look upon evil, we shall avoid many of the pitfalls that make others fall.

Christians should not overlook what Jesus himself said about abusing the privilege of eyesight. In a passage about adultery Jesus indicated how serious the matter was. Even if we don’t take his suggestion literally, the lesson is clear:

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.” (Matthew 5:29)

Unfortunately our spiritual blind spots are not limited to evil things. Our blind spots can be those faults which we possess and others can see so clearly and we can’t see at all. We all have them, and if only we can learn to see them, then they won’t be spiritual blind spots any more.

We can change the position of our natural blind spots by turning our head or backing away to get a different slant on things. If only we will train our spiritual vision to compensate for our weaknesses we can avoid stumbling.

Biblical examples

Peter and Paul are outstanding examples of faithful followers of Christ who, at one time, both had a serious spiritual blind spot.

Peter’s trouble was he acted first and thought later! One minute he refuses to let Christ wash his feet and the next he wanted him to wash his hands and his head as well. One minute he pulls out his sword to defend Christ and the next he denies that he even knows him.

Paul, on the other hand, was originally so wrapped up in what he thought was right that he wouldn’t listen to reason. When confronted with the wisdom of Stephen he became violent and consented to Stephen’s death.

Both of these men were rescued from their blind spots by the Lord Jesus Christ.

We all need help

Jesus will also rescue us from our spiritual blind spots if we will but turn to him for help.

Jesus prayed especially for Peter that his faith fail not, and Peter was able to strengthen his companions as well. In the case of Paul, Christ personally appeared to him to convert him and it is interesting to notice that Paul was struck blind for a time. It seemed to take natural blindness to make Paul see spiritual things.

We all have blind spots. We all need to get busy pulling the beam out of our own eye so that we may see clearly. Jesus plainly teaches us that it is the beam in our eye that causes us trouble, not the mote in our brother’s eye. The trouble is that we can see faults in other people more easily than we can see our own!

We need to busy ourselves looking for the beams in our eyes so that we can remove the spiritual blind spots that cause us to stumble.

The Spirit of Compromise

TheDangerOfCompromise“Beloved, I now write this second letter to you, in which I stir up your pure mind by reminder to remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of the Lord and Savior by us, the apostles. First, knowing this, that there will come in the last days scoffers walking according to their own lusts and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” –  2Pe 3:1-4

Many—and very plain and positive—are the warnings of God’s Word against the “evil communications” that “corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15: 33). The Apostle Paul’s counsel (Acts 20: 28-30) to all the elders of the church was, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” And Jude said, “Beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves [from the Truth and its Spirit], sensual [minding earthly things, and gratifying the ambitions and tastes of the old nature], having not the Spirit. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying with a holy spirit [a spirit of loyalty and devotion to God], keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 17-21).

Thus we are put on guard against the enemies of the Truth, and it is made obligatory upon all the faithful to be on the alert against them, and to be prompt in discerning and in dealing with them, so that the flock of Christ may be spared. The Apostle Paul grows very earnest in urging this matter, saying, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own desires; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple [those not on the alert against the encroachments of error]” (Rom. 16: 17, 18). Again, says the same Apostle (2 Tim. 2: 16), “Shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.”

HOW THE POLICY OF COMPROMISE SPEAKS

No, says the ungodly policy of this evil day of compromises and of disloyalty to “the faith once delivered to the saints,” “We cannot walk by this strict rule: we dare not recognize and admit the real character of a wolf in the sheepfold, if the wolf be attired in sheep’s clothing; we must accept his professions, notwithstanding his words and his actions to the contrary. We cannot believe that of our own selves—right in the midst of the company of the consecrated—any will arise to ‘pervert the truth’ and to ‘draw disciples after them’; and we dare not ‘mark’ any as such, and ‘avoid them,’ or ‘shun their profane and vain babblings,’ as the Apostle suggests, for that would be uncharitable, unloving and unkind.”

Lately we hear a great deal in favor of a broad-minded charity which gives loose rein to the enemies of the doctrines of Christ—a charity which would affiliate with every form of belief and unbelief; that makes no claims or superiority for one religion over another, be it heathen or Christian or anti-Christian; and that freely fellowships all and bids all Godspeed, utterly heedless of the Word of the Lord, which says, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God,” and “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed; for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11) .

The warning here is not against those who never knew the Truth, but against those who have known it and have been blessed by it, and who afterward turned away from it; of whom the Apostle Peter speaks, saying, “If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning [they are worse off than those who have always been of the world]. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pet. 2: 20-22). Why do they do so? Because the dog nature and/or the sow nature and disposition are still there, and only wait for opportunities and circumstances to prove it. So also says the Apostle John: They that go out from us—who desert the Truth and its interests—do so because they are not of us (1 John 2: 19), because the old fleshly mind and disposition are still there and are allowed to come again into control.

In some cases the desertion may be only on one or a few items of Bible Truth, in other cases it may be many. Also, in some cases one who is fighting the Truth may never have been enlightened or is insufficiently enlightened on the pertinent truth or truths he is opposing. These things, and also the relative importance of the truth or truths that are being deserted and opposed would all have to be taken into consideration in determining how much friendship and fellowship we could give such. Certainly we should not fellowship with them in their errors of doctrine and practice, but are rather to reprove them (Eph. 5: 11).

Again, many who once were “established in the present truth” (2 Pet. 1: 12) regarding the Bible chronology, the Second Advent and the beginning of the binding of Satan and Christ’s Thousand-year Reign (Rev. 20: 1-4) as having set in with the beginning of the seventh thousand-year day after Adam’s fall, the beginning of Earth’s Great jubilee, in 1874 (B 173-200), now reject these Bible-based truths, some denying that Jesus has come again in His Second Advent, others denying that the binding of Satan has even started yet, and some even casting aside the Bible chronology and substituting a false chronology in an effort to prove that Christ’s Thousand-year Reign has not begun yet.

The love  which goes out toward the enemies of the cross of Christ–those who have been once enlightened by the truth and have turned away from it–is not the right kind of love. We are commanded to “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” and told that “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15); and, again, “This is love, that we walk after his commandments.”2 John 6.

“And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”–Gal. 6:16.

Are You ESTABLISHED in the TRUTH?

bible“To be established in the truth signifies that we have carefully studied and thoroughly proved it by “the law and the testimony” (Isa. 8:20), and that as a consequence we are convinced of its verity, so that our faith is steadfast and immovable: we know whom we have believed; we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good; we have partaken of the sweets of fellowship with him; we have partaken of his spirit of meekness, faith and godliness to such an extent as to be led into a joyful realization of the fullness of his grace as manifested in the wonderful divine plan of the ages; and we have been permitted to see, not only the various features of that plan, but also the necessity and reasonableness of all its various measures in order to the full accomplishment of its glorious outcome in the fullness of the appointed times. This is what it is to be “established in the present truth.” It is indeed a most blessed condition, bringing with it such peace and joy as the world can neither give nor take away.” (R:3089)

The Apostle Paul said that apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors and teachers were provided by the Lord, “for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Eph. 4:11-14. He says to Timothy, “ But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” 2 Timothy 3:13, 14

We are admonished to be “steadfast, immoveable”; to be “established in the faith”; and told that “we are made partakers with Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” Any teaching that is so changeable that its followers cannot be established in it, is manifestly wrong. We read in James 1:16, 17, “Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadows of turning.”

We call attention to the many changes made by those who have been in control of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract society since Brother Russell’s death, and ask, how can they harmonize their many “delusive” changes with the words of the Apostle above quoted?

What is the result to those who have become so completely deluded as to “believe a lie”? Brother Russell says of such, “They become irreconcilable to the Truth, so that neither Scripture, nor reason, nor the example of the faithful can restore them.” What a sad condition for “those who were once enlightened.”

