Organized Religion

Many of us live in highly organized business/industrial societies. Many churches in such societies have not escaped the influence of corporate organization. How one functions as an employer/employee in the business/industrial world, often determines how he views the church of our Lord. When the entire membership lives in such a society, it is almost natural for them to behave corporately. The extreme of this invasion of worldly organizationalism among the disciples of Jesus is the conclusion that if one is not a part of the “corporately organized religion,” then he is outside the religious “church loop,” or simply a rebel from within.

We must not assume that the stifling efforts of organized religion is something new.   The same religious environment prevailed during the era when the Son of God become flesh in order to reveal an organic movement of people outside the function of organized religion. Jesus did not come to establish an institution.   He came to empower individuals in their faith. His focus was on people (church), not organizational structures. He thus came to energize an organism of believers to function throughout the world.

When Jesus came in the fullness of time to begin an organic body (His church) in the midst of a very structured religious organization (Judaism), from the very beginning His ministry was in constant conflict with the authorities of the religious establishment (See Matthew 16:18,19). The establishment called His movement a “sect” simply because His disciples did not conform to the norm that defined the existing religious organization of the day (See Acts 24:5). The books of Matthew through John explain in detail the conflict between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus as He initiated the organic function of His disciples. The book of Acts not only explains the organic function of His body of believers, but also the conflict that the Jewish religious leadership continued to have with what they considered a virus in their organized religion. Organized religion always considers organic function an infectious virus simply because those who function organically are not controlled by the earthly authorities of the organization.

Organized religion is defined by the existence of rulers and lords on earth. In order to prevent His organism from becoming an organization, Jesus said that there would be no rulers and lords among His disciples.   The function of the disciples would be as an organic body of servants (See Mark 10:42,43). An organization (institution) exists because there is a chain of authority on earth by men who seek to maintain the structure of an organization. There is thus pressure from these “powers that be” that everyone who claims to be a part of the organization must conform to their authority structures. Membership in the organization is required, and some sort of attendance to the meetings of the organization are required in order to be considered loyal (faithful) to “the powers that be.” Budgets and spreadsheets are necessary in order to disburse the income that comes into the common “treasury” of the organization.   In order that the leadership of the organized religion is perpetuated, diplomas and degrees that hang on the leaders’ office walls, which diplomas and degrees were earned at the accepted Bible training schools of the organization. A specific name is used by the organization in order that members easily identify the groups who are in fellowship with the organization worldwide.

Inherent in any organized religion (institution) is a spirit of sectarianism, for each organized group of a worldwide network of groups must in some way maintain their identity as unique from all other religious organizations. Since competition for members is inherent in sectarianism, a unique name for the religious organization is thus necessary in order to identify the particular organization to which members give allegiance.   The validation of one’s relationship with Jesus is thus defined by one’s faithful allegiance to the religious organization of which he professes membership. It is thus incumbent on the accepted leaders of the institutional church to preserve the identity of their church by teaching the mandates of the organization that identifies its uniqueness. It is for this reason, that the preachers of the organized church are sanctioned with either “pastoral licenses,” diplomas or degrees from the accepted Bible schools of the religious organizations to which each particular group gives allegiance. Members are subsequently subjected to the sanctioned leaders by referring to them as “pastor,” “reverend,” “bishop,” etc. Authority is relinquished to the leadership by the membership, and by doing such the members have established a head of each local church, or the universal church, depending on how worldwide the organized church seeks to be networked according to Catholic Church organization of hierarchies.

In one statement of Holy Scripture the organized church is deemed contrary to the organic function of the universal membership of the body of Christ.

“. . . from whom [Christ] the whole body being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working of each part, causes growth of the body to the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).

The words “every” and “each” assign individual ownership of the members of the body to one another. There can be no “eyes” or “feet” functioning separately or in control of the universal body. “If the foot says, ‘Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body . . .,’” then how would the whole body function as one body (1 Corinthians 12:15)? We must remember that “God has set the members, each one of them in the body, just as He has desired” (1 Corinthians 12:18). No man or group of men have the authority to set any part of the body above any other part of the body. The function of the body, therefore, is the business of Jesus as He directs the body from heaven through the authority of His word on earth (John 12:48; Romans 10:17). Therefore, there need be no rulers and lords on earth to command the organic function of the body. Upon the foundation of love, each part of the body is energized to function equally and in unity with all parts of the body (See John 13:34,35). No authorities on earth are needed.

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Research:

Biblical Research Library

www.africainternational.org

Book 47: Fellowship and Unity of the Organic Body

Book 55: Organic Function of the Body of Christ

 

Hydrophobia

We once concluded with the outpouring of our heart to an electric audience of attentive Bible lovers. After the lesson, one seemingly apprehensive, but convicted believer, stood up and valiantly said, “I want to be baptized right now!”

So after initial preparations for the event, both of us proceeded down into the water.   There was a sense of nervous apprehension in the willing subject who had declared his intentions to follow Jesus.   He was quite nervous with his first step into the water. As the subject was in the process of being laid back into the water in order to be immersed, arms and legs went flinging everywhere. Hands and feet grabbed after everything that was above water.   He was hydrophobic (terrified of water). After some reassuring persuasion, the self-confessed hydrophobic believer fought against his fears.   Nevertheless, we almost both went down into the water, he wide-eyed and struggling, and me not seeking to be rebaptized. What was so encouraging was that he overcame his fear of water in order to follow Jesus into the Jordan River.   He had not informed us before of his phobia. However, regardless of his phobia of water, he was determined to be baptized as Jesus had commanded.   After the experience, no one in the attentive audience let him pass without hugs and encouragement for his courage to overcome his fear of water in order to obey the gospel.

It is unfortunate today that there are thousands of “believers” who claim to be followers (disciples) of Jesus, but they do not have the courage to overcome their hydrophobia. They claim to be followers of Jesus, but they will not follow Him to Aenon where there was much water into which they would be immersed after the example of Jesus (John 3:23). They will not follow Jesus by obedience to His instructions to be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16). And thus, they are not willing to be “of Christ” by baptism into His name (1 Corinthians 1:12,13).

