Conformity Is Not Unity

•04/24/2017 • Leave a Comment

I strongly believe that people crave unity. They want to know and feel like they are moving as one in the Body of Christ. Many have caught temporary glimpses of it before, and it was unmistakable when experienced, but it never seemed to last. Something always ended up in the way, and then they’d have to start from scratch, possibly in a new assembly or with a new fellowship of believers, and hope and dream for the prize promised to us by Christ: that we could be one with Him in the same way He was one with His Father (See John 17:21).

I am writing this blog to tell you that conformity is not unity. This is where it always falls apart. It will always come short of the glory of God when someone gets it into their head that the other believers of their assembly or fellowship have to conform to something they believe or teach requires conformity.

Someone thinks you have to dress like them, talk like them, entertain yourselves like them, minister like them, agree with them doctrinally or otherwise, like them, and on down the list it goes.

Unity is not achieved by agreeing to conform to someone else’s vision and understanding of everything they think God wants and wills for His people. Unity is allowing Christ to be Head, to allow Him the opportunity to express Himself according to His Word, through His Body, as He deems fit, without interference, but with acceptance and obedience, from us as His People.

And while I realize most would “amen” that statement, where the issues exist is when we try to define and comprehend the manner in which Christ, as Head, operates in His Body. We often don’t agree.

But note! Not agreeing does not have to destroy our unity! Unity is destroyed when, after a disagreement arises, someone attempts to squash it as rebellion without so much as taking enough time to seek the Lord with prayer and fasting, to really try to figure out what the truth of the matter is.

If we are genuinely motivated by love of the brethren, we ought to easily and earnestly be able to share our thoughts and ideas on any number of things, and recognize we have each other as a safety net, to do so, without fearing reprisals of judgment and/or condemnation from our peers.[1]

Now, before anyone thinks such an environment breeds or will breed heresy and false doctrine, let’s all just stop posturing and freely admit, that at one time or another, we’ve ALL had very strange and wonderful ideas run through our heads, that often didn’t make much sense, but nagged at us, to explore and search out to really see if they are of God, or not.[2]

If we would grant ourselves the personal liberty to ponder such things in the corners of our own minds, then we ought to be able to grant the same liberty to our beloved brothers and sisters, without freaking out if or when they ask us our opinion on what may seem to be an otherwise strange idea.[3]

We may listen, and make remarks, and, if we are humble, and if our spirit is right, when we think the idea we’ve just heard is wrong, we can say so in a way that affirms the person who shared it without supporting the idea, without making the person feel like they’ve been ostracized or rebuked for daring to wonder aloud something running through their minds (See 2 Timothy 2:24-26).

But conformity doctrine doesn’t allow for this. In conformity doctrine, whoever feels he or she has the sway in an assembly or fellowship, to pull rank due to office or whatever, comes to believe it is their divine mission in life to control what others think and believe, and to make sure that everyone conforms to their understanding of all matters related to the Christian life, meaning essentially, they aren’t to be questioned.

But that is a disaster waiting to happen! No one controls someone else’s mind like that, unless they’ve successfully found a way to assert “mind-control” over one of God’s kids.

Think about that for a moment. Christian headship is mind-ship, if you will, and when someone makes an attempt at controlling someone else’s mind on some matter or another, they are effectively admitting that they are attempting to be or become that person’s head, and are making a de facto admission of guilt as it pertains to manipulation and brain-washing.[4]

Psychopaths and sociopaths do this, but what about someone in the church you attend?

Why can’t we handle diversity of thought and conviction in those we call saints? Why must we seek to enforce a standard of life, thought, and conviction?[5] So you convince someone to not celebrate Christmas because it’s pagan? Whoop-Dee-Do! So now, someone in your assembly isn’t celebrating Christmas because it’s pagan because you said so, not because inwardly the Holy Spirit brought conviction and understanding of how he or she, and his or her family, ought to approach the holidays, and now, all of their unsaved loved ones look at them askance and take one HUGE step away from coming to the Son of God.

You convinced a woman that cutting her hair was a sin and that her salvation was on the line? Great, now she looks to you and not Christ, and certainly not to her husband, to decide what she should do with her split-ends.[6]

You order a man to quit his part-time, Saturday only or Sunday only job because it violates the Sabbath, or because he misses “church” and what have you done? Are you going to pay his bills when they come due because he hurried to conform to your order, thinking he had to because you scared him into thinking his soul was on the line for “forsaking the assembly”?[7]

You tell someone they have to stop teaching their view of church structure and organization because it’s causing doubt and confusion among some members of the church, because it doesn’t jive with your view, and you think it was your right to silence a brother or sister? Maybe with the gag order you just issued, you and the rest of your church just lost a chance to be led into all truth? Ever think about that?[8]

Listen, it’s not that there isn’t true and false doctrine. It’s not that there are no standards of righteous conduct, or of holiness, or of modesty, as found in the Holy Scriptures. This isn’t a throw your Bible out and do what you want approach to unity.

Rather it’s admitting that demanding someone conform to what you think the church is supposed to look like is missing the point. We aren’t supposed to be conformed to the image of the church! We are supposed to be conformed to the image of the Son of God (See Romans 8:29)!

Do you want unity in your church, dear saint? Do you really? I mean, really? Then listen up:

Stop exhorting people to see things your way, and start exhorting them to see things God’s way (without confusing the two) by seeking the Lord with their whole heart and by being in constant submission to His will as revealed day by day through the Holy Spirit.

This just comes down to faith, which is merely another way of talking about trust. Do you really trust Jesus to work out in His people the things He wants worked out, according to His timetable, in the manner of His choosing? If an assembly of 40 people daily submitted themselves to the will of God in Christ Jesus, and by so doing, sowed to the Holy Spirit, and therefore, walked in love, do you think there would be any issue with unity among that group of men and women?

Me, neither. But do you suppose for even one second, that all 40 of those people all believe exactly the same? Have the same moral convictions? That they uphold identical standards in every aspect of their lives? That they have the same exact understanding of basic or advanced Biblical doctrine? Do you suppose they all see and experience God the same exact way?