Brother Russell fully realized that his earnest warning would avail nothing to many of the deluded ones, but to those whose love for the message which the Lord has sent us through his faithful ministry has not been entirely quenched, may his words of warning be indeed “a savor of life unto life.”

Do the Scriptures Say Not to Forsake the Assembling of Ourselves?

Being-the-Church“And let us not forsake the fellowship that we have among ourselves as the manner of some is: but let us exhort one another and that so much the more because ye see that the day draweth nigh.”  – Hebrews 10:25  (Tyndale)
First of all, it is essential that we understand the meaning of the word “church” as it is used in our English Bibles. Before tackling Hebrews 10:25, we are going to lay some groundwork in advance, these comments, while being historically and biblically derived, are not meant to suggest that Christians should not meet together, share fellowship, pray or preach the Word of God. If that is the conclusion someone makes from these comments, then they have misinterpreted what has been stated here.

My desire is to embrace God’s truth (not just for truth’s sake, but because I love Him and desire to grow evermore close to Him) and I, quite honestly, do not care if the traditions of men (even my own) are offended by His truth. If a person is honest, they will have to admit that when flesh is confronted by the Spirit of the Living God and the truth of Scripture it often resists submission and humility. But my response to that conviction of Christ and His Word must be to repent and yield, otherwise I only end up hardening my heart and increasing in stubbornness as well as blindness. I want to see clearly with spiritual eyes and walk full in the grace and liberty of Jesus Christ whose precious blood was shed for me.

We Christians tend to throw around a lot of terminologies as well as operate under a lot of religious mindsets that are, quite honestly, the primary product of human tradition and not biblical design. This is not to suggest that all organization is “evil” but sometimes it is counterproductive to true and essential spiritual growth. Sometimes our traditions can make God’s Word to seemingly have no affect and can even move us to actually reject His commands. Jesus Himself noted this reality. Just as we read in Mark 7:5, so are there “Pharisees” today who are asking the question of those who refuse to follow erroneous traditions at the expense of biblical truth: “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders?” You know well, I’m sure, Jesus’ bold reply:

Mark 7:6-9 – He told them, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites. As it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is empty, because they teach human rules as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your own tradition!”

Before I can answer the question of what I believe Hebrews 10:25 specifically has in mind concerning “assembling”, I feel it is important to look closer at what “assembly” is all about in the body of Christ as Scripture presents it. Too many Christians have been raised with a traditionally-inspired definition of some of these terms and this has served to make them embrace many Biblically-inaccurate concepts. First I would like to look closer at the popular concept of the word “church”as it is understood today in comparison and contrast with the biblical meaning.

The Greek word for “church” is “ecclesia” and, according to its most basic context, it means “assembly”. It is a combination of two separate words (ek, “out of,” and klesis, “a calling” – from kaleo, “to call”) meaning “a calling from out of.” This coincides with the Lord’s directive, which Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of (notice how God describes His temple):

2 Corinthians 6:16-18 – And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For WE are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from them and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

Truly God has called us out of the world unto Himself – into His Assembly. This is the “Church” (according to its true biblical meaning)! We, indeed, are the “called out ones“. However, even the word “church” itself is really a poor term to use if we want to be technically accurate about things. The word church has no literal derivative in the original text of Scripture. It was added by translators hundreds of years after the New Testament was written.  Believe it or not, neither Jesus nor any of the apostles ever used it with respect to God’s people!  The English word “church” is presumed to come from a Greek word that, also itself, is never even used one time in all of Scripture! Here we have an example of translators modifying the text to make it seem to align better with the religious tradition of men rather than trying to convey the literal intended meaning. The word “church” naturally tends to draw the reader’s thoughts to religious structure and form rather than organic spiritual life.  When the King James Version of the Bible was created, James actually instructed the translators (through a bishop by the name of Robert Bancroft) not to change the word “church” to reflect its actual meaning (something William Tyndale had already done in his translation of the New Testament years before). This truly is not a conspiracy theory, this is documented history!  The Bishop, with the King’s approval, devised 15 rules which the translators were ordered to abide by in their development of what has come to be known as “the Authorized Version”, one of which was this rule not to tamper with the old ecclesiastical terms (i.e. church). Again, this is historical fact.

“The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation, etc.” (A Brief History of English Bible Translations by Dr. Laurence M. Vance)

Many have reasonably presumed that the conveyed purpose for the King’s Bible was to establish a trustworthy translation of God’s Word in the people’s language so that they would no longer be subjected to the religious manipulation wrought by the Roman papacy.  While this purpose was indeed conveyed by a number of proponents of the work, I find it especially ironic that the very same authors of this work also sought to manipulate the masses by limiting the common man’s understanding of the text in specific places, thus compounding the notion of essential religious centrality; i.e. the mindset that presumes the establishment of organized religion (and its hierarchy of leaders) is intended to be embraced as the most dominant, essential feature of Christianity (when, in fact, it really has nothing to do with it at all).

In case someone might presume otherwise, it should be stated that the King Jame’s Version of the Bible was not the first English translation.  The Bible had already been translated into English in previous times.  In fact most of the KJV was copied exclusively from prior English translations.  It is a well known fact among many scholars that King James was not a fan of the Bible translation most popular in his day known as the Geneva Bible. There were two major reasons for this. One, because of the Geneva Bible’s Calvinistic leanings and, two, the Geneva Bible had marginal notes to help explain certain texts and some of these notes challenged his view of what he believed to be the divine right of kings to govern the church and stand as its head. James saw the Geneva Bible as a threat to his lordship over the church and this no doubt fueled much of his ambition to create a Bible version that was officially “authorized” by the king himself.

“‘I profess,’ he said, ‘I could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that, of all, that of Geneva is the worst.’” (The Geneva Bible: The Forgotten Translation by Gary DeMar)

As an interesting side note, even the first pilgrims who came to America did not come toting King James Bibles but read and preferred the Geneva Bible! (Gary DeMar’s book also talks about this) If you’re interested in more of the details surrounding the King James Version of the Bible, I heartily recommend the excellent book “The Great Ecclesiastical Conspiracy” by George Davis, Michael Clark and Kirk Pearson (also available free online: download it here).  James also used William Tyndale’s version heavily (which is where most of the poetic styling of the KJV comes from), but replaced virtually every reference to organic fellowship and horizontal leadership (as the original language of the Greek presents) and instead kept the old ecclesiastical terminology.

In all honesty, it could very well be argued that the word “church” should not even appear in the Bible. But rather than getting into an enormous discussion over the word we are accustomed to using and not likely to see change any time soon, I will instead emphasize the actual biblical meaning of ecclesia. I am convinced that there is not that much problem with use of the word “church” so long as we clearly comprehend its intended meaning and use in Scripture. So, for the rest of this letter, I will continue to use the word “Church” appealing to the reader’s understanding that it is the “ecclesia” of God that I have in mind and I will clarify my use of the term when I am referring to “church” as the human-devised structures and programs of organized religion and institutional Christianity.