Paul said, “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).   But there are hydrophobics today who will not follow Paul to the grave of water as he imitated Christ by following Him (Acts 22:16). Some hydrophobics today are so afraid of the water that they would never even “follow the crowd” of those who followed Peter’s instructions on the day of Pentecost to be “baptized for remission of sins’” (Acts 2:38). A crowd of about 3,000 men and women followed Peter’s instructions on that day to be immersed for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:41).   They followed his instructions right into and out of the water in obedience to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (See Romans 6:3-6). We are sure there are some who could not say as the Ethiopian eunuch, “See, here is water! What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Instead, some religious hydrophobics would say, “See, here is water! Get me out of here!”

Too many seem to forget that when a pagan idolater responded to what a Christian believed in the first century, he was not initially told to either repent or confess that Jesus was the Christ and Son of Christ. He was not initially informed about baptism. Pagan unbelievers were initially told what Paul said to the idolatrous Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you and your household will be saved.” (Acts 16:31). Idolatrous unbelievers had to first believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and then they were taught the rest of the story. Paul and Silas continued with the rest of the story to the Philippian jailor by speaking to him “the word of the Lord.” (Acts 16:32). And the result? “And immediately he [the jailor] was baptized, he and all his household.” (Acts 16:33). One must first believe in Jesus, and then obedience to the rest of the story will follow. And the rest of the story involves repentance and washing away of sins in the waters of baptism.

The entire gospel according to John was written that the idolatrous unbelievers to whom John wrote “might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing” they might have life through His name (John 20:31). In his book, John was not writing to believers.   He was writing to idolatrous unbelievers who knew nothing or little about the life and ministry of Jesus, especially the fact that Jesus was the Word (John 1:1-14), the Son of God who came down out of heaven for the salvation of man (John 3:13).   Idolatrous unbelievers must first, as the eunuch and idolatrous jailor, believe that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God. After belief, that which was necessary to be born again would come (John 3:3-5).

It is highly unfortunate that so many throughout the religious world have twisted the gospel of John out of John’s purpose for which he wrote the book. His message, that was only to be the beginning of the message of the gospel, has been made the conclusion. We must not forget, however, that belief is only the beginning of one’s journey to do all that God requires of each individual in order to be saved. If one stops at the beginning, then no obedient repentance will occur (Luke 13:3). There will be no confession that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God (Romans 10:9).   There will be no baptism into Christ (Galatians 3:26-29).

When those on the day of Pentecost believed that they had crucified the Lord and Christ, they said to the apostles, “Men and brethren, what will we do?” (Acts 2:37).   The apostles did not leave them at belief by telling them that they were saved by “belief only.” Instead of allowing them to remain lost in a “state of belief,” Peter instructed that they follow through with their belief. We read the gospel according to John in order to believe that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God. We read the book of Acts to find out where to go from belief.   Belief in the New Testament is more than a smile on one’s face, or a warm feeling. It is an inward activation to follow Jesus to the Jordan River in order to be immersed for the remission of all past sins. Once they believe, true believers will overcome their hydrophobia by asking, “Where is the water?”

Research:   BAPTISM: A FAITH RESPONSE TO THE CROSS,   www.africainternational.org

 

Fellow Workers

There are fundamental concepts in the Scriptures concerning relationships that are often glaringly contrary to the accepted behavioral norms of the world in which we live. One of these Spirit-inspired norms is critical in defining how Christians are to relate with one another as the organic body of Christ. This is a relational norm is often the most violated mandate of all Scripture.   Jesus explained, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them.   And their great ones exercise authority over them. But it will not be so among you (Mark 10:42,43). No interpretation need be exercised to understand what Jesus meant in this statement. Nevertheless, this very clear principle in reference to relationships is a principle that is often ignored by those who seek to rule over their fellow disciples.   When it is ignored, the relationship that disciples must maintain with one another becomes very dysfunctional.

In order to explain the relational servitude by which His disciples were to function as His body, Jesus illustrated His teaching on relationships with the practice of slavery that was a common socioeconomic structure of the Roman Empire.   Jesus used the relationship of slaves (bondservants) with one another to define the relationship that Christians, as fellow slaves, would function with one another in His kingdom. Slaves were FELLOW bondservants (or, servants) (Matthew 18:28-35; 24:45-51). Jesus explained that the disciples’ relationships with one another must be as fellow slaves. They understood the slavery of the Roman Empire, and thus, they understood what Jesus meant when He spoke of them as fellow slaves of one another (Mark 10:44,45; see John 11:16). Being “fellow” meant that no disciple was given the right to have authority over any other disciple. Before His departure from them, therefore, Jesus reminded His disciples that all authority among all His fellow bondservants would always remain with Him (Matthew 28:18). Discipleship, therefore, meant serving one another as fellow workers in Christ, not being in positions of authority among slaves.

After the ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit took over in defining the relational function that the disciples had with one another. The Spirit first focused on the reason for the disciples’ relationship as fellow members of the body. They were “fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), and thus, “fellow heirs of the same body” (Ephesians 3:6). The Gentiles were “fellow citizens” in the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). Now if the disciples were called to be “fellows” in reference to their salvation and kingdom citizenship, then, as Jesus had previously stated, there were to be no lords or rulers among them. The definition of disciples being “fellows” in their relationship with one another dismisses the possibility that one “fellow” should rise up over his other “fellows” in Christ. There are no bosses among fellow heirs.

For example, Paul stated in reference to Andronicus and Junia, that they were his “fellow prisoners who are notable among the apostles” (Romans 16:7).   Being “notable” does not mean being exalted with authority over the apostles. They were fellow prisoners “among,” but not over one another in the kingdom. Aristarchus and Epaphras were likewise fellow prisoners with Paul in Rome (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 23).   So there are no lords or rulers among fellow prisoners.