Maybe. Maybe they do. But I will let you in on a little secret: it doesn’t matter if they do or don’t, because they don’t have to, in order to maintain unity. Unity is oneness. And here’s how I define oneness: I love you as my neighbor the same way I love myself. It is the same love for you as it is for me. It is one love (See Philippians 2:2).[9]

Love does not demand conformity. Love permits, and even enjoys diversity. And if the talking-heads in our midst could stand to listen for a change, they might realize getting us to be more like them all too often causes us to be less like Jesus.

A sinner on the outside of grace likely doesn’t care what you believe, or if your fellow saints believe the same exact things, but rather, that sinner desperately wants to know if you love them, and if you can prove it, by how you treat them, how you respond to them, what respect you give them, if you honor them, and whether or not you offer genuine friendship to them.[10]

It’s the same, or ought to be the same, in the Body of Christ. I don’t care what you believe nearly as much as I care about whether or not you love me as you love yourself.[11] Everybody’s trying to be some un-Biblical version of the watchman on the walls a la Ezekiel 33, that they’ve forgotten how to come down from their  dare I say it, super-spiritual perch long enough to be normal enough to have real relationships “not based on ownership”, which is conformist.[12]

As I come to the end of this blog entry, I can’t help but wonder that perhaps this is just coming across as an overly emotional rant, and maybe if you’ve been reading all the way to this very point in the blog, you’re thinking ‘it’s a mighty nice soapbox to be standing on, but you’re wasting it on me’. Probably it is, in a manner of speaking. But I would leave you with this thought:

Conformist doctrine is “strings-attached” Christianity. That means someone somewhere is “pulling the strings”, as the saying goes. And whoever is pulling the strings to get you, me, him, her, them, to conform, is most certainly attempting to be the marionettest over me, you, him, her, them, and the life we are living. They are attempting to make us their puppet, even if they supposedly mean us well by doing so. When it comes right down to it, that’s just another word for slavery, friend of mine. You are not a slave to the church, to the ministry, to the pastor/leader/reverend/rabbi, to an organization, or even to your brother or sister in the Lord, or to anyone or anything else, but to Christ Alone. He owns your soul. It is His blood that saves. We conform ourselves, with the help of the Comforter, to Jesus, Son of God and Man.

Therefore, in unity there are no strings attached. Love is not a string that anyone can just come along and pull to make us move. Love is a command from above, and if we would actually find out how to properly walk and talk, move, and minister, in love, we’d have all the unity we’d ever hoped and dreamed to find. We’d be conformed to the image of God’s dear Son, our precious Jesus of Nazareth, instead of to someone else, and none the worse off for it.

Until next time,

Peace and God bless,

The Votive Soul

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[1] First and foremost, the church should be able to insulate itself from internal errors, being the ground and pillar of the truth, without having to sacrifice the person or persons who has/have erred. Jesus came not to destroy but to save. We who rescue those who have erred save souls from certain death (See Luke 9:56 with John 3:17, then 1 Timothy 3:15, and finally James 5:19-20).

[2] For me personally, there have been times when an idea came to mind, and I began to earnestly search the Holy Scriptures for hours at a time, only to come up empty, wondering if the Lord sent me on a snipe hunt just to help me dig into His Word and learn It better.

[3] I can’t think of a single, sincere (as opposed to “foolish and unlearned”) question about God, the Bible, the Christian faith, or etc. that ought to scandalize a single saint into dis-fellowshipping the person who asked the question, no matter the content. Remember Pilate. He asked Jesus “What is truth?”, not realizing he was staring Truth in the face. And yet, Jesus didn’t condemn him for asking, or for not recognizing who Jesus was and what He represented. This was immediately before Pilate had Him beaten, scourged and crowned with thorns (See John 18:38 and John 14:6). If Christ had desired an opportunity to impugn Pilate for asking such a ridiculous question, it would have been the perfect time. Yet, He did no such thing (See 1 Peter 2:23 and 1 Timothy 6:13). So ask yourself: why do so many of the saints of God impugn one another for raising any manner of sincere questions? In light of Christ’s confession before Pontius Pilate, it’s clear doing so is not very Christ-like.

[4] The Christian faith is one of persuasion. It’s the very root of the Greek word for “faith”. We read many times in many verses, that we need to be persuaded, of this or of that. But persuasion is not the same as coercion. Persuasion involves the presenting of accurate facts—why they are true and how they go together—and why accepting such facts is beneficial to the one being persuaded. When successful, it brings about spiritual conviction, as it’s really the Holy Spirit of Truth doing the heavy lifting through the anointing resting upon a person to engender faith in the hearer. Coercion, on the other hand, is a fear doctrine, stemming from a Mafioso mentality, as it attempts to break someone’s will down through force, instead of righteously engaging the heart and leading someone to submit himself or herself willingly, not to the speaker who attempts persuasion, but to the Author of the Word Who commands obedience. Coercion, therefore, is abusive and unjustly damages everyone involved.

[5] Before it even comes up, please allow me at this point to address 1 Corinthians 1:10. Some argue this means Paul demanded everyone in Corinth believe and teach the exact same doctrine across the board. But that wasn’t Paul’s goal, in my estimation. Paul was addressing divisions in the church, such that members there were claiming to be “of Paul, of Apollos, of Cephas, and of Christ” (v. 12). Factions were being created over who was looked at as the leader of the church. They were breaking off into splinter groups, and claiming their group was the right group to be a part of. Paul urged them to drop that nonsense, and to all affirm that they are only “of Christ”. Verse 13 proves this, as Paul asks rhetorically “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”. He wanted them to all say the same thing about who they really belonged to. They were bought with the price Christ paid for them; therefore they were not “of Paul”, or “of Apollos” or “of Cephas”, and it wasn’t just some in Corinth who were “of Christ”. They ALL were of Him. We see therefore that Paul wasn’t expecting doctrinal tape recorders who could only confess what they were programmed and mandated to believe. He merely wanted them to stop exalting the minister over the Lord who had died for them.