THE SINGULARITY OF THE ECCLESIA
In every case where we see this word “church” used in reference to believers, it is speaking of the Lord’s Church (his ek-klesis or ecclesia). There are not many brides of Christ, there are not many bodies of Christ… There is only one. Paul spoke concerning the Church with such incredible singularity. Additionally, we never see this word “ecclesia” used in terms of an organization or a building or a denomination – it always, ALWAYS, is a direct reference to the people of God, born into His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. Paul wrote many letters to many people in different locations, but he spoke a singular message of there being only ONE BODY, which is the Lord’s Church. Therefore, in my humble opinion, it is not accurate to say that Paul necessarily wrote letters to “churches” but rather to the Church (Ecclesia) represented in a given city. Though our English translations of the Bible virtually every use the word “churches” (plural), the Greek remains “ecclesia” singular! The only exception to this rule is when the author is speaking to communities of believers within a massive region (e.g. the “churches” in Asia). This can be difficult to grasp for many because of the damage that has already been done with the common understanding of the meaning of the word church. There were seven cities in Asia, each one with a single, united community of believers in each city. Therefore the Scripture says, “to the churches in Asia”. This is a plural referencing a singular (for lack of a better way to describe it). Again, ONE body of Christ but identified as present in each city. It is vital to understand these are NOT denominations (for even the very word denomination indicates division). There is no division in the true Church of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10)! So what is meant by there being one representation of the Lord’s Church in every city? Again, I am not suggesting this even means one gathering place in each city. We are talking about a spiritual dynamic. It would be the same as saying that if you left Seattle and entered into Portland, you would then be among the Christians in that city. You haven’t left the body of Christ or the Ecclesia/Church by leaving Seattle, but you are simply now among the body of Christ within another town. It matters not whether you visit some designated structure or meeting place because the word “Church” (as it is used in Scripture) has nothing to do with a place, a building or an organization. It ONLY and ALWAYS has reference to PEOPLE.

This, I believe, is a most significant fact to regard. Observe the following passages concerning the “oneness” of the Body (the church). Notice how SINGULAR these terms are in every group Paul preached to.

Ephesians 4:1-6 – Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all ONE BODY, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.

Ephesians 5:29-30 – No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the Church. And we are his body.

Colossians 1:18 – Christ is the head of the Church, which is his body. He is the first of all who will rise from the dead, so he is first in everything.

Romans 12:4-5 – Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of His ONE BODY, and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all ONE BODY in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.

Ephesians 1:21-23 – Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else in this world or in the world to come. And God has put all things under the authority of Christ, and he gave him this authority for the benefit of the Church. And the Church is his body; it is filled by Christ, who fills everything everywhere with his presence.

Ephesians 4:15-16 – Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the Church. Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

The verses (like those mentioned above) are numerous and exceptionally clear! While as one body we have many parts, those individual parts are not defined by attendance of or joining some other separate church organization.  Those “parts” are not “other church organizations“.  When someone speaks of getting one’s self into a church, what exactly are they suggesting? Are they suggesting that there is more than one church a person needs to “get into”? The biblical fact is that once a person is joined to Christ he is a full participating member of the Church (the Ecclesia of God); which is the body of Christ. There is nothing else he need join. There is nothing else he can join. There are “parts” but only ONE Church – and organizations are not those “parts”, neither are religious buildings  those parts – PEOPLE ARE THOSE PARTS.

CHURCH (ECCLESIA) IS NOT A BUILDING MADE WITH HANDS

We have already mentioned this next detail briefly, but allow me to expand on it a bit further. Scholars agree that our English word, church, actually is derived from a Greek term that is never once used at all in the Bible! The Greek word which corresponds with the English word “church” is “kuriakon” (meaning “the lord or master of a property” also simply “the lord’s house”). Kuriakon is a derivative of “kuriakos” (meaning “of, or belonging to a lord, master, etc.”). The latter (kuriakos) is used twice in the Bible – but NEVER as a definition of the Lord’s Assembly (examples of use: 1 Corinthians 11:20; Revelations 1:10)! The word “church” (or rather “kuriakon”) was typically used in reference to things belonging to the Roman Emperor in early times. Eventually, Christians adopted the word and applied it to their temples, but in the first and second century, Christians did not engage in the practice of building temples because such was unanimously considered idolatry; the very practice of pagans. This is 100% documented fact! The following quotations are excerpts from early Christian writings:

“The Word, prohibiting all sacrifices and the building of temples, indicates that the Almighty is not contained in anything.” – Clement of Alexandria (195 A.D.)

“We refuse to build lifeless temples to the Giver of all life… Our bodies are the temple of God. If anyone defiles the temple of God by lust or sin, he will himself be destroyed for acting impiously towards the true temple. Of all the temples spoken of in this sense, the best and most excellent was the pure and holy body of our Savior Jesus Christ… He said to them, ‘destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it again. This He said of the temple of His body.’… When they reproach us for not deeming it necessary to worship the divine Being by raising lifeless temples, we set before them our temples.” (meaning, of course, the “temple” of their bodies) – Origen (248 A.D.)

“You mistakenly think we conceal what we worship since we have no temples or altars. Yet how can anyone make an image of God? Man himself is the image of God. How can anyone build a temple to Him, when the whole world can’t contain Him? Even I, a mere human, travel far and wide. So how can anyone shut up the majesty of so great a Person within one small building? Isn’t it better for Him to be dedicated in our minds and consecrated in our innermost hearts – rather than in a building?” – Mark Felix in “Octavius” (2nd Century A.D.)

“You say that we build no temples [to the gods] and do not worship their images… Well, what greater honor or dignity could we ascribe to them than that we put them in the same position as the Head and Lord of the universe! …Do we honor Him with shrines and by building temples?” – Arnobius (305 A.D.)

“It remains for me to tell you about the temple, how these wretched men who had been deceived put their trust in the building, as though it were God’s house, and not in God who made them. For almost like the gentiles they ‘made him holy’ in the temple. But know what the Lord said in nullifying the temple: ‘Who has measured the sky with a span, or the land with his hand? Haven’t I?,’ says Yahweh. ‘The sky is my throne and the land is the footstool for my feet. What kind of house will you build for me? Or what will be my resting place?’ Know that their hope is worthless… Now let’s ask whether there is any temple of God. There is, in the place where he himself declares to make and complete it. For it is written, ‘And it will happen, when the week is complete, that God’s temple will be built gloriously in the name of Yahweh.’ Therefore, I find that there is a temple. So how will it be built in the name of Yahweh? Know that before we trusted in God, the dwellings of our hearts were corrupt and weak, like ‘a temple truly built by hands.’ For it was full of idolatry and was a house of spirit beings, because we did whatever was opposed to God. But it will be built in the name of Yahweh. So pay attention that the temple of Yahweh will be built gloriously, and know by what means that will be. In receiving the forgiveness of our sins and trusting in the name of the Lord we became new, created again, as from the beginning. For this reason God lives truly in our houses within us. How? The message of his trust, the calling of his promise, the wisdom of the tenets, the precepts of the teaching, he himself prophesies in us, he himself lives in us, opening the door of the temple for us who had been in bondage to death. This is the mouth of wisdom, having given us repentance, leading us to the incorruptible temple… This is the spiritual temple of the Lord.” – The Letter of Barnabas; Chapter 16 (96-100 A.D.)

“(You) being stones of the temple of the Father, prepared for the building of God the Father, and drawn up on high by the instrument of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, making use of the Holy Spirit as a rope, while your faith was the means by which you ascended, and your love the way which led up to God. Ye, therefore, as well as all your fellow-travelers, are God-bearers, temple-bearers, Christ-bearers, bearers of holiness, adorned in all respects with the commandments of Jesus Christ, in whom also I exult that I have been thought worthy, by means of this Epistle, to converse and rejoice with you, because with respect to your Christian life ye love nothing but God only.” – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians; Chapter 9 (30-107 A.D.).

“Let us therefore do all things as those who have Him dwelling in us, that we may be His temples, and He may be in us as our God, which indeed He is, and will manifest Himself before our faces. Wherefore we justly love Him.” – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians; Chapter 15 (30-107 A.D.).

“Rusticus, the perfect, said, ‘Where do you assemble?’ Justin Martyr replied, ‘Where each one chooses and is able. Do you imagine that we all meet in the very same place?’” – Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs (160 A.D.)

“We assemble together with the same quietness with which we live as individuals.” – Mark Minucius Felix (200 A.D.)

“For where there are three persons – even if they are laity – there is a church.” – Tertullian (212 A.D.)

