Posts Tagged ‘church’

Jeff Johnson – OneNewsNow – 3/27/2008 8:00:00 AM

A Christian author who was saved out of the new age movement says media icon Oprah Winfrey has become a false prophet for a false Jesus.

Oprah WinfreyOprah Winfrey identifies herself as a Christian. But she says that, when she was a young woman, she was disturbed by a pastor’s declaration that the God of the Bible is a jealous God. “And something about that didn’t feel right in my spirit because I believe that God is love and that God is in all things,” she told her television audience. “And, so, that’s when the, the, the search for something more than doctrine started to stir within me.”
Warren Smith, author of
Reinventing Jesus Christ: The New Gospel, is a Christian who was saved from the new age movement. He says Oprah’s search led her to Marianne Williamson and the new age teachings of A Course in Miracles.
“Marianne Williamson was on Oprah back in 1992 with her book about the Course in Miracles,” Smith recalled, “and back then, Oprah said, ‘I believe that the principles of A Course in Miracles can change the world’ — and she’s saying the same thing today.”
Williamson is now promoting A Course in Miracles through daily classes on Oprah’s XM satellite radio channel. “I will be on Oprah & Friends every single day talking about the ideas in A Course in Miracles,” Williamson said during a promotional announcement for the program. “We can have miracles. We can have greater inner peace. We can shift from an experience of fear to an experience of greater love.”
Oprah told her audience that she has no problem reconciling the differences between the new age religion she is now promoting and the Christian faith she claims. “I reconciled it because I was able to open my mind about the, um, the absolute, indescribable hugeness of that which we call ‘God,'” Oprah said. “I took God out of the box.”
But Smith, appearing on the March 11 edition of the
AFA Report, said the false teachings of A Course in Miracles should be obvious to any Christian. “Here are some of the lessons: Lesson 29, ‘God is in everything I see.’ Lesson 186, ‘The salvation of the world depends on me.’ 253, ‘My self is the ruler of the universe.’  337, ‘My sinless-ness protects me from all harm,'” Smith said, quoting from the lessons. “This is the Bible upside-down.”
Smith also criticized Oprah for the selection of Eckhart Tolle’s new age book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose as her book of the month.
“It reminds me of Jeremiah 5 where he says, ‘A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land, the prophets prophesy falsely and my people love to have it so,'” Smith explained. “What is more wonderful these days than Oprah? A wonderful and horrible thing is happening in the land, the prophets prophesy falsely. Oprah — by now teaching this class with Eckhart Tolle — is no longer a pointer to deception. She is a false prophet and part of it herself.”
Christians have an obligation, Smith concluded, to point out the error of Oprah’s new age “christianity,” even if doing so means risking public ridicule.
“Unfortunately, Oprah does so many things that are really good [that] people make the mistake of thinking that she’s on to something with this whole spiritual deal,” Smith argued. “What she’s doing is, she’s creating a new worldview. They’re calling it a ‘shift’ that will prepare people for when the next shoe drops.
“And this will be the way that world peace would be achieved,” he said,
explaining the new age philosophy behind A Course in Miracles, “by everybody adopting this view that ‘we’re all one because we’re all god, we need to come together, we need to be in unity.’
“And the only people who are going to hinder that are the people who are saying, ‘No, we’re not God. Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.’
Internet evangelist Bill Keller, appearing on Fox News Channel’s Cavuto Report, echoed Smith’s warnings, calling Oprah the queen of the new age gurus. “These new age teachings are really sucking in millions of people to these false philosophies, these false theologies, and they’re literally leading people to Hell,” Keller said. “Oprah, whether she knows it or not, is really being a conduit to lead people to Hell.”

Note to the Reader

When I began writing Reinventing Jesus Christ: The New Gospel in August 2001, I obviously had no idea that the tragic events of September 11, 2001 were about to take place. Because my book was to be a much needed update on the false Christ of the New Age Movement, I watched in amazement as key New Age leaders suddenly appeared on primetime television providing spiritual commentary regarding September 11th. Most viewers had no idea that these spiritual “experts” were really New Age leaders, and that their seemingly positive comments actually cloaked a New Age spiritual agenda—a Peace Plan founded upon cleverly repackaged New Age teachings. These reinvented New Age teachings were now being described as the “New Gospel” of a “New Spirituality.”

New Age leaders were all over the media after September 11th with their synchronized sound bites and spiritual analyses, emphatically declaring that terrorism is not to be defined by what people do, but by what they believe. They argued that terrorism is a spiritual problem that requires a spiritual solution. And while this statement is not untrue, their spiritual solution—a New Age Peace Plan—was no solution at all. For hidden away within this Peace Plan, and buried beneath all of their positive exhortations for love and peace and oneness, was another plan—a plan that was unknown—even to many of them. It was a plan to eliminate biblical Christianity and all of its followers. The New Age/New Gospel Peace Plan promised peace and safety to those who went along with their plan, but persecution and death to all who opposed it. And while this “selection process” was never publicly discussed on Oprah, Larry King Live, or Good Morning America, it was clearly documented in their New Age writings.

Widely introduced in the media after September 11th, the New Age Peace Plan was a definite sign of the times. The New Age Movement and its reinvented “Christ” hadn’t gone away; the leaders were moving full speed ahead. What had only been a theoretical New Age threat prior to September 11th was now a very real New Age threat—and it was coming right at the church.

Observing what was going on at the time, I tried to faithfully convey what I was learning about the New Age/New Spirituality and the emerging Peace Plan. The first edition of this book exposed the false New Age “Christ” behind the New Age Peace Plan. It also uncovered some of the key New Age leaders who have popularized his teachings in the world. I carefully documented how this New Age “Christ” and all of these New Age leaders were now on the same page and saying the same things. I explained how this dedicated group of New Age leaders had formed a single unified organization—the Global Renaissance Alliance—to push their Peace Plan forward.

Reinventing Jesus Christ also described how this New Age/New Gospel Peace Plan was purposefully designed to deceive the world and the church. My original book asked some hard but necessary questions concerning church leadership. Why had so many church leaders become strangely silent about spiritual deception and the New Age movement? Why were these same church leaders starting to sound more and more like their New Age counterparts? Were they being seduced by the very teachings they should have been exposing and renouncing? Had they somehow been blinded to what was really going on? Were they actually falling for the New Age Peace Plan and the New Spirituality? Were they unwittingly walking the church into a spiritual trap?

In October 2002, just four months after Reinventing Jesus Christ was first published, Rick Warren published his bestselling book The Purpose-Driven Life. What became apparent to me, after reading his book, was that he seemed to be leading the church into the very trap I had just warned about in my book. Deeply troubled by many of the things this popular pastor was teaching and alluding to—including his own “P.E.A.C.E. Plan”— I wrote Deceived on Purpose: The New Age Implications of the Purpose-Driven Church. It was published in August 2004.

Reinventing Jesus Christwas written and published before I had ever heard of Rick Warren or his “Purpose-Driven” movement. It was based on what I was observing in the New Age movement during the fall of 2001. It was a simple but straightforward warning to the church about the deceptive purposes and plans of the New Age “Christ.” But to this day, most Christian leaders still continue to ignore the spiritual deception that is in their midst. As a result, the New Age/New Gospel/New Spirituality has accelerated its move into the church.

In this online presentation of Reinventing Jesus Christ I have also included new updated material at the end of each chapter. Much has happened in the last four years. If Reinventing Jesus Christ is read prayerfully and carefully, one should be able to understand how a very real false Christ is effectively convincing the world and the church into accepting his New Age Peace Plan and his New Gospel/New Spirituality. Hopefully, by understanding the deception, the reader will be better equipped to stand fast against it.