[6] How many wives are you planning on having, anyways?

[7] While Hebrews 10:25 needs its own article, the short version is this: it doesn’t have anything to do with “missing church”. It means giving up on trying to figure out how the Body of Christ ought to come together in order to properly represent Him to the rest of the world in light of carnal and spiritual forces coming against them for doing so. Essentially, Hebrews is a warning to Jewish Christians who were on the edge of the knife, so to speak, in abandoning their salvation due to persecution, and how going back to a subservient existence under the Law, instead of continuing on steadfastly as believers in Christ Jesus, was not from God. Seen from that angle, it becomes clear Hebrews 10:25 isn’t about not being physically present in some building somewhere on some designated day at some designated time.

[8] Maybe it’s not polity, but some other major New Covenant doctrine. Are you really that keen on creating a schism in the Body because you don’t like what someone else believes? Maybe you should sit down with him or her for a few weeks and let him or her explain how he or she came to see what he or she believes he or she sees, and hey, you never know…It might end up being bogus, but you had better be fully prepared to patiently show him or her how and why instead of just cutting him or her off because you think he or she is underneath you in whatever capacity.

[9] The phrase “…being of one accord…” is only one word in Greek, namely: sunpsuchoi, and it means “harmonious in soul” (See: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/robertsons-word-pictures/philippians/philippians-2.html) and/or “with united souls” (See: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/jamieson-fausset-brown/philippians/philippians-2.html). We see therefore having the same “love” means being united/having unity at the spiritual level of the soul.

[10] As opposed to you merely being a salesperson for Jesus trying to earn another soul-winning badge back at the lodge to impress all your Christian friends.

[11] And might I suggest Jesus feels the same way?

[12] The quote is from a Lauryn Hill song called “I Gotta Find Peace of Mind”. You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pb7KjMTgK-Q

Nehushtan: An Unfortunate Source Of Division

•04/07/2017 • Leave a Comment

In my 14+ years as a Christian, I have had the opportunity to serve and minister in many various ways. From preaching and teaching from a pulpit, to teaching countless Bible studies at home or in the homes of others, to hundreds of hours in both Sunday School and in outreach, not to mention being a member of a church board, to being a greeter and usher, working as a youth leader, to leading and overseeing various departments and ministries, up to and including a Spanish ministry, while also beginning and overseeing a campus ministry that led to a church planting, I can say without remorse that none of the awesome and amazing things that happened throughout each ministry compare to the simple times when I’ve been alone at the Lord’s feet, feeling His presence, His power, His healing, and His touch.

After about 10 years in the Apostolic Church, I resigned from every ministry and department in which I was involved, except being a board member (although I was going to, I was personally asked by the pastor to stay on, so I did, as a favor to him). There were various reasons, but the real reason, after all was said and done, was because, after the birth of my first child, my wife, with my consent but not my insistence, stepped away from her involvement in ministry to care for our daughter.

But how did my wife stepping away cause me to step away a couple of years later?

It’s simple.

When my wife and I had to make a choice on how we were going to raise our family, including the division of labor and the assigning of parental roles, my wife graciously indicated to me that between the two of us, I had the more important ministries, so that, when in service, between the two of us, she would care for our firstborn so I could serve and bless the people of God to the best of my ability.

This didn’t mean that my wife did everything while I did nothing. I changed diapers, dressed and carried and cared for our daughter, just not as much as my wife did, especially when there was a meeting of the church.

My wife saw her place in the home, following the edicts of Holy Scripture. She saw it her responsibility to be “discreet, chaste, [a] keeper at home, good, obedient to [her] own husband…that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:5).

Additionally, since Paul clearly indicated to Timothy that a woman shouldn’t usurp the authority invested into men by Christ (1 Timothy 2:12), my wife realized that in order to continue to serve in ministry meant I would have to be the one to take a backseat in the church in order to perform the predominant care for our daughter. She felt like this was a usurpation of her place as sub-ordinate to me as her head (1 Corinthians 11:3). I understood her reasons, and with my permission, she withdrew.

Jump forward a couple of years. My wife and I had had our second child, a son, who was a baby around the time I resigned.

Here is the reason, now that the back-story is filled in. I was told in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t going to be allowed to be in leadership and serve in the church unless my wife stepped up and got (re)involved in ministry. I was told that my wife’s care for our children bordered on idolatry.[1]

So I had a decision to make. Force my wife to put our kids into nursery/hand them off to someone else to watch during service, and so, be allowed to stay on the church staff as an elder and leader/minister, or say no to the demand and get the boot.

After talking with my wife and agreeing that it wasn’t anyone else’s responsibility to supervise OUR children just so my wife could sing or do whatever little bit of public, visible ministry, I decided to resign.[2]

I wrote a letter explaining my intentions and handed it off. The next week I announced my resignation to the whole church (without going into all of the reasons, just some).[3]

The reason I felt it was ABSOLUTELY OKAY WITH GOD to do so was not because of the unfortunate things that were said to me about my wife, or because of our decision to raise our children the way we wanted, but because after praying about what to do, the Lord spoke to me a word, which, once heard, sealed the deal and let me know I had HIS PERMISSION (I didn’t need anyone else’s) to resign from ministry.

The word was: Nehushtan.

2 Kings 18:4,

He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.

In this verse, we have King Hezekiah instigating spiritual and religious reforms to help bring the nation of Judah back into the will and fellowship of God. So here, among other things, he destroyed the brazen serpent Moses made back in Numbers 21 as a response to a divinely introduced plague as a punishment upon the people of God for murmuring against both Him and also against Moses (Numbers 21:4-5).

In some uncertain way, in the ensuing years, the people of Judah began worshipping the serpent like it was some holy relic of old. Hezekiah smashed it to break the people free from their idolatry towards it, calling it, as it translates from Hebrew “a piece of brass“. Hezekiah’s point in calling the brazen serpent Nehushtan was to remind the people that, as just a piece of brass, it had no innate worth and so, there was no innate need to assign it religious or spiritual value, meaning there was no innate reason for it to be worshipped.