[Pagan Antagonist:] “They [the Christians] despise the temples as dead houses… They laugh at sacred things.” – Mark Minucius Felix (200 A.D.) NOTE: Felix was a Roman lawyer that converted to Christianity and wrote one of the finest apologies of early Christianity in the form of a dialogue between a Christian and a pagan; hence, this quote is intended to be a pagan’s expressed agitation with the Christian’s perspective on things.

Thanks to the influence of the Greeks and the Romans (and eventually the Roman Catholic Church), we now have church buildings and they have become so adopted as a part of our religious culture that we actually have deceived ourselves to think they are necessary and biblical. We falsely presume that true spiritual growth and fellowship cannot transpire without one of these “churches.” We even end up presuming that our religiously dedicated “church” buildings and programs are equivalent to the Church Christ shed His blood for! In fact, we treat both as one and the same!

I cannot tell you the times I’ve heard preachers and pastors remark how that (they say) “many people today claim Christ and yet do not even attend church even though Jesus Christ purchased it with his own blood!” Do you see the confusion in that concept; the mixing of attendance to a religious building and/or meeting with the spiritual idea of the body of Christ? To the religious church-goer, both are essentially the same thing; if you don’t attend religious meetings at a physical “church building” then you are somehow rejecting (or at least minimalizing) the Church that Jesus gave His life for! Essentially, you have preachers and pastors who are telling people that Jesus shed His blood for a religious organization and a man made building! This is an amazing deception! We might ask ourselves, “if the early ecclesia thrived and spread like wild fire throughout the world without church buildings and programs, how is it we have come to believe that we can now do nothing without them?”

Easton’s Bible Dictionary (1897) says, “There is no clear instance of its (ecclesia) being used for a place of meeting or of worship, although in post-apostolic times it early received this meaning.”

Ecclesia, by stark contrast, bears no connotation whatsoever of an earthy building, temple or shrine. In the 16th Century, men of God like William Tyndale (Greek scholar and translator of the first printed English Bible) knew it and did not translate “ekklesia” as “church”… They (the religious leaders of his day) called him a heretic and burned him at the stake all because he translated the Scriptures straight from Greek and Hebrew into terms that more closely identified with their original meanings.

The Christians in the earliest centuries understood what it meant to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:13-18) as we discussed earlier. There was a cost to count that few of us can even compare to; for they gave their very lives for the truth.

As Christians we have been called out by God into His royal Assembly; His family. I personally think it is no coincidence that ecclesia has this very thought in mind. It makes perfect sense! For not only has God, in His Word, shown that we have been called out from among the world, but also even the RELIGIOUS world! In Jesus’ (and the apostles’) day it was the religious world of Judaism. Judaism was the epitome of organized religion. It was filled with rules, rituals, ceremonies and observance of holy days and religious meetings. God called His people to come out from that camp and to be joined with Christ. In fact, there is a prophecy in Isaiah where God showed His utter disgust for man’s religious worship (which had become lip service and going through the motions but void of any sincere heart). Israel had become so self-deceived with their religious worship rituals that they actually believed they were righteous because of them. Sound familiar? I think the same problem abounds today! This passage is rather interesting in the Message Bible:

Isaiah 1:12-17 – When you come before me, who ever gave you the idea of acting like this, Running here and there, doing this and that– all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship? Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings– meetings, meetings, meetings–I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. GO HOME and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.

Isn’t it funny that God wasn’t interested in their “assembling” while they continued to simply perform religion and still sin. He sends them home! Go take care of business! Let your life speak louder than your mouth! Stand up for the homeless and the defenseless! People ought to be your concern! It reminds me of what James said.

James 1:27 – Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

In similar fashion, while many people today have been taught that “giving” is actuated by donating percentages of their money to church organizations (which is resource primarily wasted on buildings rather than meeting the financial needs of actual people as was common in the early Church), the Scripture presents no such design. In fact, Jesus Himself clearly told His followers how to give to Him… Surprisingly enough, He never told them to get “plugged-in” to a good “church” and start tithing. Rather he said the following:

Matthew 25:34-40 – Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.” Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?” The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”

God’s Word sounds a loud call to all of those who are His that we are not to be about the business of building and concerning ourselves with earthly cities (religious centers and temples) here on earth (as the Jews did), but to keep our eyes peeled for the city yet to come. That’s where it’s at! That’s where we are to store up our treasures.

Hebrews 13:8-16 – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be turned away by different strange teachings, because it is good for your hearts to be made strong by grace, and not by meats, which were of no profit to those who took so much trouble over them. We have an altar from which those priests who are servants in the Tent may not take food. For the bodies of the beasts whose blood is taken into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin are burned outside the circle of the tents. For this reason Jesus was put to death outside the walls, so that he might make the people holy by his blood. Let us then go out to him outside the circle of the tents (i.e. outside the walls), taking his shame on ourselves. For here we have no fixed resting-place, but our search is for the one which is to come. Let us then make offerings of praise to God at all times through him, that is to say, the fruit of lips giving witness to his name. But go on doing good and giving to others, because God is well-pleased with such offerings.

I find it interesting again that God does not call us to have large worship services but to live a life of worship – that worship being trademarked with ACTION. The offering He desires is praise at ALL TIMES (not just a Sunday sing song) and that primarily to be actuated through our doing good and being generous to others who are in need. The time for sitting in pews and thinking this is somehow “fellowship” or that it constitutes “being assembled” is long over. God is merciful in our stages of ignorance and is patient as we grow. He is so good and so faithful to continue to lovingly guide us and pour out His blessings on us, even when while we sometimes ignorantly remained engrossed in traditions that do more to slow that process of growth that aide it.

Many church believers remain in a seemingly perpetual state of babyhood, always dependent on “leaders” to teach them, hear from God for them, do the work of evangelizing the lost for them, entertain them, counsel and encourage them, help them in crisis, and direct practically their every move. So many Christians divide themselves according to favored leaders they admire and who give them that sense of security they lack. This dependence on men is a natural byproduct the church system produces. Ironically, it’s not just a byproduct… it’s also the fuel that keeps it running. It is designed to foster spiritually immature children and keep them that way (just enough truth and freedom to keep them happy and pacified). If it fails in this task, the system will crumble for lack of support. It needs these immature foster children as much as they think they need it. But Christ never intended His people to be treated this way. He wants them to move beyond immaturity and grow up into mature men and women of God who rest confident in the leadership of the Holy Spirit more than men and programs. He wants them to find their security in Him alone, not in men and religious programs.

When Christians follow the path of denominationalism and churchianity, they become blinded to their own condition and they fall prey to the danger of actually embracing a worldly mindset that cleverly creeps in through the guise of spirituality. This is not all that different from what the apostle Paul warned the believers in Corinth about:

1 Corinthians 3:1-4 – Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to mature Christians. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk and not with solid food, because you couldn’t handle anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your own sinful desires. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your own desires? You are acting like people who don’t belong to the Lord. When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I prefer Apollos,” aren’t you acting like those who are not Christians?

Remember how Jesus also told the woman at the well that the day was coming when men would not need to go to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God and that would have no concern for places of worship but that the true worshipers would lead a life of worship, in spirit and in truth. Once again, the Message version of the Bible communicates this passage quite well:

John 4:23-24 – (Jesus said) “But the time is coming–it has, in fact, come–when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself–Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

But what has the church organization done today? It has made “worship” a song service that must be actuated routinely in an officially designated building, once a week, and led by professional musicians. The organization has carried over the types and shadows of Old Covenant Levitical priesthood and placed before believers “worship leaders” who mediate and perform and supposedly lead people into the throne room of God. But where is such concept ever found in the New Testament? Do we really need a modern system of Levites, an elite class, to lead people into God’s throne room? I thought we were afforded the right to come boldly before his throne freely because of Christ’s work.