“Fellow” means that we equally share in the same thing. Christians equally share together as heirs with Christ. If required, they equally share together as prisoners for Christ. They equally share together as citizens of the kingdom. And thus, they equally share together as “fellow bondservants” in their organic function as members of the body (Colossians 1:7).

Herein is the definition of the disciples’ relationship with one another as members of the body of Christ. The absence of lords and rulers among the disciples means that there is an equality among fellow citizens. Disciples cannot equally share as fellow workers if some “fellows” are designated with authority over their fellow disciples. As soon as one of the “fellows” assumes authority over his fellows in Christ, then the one who assumes authority has made his fellow bondservants his employees. In his assumption of authority, therefore, he has denied the fellowship of equality among the disciples (See 3 John 9,10).

Timothy was a fellow worker with Paul, though Paul was not a boss over Timothy (Romans 16:21). Paul would not rule over the faith of the Corinthians, but reminded them that he was a fellow worker with them (2 Corinthians 1:24). Titus was a partner and fellow worker with Paul (2 Corinthians 8:23). The two sisters, Euodia and Syntyche, were also fellow workers with Paul (Philippians 4:3). In their relationships with one another, the disciples in the New Testament were identified to be fellow workers, or servants (See Philemon 1,24; 3 John 8; Revelation 6:11). Being fellow workers meant that no one disciple had any authority over any other disciple.

This is the secret to the dynamic function of the body of Christ. If there are no lords or rulers among fellow members, then each fellow member must take ownership of his or her responsibility to be a functioning member in the body. All members must assume their responsibility to function equally, though equality does not mean in same way. We have different gifts (1 Corinthians 12:12-32). With the control and authority of only one Head, each fellow member assumes his or her role to function with his or her gift that was granted to them by the Head in order that the body function. Dysfunctions in the body come when members refuse to function as fellow parts of the body (See Ephesians 4:7,8,11-16).

There is no competition for power among equal fellow workers. If Paul had authority over Apollos, he, on one occasion, could have commanded him to go to Corinth (1 Corinthian 16:12). Since Apollos did not go when Paul requested, Apollos was not sinning against some apostolic authority that was supposedly invested in Paul. When Paul and Barnabas disagreed over taking John Mark on the second mission journey, Barnabas was not rebelling against any apostolic authority of Paul (Acts 15:36-41).   Paul, Apollos and Barnabas were all fellow workers, and thus, neither of them had any authority over the other, and neither had any authority over the function of the church as a whole. And for this reason, each of these men assumed their responsibility to use their gifts to be functioning fellow workers in the body of Christ.

We live in a world of lords and rulers. Our social environment makes it quite difficult for some disciples to leave the business boardroom of the corporate world and function in equity as fellow workers among the disciples. The boss in the boardroom often wants to treat his fellow workers in the body as his employees. The CEO of his own business often seeks to be the president of the body of Christ.   Those invested with authority in government sometimes seek the same among the disciples. However, leaders among the members of the body do not lead with authority. The notable leaders among us do not “lord over those entrusted” to them, but function as “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). When disciples take ownership of their responsibility to function as fellow workers of the body, it is then that the body grows.

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Research:

Book 19:   Servant Leadership

Book 37:   One Lord With All Authority

Biblical Research Library

www.africainternational.org

 

 

 

Divine Conversation

     “If We do this thing, then Our action will come with many risks.”

      “I know, but Our very existence and nature necessitates that We act.”

      “That’s true. If We do not act, then Our lack of action will be the very denial of Our existence. Our existence as one eternal divine entity would not be a reality if we did not create beings who would be terminal in the presence of Our eternality. As there is no light without darkness, then there is no eternality with finality. If Our eternality must be evidenced by those who can miss out on eternity by not conforming to the nature of who We are, then Our eternality would be the only reality, and thus, have no definition.   How can We say that We have existed for all eternity if there never existed those who were not eternal, for eternality is defined by that which is not eternal.”

      “So We are all in agreement that We must create. But if We create, then that which We create must in some way emulate the essence, nature, and character of who We are. Those We bring into the realm of terminableness must be created with the possibility of becoming eternal in Our presence. If Our created ones cannot become as We are in existence, then there will be those who conclude that We do not exist as We are.   As the origin of that which is terminal, the terminal must have the possibility of eternality. If not, then We have left ourselves with the task of continually creating in order to reveal Our power to create. And if this were the case, then the created would conclude that their existence was only the result of some natural process of spontaneous generation.”

      “I know.   But creation comes with a risk.   If We do not take the risk, then We are an eternal anomaly without definition. Because of Our nature and being, therefore, it is necessary that We create. In creation of that which has the possibility of entering into eternity, the created must be given the freedom to make moral decisions—we must not create preprogrammed robots. If there were no risk in creating individuals who have the freedom to make moral choices, and thus have the possibility of eternality, then there would be no reason for creation. We would thus remain in eternity as We are, having not expressed Our love through creation.”

     “In order for those We create to emulate the true nature of who We are, then We are taking the risk that Our creation will go wrong. In fact, most of those we will allow to exist will take selfish control of the image after which We create them in order to make themselves, on their own volition, as We are.”

      “Yes, but it is a risk that is necessary. It is necessary in order to reveal to Our created ones that We are who We are in eternity. We must, therefore, plan the revelation of one of Us in a way that will evidence Our nature of love, and at the same time, offer them the possibility of eternality if they emulate in their lives Our nature of love. Since the risk of choice on the part of those We create infers the possibility of some exercising extreme hate, We must still take the risk of creating free-moral individuals. Unless those whom we create have the freedom to choose, they will never understand the extremity of Our love if they do not have the freedom to go extremely right or extremely wrong.”

      “So we must embed within their nature the instinct that their origin is extraterrestrial. After Our image they must be given an innate desire to search for Us in the terrestrial environment We will create for their temporary dwelling. In their search beyond themselves, some will conclude that there must be ‘something’ beyond their own existence. In their search, therefore, some will find Us. However, the fact that most will not discover Us in their search must not deter Us from creation. There will certainly be those whose search will not go beyond the limits of their imagination. Because these will not see beyond themselves, they will create in their imagination beings that are contrary to the very nature of who We are.”