And this is what the Lord used to confirm to me that resigning from ministry was acceptable to Him. He told me all that I was doing and had been doing in ministry was Nehushtan. This doesn’t mean that I was out of the will of God or that I was a failure as a minister—God used me greatly in many different ways and at many different times—but rather, that the ministries in which I was mainly involved in at the time were and are (now don’t get offended) completely man-made and un-Biblical.

Let’s look at a list of various ministries and departments that exist in the modern Apostolic Church and see if any of them are found in the Holy Scriptures.

  • Pulpit Sermonizing
  • Music Ministry
  • Audio/Visual Ministry
  • Greeter and Usher Ministry
  • Outreach Ministry
  • Spanish Ministry
  • Sunday School
  • Nursery and Family Ministry
  • Church Board
  • Altar Call Working
  • Building Maintenance

Did I miss any? I was involved in and in many instances, in charge of all of the above, and yet, not a one is found anywhere in the Bible. To be sure, preaching and teaching is, but not from within a church-owned building from a pulpit. And yes, we are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16), but not using a praise team leading while everyone else passively sings along. Reaching out to the lost is a key component of the faith, but not in a systematic, door to door, hand out a flyer and hope someone comes to church way. And while the Bible has much to say about the deaconate, it doesn’t have anything to say about church boards created by by-laws to manage the funds of a limited liability company and 501(c)3 tax exempt entity. Parents, and not Sunday School teachers, are expected to raise their own children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4). There never were any such things as altar calls in the Book of Acts. Rather, men of God, i.e. the Apostles, preached the Gospel to an audience and the Holy Spirit fell or It didn’t. People believed the preaching and responded in faith and so, were saved, or they didn’t. No one was given an overly emotional, manipulative verbal pull to step out into the aisle and come down to the front of the church’s building and kneel before the pulpit so the preacher and other ministers could lay hands on them. In fact, the early church didn’t even own buildings in which a pulpit could be constructed!

This being so, then what is all of this “stuff”? Simple. This “stuff” is just a piece of brass. It’s Nehushtan. And this Nehushtan, unfortunately, is a major source of division in the church. So many brothers and sisters are jockeying for position and platform, to build spiritual resumes and impress each other, it’s as political as any race for office.

I’ve had so many people, upon meeting me, want to know, first thing, whether or not I’m “licensed”. No one wants to know if I’m filled with the Holy Spirit, walking in the Spirit, living by faith and not by sight, honest in my dealings, upright and faithful to God and His call on my life. Nope, none of that. Just whether or not I have a piece of paper with some signatures on it.

And while I’m not knocking anyone for being licensed with any organization—if that’s what God wants for them, or if they need it for their ministry, then so be it—but let us also admit that such things are not Scriptural, either. Are they Nehushtan? I’m not going to say. That’s for another blog.[4]

But let’s face it. We judge each other based on how much WE DO for the Lord, as opposed to who WE ARE in Christ. And when someone thinks another someone isn’t doing enough for the Lord in terms of the Nehushtan of un-Biblical ministries, they say all kinds of dumb, hurtful things. And if they are in a position to do so, they do a lot of spiritual damage and ruin a lot of reputations when they open their mouths and get their way because they’re the only ones who get to have their say.[5]

Luke 10:38-42,

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Much could be said about this passage, but I want to focus on only a few things.

1.) Luke’s use of the word “cumbered“. In Greek, the word is perispao. It is a compound word made up of two parts: peri– meaning all around or through, and spao meaning to draw, i.e. pull along (as opposed to the art form). The literal meaning is to drag all around. Figuratively it means to be distracted.

This inspired text is trying to tell us that Martha was, to use a colloquialism, running around like a chicken with her head cut off. If ever you’ve hosted a party or large dinner, and you were in charge of the provisions of food and drink, you know just how busy you can get. Martha was drawn this way and that, all over the house, trying her best to take care of everyone. And in the process she became distracted (from what? from whom?).

2.) Luke’s use of the word “serving“. In Greek, it’s the word diakonia, and is the main word used in the Bible to mean or indicate ministry, or to minister. Do I need to say more? Martha was insistent that in order to take care of the Lord and His students, she had to minister much, just to please Him and His students, even though doing so caused her to be distracted (Again, from what or who?).

3.) Distraught at the amount of ministering she was doing, she became angry, even jealous of her sister, who didn’t appear to be doing anything but sitting at the Lord’s feet hearing His Word.

4.) In her anger and jealousy, she even dared accuse Jesus of not caring. Very literally, she challenged the Lord with the following: Doesn’t it matter to you? Who was Martha to challenge Jesus about anything?[6]

5.) Jesus politely and gently reminded Martha of what was more important, something her sister already knew: Spending time with the Lord at His feet hearing His Word matters more than ministering. Martha was running around trying to serve Jesus and His students so much, she allowed her “ministering” to distract her from the One (and ones) she was supposed to be serving. In fact, she got so worked up, she became “careful” and “troubled“.

In sum, Martha wasn’t really ministering to the Lord and His students; it wasn’t Christ or the Church she was serving. She was serving herself, thinking that her great efforts to minister would please the Lord and make Him appreciate her more, when just the opposite was true. Yes, Jesus loved her. Make no mistake. But being “cumbered about much serving” or becomingcareful” and “troubled” didn’t make Jesus love her more. Not serving at all didn’t make Jesus love Mary less.

The whole point of the story is to teach us to stop trying to “serve” the Lord with our ideas of how to minister, and just sit at His feet. To do otherwise is to become encumbered, i.e. dragged around and distracted, to become careful, i.e. anxious, and troubled, i.e. disturbed.