Hebrews 4:14-16 – Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

No man on earth can “lead us” in worship. Being led is something that transpires only through direct communication with the Father. And as we’ve already seen in the Word, “worship” is not a song style – it is how we live our lives before Him. I have no problems with song services in and of themselves. It’s a total blast to be in a room with a collective of believers in Christ, singing our hearts out to Jesus. That is wonderful, but there is no mandate for such organization on worship in the Scripture. In fact, the New Testament never describes worship at all in the context of a song service in some weekly meeting. Again, worship is a lifestyle and this importance is far too often overlooked. All of these elements of “the program” deceive people to think that they are fulfilling the Lord’s desires by cramming all of these things into a 2 hour church service each week. People instinctively get themselves into a mode that “if I just do this faithfully every week, it covers all the bases, God is pleased, I’m doing my duty, I am “assembling” as the Bible says, and I’m growing spiritually.” It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking our righteousness is based on and maintained by works and things like church attendance. That is why I believe organized religion is so dangerously deceptive. The same was true in the first century. Paul was stunned that these believers who had experienced such great freedom and joy in Christ, were now turning back to religious practice. They still believed in Jesus. They still wanted to follow God, but they had allowed themselves to move away from the simplicity of their devotion to Christ and were replacing it, little by little, with religious observation.

Galatians 3:1-5 – You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the Cross was certainly set before you clearly enough. Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up! Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you?

So many good, church attending folks look at passages like the previous one and they shake their heads and say, “those foolish Jews.” Or they look at other groups, like the Roman Catholics, and say, “now they’re really religious, but not us, we understand…. We speak in tongues and dance and have powerful worship services and our pastor preaches lively sermons that are culturally relevant…” I think there are going to be many like the church of Laodicea (Revelations 3:14-22) who thought they had their mud together, but really were leaving Jesus on the outside. So many Christians today have their lives centered around the elements of organized religion and Christ is secondary. The worst part is, they actually are convinced that simply meeting each week with other Christians equals what the Word means when it talks about “being assembled together.” But the program is so compelling that so many of these sincere Christian folk honestly don’t have a clue what’s happening to them. I think that’s what was happening to the Galatians and when Paul saw this he could only respond by saying, “who has bewitched you?” A similar concern was raised by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians Christians, who were being persuaded away from simple devotion to Christ by the compelling words of certain church leaders (whom Paul sarcastically calls “super apostles”) – and again we see the singular terms he uses concerning them all (a single virgin espoused to ONE husband):

2 Corinthians 11:2-3 – For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

It is foolishness to think that most Christians aren’t likely to get distracted by such things but the Scripture tells us that even the great apostle Peter, who walked with Christ in the flesh, compromised the truth and yielded to organized religion and was rebuked by Paul before the assembly!

Galatians 2:11 – Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line.

Galatians 2:13-21 – Unfortunately, the rest of the Jews in the Antioch church joined in that hypocrisy so that even Barnabas was swept along in the charade. But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?” We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over “non-Jewish sinners.” We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it–and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good. Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan. What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.

The book of Hebrews talks about a separation from the old religion of Judaism and a drawing unto Christ alone. This was a hard message for the Jews to hear because Judaism was their whole life and their whole perceived connection with God. In their minds submitting to the practice of organized religion was godliness (and new Christians were also being swept right into this religious influence). But the author places his message in no uncertain terms, “you must leave that camp and join yourself to Jesus Christ, even if it means you bear His reproach.” Reproach by whom? Whom do you suppose, given the context of that passage? Who was it that rejected Christ and called Him a blasphemer? Was it not the religious Jews? The sinners even invited Him into their homes, but the religious cast Him out.

We do not have a city or a building on this earth that represents the Lord’s Temple. Anyone who teaches such does not teach the truth. Our “temple” is holy; it is comprised of God’s people. Our city is not of this world and is not represented by a physical building of wood and stone, so why bother with trying to build one here? It may be time that we take another look at the early Christian believers, to see what they embraced. It is time we seek to refresh our understanding of the Ecclesia of God; that it is not defined by a building or a religious program. We must leave all that old religion behind and passionately follow Him. It may mean that we won’t be so popular among the religious community. We may be misunderstood or even rejected completely. But we can take comfort, knowing that so was Christ and we can share in His blessing because we have left all to follow Him.

Hebrews 13:12-14 (GW) – That is why Jesus suffered outside the gates of Jerusalem. He suffered to make the people holy with His own blood. So we must go to Him outside the camp and endure the insults He endured. We don’t have a permanent city here on earth, but we are looking for the city that we will have in the future.

I do want to look closer at the reference of Hebrews 10:25, but I wanted to lay a strong foundation for this word “church” (ecclesia) as it is rendered and understood in the original languages and how the apostles and Christ Himself detested organized religion, considering it an obstacle to faith. It is a fact that the early Christians knew nothing of church the way we know it today. They were a community of believers and they interacted with each other as a family not as members of some religious organization. They didn’t build institutions of worship and Christian education. They didn’t congregate to hear one guy preach at them for an hour. There were no liturgies in their gatherings. Their meetings were informal and everyone participated (in fact there was so much participation that sometimes their meetings together led to some disorder, which Paul lovingly helped them restore focus without squashing their zealousness to minister to one another). Their lives centered around Christ not around their meetings. They were a body who built up one another, person to person, on the faith of Jesus Christ. This is so important to understand because their concept of meeting together and their concept of the Church was virtually 180 degrees apart from what we consider the church and fellowship today. When we first realize this, it brings passages like Hebrews 10:25 that have been so abused and removed from context into proper light. I thank God that He did not say any of the things that most folks suggest in that verse. He did NOT say to make sure you attend a good church organization every Sunday. He did say, however, to not forsake the assembling of ourselves – or as one scholar translated this “the episynagogue of one another” (epi-synagogue refers, in concept, to a “Christian” version of the Jewish synagogue or meeting), so this scholar meant to convey the idea that this “gathering” is satisfied, not according to a literal meeting place as was the case with the Jewish synagogue, but rather that this is spiritually qualified by the nature of our mutual fellowship in Christ (thus the “episynagogue of one another”). There are at least two important aspects here that must be regarded. The first I will emphasize by quoting the passage in its complete context. Note that the author here is not talking to some little church organization but to the entire body of Christ; which includes all of the called out ones!

Hebrews 10:14-25 – For by that one offering he perfected forever all those whom he is making holy. And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. First he says, “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts so they will understand them, and I will write them on their minds so they will obey them.” Then he adds, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” Now when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.

Didn’t Jesus say that when as few as two or three come together He would be there with them? (Matthew 18:20) Many Christians have even twisted this verse and changed the word “three” to “more” to justify their massive meetings. They say, “whenever two or more are gathered.” The text, however, speaks in very intimate terms. Think about this in the natural… How easy is it to gather with just a few friends and be united together in purpose and conversation. It gets very difficult, however, the larger the number grows. What most people would feel comfortable sharing amidst a couple of close brothers or sisters in Christ, the same would not likely be willing to tell a crowd of people. Perhaps when Jesus said “two or three” He simply meant “at least that many”. I don’t want to presume too much. I’m just making an observation here. Another brother (Neil Girrard) actually shared this thought with me and I found it interesting. Anyway, it makes simple sense; especially when we consider what is clearly known about the early believers – they frequently met together in their homes and shared meals together. It’s pretty hard to cram 5,000 people in a small room, especially around a dinner table. 😉

Even the early Church father Tertulian (late second century A.D.) acknowledged that even if just two or three come together, there is the church present (i.e. a representation of the body of Christ). So “a church” is not described by a building and a program BUT BY PEOPLE! This is critical to understand because you can’t have it any other way.  The Church is not both a people and a building (for Scripture provides no such definition).  You can’t tell people they need to get into a church so that they will be “assembled” because it’s misleading. People typically understand that this means they must find some organization to join (or at least attend regularly). Whether you have said it or not, this implies also that attendance and membership in this organization somehow validates their faith (because real Christians go to church). If we say such things, we impose a legalism that God’s Word never imposes and we begin to center our lives around something that God’s Word never tells us to center them on.  By all means encourage fellowship with other believers (pray together, sing together, share the life of Christ together), but we should not tell people to get signed up in religious organizations (for the sake of fellowship). When we encourage that we do so without any authority of Scripture.