      “Yes, those who create gods after their own earthly natures will go wrong. In fact, most of Our creation will go after the carnality of the environment that they create for themselves. Dominant individuals among them will rise up and dominate.   The instinctive nature We will place within them will be confused with their own carnality, and thus, they will seek to destroy their own kind. They will subsequently follow after the original rebellious one whom we will allow to roam among them for the purpose of destruction. Therefore, Our created beings will invent for themselves cults of death by which they would destroy their fellow man.”

     “But their religious cultures of death will manifest the extreme of Our culture of love by which We are identified. Their death cult will reveal that they have created a god after their own carnality and a religion that justifies their desires to dominate.”

      “The risk of freedom to choose comes with the possibility that Our creation will often throughout time turn on itself. Self-extermination will always be a possibility. However, if there are no extremes to the freedom of our creation, then there can be no final identity of who We are. If Our creation will follow the deceiver to the extreme of destroying themselves in the name of religion, then one of Us must reveal to humanity that We are not that way. We are an extreme culture of love, and thus, Our visitation among those whom We create must reveal Our love.”

      “We recognize that Our dilemma is that We must create because We are love.   Nevertheless, We must allow hate to exist in order that those who choose to be as We are, will understand that the environment in which they live cannot be their final destiny. Those who choose Us will be identified by the nature of who We are. The religions of hate and death that are invented by the carnally-minded will give the honest searcher the opportunity to conclude that We exist, and that Our existence is based on love, for We created because of love.”

      “In order for those who love to understand that We have everything under control, We must reveal to them that before We spoke one atom into existence, We had a plan to bring them out of their finite environment into an infinite existence of that which We are.”

      “Therefore,” spoke the Father, “we all agree that when We utter the words, ‘Let there be …,’ one of Us must have already volunteered by saying, ‘I will go.’”  

      “I will volunteer,” agreed the Son.

      “So We all agree,” repeated the Father.

      “Let the beginning begin,” replied the Spirit.

           

Alienated Urbanites

On wooden pews this side of comfort, we settled into an old “church building” that was built two hundred years before. The old Dutch architecture of the premises glowed with antiquity and reverence.   With the usual “church building culture” of yesteryear, the ornate pulpit was elevated so high that we assumed the preacher had to take oxygen in order to complete a full sermon. The hard and smooth worn wooden pews made spectators out of all of us as we quietly listened to expositions of Scripture resonate from the speaker of the hour. We sensed coolness in the atmosphere that was mixed with orthodoxy.   Nevertheless, we breathed an air of solemnity as we witnessed a tear here and there trickle down various cheeks.   And then we erroneously concluded, “This religion is cold and dead, and the spectators have no relationships with one another.”

We were cold dead wrong. Our judgment came two centuries too late. When the old church house was built two centuries before, the people were as neighborly as neighbors could be. It was a relational era in history when “church buildings” were actually meant to be only “places of community worship.” They were not designed to be four-walled factories to manufacture superficial relationships, nor the site of religious concerts.

We grew up as the last remnants of this type of rural neighborly culture in America.   When holidays came around, we remember when the entire rural community would come together to celebrate and commune.   When there was a school function, all the people in the region were present. Everyone! Well . . . almost everyone. (There was John who lived alone by himself down the road in an old debilitated shack.   We called him a “hermit” because he wanted to be left to himself. But in the entire farming community of the York District of Stafford Country of Kansas, there was only John who wanted to be alone. No church-house assembly with others would have changed John from being a hermit.)

Back in those days, when Sunday morning came, no one had any thought of allowing different church meetings to separate us as a community simply because we all shuttled ourselves off to sit on pews in different premises throughout the area.   We were still a connected community.   The premises where we all sat on Sunday were constructed for Bible teaching and worship of God. Places of worship were never constructed in an effort to establish relationships between the attendees of any particular community.   The people were already community with relationships before they showed up at the premises of their respective “church.” Communities were “one another” before they came together to worship with one another.

But the modern urban culture has changed us. Modern metropolitan existence has alienated us from one another as citizens.   In our efforts to chase money in the urban business world, community relationships are sacrificed for job promotions. In rushing from one appointment to another, we simply bypass one another. The consequence of our alienation is that the “hour of worship” on Sunday morning has become an effort to rewire our relationships. We seek to inject some relational experience into ourselves in order that a temporary and superficial connection sustain us until the next meeting. Some churches use Wednesday nights to check the wiring unless our relationships become frayed before Sunday. Our wiring is simply disconnected with too many “closing prayers.”

Ever hear the statement, “I went to that church and no one greeted me.” The one making such a statement “went to church” with the wrong expectations. Spectator assemblies of disconnected people do not establish relationships. The one who has made such a statement usually had few relationships before he or she showed up at the doors of the sanctuary.   Those who have strong relationships with others do not show up at the assembly in order to “get something.”   They show up to give worship to God.   If we seek to establish “one another relationships” at an assembly where worship is to be poured out, then we are out of touch with those with whom we should already have a relationship.   Assemblies of the saints were never intended to establish relationships. They exist because relationships already existed. The early saints were together daily because they already had a relationship with one another because their common obedience to the gospel (Acts 2:46). They were not together in order to establish relationships with one another. For this reason, it is never the prime objective of the cross-cleansed community of God to construct cathedrals where relationships are to be established.

And in the context of this subject, Hebrews 10:24,25 has since the beginning of the alienated community been twisted out of its historical relational context. The entire context of the Hebrew letter is about maintaining a vertical relationship with Jesus who is the Son of God and our high priest. The context of 10:24,25 is that those who have this vertical relationship with Him should already be in a horizontal relationship with one another. When we take our community relationships with one another that we already have outside our assemblies, and bring such into our assemblies, then expression love is manifested for one another. The connected must then determine in assembly how their love for one another is to go into action through good works in our communities.