About a year before I resigned, and then about a year after I resigned, two different times, once before and once afterward, a man in the church, the same man each time, became offended at me and my wife for not living up to his expectations in regards to ministry. He felt like we weren’t pulling our own weight when it came to the success of the church (i.e. we weren’t doing as much as him and his wife).[7] The first time he went through the pastor, who, after realizing he couldn’t disagree with our Scriptural reasons for why my wife stepped down, calmed the man down, presumably explaining things to him. The second time, the man reached out to me personally, again with the same judgmental gripe. But at least, as before, so again, he apologized and repented and asked for my forgiveness. I readily forgave both times, taking no personal offense.

But after the second time, as I prayed about it on the way home, the Lord made it plain to me that this man should have known better, but allowed himself to fall victim to something He had already dealt with him about. During the drive home, I felt the Lord impress upon me that this man was going to suffer some things as a form of chastisement—not because of how he had judged me and my wife—but because he had offended the Lord. The next month, something major did happen with him and his family, health related, that I won’t relate here, but suffice it to say, but for the Lord’s mercy, it could have been devastating. As it was, it was still pretty bad, intense, scary, and etc.

Jump forward from then. A couple of years after I resigned from my ministries, I had a conversation with someone who accused me of being a “super-spiritual Pharisee who sits in the back row pretending like he doesn’t need anything, like he’s arrived…(I don’t remember the quote word for exact word) during worship and song service.[8]

Afterward, I calmly explained to this person that I sit in the back row with my family, with my children on my lap or in my arms and I quietly sing the songs we sing together as a church, to THEM, and talk to THEM about the Lord, and that’s the reason why I’m not out in the aisle, running and jumping and dancing and shouting during worship and song service.

We are no longer members of that assembly. My wife and I chose to sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus. We chose the “one thing” that was “needed“. We decided the “good part” (i.e. the best portion) on the table we call the Christian faith can’t be experienced if we’re not sitting down to eat.

We chose against distraction and anxiety and perturbation. Like King Hezekiah before us, we took that piece of brass, that Nehushtan the modern church calls ministry, and smashed it.

And the sad fact of it is, since I resigned, even before ever departing from that assembly, as should be obvious, it’s caused nothing but division. But God wants us where we are at, and so, we sit at the Master’s feet, even though “Martha” is still out there berating and angry with us, as it were. I just wish “she” knew and understood that it’s not us “she’s” challenging, it’s “her” Lord and Savior, “her” Immanuel, Jesus of Nazareth, she’s challenging. It’s the Son of God, and not this son of God, with whom “she” is upset and annoyed.

Perhaps someday, if He has not already done so, Jesus will politely and gently remind “her” of what is more important, something my wife and I and our family already know: Spending time with the Lord at His feet hearing His Word matters more than “ministering”.

Everything else is just a piece of brass.

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[1] Many other things were said but I’m not going to go into them here in this blog.

[2] Before that happened, I sent off an email explaining just how much my wife did in and for the church and for me as a husband, even though much of it was unseen since it was done in our home in the form of hospitality and in the hosting of Bible studies. That email was never addressed.

[3] Additional reasons included my work schedule and health concerns, which while playing important roles in my decision, weren’t the only reasons, as I’ve indicated in the body of this blog.

[4] Since I was not and am not a “licensed” minister at the time of my resigning, the word the Lord gave me, i.e. Nehushtan, doesn’t cover something I was not.

[5] A senior pastor once complained to me about one of his assistant pastors, who, even though he and his wife had two young children, nevertheless were not doing enough for the church as assistant pastors, that they needed to step up and do more, despite having children, even as the pastor and his wife didn’t have any children to speak of (at the time). This is the kind of real life story that for me, helps prove the overall assertion I am making in this blog: that these un-Biblical ministries can cause division in the church.

[6] Martha was one of Jesus’ closest friends. In fact, we read in John 11:5 that Jesus loved Martha (along with her sister Mary and brother Lazarus). Perhaps it was this closeness which caused her to think she had the right to be indignant at Him for not making Mary get up and help her? I suppose we’ll never know this side of heaven.

[7] By the way, this “man” was the assistant pastor mentioned in footnote #5, who, along with his wife, wasn’t doing enough for the church according to the pastor who opined to me about him. Do you see what happened there?

[8] I am thankful to say that my explanation caused the man to receive understanding, and he backed off. We ended the chat with a great big, teary eyed hug, which is to say, we reconciled!

The Fruit Of Faithfulness

•02/02/2017 • Leave a Comment

Galatians 5:22-23 (English Standard Version)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Over the years, I have watched the Enemy work and whittle away at the bonds that otherwise unite the brethren. Even within the pages of Holy Scripture, one of the key themes present in the teachings and testimonies of the New Covenant is the idea of maintaining the bonds of unity contrasted against the idea of the love of the brethren, and the love of the truth, waxing cold.

If we consider the 1st century context in which the Holy Scriptures of the New Covenant were first penned, the first observation one ought to make is that those who came to believe on and receive Yeshua as Lord and Savior, did so despite a culturally diverse, ethnically heterogeneous, socio-economic and political hodge-podge of merchants, masters, and slaves, of Roman citizens, and conquered subjects, of those born low, struggling to survive, and those born high, given the right to rule, even as they desperately curried favor with Empire so as to not lose not only wealth and prosperity, but also their very lives.

The Benevolent Message of the Cross is quite universal, and can be applied to anyone’s life, no matter their personal circumstance. Whether we speak of the Roman Empire and 1st century Israel, or of modern day America, and its strong Christian heritage, the idea that God sent His only Son to pay with His blood an atoning ransom for sinners has reverberated and resounded far and wide, quite literally from “[a]s far as the east is from the west[1].

This being the case, and truly, the whole intention of the Father and His Son, we might wonder then how various humans of such disparate backgrounds could ever come together and become a Body for the Anointed One, even a Holy Temple in which our God may dwell.

I submit to you that one way that can happen is through the fruit of faithfulness. I realize that many brethren typically read from an English translation that simply reads “faith”, instead of “faithfulness”, in Galatians 5:22. And while that isn’t a crime of injustice to Paul’s letter to those churches, I believe it leaves something to be desired, or at the very least, causes a mistaken comprehension of the intended meaning.