The author of Hebrews is not prescribing formula or ritual in the passage we are discussing. He is not commanding “church” attendance (the way many today presume) or even weekly meetings (though he is not forbidding weekly meeting either – and the purpose of this article is NOT to suggest that there is anything inherently wrong with that activity). The book of Hebrews involves reference to the prophecy about the coming destruction of the Temple. Persecution was at the “doorstep” of the body of Christ. The author warns and encourages them, “brothers and sisters, you are about to go through some rough times. Don’t forget HIM who has called you and HE who leads you. Stick together! Stay strong and encourage one another.”

Notice something else here… The passage in Hebrews 10:25 says to exhort one another (i.e as it refers to this assembling) “even more” as you see the day approaching (the definition of the Greek text confirms this as the words “even more” or “much more” means with greater frequency”).  Why would the author say “even more” unless it was such that they did not meet all that frequently? Simple logic tells us that he was encouraging them to pull closer together and encourage each other more and more as the days got more difficult. What you end up with here is actually more evidence that Christians did not meet for “church services” or even so-called “fellowship” on a regular basis any more than you can extract any notion that this is somehow what this passage prescribes! “Exhort one another even more” does not mean “schedule more church services and make sure everyone religiously attends them.” Exhort (according to its definition in the original Greek) means – “to call to one’s side, to speak to, to encourage and comfort”. Clearly this is possible on any number of levels without necessitating the exorbitant waste of financial resource in a building and a weekly program (let alone scores of rituals, liturgies, and other traditional religious practices – virtually all of which are not identified anywhere in the New Testament Scriptures). This “exhorting even more” could transpire very simply through letters, phone conversations, or in person. It is simply IMPOSSIBLE to conclude from these passages of Scripture that “not forsaking the assembling” has anything to do with scheduling and imposing a requisite of weekly “church” attendance on believers in Christ (let alone putting pressure on folks to “give” and finance such things).

At the very least, as we just observed, this was a special call to encourage the believers to get together because rough times were on the horizon, but the call is as simple as it was stated. One just cannot infer weekly organized “church” meetings with this passage. To do so is dishonest and a misuse of Scripture. When we do things like this (no matter how good our intentions might be), we remove the simplicity and profoundness of the family characteristic of the body of Christ and we force organization and cold, dead institutional religion into it.  We also imply and impose an unbiblical mandate on (and division from) those who genuinely love the Lord and might even want to fellowship with us, but who are essentially pushed away by this “thing” that has taken the place of Christ Jesus residing at the center of any relationships that might occur.

By pressing into a passage 1,700 years of pagan-inspired religious tradition (which, sadly, has influenced the Christian Church but has no ground in the Gospel) a division is made among Believers that God has not sanctioned and it is, in this author’s opinion, a component of the spirit of anti-Christ!  Sorry to have to put it so bluntly, but there you have it.  Thank God that most of the early Christian Church, and even many of the reformers and great theologians of times past, rightly defined the word “church” as it appears in Scripture – leaving out all the traditional nonsense that has been added to it. What has become of Christians today that they are more willing to accept the false definitions of tradition (and hold those as essential doctrine over others) rather than the simplistic and absolutely clear design of Scripture? And who are these men in the pulpits that see fit to excuse themselves from biblical realities and invest their own religious bias on zero authority of Scripture?

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (re: Church) says, “by the church, is meant, not an edifice of wood, stones, &c. but an assembly, and congregation of men; …the elect of God, the general assembly and church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven; and especially such of them as were to be gathered in, and built on Christ, from among the Jews and Gentiles. The materials of this building are such, as are by nature no better, or more fit for it, than others: these stones originally lie in the same quarry with others; they are singled out, and separated from the rest, according to the sovereign will of God, by powerful and efficacious grace; and are broken and hewn by the Spirit of God, generally speaking, under the ministry of the word, and are, by him, made living stones; and being holy and spiritual persons, are built up a spiritual house: and these are the only persons which make up the true and invisible church of Christ…”

People’s New Testament Commentary says, “…the church, the spiritual temple, formed of living stones, and built upon the rock. So is every confessor of Christ.”

Milt Rodriguez (The Rebuilder Gazette; Volume 37, June 24, 2003) – “The New Testament is very clear in pointing out the fact that the Temple or House of the Lord in the Old Testament was a shadow or forerunner of something much greater. ‘You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ – 1 Peter 2:5. The word ‘House’ literally means ‘household.’ This implies the ‘dwellers’ who actually live inside the building; in other words, the family of God. The house of God is the Ecclesia, the Body of Christ, the City of God, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Bride of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ. I am not speaking about a building, organization, denomination, association, or any other dead thing. I am speaking of the living, breathing Body of Christ. The organic expression of Jesus Christ on this earth is what we are sorely lacking. This is what God wants to rebuild. Do you have a heart for this?”

1 Peter 2:2-5 – “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Consider also “the assembly” which the author of Hebrews is directly referring to:

Hebrews 12:23 – “To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect…”

Acts 7:48-49 – “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool: what house will ye build Me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of My rest?”

Acts 17:24 – “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.

Hebrews 9:11 – “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building…”

1 Corinthians 3:9 – “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 – “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”

2 Corinthians 6:16b – “…for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Revelation 21:3 – “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.’”

Ephesians 2:18-22 – “It is through Christ that all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are able to come in the one Spirit into the presence of the Father. So then, you Gentiles are not foreigners or strangers any longer; you are now citizens together with God’s people and members of the family of God. You, too, are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself. He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord. In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through his Spirit.”

Note that in the preceding passage (and the one in 1 Corinthians 3:9) the term “building” is used metaphorically to describe the united body of Christ, who Himself is the foundation, the very cornerstone, of the Church. Note also that it is Christ Himself who is responsible to hold all of us together and cause us to grow and mature into that which He has desired. What is the responsibility of apostles and prophets in this “building”? Their role is to set people’s attention upon Christ! The foundation they lay is not a moral system of religion (or some kind of religious establishment), but it is Christ the Lord. This is immensely significant!

In my personal studies reading through the writings of the Early Church Fathers, I noticed how consistently the “Church” is identified SPECIFICALLY as “the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ which is IN His Saints.” For nearly 200 years after Calvary, God’s people were not confused about what the Lord’s Church (Ecclesia) really is – and they never defined it in terms of a building or religious program! (and, as we noted early on in this letter – they never even defined it as “church” at all)

Though it may be uncomfortable, I feel I must reiterate that the religious organization that people today refer to as “the church” is merely an establishment of man, built by human hands, maintained by human effort and employed by human agendas and schedules and, difficult as it might be to swallow, human authority structures.  This “system” is not once defined anywhere in the Word of God as being something that makes you any more or less a part of the body of Christ Jesus! It is wrong to judge a brother or sister in Christ who is not a “member” of a “church.” That does not in the least invalidate their standing with God and their validity as a member of the Lord’s true Church! Nor is it any indication of their level of spiritual maturity! Does someone want to join an organization or religious club? Fine, but NEVER elevate that organization over the body of Christ and then make it an idol by calling it His Church. Does someone want to belong to some denominational church? Ok, but they should not turn their nose up at those who don’t “worship” the system (or that don’t worship at the system) or regard it as being God’s prized invention and special interest. We had all better start regarding God’s people as the precious jewels they are regardless of what organization they may or may not belong to.  And, no, I am not talking about some kind of new age Christian unity where all faiths are represented as one (just in case someone might take this way out of context).  But I am certainly saying that we had better learn to properly discern the Body of Christ and STOP calling institutional religion “Christianity”.