Warren Smith
July 2006

To read the book Pl go to http://www.reinventingjesuschrist.com/

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By Nathan Busenitz

Today’s article is a continuation of our series on why we can trust the reliability of the New Testament gospels. Today we will consider an eighth reason the biblical account of Jesus’ life can be trusted.

Eighth, the main points of Jesus’ life as presented in the NT gospels accord with other non-biblical sources.

It should come as no surprise that the major events of Jesus’ life would be noted by more than just the writers of the New Testament. As Paul told Festus, speaking of King Agrippa, “The king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). The early Christians were to be witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8); hence the message about Jesus quickly spread throughout the Roman Empire.

We would expect, of course, the testimony of the early church fathers and the Christian catacombs to reflect what is taught by the New Testament gospels. And that is indeed the case. Ignatius (c. 35–107), as just one example among many, wrote of “the birth, and passion, and resurrection which took place in the time of the government of Pontius Pilate, being truly and certainly accomplished by Jesus Christ.”[1] Time and again, Ignatius affirmed the basic tenets of the New Testament gospels. For instance, in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, he wrote:

I glorify God, even Jesus Christ, who has given you such wisdom. For I have observed that ye are perfected in an immoveable faith, as if ye were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love through the blood of Christ, being fully persuaded with respect to our Lord, that He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church.[2]

Of note is the fact that a great number of early Christians were so convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel accounts, that they gave their lives as martyrs as a result. (Ignatius himself died as a martyr.) It is impossible to imagine they would have done so for something they knew was a fable. “The disciples’ [and by extension the early Christians’] willingness to suffer and die for their beliefs indicates that they certainly regarded those beliefs as true. . . . Liars make poor martyrs.”[3]

Second, we would expect to find details about Jesus in Jewish literature, since the Jews were eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus’ life and death (cf. Luke 24:18). Peter underscored the Jews’ familiarity with Jesus in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22–23). If such momentous events actually occurred, as are found in the gospel accounts, it would follow that the Jews made mention of such things.

And they did. Jewish sources such as Josephus (37–100), the Mishna, and the Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) indicate that the Jews were familiar with Jesus, His miracles, His death, and the claims regarding both His virgin birth and His resurrection. While they did not respond to these things in faith, they also never responded in a way that questioned the historicity of Jesus. Rather, their testimony only adds credibility to the reliability of the New Testament accounts. In the words of Princeton scholar Peter Schäfer, “The rabbinic sources (again, particularly the Bavli) do not refer to some vague ideas about Jesus and Christianity but they reveal knowledge—more often than not a precise knowledge—of the New Testament.”[4] In other words, the depiction of Jesus in rabbinic literature (although negative in its opinion about Jesus) accords with the picture of Jesus presented in the biblical gospels.

Ancient Roman sources, too, confirm the historical validity of the main points of Jesus’ life. Thallus (first century), Celsus (second century), Lucian of Samosata (115–200), Porphyry of Tyre (b. A.D. 233), Suetonius (c. 70–130), Pliny the Younger (c. 63–113), and others provide secular Roman testimony to the fact that Jesus really lived. The details they share about Jesus, though sometimes sparse, coincide with the New Testament gospel accounts. As New Testament scholar Gary Habermas observes, “We should realize that it is quite extraordinary that we could provide a broad outline of most of the major facts of Jesus life from ‘secular’ history alone. Such is surely significant.”[5]

As one example, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (c. 55–120) wrote about the fact that Jesus was a real historical figure and that He was put to death under Pontius Pilate. In referring to “the persons commonly called Christians,” Tacitus recounts that “Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius.”[6] This, of course, corresponds to the accounts given by the New Testament writers (cf. Matt. 27:2; Mark 15:15; Luke 3:1; John 18:29).

For the sake of space, we will not belabor this point much longer. However, the fact is that when we include both the biblical and non-biblical sources, “what we have concerning Jesus actually is impressive. . . . In all, at least forty-two authors, nine of them secular, mention Jesus within 150 years of his death.”[7] Moreover, the ancient non-biblical sources affirm the major tenets of Jesus’ life as told in the New Testament gospels. In the words of historian Edwin Yamauchi:

Even if we did not have the New Testament of Christian writings, we would be able to conclude from such non-Christian writings as Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger that: (1) Jesus was a Jewish teacher; (2) many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; (3) he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; (4) he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; (5) despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by A.D. 64; (6) all kinds of people from the cities and countryside—men and women, slave and free—worshipped him as God by the beginning of the second century.[8]

Thus, the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is collaborated by a veritable cloud of non-biblical witnesses.

From Pulpit Magazine.

* * * *


[1] Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, chapter 11 (shorter recension). We would follow the opinion of William R. Schoedel, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 3:384-385, who contends that the shorter (middle) recension of Ignatius most accurately reflects his original letters.

[2] Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 1. Shorter recension.

[3] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 59.

[4] Peter Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton University Press, 2007), 122.

[5] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1996), 224.

[6] Annals XV, 44; cited from Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 120-21.

[7] Habermas and Licona, 127.

[8] Edwin Yamauchi, “Jesus Outside the New Testament: What Is the Evidence?” in Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 221.

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By Lester Wilson

I want to speak on the subject of backsliding and we will weave in a number of Bible characters who were verily guilty.This subject is a very important one, so may God give wisdom and guidance in dealing with it. The Word of God has much to say regarding it and, sad to say, God’s people down through the ages have been very guilty in experiencing it. In the measure our heart has departed from entire occupation with Christ, that is the degree of our backsliding. If our affections have strayed from Christ, our eye wandered from beholding Him, we have backslidden; our eye is not single, and darkness enters. If such is the condition of any real child of God who reads this message, may the following remarks be used In your restoration to happy fellowship with God. to again enjoy a single eye with a body full of light, and henceforth to walk In the light as, He is in the light and have fellowship one with another. What makes this possible is the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, which cleanseth us from all sin. I John 1:7.

Many people who claim to be backsliders are sadly deceived. They have never yet slid forward. They may have backslidden from a profession, but this is entirely different from backsliding from Christ. Multitudes have gone to the mourner’s bench, shaken the preacher’s hand, joined the church, made promises and vows, and because they have not lived up to these things they think they have backslidden. The truth of the matter is, they were never really born again. A person who can go on for years in the condition described, and furthermore enjoy the world and its pleasures, happy in the company of the unconverted, such an one has never tasted of the love of God, for the Scriptures declare that “if any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him.” Let me say this: a person who has really been saved, born again, regenerated by the Spirit, is spoiled for this world and is the most miserable creature on earth when away from God.

Another point about backsliding is: it takes place by degrees. It is like the freezing of ice on a pond; an almost unperceived process. It resembles those habits sometimes acquired which are too insignificant to be noticed until they become too strong to be broken.

Let us notice some Bible characters who were guilty of backsliding. The first one we will, mention is Lot. In Genesis 13:10 we see his first step when he beheld the well-watered plains of Jordan. Instead of letting God choose for him, he chose for himself. He had an eye on earthly possessions and wealth, and, like Eve, who saw the tree to be pleasant to the eyes, yielded, and thus departure from God resulted. Lot’s second step was when he pitched his tent toward Sodom. Verse 12. When he got up in the morning and all during the day he was looking in the direction of Sodom. His first look led to practically a constant gaze, which paved the way for the third step, which is given us in Genesis 19:1. He sat in the gate of Sodom. He was a ruler in a wicked city which was under judgment. The result was that he lost all, for the judgment of God fell upon those cities, and Lot escaped with only his life. Beware, young Christian, of that first sin. If it is condoned, it will make the next one easier, and thus step by step you will get away from God, which means losing your joy as well as your influence and testimony for God. Beware of certain phases of this pleasure-seeking world, the underhanded business world, and the inconsistent religious world. If you have your eye on these instead of Christ, you are on the landslide to a wrecked life.