The word “faith” typically has an array of meanings that encompass things like a set of convictions or beliefs, or, a sense of trust and reliance upon, or, even, the totality of one’s entire system of religious piety. These are all well and good, and do have their place under the heading “faith”.

But the Greek word most commonly translated as “faith” in the Holy Scriptures of the New Covenant can also mean “faithfulness”.[2]

When I see, hear, read, or discuss the word “faithfulness”, the first thing that comes to mind is a related word, namely “loyalty”. When one is faithful, or full of faith, it means that they are a person to whom trust ought to be given. Such a person may be relied on, without question. Of course then, it makes sense why the object of our faith is the Anointed One, for He is Someone to Whom our trust may be freely given, without reservation. We can fully rely upon Him, for salvation, for healing, for deliverance, for provision, and etc.

Yeshua has earned our trust. His sacrifice on our behalf and the intercession He continually makes before the Father for our sakes has endeared us to Him in an unmistakable, unbreakable way. He has fully made good on all His promises. In this regard then, we find we are incontrovertibly loyal to Him, and also, He to us. Such is the beauty of the saving relationship and covenant that has been offered to us by God.

But what about us? Do we have the same faithfulness, that we may be trusted and relied upon when duty calls? Are we bound to each other by an unmistakable, unbreakable loyalty? Are we bearing the kind of fruit that, for example, tells other believers in the Body: “I am on your side, you can count on me, and I won’t let you down, no matter the cost”?

I suppose every saint of the Most High will have to answer for themselves. Personally, I find such faithfulness and loyalty a rare commodity. In fact, I have seen the very words of the Anointed One used as an excuse for dividing the Body into disunity. Some have said, taught, or preached the idea that because Yeshua said that He didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword, or that His message would cause fathers and brothers and sisters and mothers and in-laws and children and husbands and wives to divide against each other, that He means that His Body needs to wield the sword against Itself in order to divide against Itself.

My Friends, I tell you the truth: That is NOT what Yeshua meant. The Lord said those words to indicate that those who refused to heed Him and so, devote their lives to His cause would find themselves separated from the ones who did.

If, for example, there is a sister or daughter who has come to believe in and has obeyed the Benevolent Message, it may be that her siblings and/or her parents will want nothing to do with her or her new-found faith, because they are anti-christ in lifestyle and behavior. In this way, that sister and daughter is then, by cleaving to her Savior, cut off from her family by the sword Yeshua said He came to bring.

It does not mean that if this sister and daughter wins her mom to the Lord, that she and her mom then get to get into constant spats and fights over this and that such that they get to divide themselves against themselves and justify doing so because Yeshua’s “sword” demanded it.

If both have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, if both are fully trusting their God and Father with their souls, and are living to the best of their ability in accordance with the Word of God, whatever their differences might be, even all the way up to and including some (but not all) doctrinal differences, they are honor bound one to another through the fruit of faithfulness.[3] If, and only if, one or the other should turn from the faith that saved them and devote themselves again to a life of sin and disgrace, should it ever be considered appropriate for two people under such conditions to separate.

But and unless anyone can be proven through the Holy Scriptures of the New Covenant to be deceived and/or in sin, no amount of posturing or rationalizing will ever convince the Anointed One that His followers have the right to dis-fellowship.

Therefore, brethren, the conclusion is this: if men and women who believe on the Lord, who are not in sin, who are not receiving damnable heresies, are distancing themselves and dis-fellowshipping each other, they are not displaying the fruit of faithfulness. Such folk are lacking in the love department, or have been trained and taught to do so, regardless of the commandments of the Lord that countermand such actions.

Finally, if you happen to be someone who reads this, and if you happen to be someone who has cut off and divided yourself against another believer in the Anointed One, and it isn’t for damnable heresies or continued sinful conduct, to put it plainly, you are in the wrong and you need to repent, by first confessing to God your error, then praying to Him for the courage and humility to go and make things right with whomever you have dis-fellowshipped.

If and when you are reconciled, then I submit to you, that you seek the Lord for His help in developing the fruit of faithfulness until such a bond of unmistakable, unbreakable loyalty is created in you, from now until He comes.

Peace and God bless,

The Votive Soul

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[1] See Psalm 103:12.

[2] The Greek word in question is pistis. All the major lexicons are in agreement, e.g. Strong’s, Vine’s, Vincent’s, and etc., that pistis can and should, in context, mean “faithfulness”. See the New International Version, the New Living Translation, and the New American Standard Bible, for Galatians 5:22. These all render pistis as faithfulness.

[3] There are of course, certain “damnable heresies” that if received, could cause two believers in the Lord to have to separate, even if they are, as the example above shows, mother and daughter. But I would like to point out that this is pretty rare, even almost unheard of, since there are so few of these kinds of heresies, and the power of God unto salvation, even the keeping of one’s soul in the true faith, is such that one would have to seriously apostatize before ever falling into deceptions of this nature (See, e.g. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12,  2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 2:22,  and Jude 1:4).

Harping

•01/02/2017 • Leave a Comment

Greetings, Dear Reader!

Tonight, in this latest blog entry, I want to address the following idea:

Harping

Harping is the persistent, even insidious, and unwelcome addressing and spouting off against someone or something, ad nauseum.

You know the type (don’t act like you don’t!). Always going on about the same old thing. Always in the negative about whatever thing it is upon which they harp. They seem to always find ways to make every conversation revert back to their pet issue. They become impossible to be around. And, if it’s a preacher or your pastor? Oh boy. You’re in for a world of hurt.

Harping often occurs for the following reason: Tunnel Vision

A person with tunnel vision has, intentionally or not, decided to solely focus on only one idea or concept, or only on one small part of an idea or concept. They refuse to step back and take a better, BIGGER view of what’s going on around them.

People with tunnel vision often come to this place out of fear, uncertainty, and/or doubt.