Christians in many institutional churches often tend to look at each other and pass judgment because they esteem this organizational thing as being so vital to their Christian experience. Friends, we need to approach our Christianity from a relational aspect; relationship with Christ, a life centered around Him, and a love sparked by His grace and His presence in our lives and the experiential knowledge of who He really is and all that He has done for us. Second to this being enthralled with Christ, we must become relationally-minded towards one another, NOT INSTITUTIONALLY MINDED! A meeting, in and of itself, is not evil, and I am not suggesting that.  Organization also has its place.  It is good for saints to meet together (especially as the Spirit of God draws Believers together in assembly) and the Scripture confirms that we should not neglect to do so (Hebrews 10:25), but are we engaging in the right kind of meeting; the meeting that we see exampled in Scripture? Do we realize that it only takes 2 or 3 simply gathered in agreement (Matthew 18:20) to constitute a meeting where the Lord’s presence is manifested? Do we realize that this may occur with spontaneity as the Spirit moves and does not even need to be scheduled as some kind of weekly regiment?  Do we understand that “church” is not a building, not an organization, not an institution, not a program, not a “ministry,” not a scheduled meeting with list of required rituals and a liturgy that need be performed routinely, but CHURCH IS WHO WE ARE TOGETHER!!! THE BODY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST!!!  You know, a lot of times, Christians say they believe this… yet they continue to emphasize things that are not the least bit essential.  They say, “we’re all about Jesus,” but they still feel this need to advertise their “brand”.  They say, “we don’t mind if you’re a person who doesn’t like church or that doesn’t attend one, we love you and welcome you because our lives our connected to Christ,” but then they continue to go on about “our church” this and “our church” that (employing all kinds of methods to advertise their brand of church and why it’s different, better, or whatever and why you need to get involved with them), making it very apparent that “church” remains at the center (or at least very near the center) of their conversation and experience.

To a person who really is not interested in the whole program of religion (i.e. “church world”), the tactic of a church organization to suggest they are “the church for folks who don’t like church”, is laughable and completely unappealing…  In fact, the mere fact that an organization would advertise itself that way, is like placing a flashing neon sign on it saying, “we are exactly what you’re not looking for, because everything is about church for us!”  This is not something that probably a lot of folks will understand who enjoy their institutional brand of churchianity.  To the person who loves the idea of being a part of a “non-churchy church that doesn’t care if you don’t go to church or like church but really ought to come to their church because their church is not like any other church“, they will not likely understand why a follower of Jesus that doesn’t center their life around church could not be at least a little bit interested in what they have to offer.  The reason is, we are not looking for fellowship with a religious program (for most of us have done that and, quite frankly, are done with that)…  but we DO want to enjoy the fellowship that exists in Christ among our family in God… if they will allow it.  Sadly, many who claim to be part of the Body of Christ are not often willing to engage in extended fellowship with members of the Body of Christ who may reside outside the confines of their religious environment.  If this does ever occur, it is generally an awkward environment; as one person is silently “concerned” about the other person who is not in church, while the other person (who doesn’t attend church) is feeling the weight of that unspoken “concern” and trying to maneuver around the Christianese they no longer speak and no longer relate to.  So, even when both people try to enjoy fellowship without worrying about “church”, very often church still inserts itself because it has become so much a part of the churched-person’s thinking and activity and they have not learned how to function without it.

By the same token, quite often the person who no longer participates in institutional church activity, finds it incredibly difficult to know how to navigate around the church person’s thinking and conversation, since they no longer identify with that.  This can be especially difficult if a person’s exodus from “church world” was due to spiritual abuse, wounds from other Christians or by leadership, doctrinal error or some other action (as they may tend to presume these negative things are a normal part of everything bearing the label of “church”).  Whether “in church” or “out of church”, so often the devil uses this very thing (i.e. “church”) to drive division among members of Christ’s body.  I do think it’s very important to remember that the influential mindset of “churchianity” has infected and damaged so many people (many without their even realizing it yet) and that applies to both those within and without religious institutions (since many, if not most, who are “out of church” once were “in church” and still deal with the effects of that long-term programming that occurred).  Though the “out of church” person may have made it their emphasis to detach from churchianity, they may be failing by making “out of church” an emphasis at all.  Christ alone must be the emphasis!  We must allow the grace of God to rule our hearts and we must continue to tune our hearts to the voice of the Spirit of God.  As we learn to listen to the Spirit of God and as we allow the Love of God to transform us, He will lead us through each encounter and He can help us overcome the obstacle of “church” (even the very concern about “church”) so that we see with new eyes.  What I am saying is that even those of us who believe we have been freed from churchianity, can fall into the trap of thinking we have “arrived” and can become as much of an obstacle to the work of the Spirit as those we believe are bound within the mindset of churchianity.  All of us, whether “in church” or “out of church” must come to the realization of what the Lord’s Church really and truly is and we MUST regard one another accordingly!  If we can do that and if we each can submit to the Spirit of God and respond in the Love of God, then I believe the right kind of Christian unity can begin to emerge and devil will be dealt some heavy blows!

I’m taking some time on this because I believe it is so important that we get our eyes back on the pure Christianity we see modeled by the early Believers in Scripture.  As we begin to be moved by their example, which was to live IN the fellowship of Christ DAILY, we will stop spending so much focus on all distractions from that truth!  All of us need to come to a better understanding of what the fellowship of Christ is.  All of us need to come to a greater revelation of what the Assembly is!  As the Holy Spirit guides us into the desire of the Father and as we submit to that desire, we will continue to shed any and every old mindset that is not from Him.  As we begin to really see that the biblical concept of assembly has, really, NOTHING to do with organized religion or institutional churchianity – then we will stop dividing up the body of Christ with that unholy blade.  Would to God that we would allow the Spirit of God to purge the errors from our thinking and truly unite us together in Him.  Would to God that would stop trying so hard to figure out how to “have church” and just realize that we, who follow Christ, ARE THE CHURCH!  Instead of trying to schedule God into a static weekly routine, maybe we should just flush the routine and give Him our whole lives to move us as He so desires.  Maybe instead of wasting time with things like “worship practice” to prepare for a weekly performance, we should actual make worship a practice of our daily lives; one that comes wholly from a place of sincerity and truth before God.  Maybe instead of centering our attentions on the “weekly sermon monologue”, where we suppose this is how we are to be “spiritually fed”, maybe we ought rather to begin speaking to one another, as the Bible indicates, by teaching and helping one another with songs of praise and holy words, making melody to God with grace in our hearts (Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16).  Instead of some kind of routine drop-in-the-bucket style of “giving” where pastors announce that it’s “time to give tithes and offerings” (something never uttered by anyone in the New Testament Church), we out to finally come to the understanding that Christ is to be our motivation wholly in all things… especially giving!  It cannot be regimented by some church routine.  It cannot be mandated by some legalistic practice.  True giving must be actuated of complete freewill and by direction of the Holy Spirit and the motivation of God’s love working in our hearts.  This kind of giving marked the behavior of the first century Christians.  If flowed genuinely and freely out of their hearts because of God’s work in them, not because there was some rule to perform it on Sunday.

2 Corinthians 8:5 – This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us. The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives.