David fell before the flesh, (as we will see later on). Peter fell before the devil. Both of these were restored, but Lot fell before the world and passed into eternity under a cloud. May the language of your heart be:

“Take the world, but give me Jesus
Let me see His constant smile;
Then throughout my pilgrim journey
Light will cheer me all the while.”

Let us also notice Samson for another case of backsliding. He was to be a Nazarite from his birth, a person set apart for God. In using the word Nazarite I have no reference to a denomination but according to Scripture a Nazarite was a person set apart for God. No razor was to come upon his head. He was to have long hair. This Implies subjection. You will remember that in I Corinthians 11 a woman is to have long hair, which denotes her subjection to the man. We also read that it is a shame for a man to have long hair-it was a reproach unto him. A Nazarite was to abstain from wine or strong drink. In other words, he was to practice self-denial. Now, all this was true of Samson for a while. It should be true of every child of God today. We are set apart for God’s glory, and we should set ourselves apart from all that is displeasing to Him and contrary to His Word Then we should be subject to Christ as our Lord, obeying Him in all things. We should also deny ourselves anything that is detrimental to our pleasing God, or hinders our joy and progress In the things of God. Happy is the man who denies himself even legitimate things that he might be more pleasing to God and efficient in service. If you choose this path you will be reproached for it. The world will laugh and point the finger of scorn. Professed Christians will call you narrowminded and fanatical, too extreme, but never mind being reproached for Christ’s sake; rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in Heaven. “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and persecute you.” This is true Nazariteship. Real joy and peace, tokens of the presence of God, is the happy portion of such an one. Sad to say, Samson lost this, and so may you, young Christian, unless you are careful. How did he backslide? Let us notice this sad decline. In Judges 14:1 we read about Samson going down to Timnath and there beholding a woman who was a Philistine. For a Jew to marry one of another nation was contrary to the Word of God, and when practiced resulted in weakness and departure from God. Let us give a word of warning on this point. Many young men and women who were going on well for God have made shipwreck of their lives by keeping company with and marrying unsaved partners. God’s Word is clear and plain on this subject. Read II Corinthians 6. If you are saved, then seek a saved partner, and if at all possible one who will be a great help to you spiritually. Far better to remain single than marry an unconverted partner, for such a step would ruin your life as a Christian and invite sorrow, grief and even the chastening hand of God. It Is another situation when one gets saved after he is married. God’s Word Is plain on this point as well. The saved party is to live a godly, consistent life before the unsaved partner and pray unceasingly for him or her. Read I Corinthians 7 for help on this. Many sad cases of backsliding can be traced to an unequal yoke.

Another mistake Samson made was to enter the vineyards of Timnath. This Is where wine was made, and as we have already noticed, a Nazarite was forbidden to touch wine. Samson willingly walked right into temptation. Young Christian, beware of this. Keep a good distance from any party or place where there is a possibility of your being tempted to sin or enticed to do so. If you find yourself in an atmosphere Injurious to your fellowship with God, “Arise and depart, it is not your rest, It Is polluted, it will destroy you even with a sore destruction.” Micah 2:10. Suffer nothing to destroy your communion with God and testimony before men. You will notice what followed with regard to Samson. He lost his hair. And where did he lose it? In the lap of Delilah. He came under her Influence, and what a sad consequence! Samson lost his hair, and In losing that he lost his Nazariteship, his strength, and then his eyes. What a sad picture is presented here! Let us apply it. Delilah Is a picture of the world, and many a Christian has come under the Influence of the world and has settled in its lap. Instead of Delilah being subject to Samson, he was subject to her. We as Christians should subject the world to us, and not be subject to it. If you come under the influence of the world you will lose your separation to God, and In losing this you will lose your strength as a Christian; your joy will have fled, your communion Interrupted, your testimony ruined. The Church as a whole is being shorn of her strength by being In the lap of the world. May you as an Individual be spared from such a catastrophe! Samson’s eyes were gouged out-he lived the rest of his life In darkness. How many Christians today have lost sight of God’s plan for themselves, lost sight of spiritual values-no vision In life.

In concluding let us notice that Samson’s hair began to grow, and when it did his strength returned. Although his hair was shorn the roots remained. In this is a precious thought. If a person is really born again, the root of the matter is In him and he will never be anything else but a child of God. This will survive the hours, days, months, and years of backsliding and finally grow so as to be seen by others. The soil for the divine roots to grow in is repentance, contrition, confession, faith, the Word of God, and prayer. Out of this will grow peace, joy, fellowship, and happy service. In other words, complete restoration.


 In our last message on backsliding our closing remarks were concerning Samson who lost his separation, strength, liberty, eyesight and finally his life, all because of backsliding. In losing his eyes how painful it was; a lifetime of affliction, a constant reminder of what he once was, and had now become. His sin and folly would ever be before him. He would never forget the seed that he sowed which yielded such a lamentable harvest. Wounds may heal but scars remain.

Young Christian, beware of the thin edge of the wedge, that first sin. If Satan succeeds in getting it started he will keep driving it home until it becomes a habit. As days, months and years roll by it increases its hold upon you until the gap between your soul and God Is vast. It is the little foxes that spoil the vines. They just nibble a little at first, but they grow and the little foxes become big ones and you are overcome, overpowered by that which at the beginning could have been overcome with little effort on your part.

A vine speaks of fruitfulness and Satan will seek to stop your growth and your bearing fruit to God’s glory. A fox is active, crafty, and destructive and so Is Satan and the sins he employs. Nip the matter In the bud lest you experience what James gives utterance to: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”

We are often like a vessel drifting with the tide, unconscious of the power that’s carrying us away from God. It is said of Ephraim in Hosea 7:9 . . . “Gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not.” Gray hairs speak of decay and decline. How sad if spiritual decay and decline have set In with any of us and we know it not.

Let us be exercised before God as to our condition lest we wake up to find ourselves like Samson, a wrecked vessel on the shores of time having lost our life for God.

Samson’s sight being gone reminds us of Leviticus 21:18 where the disqualifications of the priests are brought before us. The priest’s duty was to worship, but if he were a “blind man” he was barred from that office. How many Christians have lost their spiritual eyesight. They have lost sight of God’s claims upon them, their duties, responsibilities and privileges. They know nothing of true worship. God is robbed; they are Impoverished. They may sit at His table but are not happy there. The Scriptures have lost their preciousness; they read them but see little of their contents. The wondrous truths of God’s Word are hid from their eyes. They have lost sight of the fact that sinners are perishing on every hand. Their own loved ones are in the ranks of the ungodly and they see it not. What a sad state for children of God who once like Samson had their eyes opened to these things, were gripped and stirred by them, but now as backsliders from God, they have settled down In the world. Repent Return! Rejoice. He waits to be gracious to all comers.

We will now come to David, the man after God’s own heart, but lifted up as a lighthouse of warning, lest we make the same mistake he did. When a man writes a biography of his fellow man he gives account of his good deeds and the bright side of his Life, but never mentions the bad deeds or the black side of his life. God gives both. Although man lovely things are said of David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, his heinous sins of adultery and murder are also recorded. If we turn to II Samuel 11:1 we find the secret of his fall. It happened at a time when kings go forth to battle. David should have been with his men but remained at home. It would seem that David manifested a careless, indifferent attitude In doing this. It was during those hours of leisure he looked, coveted and fell.