Being able to ignore something that doesn’t agree with, comfort, or otherwise, ameliorate the person suffering from tunnel vision allows them to stay seated in their own little, falsely created, heavily biases world, while the rest of the real world continues on all around them.

To get one’s head out of the tunnel requires bravery and an act of the will. When something outside of the purview of the “tunnel” tests, probes, pushes, attacks, or proves superior, the person with tunnel vision has to make a decision: to confront what is new or different, and see whether or not their vision inside the “tunnel” can stand up to, and hold its own against, whatever it encounters outside of the “tunnel”, or continue to tuck tail and turn away in retreat back to the place this person calls “home”.

In so doing, one of two things will occur. Either the tunnel visionary will discover something better and more important than such a closed mind view of things, or, they will hunker down for the long-haul.

Hunkering down inside of one’s “tunnel” is what then causes the person to begin to harp away at any and all things outside of the vision. It’s kind of like a sniper, or an unseen rattlesnake poised to bite.

The tunnel-visioned person takes pot-shots from afar, harping away with unwanted words, even attacks, in whatever direction helps keep the person from having to expand their view and understanding of the world around them.

The bottom line is fear. Something has made this person afraid, likely early on in life. This person became convinced that someone or something was dangerous, and was forced, either by internal or external authorities in life, to run and hide.

In the realm of ideas, the “idea” that an “idea” is dangerous has often caused people to shrink away from knowledge and understanding. An example (take it for what it’s worth):

Several years ago, there was a woman attending the church I used to be apart of, who would always tear up and cry as the presence of the Lord came over her. She repented of her sins, and was immersed in the name of Jesus. Many people would pray with her and for her to receive the Holy Spirit, but she never did. She would seemingly get as close as anyone possibly could, but never crossed over into Holy Spirit immersion.

Witnessing this, as I prayed for her a few feet away, the Lord, through His Spirit, caused me to understand that she was afraid of receiving the Holy Spirit, because she thought receiving the Holy Spirit would be like Jesus putting a chain around her neck to make her a slave.

The point here is that she couldn’t get outside of her own understanding. She remained convinced that her world without the Holy Spirit was less dangerous, and more fitting, more to her liking. She remained locked into her “tunnel”.

In principle, something happens like this a lot, especially among disciples of the Word of God. They come across or hear about a competing view regarding some doctrine or another, or they are at a church meeting, and someone offers something that doesn’t sit right; maybe it comes from a book, or even a message board forum like this.

The first response in such cases is recoil. Instead of engaging the competing view of the doctrine, and really examining it from all sides to test it for merit or truth, it’s summarily rejected out of hand for no other reason than being “other”.

The tunnel-visioned person realized, perhaps subconsciously, that this competing idea originated somewhere outside of his or her “tunnel”. As such, it’s automatically outside of this person’s comfort zone.

I submit to one and all that Jesus directly confronts this mentality head-on and turns it on its ear. He is, after all, the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense. It’s not that one should just choose to receive and belief anything flying by on the wind. But it does mean that sometimes, Jesus comes to you in a way you cannot recognize, whilst you walk down the road to Emmaus.

When you encounter a new idea, or hear about a different view of the contents of God’s Holy Word, it might just be the Lord from Nazareth attempting to open your understanding of all that the Holy Book contains.

We reject this visitation at our peril.

In conclusion, I recommend that everyone take a personal inventory of their beliefs, whether they be related to any one particular doctrine or doctrinal view/schema (or not), and ask the Lord to shake you up and turn you upside down, and strip from you anything and everything you’ve ever believed, been taught, or just fell into without realizing it, that doesn’t soundly and perfectly conform to the Inspired Scriptures.

The cure for harping, blessed brethren, and the tunnel vision that causes it, is silence at Rabbi Jesus’ feet.

Peace and God bless,

Aaron

The Myth Of “Orthodoxy”?

•12/12/2016 • Leave a Comment

There has been a thought rolling around in my head for several years now, one that I have shared in various settings a few times before, but never here, at the blog. A topic that is near and dear to my heart is found in Ephesians 4:2-3 (ESV), which reads:

with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace

The maintenance of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace has become something of a personal rallying cry. It bangs away on the inside of my soul with great profundity. I look in so many different directions, being in fellowship and contact with so many different believers and saints, all from many different locations and local churches, each with unique backgrounds and testimonies of how God intervened in their lives and brought them out of darkness.

And when I attempt to look at and ascertain what it is I see, I realize that what I see is that not one single saint of the Most High actually agrees on much of anything, in terms of their personally held beliefs and convictions regarding the Holy Scriptures.

To be sure, there is great overlap between people, and many agree in a lot of various ways, on some things. But I know of no one who agrees with someone else on everything. In a way, this is to be expected, as we are all growing and maturing and coming to grips with primary, secondary, and even tertiary doctrines. In other words, it’s normal.

But what I didn’t expect to find, when this idea first began resounding inside my heart, was that such DISUNITY could be created between brothers and sisters, friends, and colleagues in the Lord, in the face of such expected normalcy.

It is surprising to me that people who love the Lord and desire to serve Him to the best of their ability, who are sincerely attempting to trust and obey Him, can be so callously driven away from each other by one or two simple disagreements.

Now, I am not speaking of disagreements between say, a die-hard Roman Catholic and a fiery Evangelical Protestant. The disunity created between two such groups is common.

But within the same faith, among brethren of the same experience, of the same mutual fellowship, who have known each other for a long time, have served together, prayed together, have evangelized together, have cried together, and otherwise have gone the proverbial extra mile together, can so easily become disloyal and distant towards each other the moment it is realized that they don’t agree about something.

I know for a fact that there is no one I know who believes everything I believe, who prioritizes their beliefs the way I do, who considers various beliefs to be central in comparison to others, and etc.

Not even my wife and I see eye to eye about everything the Bible contains or teaches!

And yet, my relationship with my wife is no worse off, hasn’t been under any additional spiritual attack, or has ultimately, come to end, simply for not believing the same things about every thing God or the Word of God, has to say.