Christians must stop thinking of “giving” only in terms of something they put in an offering plate at a religious service (as a component of “church practice”).  Giving, as taught by Christ and His apostles, never involved the maintenance of religious organization and the financing of professional leadership paradigms.  Rather gifts were given (both financial and of material possessions) to care for the real physical needs of other people (and, yes, sometimes that included apostolic workers).  In fact, the apostles and pastors were generally only involved with collecting these things when the need arose to carry them to the people of other cities that were struggling and for whom the gifts were collected.  There is simply no example of the kind of so-called “giving” we observe in today’s so-called “churches”.  It is abundantly clear from Scripture that the apostles taught plainly that giving was a matter that each person decided on their own and according to their relationship with the Lord and love for one another.  It really is to be that simple!

2 Corinthians 9:7-10Each of you must make up your own mind about how much to give. But don’t feel sorry that you must give and don’t feel that you are forced to give. God loves people who love to give.   God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others.  The Scriptures say, “God freely gives his gifts to the poor, and always does right.”   God gives seed to farmers and provides everyone with food. He will increase what you have, so that you can give even more to those in need.

2 Corinthians 8:12-15Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.  Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality.  Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.  As the Scriptures say, “Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough.”

My point is that so much of what passes for “the assembly” today (i.e. church as we know it), is not really the kind of assembling the Scripture refers to at all.  All the things that religious man has added and used as part of his definition of “church” is a definition entirely foreign to that given by Scripture; of the Lord and His apostles.

I hope I’ve been clear enough in stating that I do not hold that there is necessarily anything wrong with attending or belonging to a club or some organization, just don’t call it “the House of the Lord” and PLEASE don’t call it “the Church”. If you like where you are and think all of this stuff is just too radical, that’s fine, stay put and pursue the Lord with all your heart, just please don’t judge and reject other Christians who choose to “meet” in other ways or that don’t choose to “join” a “church” at all. I know that God is merciful and He is able to deal in each of our lives with grace, patience and love. I spent better than 30 years of my life in the institutional church and believed a lot of stupid things, but God still penetrated through all of that and touched my heart. He led me along by His grace and He fed me, nurtured me and changed my life. He poured out his renewing power in my life and filled my home with His manifest presence. Whether in “church” or out of “church” the standard set by Jesus of Spirit and Truth still applies to us all. God is looking into our innermost being for sincerity – not religion. Because my heart of hearts has been set on Him, the institutional church wasn’t a complete obstacle and God still connected me with true and sincere saints within that system to provide an element of communion together for a season. I believe the same is true for every one of His dear children. As much as I am weary of the routine called “church” and as much I believe it hinders spiritual growth in so many ways, I all the more believe that God is faithful and He is so amazing and good and He can touch people’s live inside. I would be lost if this wasn’t true about God! If God waited until we got everything perfect, we’d all be dead with no hope of touching him. But just because God is merciful to our shortcomings and longsuffering, kind and forgiving, doesn’t mean we should use that mercy as a license to remain in sin, ignorance and stagnation when we come to a knowledge of the truth and experience the revelation of the Lord; that He is more than religion and He has more than our human attempts to orchestrate religious activity can possibly offer. With all my heart I believe there is higher road! I am seeking to ride on it! I want to learn how to fit into God’s more excellent way. At the very least I know that I will never place something so insignificant as an institution of religion in between my relationship with God and with other believers.

Finally, I wish to convey that there appears to be a broader reference concerning “assembling” in the Hebrews 10 passage. It seems, judging by the context, that the “assembling” in discussion is not merely some endeavor to get together, but is a more serious and eternal matter. The whole lead up to verse 25 speaks about our coming to Christ and verse 26, immediately after the “assembling” passage, starts warning us not to apostatize from the Faith. It would seem to me that the more pertinent reference in this passage is to not forsake the assembling together in terms of apostatizing from the truth! Every reference in the passage speaks in terms that indicative of the entire body of Christ – not some small group here and there. In this letter I have emphasized assembly in the broadest spiritual sense but also referred to the small gathering. I am compelled, however, to presume that this passage in Hebrews has little to do with “meetings” together at all (though, understand, I am not suggesting that it condemns them either).  The one might compliment the other, but “meetings” in an of themselves is NOT what this passage has in mind and I believe that should be clear by this point.

The more we realize what the biblical definition of Church is (i.e. the “Assembly” of Christ), the harder it becomes to fit the modern concept of it into the text.  I know from one conversation I had with an institutional pastor several years ago, that there is a natural fear among many religious leaders in churches (including the man I spoke to) of these kinds of concepts, because they may tend to unravel the mummy that has been in existence for so long.  When you start embracing the liberty of the Spirit and return to the notion of Christ as Leader and Lord, then these other established pillars of religion begin to crack and give way.  While this sounds like a good thing to a free person, it can be a terrifying thought to the one who clings to the established religious order and depends upon its controls and perceived benefits.  But just as I used the analogy of unraveling a mummy, so do I believe that the more that people open their eyes to see the rotting carcass of religion that is wrapped inside, the less they will desire it and the more they will desire to see a true manifestation of the Lord’s Church the way He desires it!  Pastors, instead of trying to hold on to that which God has not desired, should instead be preaching and teaching that which He does desire!  Sadly, that’s not likely to occur so long as they believe this threatens their livelihood and positions of control and perceived authority.  Still, I am hopeful that there are some godly men and women out there who are willing to allow the Lord to open their eyes, soften their hearts, and change their course.  I hope and pray that many will begin to recognize what the Church is and to flee what it is not…  Not for the sake of merely leaving that old system behind, but for the sake of embracing everything God desires and to see His will and His kingdom established for the glory of God!!!

May God bless each of you as you continue to walk in the freedom He has given and the wonderful truth He has established!

Siftings Permitted and Intended

Mark Divisive PeopleIf from time to time the Lord shall permit Satan to sift his Church “like wheat,” let us remember that our great Advocate’s assistance in proper measure and power will bring to all who are loyal at heart the needed grace and strength for every temptation. He will not suffer such to be tempted above what they are able to bear, but with the temptation permitted will provide a way of escape. We must expect, however, that these siftings of the wheat are not only permitted but intended to separate some, and it is not for us to murmur or complain against Divine Providence in this matter. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” Even though those who are being “sifted” have been very dear to us, as St. Peter and the other apostles were to the Lord, it is for us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. – 1 Pet. 5:6.

On the other hand, while remembering the Scriptural injunction to “mark them which cause divisions… and avoid them” (Romans 16:17), we should not allow any bitterness respecting them to enter our hearts or to escape our lips or our pens, no matter what they may say or do against us. “See that no man render evil for evil nor railing for railing, but contrariwise.” Let us be like our Lord who, when reviled, reviled not again. As we see some going blind respecting precious truths which they once saw clearly, it will properly grieve our hearts for them. But we are to remember that the Lord’s Cause will lose nothing; that it is in the hands of the Omnipotent One, who is able to make all things work together for the fulfilment of the counsel of his own will – his glorious purposes. Would we smite the blind? Surely not! Then neither should we by act nor word be unkind to those who are “going out from us, because they are not all of us” – those who in this hour of temptation are being smitten down by the arrows of the Adversary because, from the Lord’s standpoint, not deemed worthy of the necessary succor. – 1 John 2:19.

The three important lessons for the Lord’s faithful to be sure that they have learned are these: (1) That meekness, humility, is of primary importance, not only to gain an entrance into the Lord’s family, but also to maintain a place therein. (2) That obedient faith, abiding trust, is an indispensable quality, not only for the eternal future, but also for the maintenance of our proper relationship to the Lord in the present life. Without it we would wander and be uncertain in all our course. With it we may abide in meekness under our Lord’s protecting care. (3) Love, the essence and sum of all the graces, must rule in our hearts richly, abundantly. A proper love for God will not only keep us very meek, very humble, very teachable, but will also give us great faith, great confidence in him and an attitude of heart which he will be pleased to guide aright. A love for the brethren will make us meek and gentle and willing to lay down our lives in their interest. If we know these things, happy are we if we do them.

 

"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" – 1 Peter 3:15