Many a backslider can trace his departure from God to carelessness. He became careless about reading the Word of God, spending time In prayer, winning souls for Christ, fighting the battles of the Lord. How true the Proverb: “Idleness is the devil’s workshop.’ Young Christian, spend your spare moments for God or you will spend them for the Devil. Whatever time you have at your disposal, use it in reading, praying and doing the Lord’s work. Keep actively engaged In these things, remembering lost time can never be regained, and lost time means lost opportunities and this means lost souls.

Let us notice a few verses In the Psalms where David’s condition is described. In Psalm 32:3 we read “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture la turned into the drought of summer.” The first thing we notice is his silence. He was silent to Clod, self and man. This Is true of backsliders, instead of “Singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord” they are silent; no praise, no joy, no word of cheer for other fellow Christians, no word In the gospel for a poor sinner, no prayer, no reading of the Scriptures, no interest in the things of God at all. Such is the condition of a backslider.

Furthermore, one away from God will try to conceal his sin and justify himself instead of acknowledging his transgression and Justifying God in judgment upon it. The true attitude of a backslider seeking restoration should be to condemn self and Justify God. Notice some of David’s language: “I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will) confess my transgressions unto the Lord.” And in Psalm 51 we read: “Have mercy upon me, 0 God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from my Iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin Is ever before me. Against thee, and thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil In thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” Notice all sin is against God. Did David not “sin” against Bathsheba and Uriah? He did, but his sin first of all was against God and thus God alone could forgive him. When Nathan, the prophet, said “Thou art the man” David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.,, Then notice Nathan’s words: “Me Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” II Samuel 12:13. “Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.,’ Psalm 32:5.

In Psalm 51:7 we see how David was cleansed: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” He undoubtedly had in mind the sprinkling of the blood with hyssop as mentioned in the 12th of Exodus. It is only through the blood of the Lamb that we can be cleansed. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” Let us confess our sins before Him and receive the cleansing. This fits us for service as we read In Psalm 51:12: “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.” He did not say, “Restore unto me thy salvation,” but the joy of it. A child of God has God’s salvation but loses the joy of it when he becomes a backslider. When he is restored and he knows by the Word of God he is forgiven, then the joy returns, and this is his strength.

We will conclude with a few remarks about Peter. Peter boasted of his love for Christ; he was self confident. Had he leaned upon Christ and remembered his word, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” he never would have denied the Lord. After his boasting the decline set in. He was sleeping when he should have been watching and praying, smiting with the sword when he should have been quiet, following afar off when he should have been near Christ, warming himself at the world’s fire when he should have been separated, denying his Lord when he should have been witnessing for Him.

You remember how the Lord turned and looked on Peter when the cock crew. That look was enough. We read, “And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, and went out and wept bitterly.” Luke 22:61-62.

It Is said a tear glistened in Peter’s eye the rest of his life. Here is the road to restoration for any who are away from God. A look of love and compassion from the One who says, “I will heal their backsliding-, I will love them freely.” Hosea 14:4. And a reminder of His word, “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backsliding.” Jeremiah 3:22. And, “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.” Isaiah 44:22. May the look and word of the One who loves us reach our heart.

Is God using the language of Jeremiah 2:2 with any of us? “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me In the wilderness, In a land not sown.” What had Israel in the wilderness? God and the sand. God was enough for them at the beginning, but they departed from Him. Does God remember the days of our first love, when we were wholeheartedly, out and out for Christ, able to sing from the heart, “I have given up all for Jesus?” Has that simplicity, devotion and love departed? Have we left our first love? If not, thank God and seek his grace and strength that it may continue, remembering that solemn verse, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

May these noble characters that we have been considering, who made such grievous mistakes, be a warning unto us. If we have left these happy days of fellowship with Him and are under a cloud, remember,

“’Tis that look that melted Peter,
‘Tis that face that Stephen saw;
‘Tis the heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw.”

 A closing word to the unsaved: remember it’s not what you do before you are saved or after that saves you; it’s not what you do for Christ that saves but what Christ did for you on the cross. Your works will not save you, your baptism will not save you, your church will not save you, your prayers, tears, money, will not save you. Only Christ can, and He will if you will take Him as a gift from God. Take the Gift and say, “Thank you Lord for saving my soul, thank you Lord for making me whole, thank you Lord for giving to me Thy great salvation so rich, so free.”