There is nothing about legalities in a genuine relationship that is built on love. If our community as “church” exists because we are pushed together by a legal command, then the premises in which we assemble becomes cold and orthodox. Our assembly becomes theatrical. We will get nothing out of being with one another if we are legally driven to one another. But if we are drawn to one another through love, then regardless of the premises, we will explode into worship of the One who shed blood to make us one united body. Physical premises then become irrelevant to our assemblies.   They are convenient, but they are not the foundation upon which we establish our community with one another as the children of God. It is for this reason that the saints who meet under a tree have as much a relationship with one another as those who meet in an air-conditioned/heated orthodox cathedral. Places and premises mean nothing in reference to the “peculiar” people who are precious in the heart of the Prince of Peace who poured out His blood for them. When we are connected with one another outside our assemblies, then our worship, as Jesus explained, can take place anywhere and at any time (John 4:1-38).

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Reading:

www.africainternational.org

Biblical Research Library

Book 35:   Worship God

Book 36:   Worship Freely

Book 43:   Exercising Sobriety & Self-Control

 

 

 

 

Frustrated Discipleship

The problem with experiential religion is that it does not challenge us to change our behavior because we validate our religiosity with the experiences of our lives, particularly our assemblies with others who are of a similar belief. We thus live as frustrated disciples who have a difficult time in directing our behavior according to the instructions of the word of God.

The primary problem is that the experientialist is seeking faith-confirming assemblies that conform to his narcissistic (self-centered) psychology. He is not looking for the God of the Bible who is seeking true worshipers who would come to Him on His terms (See John 4:24).   And in particular, he is not seeking a God who gives commands and demands obedience.

If one uses the word “boring” in reference to any assembled worship of God, then the bored should know that they are seeking an assembly that pleases themselves.   Such narcissistic “worship” could not be further from the true worship that Abraham experienced with his family in his wanderings, and David with his sheep in quiet meadows.

When our assemblies must be choreographed in order that we not become bored, then we can be assured of one specific truth: We are focusing on what we want, and thus we have become immune to what God instructs us through His word. In satisfying our experiential desires, we personally push God and His word away in our efforts to create a “worship” that awakens the spiritual deadness of unchanged lives. God’s word, therefore, becomes peripheral to our assemblies, for our faith is validated by our self-imposed emotional experiences we idolize in our assemblies. The experientialist can continued with an unchanged life in walking away from an exciting assembly.   But those who are legally dead spiritually, and do the same. Dead legalism experiential assemblies have one thing in common: Both reasons for assembly of the legalist and the experientialist allow the adherents to continue unholy living outside the “hour of worship.” With the switch of a “closing prayer,” both go on their way, having been justified by either the legal performance or experiential ecstasy of the assembly.

Adherents of experiential religion can arrive at the altar on Sunday morning with a drunken hangover, but still feel justified before their god if they have an emotionally driven experience in assembly. The legalist does the same in a different way. As long as legalities have been performed, the attendee who may be living in adultery before the assembly has justified himself to go home and continue the same adulterous relationship after the assembly. The arguing of the husband and wife before the “opening prayer,” continues on the way home after the “closing prayer.”   The religious experientialists has a particular problem with such “double tongued” religiosity. As long as the experientialist can validate a superficial spiritual relationship with the god he has created in his mind, which god he supposes condones an unrighteous life-style, then no change in life is necessary. This is the spirit of idolatry. To the experientialist the Holy Spirit writes: “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, IS A LIAR. And the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4). But to the legalist, the Holy Spirit writes: “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). The experientialist seeks to be a disciple by minimizing, or being ignorant of, the commandments of God after the “opening prayer” and before the “closing prayer,” while the legalist seeks to be legally correct in his assemblies while minimizing or ignoring the needs of his brother before the “opening prayer” and after the “closing prayer.”

In reference to discipleship, experiential religionists have a particular problem in being led by a false validation of faith. Since the commandments of God are minimized as the foundation of faith for the experientialist, he then must find something to take the place of his Bible (the commandments of God). He thus substitutes Baal for Bible. The spirit of idolatry takes over. The imagined and exciting god who moves the experientialist to hysteria in assembly becomes the validation of his religiosity in life. Every Sunday experience is an event to resurrect the “emotional idol” that validates one’s faith until the idol is raised again the following Sunday.

John 6 is a record of time of truth in the ministry of Jesus. When people could no longer “experience” the free handouts of fish and bread, they left Jesus (John 6:64-66). The experience of filling bellies with fish and bread will sustain a physical life, but it takes the words of Jesus to produce and sustain eternal life (John 6:63,68; Romans 10:17). But many of the people who wanted to be disciples could not handle the words. They thus turned away from Jesus (John 6:66).

In their carnality, some of the Corinthians made the experience of tongues and prophecy the center-of-reference for their assemblies (1 Corinthians 14). They were so drawn to the experiences, that confusion characterized their assemblies. The unbeliever who might visit their assemblies, Paul wrote, had enough sense to conclude that they had all gone mad in their narcissistic assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:23).

We must never forget that it takes commandments, not experiential concerts, to draw us closer to the One who can preserve us for eternity. Idolatry is defined as something outside us that is used to spark an emotional response within us. Worship is defined as a spirit of gratitude within us that pours out thanksgiving to the God in whom we live, move and have our being. Grateful hearts need no outside stimulus to worship.   If our assembled worship is diminished when the electrical power goes out, then we know we have created an idol.   Failure to pay the electricity bill may reveal that one has created an idol that must be plugged in before it can be set up as Nebuchadnezzar’s great idol, and come alive and be played before the people. Sometimes it is best to fall into the company of God-tamed lions than to bow down before the idols of men (See Daniel 3).