But you say, “Yeah, but that’s your wife. You’re married to her. You made a promise to stay together, no matter what. You have to weather all the storms and disagreements in order to keep the covenant you made together before the Lord going strong.”

What the above is actually saying is, “You’re stuck, so you have to stick it out. You don’t have a choice now, no matter what you may disagree on now.”

To which I respond, “Yes, this is true. I agree 100%. But why isn’t it this way between brothers and sisters in the Lord?”

Hear me out. The Church is the Bride of Christ, correct? This means, that collectively speaking, in a figurative, spiritualized way, we are all “married” to each other. We have given ourselves over to the Lord unconditionally without restraint. In effect, we have promised ourselves to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in so doing, by being members who make up the Body of Christ, we have promised ourselves to each other, just as much. We are stuck with each other. Entering into covenant with God causes all of us to, in equal measure, covenant ourselves to each other.

True, the nature of a marriage is different in many ways compared to the nature of a brother to brother or sister to sister communion. This is obvious. But the underlying principle and chief goal of marriage—to become one—is the same chief goal of being bought with a price: to become one with Christ Jesus and the Father, and so, be made one with each other.

The fact that this unity appears to be dissolving all around us leads me to question whether or not the idea of orthodoxy is legitimate, or rather, if such an idea is merely a myth. For anyone who is reading who isn’t sure of what orthodoxy means, it signifies, in its most literal sense: right/correct beliefs.

The main idea is that there are a set of beliefs inherent to the Christian faith that are right/correct. And in order to be in the faith, one must automatically agree to and practice these beliefs, or else one isn’t a Christian, i.e. in the faith.

On the surface, let me reassure anyone who is reading, I agree wholeheartedly with the principle just enunciated. There is a point in which one either is, or is not, “in Christ”, as the Biblical phrase goes.

But how that plays out and is universally (or not) applied in the real world is a completely different thing as compared to the theory and principle of the matter. I mean, do we all need to become thought police and go through each other’s checklists before we can agree to commune together in the presence of the Lord?

Do I have to meet your personal set of criteria for fellowship before you will accept me the way I am? Do you need to meet my set of criteria to do likewise?

If so, tell me, how is that “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”?

Many, if not almost every, local church has a charter detailing their core beliefs and/or tenets of the faith around which they form themselves. The founding members, or those who inherited the reins of the local assembly, have all agreed to agree on a basic list or set of bullet points, usually beginning with the Bible and the nature of God and ending with a statement either about the church, end times, or finances, with something about Jesus, sin, salvation, the Holy Spirit, the ministry, and etc. sandwiched in between.

Is this why God sent His only begotten Son into the world? Is it really what Jesus died for? For a statement of faith? Some church’s statements are a mile long quoting so many verses of Scripture they might as well save everyone the time and simply say “We believe the Bible. Period. End of Story.”.

If only it was that easy!

More and more I am finding that the idea of “orthodoxy” while beautiful and necessary in one way is completely untenable and just about a waste of time in the other. You are never going to have perfect insight and knowledge about me and what I believe. I will not have that about you, either. No one will about anyone. Only God knows the heart.

So then, we can agree upon what?

  • That God exists?
  • That there is only one God?
  • That Jesus is the Son and Christ of God?
  • That Jesus was crucified for our sins, that He was buried, and that He was raised from the dead by God the Father three days later?
  • That in order to be saved, we must fully trust in and rely upon Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior?
  • That we must confess and repent of our sins before Him?
  • That we should pursue baptism in the name of the Lord?
  • That we are free to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as a promise from God the Father as a seal upon our hearts proving that we have been adopted by Him?
  • Anything else???

That looks like a pretty good list, that most everyone, I think, would agree with. So, we CAN be orthodox after all! Not so fast. Sure, we all agree that God exists, but in what way? Yes, we can quote Holy Scripture and say there is only one God, but what does it mean, exactly, for God to be “one”? What does it mean for Jesus to be the Son of God? The Christ of God? And right on down the list.

See, once the details of all these supposedly agreed upon statements of Christian orthodoxy become exposed, we find that all the agreements we claimed to have between ourselves suddenly begin to disappear.

So, where do we go from there? Disband all allegiances to one another and cast each other out as heretics and children of the Wicked One?

Do we raise up councils of people we allegedly trust and ask them to be the doctrine-makers so we can go to them regularly and affirm our commitment to whatever they say is the truth regarding God’s Word?

Do we appoint specially trained clergymen to tell us what to believe in all points concerning our religious beliefs so we no longer have to worry about ever forming our own convictions?

Do we decide to let doctrinal chaos reign and “every man to his tents, O Israel!”?

How about this?

How about we realize that we’re not all of us always going to agree about everything, and decide we will be okay with that fact?

How about we concede the fact that someone else may understand any number of Bible topics or doctrines better than we do, and decide we will be okay with that fact?

How about we patiently and lovingly remember first that we are all of us in covenant with God through Christ, and so, we are all of us, sons and daughters of the Most High? And in remembering this, we acknowledge that this makes us a family, and that brothers and sisters don’t get to disown each other if the Head of the Family has not disowned one of His own?

How about we humbly and with contrition and repentance, admit to the preconceived ideas, prejudices, and critical condemnations we’ve secretly held in our collective hearts toward those brothers and sisters we know don’t believe exactly like us?

How about we come together as a family and talk through our differences, without malice and condescension, and find out why we all believe whatever it is that we believe, that causes us to not agree with each other, deciding we all might learn something new?

And finally, instead of copping out by “agreeing to disagree”, and using that as a cover to begrudge one another just so we can justify any form of mistreatment we might think to use against anyone who doesn’t conform to our system of beliefs and convictions, how about we actually find a way, with the help of the Master Himself, to, for once and for all, actually, with all humility and gentleness, and with patience, bear one another in love and become eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?

Perhaps I’m just an eternal optimist, but I think we can do it. Do you?

Peace and God bless,

The Votive Soul

 
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