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by William MacDonald
What do you think of the person who says, “My parents were members of this denomination. I was born in it. And I’ll die in it.
“Oh,” you say, “I think he’s wrong to talk like that:” “Yes, but why is he wrong?”
“I suppose because he assumes his denomination is right and will always be right.”
“Well, then, to what denomination or group should he be loyal?”
“I guess he shouldn’t be loyal to any denomination, because no denomination is perfect.”
“One final question. If he shouldn’t be loyal to any denomination or group of Christians, to what should he be loyal?”
“He ought to be loyal to the Lord and to the principles of His Word.”
Yes, of course! That is the only correct answer. It is a mistake to develop an undying loyalty to any Christian fellowship, no matter how scriptural it may be at the time.
Even suppose that you reject the whole idea of denominations. Suppose you meet with Christians who refuse any sectarian name. Suppose, for instance, that they speak of themselves by the innocuous name of “the assemblies.” They seek to adhere to the teaching of the Word. Shouldn’t you throw in your lot with them permanently and be loyal to them alone?
If you do, you will find yourself in a difficult position.
You are committed to a group that will almost inevitably change over the years. This has been the history of almost every Christian fellowship. Liberal tendencies creep in. Zeal and freshness give way to formalism. A denominational hierarchy develops. Soon you can write Ichabod over the whole thing-the glory has departed.
Then again, if you are loyal to a group of assemblies, the question always arises, “With which particular ones do you agree?” There are wide differences among any group of local churches, just as there are wide differences among individuals. Some are open, some are exclusive. Some are conservative, some are liberal. Some have a pastor who presides over the congregation, others repudiate a one-man ministry. No two assemblies are exactly alike.
So there is a real problem. To which assemblies are we to be loyal? Are we to blindly subscribe to all the assemblies that might be listed in a semi-official address book? It seems obvious that we cannot consistently do this. We must judge each individual assembly by the Word of God, as far as our own personal affiliation is concerned.
Here is another problem. If my loyalty is to a particular group of local churches, what is to be my attitude toward other Christian groups that might in some ways be closer to the New Testament pattern than mine is? How do I evaluate them? Do I simply wave them off by saying, “They are not among ‘our’ assemblies.” Do I accept or reject them by whether their activities are reported in one of “our” magazines?
Then there is the matter of individual Christian workers “outside our circle.” How do we evaluate them? Do we ask, “Has he been commended by one of ‘the assemblies?” “Is he with us?” Or do we inquire if he is serving the Lord in accordance with the principles of the New Testament?
Certainly the easiest policy is to judge individuals or groups by whether or not they are “with us.” This does not require spiritual exercise or discernment. But it is a false and dangerous basis of judgment. It supplants the Word of God as our final authority. It assumes a priori that “we” are correct in our position and that everyone else should conform to us. It leads to inconsistency, embarrassment and confusion.
Christians must be taught to test everything by the Scriptures. This is our only authority. The question is not, “How do we do it in ‘our assemblies’?” but “What does the Bible teach about it?”
Our loyalty must be first, last and always to the Lord and to the principles of His Word. And we should never blindly assume that any group of believers has a monopoly on the truth, is adhering to the New Testament in its entirety, or is immune from drift and departure.
Every generation must guard against the danger of slipping into denominational, sectarian ways of thinking. Down through the centuries, there have been great movements of the Holy Spirit in which certain truths have been recovered out of the rubble of tradition, formalism and ritualism. The first generation, that is, those living at the time of these movements have been intelligent concerning the scriptural principles involved. But then the second and third generations have tended to follow the system routinely because their parents were in it, and because they themselves were brought up in it. There has been a decline of true conviction and an increasing ignorance of the biblical basis of the pattern followed.
Thus the history of most spiritual movements has been aptly described in the word series: man … movement … machine . . . monument. At the outset there is a man, anointed in a special way by the Holy Spirit. As others are led into the truth, a movement develops. But by the second or third generation, people are following a system with sectarian, machine-like precision. Eventually nothing is left but a lifeless, denominational monument.
If you were to ask a sampling of Christians, “Why do you meet in church fellowship where you do?” how many do you think could give a clear, scriptural answer? Not many! There is widespread ignorance as to the truth of the New Testament church, and therefore a general lack of conviction on the subject. How can we have strong convictions about something we do not know or understand?
In a healthy New Testament assembly, those who are in fellowship know why they are there. They are not sermon-tasters or followers of men, but Christians who are well grounded in the truth of the gospel and of the Church. They are prepared to judge everything by the Word. They are not unalterably committed to any particular group of assemblies. If trends develop which are unbiblical and dishonoring to the Lord, they will seek the leading of the Holy Spirit to the company of those who do meet in obedience to the Bible.
Let us examine some of the great truths concerning the assembly which are found in the New Testament and to which we should be loyal.    
One of the most obvious truths is the unity of the body of Christ. There is only one body, one church, one assembly (Eph. 4:4).
Because this is true, all believers are responsible to bear witness to it. As we gather together, we should give practical expression to it. Nothing that we do or say should deny it.
Many Christians see quite clearly that sects and denominations are a denial of the truth of the one body (I Cor. 1: 10-13; 3:3). Sects create the impression that Christ is divided, and thus misrepresent the truth of God’s Word. Many of us see this quite clearly and refuse such names as Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist or Episcopalian.
But we do not always see that any name that separates us from other members of the body is divisive and unscriptural. Even if we take a biblical name like brethren, for example, the minute we qualify it or capitalize it, we transgress. It is as wrong for some believers to identify themselves as Plymouth Brethren, United Brethren, Christian Brethren, Evangelical Brethren, Open Brethren or Exclusive Brethren as it is for others to call themselves Presbyterians or Pentecostals.
Brethren with a capital B implies that there are some believers who are not brethren, or that some are brethren in a distinctive way. We hear people ask, “Is he in the Brethren?” or they report sadly, “He left the Brethren.”
The truth is, of course, that if he’s saved, he’s in the brethren, and he can’t leave the brethren since the believer is eternally secure.
It is certainly right that we should gather to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, but the minute we speak of ourselves as “Christians gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone,” meaning that we do and others don’t, we have become a sect.
To speak of any particular group of Christians exclusively as “the Lord’s people” betrays a sectarian attitude. It puts us in the same class as those in Corinth who said, “I am of Christ”-meaning that they were of Christ to the exclusion of all others (I Cor. 1: 12 ).
Another way in which inconsistency appears is the habit of calling a particular gathering of Christians in a town “the assembly” in that town. Or speaking of states and cities where there are “no assemblies.” Actually this is not accurate language. The assembly in any given town is made up of all true believers there. Within that town there may be several gatherings of Christians. In addition there may be some true Christians who are not associated with a local fellowship for one reason or another; they may be under discipline, for instance. All go to make up the assembly in the town, though all may not meet together in one place.
Someone will say, “Well, how can I distinguish my assembly from the other evangelical churches in Hometown?” The answer is, “Instead of calling it ‘the assembly’ in Hometown, refer to it as the assembly that meets in the Bible Chapel at 5th and Pine.” Then you have not denied the unity of the body.
We must never forget that we are Christians, believers, brethren, disciples and saints-and so are all who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. To deny this by any form of sectarianism, denominationalism or exclusivism is to deny the truth of the Bible and to be guilty of carnality and pride.
A second great truth for which we should stand is that all true believers are members of the body of Christ and therefore members of one another (I Cor. 12:12-26). This being so, it is necessary for us to recognize all Christians as our brothers and sisters.
It is not always easy to do this. Men have erected fences. People are more loyal to their own denomination than they are to the body of Christ. They do not recognize the unity of the Spirit.
But the trouble is not all with other people. Even in our own hearts, there is often the desire to be distinctive, to think of ourselves as having a cover on church truth or some other truth. We often find it difficult to befriend those who do not see exactly as we do. Instead of rejoicing when others are led into a certain measure of divine truth, we are apt to magnify the ways in which they are still different from us. And too frequently we quarrel most bitterly with those whose church order is strikingly similar to our own.
How then can we give practical expression to the truth that all genuine believers are members of the body of Christ?
First of all, we should love them because they belong to Christ (I John 4:11). The fact that they may differ with us in various areas of doctrine or practice should not prevent our loving them.
We should pray for them (I Sam. 12:23). This is a debt we owe to all men, especially those who are of the household of faith.
Third, we should seek to share with them the precious truths which God has shown us from the Word (II Tim. 2:2).
This does not mean that we should adopt a deliberate policy of sheep-stealing, that is, moving into other evangelical groups with the specific purpose of leading people out to “our own fellowship.” Nowhere in the Bible are we called to this divisive ministry. Rather, in our individual contact with others and as led by the Holy Spirit, we should minister Christ to them as the gathering Center of His people. We should “”teach everyone we can, all that we know about Him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ” (Col. 1:28, Phillips).
Not only should we love other believers, and pray for them, and seek to edify them, but we should also learn from them (I Cor. 12:21). It is a mistake to think that we have all the truth and that we cannot benefit spiritually from those outside “our own fellowship.” Every member has something to contribute to the rest of the body. Any man-made barriers that hinder believers from helping other believers are contrary to the will of God.
Also we should refrain from criticism, jealousy, gossiping, backbiting or judging (Luke 6:37). Each believer is a steward of the Lord. We are distinctly forbidden to judge others before the time, that is, before the Lord comes (I Cor. 4:5). Paul asks, ‘Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own Master he standeth or falleth” (Rom. 14:4). And when Peter became concerned about John’s service for the Lord, Jesus said, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me” (John 21:22).
We should rejoice whenever Christ is preached, whether or not we agree with the methods and motives. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will; the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds; but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice’ (Phil. 1: 15-18).
The fact that we thus recognize all true believers as members of the body does NOT mean that we will adopt their policies and practices. We are responsible to obey the Word of God as He has revealed it to us. We can love people without loving the system in which they are found and without becoming a part of it. As far as our own pathway is concerned, we must be uncompromisingly obedient to the Bible. As far as other believers are concerned, we should be patient and tolerant.
A third important truth for which we must stand is that Christ is the Head of the Church (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1: 18). This means that we must look to Him for direction and guidance in the affairs of the local assembly.
We all realize that the truth of Christ’s headship is denied when a pope, for instance, claims to be head of the church on earth. But we must guard against the more subtle error of thinking that any of us has any right to manage the affairs of the assembly. It is so easy to give lip service to the Headship of Christ, and yet to maneuver, lobby and connive in a carnal way in order to get one’s own way. Instead of waiting upon Him in fasting and prayer, we apply successful business methods and the wisdom of this world. All this is a practical denial of the Headship of Christ. If Christ is Head, then everything must be done under His guidance and control.
Then there is a fourth truth-the truth that all true believers are priests. In I Peter 2:5-9, we learn that we are holy priests and royal priests.
As holy priests we offer up spiritual sacrifices to God by Jesus Christ (v. 5). These sacrifices include:
§ the sacrifice of our bodies (Rom. 12:1, 2).
§ the sacrifice of our praise (Heb. 13:15).
§ the sacrifice of our possessions (Heb. 13:16).
As royal priests we show forth the excellencies of Him Who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9). This means that every believer is expected to witness for Christ, both by life and by the spoken word.
As holy priests we go into the sanctuary to worship. As royal priests we go out- into the world to testify.
The idea that worship and service are the functions of a special group known as priests or clergymen is foreign to the New Testament. All believers are priests and should be free to exercise their priestly functions.