Continued research:

Experiential Religion vs Word-Based Faith

Book 44, Biblical Research Library

www.africainternational.org

 

 

 

 

Experiential Religion

Not long ago we were lounging in the humble house of one who was an “ex-preacher” of a particular urban church. There too across the room was the brother-in-law who was the ex-band leader of the same group. These two men told us a very intriguing and relevant story that could be repeated many times over throughout Christendom today.

In the hands of our aged preacher friend was an old dilapidated and cherished Bible that was inscribed with laborious marginal notes that evidenced many faithful years of diligent Bible study. His brother-in-law likewise clutched the Sacred Volume that also revealed the same evidence of a sincere love of God’s word. These two “exes” revealed to us a misguided journey in their ministry where they confessed that they in the past had made a wrong turn in their leadership that lead to their demise.

As church leaders in the changing times of the postmodern urban church in which they ministered, they explained that the young people started leaving “their church.”   They were going over to neighboring altars where prophets and bands were theatrically entertaining on stages with ear-piercing concerts and performances that led the people into a rapturous hysteria that would equal those of the Ephesian temple of Diana. Our two discouraged hosts explained that the experiential younger generation of “their church” had become bored with Bible preaching and study. With itching ears, they explained, the youth were drawn to the experiential assemblies that neighboring temples offered. The youth were thus leaving what they considered a “worship” from which they “got nothing” and was boring, and going to an experiential assembly where their narcissistic personalities could be nourished with the noise of a modern-day religious concert.

When the flight began, the preacher and his brother-in-law explained that they said to themselves, “We will do likewise in order to retain our young people.” So the brother-in-law started a Sunday morning concert that would appease the ears of an experiential generation who sought an outward stimulus to generate an inward response. He and his band friends thus organized and commenced to play their hearts out before a people who had become “bored” with Bible.   Their instrumental play went from background to foreground as they turned up the amplifier to generate some emotional response from the temple attendees. After the theatrical concert was over, the preacher stood up and vigorously preached the word of God the best he could.

But then they realized something that puzzled both of them. The young people were still leaving. So they asked the young people what the problem was. The answer shocked the two leaders. “We love the band,” the youth responded, “but we are not so much for the boring Bible sermon that follows.”

Eventually, the preacher who loved his Bible, with his brother-in-law, who loved the same, realized the futility of their efforts to compete in the urban environment of neighboring temple concerts that drew great assemblies of young experiential religionists. But it was too late. Both of our belated leaders concluded that if this was the experiential road on which many temple religionists desired to continue today, then they must start over again. So there they both sat in their home together with their wives, families and Bibles. It was there that they sought to start again a solemn assembly of worship of the one true and living God, who, without the need of any hearing aids, seeks to be worshiped reverently in spirit with focus on His revealed truth.

Not long after another preacher in our area recently called, and then related to us the same story over a cup of coffee. “The young people want to come together to jump up and down in experiential praise,” he related, “but they could care less for the preaching of the word of God.” There was frustration in his voice when he said, “I’m fed up with it. I want to start over with a group who truly loves to study and teach the word of God.”

We are stunned as the following judgment of God seems to be continually repeated over and over again throughout history:

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge [of the word of God], I will also reject you so that you will be no priest to Me. Seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children” (Hosea 4:6).

Continued research:

Experiential Religion vs Word-Based Faith

Book 44, Biblical Research Library

www.africainternational.org)

 

 

 

 

Theatrical Religion

Have you heard of the spectacle of religious showmanship that has been circulated throughout the world on the Internet? It seems that there was this bazaar religious reality show sometime in the past where several preachers climbed upon an altar and started jumping up and down on a sacrificed animal like a troop of drunken monkeys on steroids.   They were screaming at the top of their voices, which screaming eventually made their voices so hoarse that they could no longer speak. They then resorted to cutting themselves with knives in order to excite an entranced audience of onlookers. The preachers were so intense in their outlandish performance that blood gushed from their severed veins and was strewn on the audience, many of whom were likewise stirred into an hypnotic frenzy of uncontrollable emotionality.   It was a display of religious nonsense.   Some in the audience were moved to uncontrollable rolling on the ground. Some were crying out at the top of their voices. Others just fell to the ground as stunned mummies because of what they saw in the behavior of the preachers. They laid there emotionally paralyzed in the exhaustion of a semiconscious stupor. We are sure you did not miss this hysterical display of reality religiosity that has gone viral throughout the world.

If you looked closely at this theatrical picture of a religious extravaganza—maybe somewhat embellished by our imagination of the account—you could notice that there was this one preacher seated off to the side by himself from the enraptured crowd.   He was calmly watching the outrageous behavior of the entire spectacle. He was unmoved by all the horrific experiential display of humans who were emotionality out of control in their fit of hysteria. After observing this psychotic and misguided religiosity for some time, do you know what he did? He mocked the theatrical preachers. He mocked them by chiding that they appeal more intensely to their god that they had created after their own imagination: “Cry aloud,” he mockingly chided, “for he is a god. Either he is meditating or he is busy or he is on a journey. Perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.”

We are sure you have read the account of this theatrical spectacle. If not, then you can download from the Internet the Bible book of 1 Kings that gives an historical account in chapter 18 of this bazaar event. It is interesting that this event has been circulated on the Internet for years, but it is seldom read by those who seek to lose themselves in their own ignorance of the word of God. 1 Kings 18 is an ancient record that reveals how long experiential religion has been with us. Theatrical religiosity is an obsession of misguided religionists who believe that their release from their struggles in life is a Sunday morning outburst of emotional unaccountability.   It is an obsessive behavior that we seek to move into our religion by justifying our biblical ignorance with the plagiarized word “worship” from the Bible. In our efforts to validate the being and behavior of a god we have created after our own experiences, we imagine a god in our minds whom we have subjected to sitting and listening to our obnoxious theatrical performances.

We thus create this idol god whom we would narcissistically worship, and whom we suppose would accept as worship our religious theatrics. We produce the most exotic and spiritually toxic assembly by which we reassure ourselves that such experiential events must exist every Sunday morning when we seek to “awaken our idol god from his sleep,” or call him back in our minds from a “journey” on which he may have gone. The more noise we can amplify, and the more rabid our emotionality can become, the more we dupe ourselves into believing that our hysterical extravaganza will call him up from the quietness of his sleep in order to give attention to our worshipful chaos. So we combine the deafening noise of a rock concert, plus the preachers’ rhythmic cheerleading cries, and then suppose that we have awakened our god out of his sleep in order to administer a spiritual placebo that will carry us through to the next Sunday extravaganza. It will be then that we will again proceed through the same theatrical ritual of jumping up and down on a vainly offered sacrifice while severing our emotional veins with unspiritual knives.

So you think we are being somewhat critical? You think we are mocking when we chide these theatrical religionists with the words, “Cry aloud, for you suppose he is a god! Maybe your god is asleep! Maybe he is on a journey!”? You are exactly right. We stand with Elijah, the prophet of God, the preacher who mocked the 450 Baal preachers in 1 Kings 18 who had lost their dignity before an audience of people whom they had led into the captivity of uncontrolled religious hysterics. These preachers had sacrificed the word of God for an experience of religious theatrics by which they thought they could conjure up the dead god they had created in their own minds. They presumed that their emotional hysteria on the stage of the altar would lead the people to believe in the nonsense of their misguided religiosity that was void of any knowledge of the Bible. The biblical record of this theatrical spectacle proves that nothing has changed among some religionists since the day Elijah challenged the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel almost three thousand years ago.

Research:

Book 44, Experiential Religion vs Word-Based Faith

Biblical Research Library

www.africainternational.org

 

Islam … And the rest of us

When discussing the subject of Islam, the “rest of us” is everyone but a Muslim. The Hindu, the Shinto, the Buddhist, and even the Christian, are included in the “rest of us.” The political Muslim seeks to make this clear so there will be no confusion concerning the teaching of the Quran and the implementation in society of its “constitution” (sharia law). We would like to think that all faiths (religions) are somewhat the same in reference to morals. In some areas this is true in reference to most basic morals. But this is not true in reference to the totality of the teaching of any particular faith, especially political Islam. For this reason, the political Muslim strives to help the “rest of us” understand the very nature of true Islam. The personal struggle of some Muslims to modernize Islam in order that they conform to being citizens with the “rest of us” in secular governments is somewhat difficult. Maybe the following will help the “rest of us” better understand the dilemma of the Muslim, and in particular the political Islamist:

  • In theology and practice, Islam encompasses the totality of the human experience. According to the Quran, there is no such thing as a separation between religion and state. For the Christian, the existence of a secular state is necessary, for in this separation, state never takes control of religion, and vice versa. When the Holy Spirit said to every Christian, “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), we understand that there is a difference between the state (“governing authorities”) and faith (religion).   When the Holy Spirit explained that the “governing authority” (state) was given the “sword” by God in order to prevent anarchy (Romans 13:4), Christians get the point. Being separate from the “governing authorities,” Christians do not have the authority of the “sword” to enforce their faith on others. But with the political Muslim, there is no separation between religion and state. And for this reason, political Muslims will perpetually be resistant to the existence of a secular state in which they would reside as citizens along with the “rest of us.”
  • In the beginning of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad was initially a war lord. In order to accomplish his “secular” ambitions in the Middle East in the early part of the seventh century, he mustered his adherents together both politically and theologically. Unlike Jesus Christ, Muhammad led a military conquest to acquire territory by preaching to his followers both his theology and political ambitions. He built a new state by capturing and holding a particular territory of land, making Mecca in Saudi Arabia the capital. In order to accomplish his political end, therefore, there could be no separation between the faith of the followers and his political ambitions. Thus state functioned through the implementation of sharia law (“civil law”).   For the political Muslim, therefore, sharia law must always exist in contrast to the governance of any people through secular (nonreligious) civil law. For the political Muslim, state and religion are one.
  • For Christians, Jesus was the Word who was revealed as God’s message (gospel) to man. As the bearer of the message (the good news of the Word), the Son of God was incarnate into the flesh of man (John 1:14). Eventually, the message of the gospel (good news) was recorded in words of men (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) in order that the message not be lost or distorted throughout history (See 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). But for the political Muslim, the very Arabic words of the Quran are the direct and literal communication of Allah to man. It is this communication, this written word, that is sacred. And since it is believed that this “incarnation” of Allah in the words of men came directly to Muhammad in Arabic, then the distribution of the true word can only be in Arabic. For the Christian, translations of the Bible can never change the message of the gospel.   But for the Muslim, translations of the Quran into other languages are always questionable, for the “true word” can never be exact in a translation. For Muslims, therefore, the text of the Quran in Arabic can never be dismissed, and must always be idolized as the “incarnation” of Allah.

Now here is the challenge for the political Muslim: Political Muslims can never settle for residence in a secular state wherein is guaranteed the freedom of all the religions of the “rest of us.”   As a state religion, Islam is the religion that establishes the constitution of the state, and thus, must govern the function of all other religions in a politically controlled Islamic state. And unless Islam becomes the sole politic of the state, forming its policies and determining the judgment of its courts (sharia law), then the political Muslim can never feel comfortable as a citizen with the “rest of us” in a secular state. Political Muslims, therefore, find it difficult to assimilate into the culture and society of a secular state. Their very existence as Muslims makes it difficult for them to accept the fact that they must simply join the “rest of us” in allowing a democratic government of elected authorities to maintain the sword of the state through secular civil laws.

Those Muslims who have modernized in a secular state, therefore, are not considered true Muslims by those political Muslims who are citizens of a supposedly true Islamic state.   In fact, political Muslims who are seeking to follow the Quran in its literal application, seek to make the modernized Muslims, who are living comfortably in a modern secular state, feel guilty about their modernized life-style. This is why some modernized Muslims in a secular state can be “radicalized” by a recruiting political Muslim who seeks to restore the life-style of a society that is trapped in poverty in the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of the Middle East. If one is made to feel guilty enough about going to a shopping center and fulfilling the material desires of the flesh, while his “brother” suffers in a struggle to survive in a hostile environment in the Middle East, then eventually he will take out his frustration on those who encourage him to indulge in fulfilling the desires of the flesh in a secular state.