There are some local churches that repudiate the clerical system, refusing to have what might be called a one-man ministry. And yet if you were to ask many of the Christians in those churches for a scriptural defense of their position, they would be hard put to give an answer. Why is it wrong to have a one-man ministry in the local assembly?
The first reason is because it is not found in the New Testament. The assemblies in apostolic times consisted of saints, bishops and deacons (Phil. 1:1). The bishops, or elders, are always spoken of in the plural. Not one elder over a church, but several elders in each church. Bible historians agree that the clerical system arose in the second century; it was not found in the churches of the New Testament.
Secondly, the clerical system generally ignores the purpose for which the gifts of evangelist, pastor and teacher were given to the church. The function of these gifts is to build up the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). In other words, Christian service is not the function of any one class but the responsibility of all believers. It is only as each one fulfills his function that the body will develop and mature. The function of the gifts listed in Eph. 4:11 is to build up the saints to the point where they are mature, functioning members of the body. Thus, these particular gifts are temporary aids, not permanent fixtures.
When one man is responsible for all the teaching and preaching in a local church, there is always the danger that people will gather to him, not to the Lord. If a man is especially gifted, people are drawn to his preaching. They attend because he is there. If he leaves for any reason, then they are apt to follow him, or if this is not possible, they often drift elsewhere, looking for another gifted man.
Christ should be the gathering Center of His people (Matt. 18:20). We should be drawn by His presence, not by a man. When believers see this and act upon it, the local assembly need not be shaken by the departure of any man. An assembly where Christians gather to Christ has strength, stability and solidarity.
And, of course, there are potential dangers when all or most of the teaching in a local church is done by one man. People tend to accept his word as authoritative. If they are not studying the Scriptures for themselves, they are not in a good position to discern error.
In addition, no one man is able to provide the diversity of ministry that is possible when the Holy Spirit has liberty to speak through several men. We must be concerned not only with ministry that is doctrinally accurate, but also with ministry that provides a balanced diet for the people of God. The scriptural injunction is, “Let the prophets speak two or three and let the others judge” (I Cor. 14:29).
A one-man ministry too often stifles the development of gift in a local church. There is not the same opportunity for others to participate. Some ministers insist on confining most of the work to themselves; they resent anyone else’s intruding into their office. But even where this is not the case even where ministers would like to see others participating-the very nature of the clerical system discourages the so-called layman from developing his God-given gifts.
When one man is salaried by the local congregation as preacher, there is often a subtle temptation to water down the message. It should not be so, but the fact is that by controlling a minister’s salary, the congregation often cuts itself off from receiving the full counsel of God.
Now we recognize that there are many great men of God in the clerical system who preach the gospel faithfully, teach the Word, and seek to shepherd the sheep of Christ. And God is using them.
We also recognize that there are many “one-man ministers” who do not have the clerical spirit. They have a sincere desire to help the saints in every possible way, to lead by example, and not to lord it over God’s heritage.
And we also realize that it is possible for someone who is not a clergyman to have the clerical spirit. In III John 9-11, for example, we read of Diotrephes who acted as a tyrant in a local assembly.
But the fact remains that the clerical system is basically wrong and unscriptural. The world will never be evangelized in the way that God intended, and the church will never be built up according to the divine plan as long as the distinction between clergy and laity is maintained.
Another vital truth which each local assembly is obligated to maintain and practice is the presidency of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26). This means that the Holy Spirit is the Representative of Christ in the church on earth. He is the One Who should be allowed to lead the people of God in prayer, praise and worship. He should have liberty to speak through servants of His own choosing according to the spiritual needs of God’s people.
In I Cor. 14:26, we have a picture of a meeting of the early church in which there was this freedom of the Spirit. “How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”
When the Spirit is thus free to lead, there will be spontaneity in teaching, preaching, worship and intercession.
Most of us realize that the ministry of the Holy Spirit has been greatly quenched by the introduction of ritual and liturgy. The use of printed prayers, of stereotyped messages for certain days of the “church calendar,” of a prescribed order of service that must be followed without deviation-these things fetter the Holy Spirit in the meetings of the local church.
But we must guard against more subtle ways of quenching Him. For instance, we must guard against manmade rules in our worship meetings. In some places, there is an unwritten law that there must be no ministry before the breaking of bread. Or that the meeting must not go beyond a certain time. Or that in worshipping we must not dwell on our own sins or unworthiness. Or that we must sit or stand when praying or singing. All such rules quench the spirit of spontaneous worship and lead to formalism.
We often make a man an offender for a word. Perhaps a young believer will express thanks to God for dying for him. Must he be rebuked for this? We all know that God, the Father did not die. And doubtless the young believer knows it too. But in the self-consciousness of taking part publicly, he is apt to express himself poorly. Should he be made ashamed of his first, faltering act of public worship? Is it not better to hear his sincere though faulty adoration than not to hear it at all?
Generally speaking we believe that the Holy Spirit will guide the worship of His people along a certain theme. But suppose a brother gives out a hymn that seems to be quite unrelated to this theme. Must he be embarrassed for this? Is it not better to sing the hymn and pray that as he matures sufficiently to discern the theme in the meeting, he will do so without losing any of his warmth and affection for the Lord?
Which reminds us of a certain preacher who was asked, “What would you do if some brother gave out a hymn that was obviously not in the Spirit?” He replied, “I’d sing it in the Spirit.”
As we seek to give the Holy Spirit His proper place in the assembly, let us beware of rules that quench Him and that kill spontaneity and unaffected worship.
There is another principle in the Word of God that should guide us in connection with the assembly, namely that each assembly is independent and responsible only to Christ. There is no such thing in the New Testament as a denomination, a federation of churches, or a circle of fellowship. There is no headquarters on earth, exercising authority of any kind over local assemblies.
The headquarters of the church is where the Head is -in heaven.
Every local church should carefully avoid anything that might lead to centralized control on earth.
This centralization is the evil that has hastened the spread of modernism. The liberals have seized control of the denominational headquarters and of the seminaries. They knew that if they could control the headquarters, then eventually they could control all the churches.
The formation of a central group often comes from government pressure or from a desire to obtain certain benefits from the government. But then centralization makes it easy for totalitarian governments to suppress the church. If they capture a few denominational leaders, they can control the activities of the entire denomination.
God’s will is that each assembly should be an independent unit, responsible directly to the Lord Jesus. This hinders the spread of error, and enables the church to go underground more easily in times of persecution.
We have already touched briefly on the role of gifts in the Church. Actually every believer has some gift, some special function in the body of Christ. In addition there are the special service gifts of evangelist, pastor and teacher (Eph. 4: 11). The latter gifts were given to help all the saints find their gift and to exercise it. They were given to build up the saints for the work of the ministry, and thus for the building up of the body of Christ. From this it is clear that:
The work of the ministry is not for a special class of Christians but for all the people of God.
The work of the special gifts of Ephesians 4 is to build up Christians to the point where they can carry on by themselves, then to move on. In other words, the saints should not become perpetually dependent on such gifts. On the contrary these gifts should work themselves out of a job in the shortest possible time, then move on to new areas of opportunity. Just as parents begin right away to teach children to take care of themselves, so should these gifts teach the babes in Christ.
Now this raises a question: “How long should such a gift remain in a local assembly?” There is only one Possible answer to the question-as long as it takes to mature the saints to serve. Paul only stayed in Thessalonica “for three sabbath days” (Acts 17:2), yet left behind an indigenous assembly-self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating. As far as the record is concerned, the longest that he stayed in any one place was the three years that he spent in Ephesus (Acts 20:31). It is not exactly a question of how long a man stays in one place, but rather what his purpose is. What is he trying to do? Is he trying to equip the saints to carry on by themselves?
In this regard, these gifts must guard against the natural tendency to nestle, to think of themselves as having a lifetime appointment in any one place. (This is as true of foreign missionaries as of workers in the homeland.) They must keep themselves mobile. And they must also guard against another subtle danger, that is the feeling that the saints couldn’t get along without them. When they are absent, the attendance drops; this makes them think that they must not leave. They are afraid that the whole assembly would go to pieces. It caters to pride to think that we are indispensable. And sometimes it wounds our pride to think that we are no longer needed in a particular place. Actually we should rejoice when that time arrives.
While speaking of gifts, there is something else that should be mentioned. In the New Testament, these gifts were charismatic, not professional. By this we mean that these gifts were men who were sovereignly endowed by the Holy Spirit without regard to training or occupation. For instance, the Spirit would reach down and equip a fisherman to be an evangelist. Or He might take a shepherd to teach His Word. Or He might fit a carpenter to exercise a pastoral ministry among the saints.
There is no suggestion in the New Testament that professional training can make a man a gift to the church. The idea that only men who have had formal schooling in the Word are qualified to minister is disgusting. Training can be helpful to a believer in getting a grasp of the Scriptures, but no amount of training can make a man an evangelist, a teacher or a pastor. And there is always the danger of professionalism. If the Scriptures are approached from a philosophical basis, then training can be a very deadening and dangerous thing.
When is a local church a true New Testament Church? When most of the members are true believers? Even if only a minority are true believers? Wherever Christians are gathered in the Lord’s Name? What qualifies a group to be considered a local assembly?
Actually the New Testament does not lay down hard and fast rules as to what an assembly is. It does state that where two or three are gathered in Christ’s Name, He is in the midst (Matt. 18:20). And the Scriptures assume that those who compose the assembly are Christians, although it is also recognized that unbelievers are sometimes taken into the number unawares (Acts 20:29, 30). Also the New Testament seems to assume the presence of elders and deacons in the normal assembly (Phil. 1:1). But beyond that there is no final way for us to say that certain Christian groups are New Testament churches and that others are not. We can be grateful that we are not the judges in these cases.
If a group professes to be a Christian assembly, then it should manifest the truth of the church universal. it should be a miniature, a replica of the body of Christ. It should present a living portrayal of the church of the living God.
Now the situation among local churches in the world today is this. Some local assemblies depict the universal church very badly. Some do it more accurately. None does it perfectly. What you have is a wide range of churches with all different degrees of likeness to the universal church.
Some churches obviously have no right to be thought of as Christian assemblies. I am thinking of those liberal churches, for instance, that deny all the fundamental doctrines of the faith.
But then we have a wide variety of other churches that do acknowledge Jesus Christ as only Lord and Savior. Some are more evangelical than others. Who can say where the line is that divides those that are N. T. churches from those that are not? We have to leave them with the Lord. Our responsibility is to build according to the pattern, that is, to give a true likeness of the church in our own local assembly.
Certainly no assembly has any reason for pride. If we could see ourselves as the Lord sees us, we would probably shrivel up and die. Spiritual pride is itself a denial of the truth that we are seeking to uphold.
To what should we be loyal? Once again we emphasize that we should be loyal to the Scriptures, not to any church system or circle of fellowship. In a day of drift, we must constantly test everything by the Bible and act accordingly.
And there will be a price to pay. It costs something to follow New Testament principles. There will be reproach from the world and opposition from other Christians. But our responsibility is clear. We must obey God and leave the consequences with Him.
Please Post your questions or Comments.