If those of a secular state demand that a Muslim must assimilate into the culture and politic of a secular state, then we must understand that the modernized Muslim, with great struggle, must remove sharia law (his civil constitution) from this faith.   If in a secular state a Muslim stands up and brandishes the constitution of the secular state in which he lives, giving allegiance to it, then you can understand that with great sacrifice he has compromised a great deal of the authority of his faith (the Quran) by conforming to the demands of a secular state. As a part of the “rest of us” we would commend this commitment, but we also understand that those Muslims who seek to modernize with the rest of the world in order to maintain peace, are doing so with great sacrifice of some of the mandates (sharia law) of the Quran. And they are doing so by separating themselves from political Muslims who claim to have established again a true Islamic State.

We thus indeed commend those modernized Muslims in their efforts to convince the “rest of us” that they too do not want to go back into a “dark age” socioeconomic environment where there are no hospitals and modern medicine for their children when they are sick and nigh unto death. If the “rest of us” can understand this struggle of the modernized Muslim, then we can exercise a little more support, and less suspicion. They too want to live in a state where secular civil law guarantees the right of all citizens to discuss their religious beliefs in an environment where there is no fear of physical reprisals.

Suggested reading

Book 56

The World As It Is

Chapters 8-15

Biblical Research Library

Device Disconnection Disorder

I confess. I am self-diagnosed with occasional attacks of DDD (Device Disconnection Disorder). It is an electronic disorder that sometimes makes me socially disengage.   I am sitting here in front of my device (computer) communicating to you somewhere on the other side of the world.   OK, it’s great that I can do this, for we both know that we would never have any contact with one another whatsoever if it were not for our devices. However, you are there and I am here, both of us being non-threathened by any personal contact with one another, and thus, guarded in the sanctuary of our seclusion. The only contact that we have with one another is my statement in this Inscription, and possibly . . . I say possibly . . . your “like” or “amen” to what I am saying. So I welcome you to the Internet world of social reclusion wherein we both protect ourselves from any face-to-face engagement, thus risking rejection, if not some confrontation.   We are both secure in our “keyboard” relationship with one another.

Device Disconnection Disorder is becoming an increasing social phenomenon, if not relational dysfunction. CNN recently ran a focused documentary on young people in Japan who have quit school.   They quit school and confined themselves to a reclusive box (room) wherein their only contact with the personal world is through their devices (smartphones or computers). There are over a half million young people in Japan who have chosen reclusion over social integration. In CNN’s interview with one of these young teenagers, the response was, “I do not like personal engagements with others.” This teenager now represents what has become a social dysfunction of the real world in which we now live.

Has that which brought so many people into electronic contact with one another becoming the demon that is separating so many from personal encounters with one another?   Have our devices become social Trojan horses that discourage young people from learning the social skills of personal relational behavior?

This is not a story of fiction as I sit here in my reclusive cocoon and connect with you on the other side of the world through my device. The World Wide Web has become that Trojan horse embedded in our social “connection” to the point that we now justify ourselves to be isolated in our non-threatening quarters. In his extensive article entitled, Tyranny of the Mob, Joel Stein opened his recently released article in Time Magazine with the statement that “the web is a sociopath with Asperger’s” (Time, August 29, 2016). It is sociopathic without social values, and thus cultures our inability to socialize with one another.   According to Stein, and a choir of psychologists, our DDD has moved many into a dysfunctional relationship that if the battery runs down, or the electricity goes off, we are totally disenfranchised from one another. We are at the point that if a restaurant has no WiFi, we will not eat there. And horrors, if we drive down a road where we loose our connection.

The disconnected millions in society that now “enjoy” this “connected disconnection” through their devices has led them to what psychologists call “online disinhibition” (Ibid). Connectors through impersonal devices have allowed their personal inhibitions to explode on others through what is called trolling. Trolls are people, who in their anonymity and invisibility, relish online freedom in order to tweet out garbage on others, which garbage they would not spew out if they were a risk of their garbage being thrown back in their face in a personal encounter with the one on whom they spewed. Stein explained that trolls are “monsters who hide in darkness and threaten people” (Ibid). And if you don’t think that tweeting garbage is a present social dysfunction, then consider the arena of American politics that has been thrown into the quagmire of a media rubbish bin.

Christians dealt with this problem of humanity long before it was exemplified through the Internet via our devices. Back before devices it was called malicious gossip and slander. And the Holy Spirit had a corrective answer to this social dysfunction. His first remedy to correct unspiritual trolls was by command: “Do not speak evil one of another” (James 4:11). His second remedy was to draw the spiritual trolls out of their places of obscurity by mandating them to be in the presence of those with whom they might be tempted to troll: “And let us consider one another to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:24,25). You cannot be a “monster” who “hides in darkness” if you claim to be a Christian. Christianity is about face-to-face relationships.

Society has spent thousands of years in building social mores whereby individuals can in dignity relate with one another in their personal relationships.   Individuals who suffer from DDD are tempted to circumvent these social mores in a time of personal depression, rejection, and discouragement. We are thus tempted, through unspiritual tweets and comments, to project on others our misery. We find a placebo of relief by downing a few pills of criticism. If you discover that you have become an unspiritual troll suffering from DDD, our advice is to first render yourself to the above instructions of the Holy Spirit. Come out of your cave of criticism and find real people with whom you can connect face-to-face. We must be willing to forsake our devices in order to find real friends. We must not forsake our friends by confining our “relationships” to electronic connections. And on that advice, I will seek not to be a hypocrite. I will now leave my computer and the confines of my cocoon, and go find someone with whom I can do some face-to-face time over coffee. (I’ll leave my smartphone at home.)