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By John MacArthur

February 11th, 2008
If we judged success by worldly standards, some might be inclined to assess Paul’s leadership career as an abject failure and a bitter disappointment.
In the closing days of his life, when Paul wrote 2 Timothy, Luke was virtually his only contact with the outside world (4:11). Paul was confined in a Roman dungeon, dreading the savage cold of coming winter (vv. 13, 21), and without any hope of deliverance from the death sentence that had been imposed on him. He suffered because of the sadistic contempt of his enemies. He was even abandoned or disavowed by some of his closest friends. He wrote, “This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me” (2 Timothy 1:15). “Asia” refers to Asia Minor, where Paul had focused his missionary work. Ephesus, where Timothy pastored, was the capital of that region. So Paul wasn’t telling Timothy anything Timothy didn’t already know firsthand. In that time of fierce persecution, association with Paul had become so costly that all but a few of the apostle’s own spiritual children had in effect disowned and abandoned him.
That’s why people who see things superficially might think the end of Paul’s life was tragic. At first glance, it might even seem as if his enemies had finally defeated him.
A failure? Actually, the apostle Paul was not a failure as a leader by any measure. His influence continues worldwide even today. By contrast, Nero, the corrupt but powerful Roman emperor who ordered Paul’s death, is one of history’s most despised figures. This is yet another reminder that influence is the true test of a person’s leadership, not power or position per se. In fact, a careful look at how Paul’s life and ministry came to an end can teach us a lot about how to gauge the success or failure of a leader.
Paul’s first long imprisonment and trial before Nero apparently ended in the apostle’s release sometime before AD 64, because he wrote the epistles of 1 Timothy and Titus as a free man (1 Timothy 3:14-15; 4:13; Titus 3:12). But that liberty was short-lived. In July of the year 64, seven of Rome’s fourteen districts burned. When the original fire was nearly extinguished, another fire, fanned by fierce winds, broke out in another district. Rumors circulated that Nero himself had ordered the burning of the city to make room for some ambitious building projects, including a golden palace for himself.
Trying desperately to deflect suspicion, Nero blamed Christians for starting the fires. That began the first of several major, aggressive campaigns by the Roman government to destroy the church. Christians in Rome were rounded up and executed in unspeakably cruel ways. Some were sewn into animal skins and ripped to death by dogs. Others were impaled on stakes, covered with pitch, and burned as human torches to light Nero’s garden parties. Many were beheaded, fed to lions, or otherwise disposed of at Nero’s command in equally ruthless ways.
During that persecution, Paul was again taken prisoner by the Roman authorities, brought to Rome, subjected to persecution and torment (2 Timothy 4:17), and finally executed as a traitor because of his relentless devotion to the lordship of Christ.
Throughout his first imprisonment at Rome, Paul had been kept under house arrest (Acts 28:16, 30). He was allowed freedom to preach and teach those who visited him (v. 23). He was under the constant guard of a Roman soldier but was treated with respect. The influence of his ministry had therefore reached right into the household of Caesar (Philippians 4:22).
Paul’s second imprisonment, however, was markedly different. He was virtually cut off from all outside contact and kept chained in a dungeon (2 Timothy 1:16). He was probably held underground in the Mamertine Prison, adjacent to the Roman forum, in a small, dark, bare stone dungeon whose only entrance was a hole in the ceiling scarcely large enough for one person to pass through. The dungeon itself is not large; about half the size of a small one-car garage. Yet it was sometimes used to hold as many as forty prisoners. The discomfort, the dark, the stench, and the misery were almost unbearable.
That dungeon still exists, and I have been in it. The stifling, claustrophobic confines of that dark hole are eerie and depressing even today. It was there (or in a dungeon just like it) that Paul spent the final days of his life.
There is no reliable record of Paul’s execution, but he obviously knew the end of his life was imminent when he wrote his second epistle to Timothy. Evidently he had already been tried, convicted, and condemned for preaching Christ, and perhaps the day of his execution was already scheduled. He wrote to Timothy, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6).
Naturally, there are notes of profound sadness in Paul’s final epistle. But its dominant theme is triumph, not defeat. Paul wrote that last letter to Timothy to encourage the young pastor to be bold and courageous and to continue following the example he had learned from his apostolic mentor. Far from writing a concession of failure, Paul sounds a clarion note of victory: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Facing his own imminent martyrdom, Paul had no fear, no despondency, and no desire to stay in this world. He longed to be with Christ and eagerly anticipated the reward He would receive in the next world. Therefore, as he reviewed the course of his life, he expressed no regret, no sense of unfulfillment, and no feeling of incompleteness. There was not the smallest duty left undone. He had finished the work the Lord gave him to do, just as in Acts 20:24 he had hoped and prayed he would do: “so that I may finish my race with joy.”
Paul measured his own success as a leader, as an apostle, and as a Christian by a single criterion: He had “kept the faith”—meaning both that he had remained faithful to Christ and that he had kept the message of Christ’s gospel intact, just as he had received it. He had proclaimed the Word of God faithfully and fearlessly. And now he was passing the baton to Timothy and to others, who would be “able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Therefore, Paul faced his own death with a triumphant spirit and with a deep sense of joy. He had seen the grace of God accomplish all that God designed in him and through him, and now he was ready to meet Christ face-to-face

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This is the story of the blacksmith who gave his heart to Jesus:

Though living a more godly life, still he was not prospering materially. In fact, it seems that from the time of his conversion more trouble, affliction and loss were sustained than ever before. Everything seemed to be going wrong. One day a friend who was not a Christian stopped by to talk to him awhile. Sympathizing with him in some of his trials, the friend said, “It seems strange to me that so much affliction should pass over you just at the time when you have become an earnest Christian. Of course, I don’t want to weaken your faith in God or anything like that. But here you are, with God’s help and guidance, and yet things seem to be getting steadily worse, I can’t help wondering why that is.”
The blacksmith did not answer immediately, and it was evident that he had thought the same question before. But finally, he said, “You see here the raw iron  which I have to make into horse’s shoes. You know what I do with it? I take a piece and heat it in the fire until it is red, almost white with the heat. Then I hammer it unmercifully to shape it as I know it should be shaped. Then I plunge it into a pail of cold water to temper it. Then I heat it again and hammer it some more. And this I do until it is finished.” “But sometimes I find a piece of iron that won’t stand up under this treatment. The heat and the hammering and the cold water are too much for it. I don’t know why it fails in the process, but I know it will never make a good horse’s shoe.”
He pointed to a heap of scrap iron that was near the door of his shop. “When I get a piece that cannot take the shape and temper, I throw it out on the scrap heap. It will never be good for anything.” He went on, “I know that God has been holding me in the fires of affliction and I have felt His hammer upon me. But I don’t mind, if only He can bring me to what I should be. And so, in all these hard things my prayer is simply this: “Try me in any way you wish, Lord, only don’t throw me on the scrap heap.”

Author unknown, vita Bernie Koerselmon
Pulpit Helps
Published by AMG Publishers
Chattanooga, TN 37421

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By John Piper

When calamity brings horrific death and suffering, as in Beslan, Russia, we do not honor the dead or the dignity of human beings by making doubt the measure of their worth. But the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, seems to think otherwise. His interview on the BBC was sensitive and caring, but its ending was disheartening. He said that the Beslan catastrophe caused his faith to tremble. That is good. We should tremble indeed in a world so ripe for judgment, where we know our own sins keenly. But he went further and said something that should dismay us when we consider his rank and influence as a leader of Christ’s people. “When you see the depth of energy that people can put into such evil, then . . . there is a flicker, there is a doubt. It would be inhuman, I think, not to react in that way.”
I find that statement, coming from the shepherd of millions of Anglicans, to be incredible. Perhaps it was a slip. If so, I am happy that this article does not apply to the Archbishop. But it is likely that for many, it would be no slip. Many would indeed say what the Archbishop implied: To be humane in the face of great suffering one must at least have a flicker of doubt toward God! This statement is symptomatic not of deep compassion, but of deep confusion—or worse, unbelief. Against this fragile vision of God’s goodness and power, may there rise from millions of Christ’s people a sad and sorrowing, “Not so, Reverend Williams! Not so.”
It does not belittle people or make light of their pain when we hold fast to God’s power and goodness while we hold out our hand to the suffering in help and prayer. I would venture to say that the most compassionate and merciful saints in history have sacrificed themselves for the suffering, precisely because their faith in God’s sovereign goodness was unshakable. They would have found the Archbishop’s final comment unintelligible.
Nor do we learn such counsel from Jesus. Never, never did he doubt the goodness or power of his Father while confronting the worst evils in the universe. And this did not make him “inhuman.” It made him perfectly human. His combination of compassion for people and confidence in God is the call on our lives for how to respond to suffering. It is unthinkable that Jesus would make doubt in his Father the test of compassion for suffering Russians.
Never did he teach us, or even hint, that we should doubt the reality of God’s goodness and power when facing unspeakable evil. When people confronted him with the slaughter of the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices, he spoke very differently from the Archbishop: “He answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:2-3).

For those who are saturated and shaped by all the words and ways of Jesus, not only does horrific evil today not bring doubt of God, it does not even bring surprise. Jesus labored to help us be ready for the worst of evils, even Islamic terrorists. He taught us that there would be “terrors” (an amazingly relevant word for what “terrorists” cause—Luke 21:11). He said that there would be terrible famines and plagues. Betrayal would become common and even parents would hand over children, “and some of you they will put to death” (Luke 21:16). People will be “fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world” (Luke 21:28). And, perhaps most relevant of all in this day of religious terrorism, Jesus said, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).

But in spite of all this evil and suffering, Jesus did not even remotely suggest that we should have a flicker of doubt toward the goodness and sovereignty of God, or that somehow it would be less humane to hold fast to God with unshakable hope and undoubting faith. Rather Jesus did the opposite. He strove to help us maintain faith in the face of horrifying evil: “When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31). This is not the suggestion of doubt, but the certainty of hope. Again he says that when you see these unspeakable evils happening around you, you should “raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:38). This is not a time for weakening faith, but unwavering hope.
The gift that followers of Christ bring to the suffering world is not the empathy of doubt, but the power of hope. We do not join the world in their anger at God or their questioning of his existence or justice or mercy. The very thing that survivors of suffering need most is hope in God through Jesus Christ. This will not be given by those who make its uncertainty the measure of our compassion. It is unbiblical and unmerciful to say that what suffering people need most must be doubted in order to prove our love for them.
By John Piper. September 8, 2004
© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

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