Category Archives: Broken Religion

Result of Persistence

When we focus on historical studies of the early beginnings of Christianity, we would become discouraged if it were not for the result of what actually happened in the first century in reference to the growth of Christianity. There was tremendous opposition to Jesus and the preaching of the early disciples.   Satan used every tool of opposition that he had at his disposal. He used the religious leaders of the time to crucify, stone, slander and imprison the early messengers of the gospel. But the word of God prevailed. There was nothing that Satan could do to stop the work of Jesus to take the gospel into all the world.

In his efforts to oppose the preaching of the early disciples, it is interesting to note what the historian Luke said actually prevailed over all opposition that Satan could offer:

So the word of God increased. And the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly. And a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith (At 6:7).

When Christians today are persistent in teaching the word of God, then the number of disciples will multiply. It is interesting to note that the Holy Spirit, in this historical statement of Luke, focused on the increase of the word of God.   When messengers of the word persist in their efforts to plant the seed of the kingdom, the number of disciples will be multiplied. God’s word is so powerful when preached that it will bring to Jesus even those who lead in the onslaught of persecution against the word. If the disciples are vigilant and persistent, even the religious leaders will bow to the power of the word of God.

Teaching the word of God must become our customary behavior. “And Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (At 17:2). It was not that Paul taught the word of God when it was convenient, or when he had the opportunity. Many today are “convenient” teachers, that is, they teach the word of God only when an opportunity comes their way. But Paul, and the early disciples, took the initiative. They looked for gathered people who loved their Bibles. Paul once took the initiative to go to a “prayer meeting” where he “sat down and spoke to the women who had assembled” (At 16:13). The early disciples were aggressive to teach the word, not passive as the opportunity offered itself.   They were looking for places to teach the Bible.

We have found that the word of God will not increase in any area where Christians have become passive in their witness to the word. This is surely what happened in the city of Ephesus. The word of God increased significantly in the city in the early beginnings of the disciples’ teaching the word. Religious people even burned their deceptive religious books when they accepted the word of God (See At 19:19). But many years later when Jesus addressed the disciples in Ephesus, He said, “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love (Rv 2:4). They had maintained a great number of good works among themselves (Rv 2:2). Jesus had no complaint in this area. But they had lost their first love of teaching the word of God to others. They were great on works, but dead on the word. What disciples often do is content themselves in their good works, but there is no preaching of the word to the unbelievers. And works without the word is death.

Highly organized churches are often highly dead.   They have often organized themselves into neglecting that which produces fruit. They grow by attracting “converts” through their enthusiastic activity. But there is no emphasis on teaching the word of God. When a church is built on the enthusiastic activity of good works, without emphasis on faithfulness to the word of God, then the church becomes a social club of religionists who are afraid to focus on the word of God lest members be driven away by the commandments of God. If a church is built on those who have responded to the word of God, and then go to work for Jesus, there is never a fear among the leadership that members will be driven away when the word of God is taught. A church built on works is dead, whereas a church that is built on the word of God is alive.

The reason why the disciples increased in Ephesus in the early beginning was stated clearly by Luke in Acts 19:20: So the word of God grew mightily and prevailed.” It is the word of God that will prevail over lies, error and deception. It is the word of God that causes religionists to burn their religious books that are full of lies. Our good works may offer the opportunity to attract many to our group. But we must never forget that it is the word of God that leads us to prevail.   Deceived religionists burn their religious books of lies when they are confronted with the truth of the word of God.

The power is in the word of God, not in our person as disciples of Jesus. We must never forget that …

… the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hb 4:12).

When we teach the word of God, we must never forget that people are “… born again, not by perishable seed, but imperishable, by the word of God that lives and abides (1 Pt 1:23).   When this imperishable seed is planted in the hearts of men and women throughout the world, God will give the increase. “I have planted,” Paul wrote, “Apollos watered, but God gave the increase (1 Co 3:6).   If there is no planting of the word of God, then God cannot give an increase. If Christians do not take the initiative to plant the word from city to city, then there will be no increase.

We must always remember that Satan has gone on before us to every city. He has deceived people into being satisfied with their religiosity in the bondage of deception. Only when teachers of the word of God enter into Ephesus will the word of God be able to prevail. If the disciples of Jesus do not take the initiative to enter into the city with the word of God, then the religious people of the city will continue to read their religious books, and thus continue in the deception of that which is false. God can give no increase while we sit idly by and wait for an opportunity to teach the word of God. If we do not make it the custom of our lives to teach the word of God, God cannot give the increase. Teachers of the word, therefore, must create the opportunities to teach the word.

The power of the gospel is not in ourselves, but in that which comes from God. Paul reminded those in Achaia who trusted in themselves, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to think anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (2 Co 3:5). We might think that our social religious club is adequate to draw people to Christ. We will certainly draw many people through our many works (See Ep 2:2). We will even be known in the community for our good works. But we may be as the church in Sardis: “I know your works,” Jesus said, “that you have a name that you live, but you are dead (Rv 3:1).

Jesus will recognize our good works (See Rv 2:,2,9,13,19). He would commend some with the words, I know your works and love and service and faith and your patience. And as for your works, the last are greater than the first” (Rv 2:19). However, in commending the disciples in Thyatira for the increase in their works, He judged, “I have a few things against you because you tolerate …” (Rv 2:20). They were good in works, but lacking in implementing the commandments of God in rebuking the immoral behavior of some among them. They tolerated the immoral among them, though they were known for their good works.

If Jesus’ message of judgment against the seven churches of Asia teaches one clear point it is that the word of God must be implemented in the lives of those who call themselves after Christ.   “Lord, Lord” cries to claim allegiance to Christ is not good enough. We must do the will of the Father in heaven (Mt 7:21). We must be doers of the word of God, and not hearers only (Js 1:22). If we do not, then we will eventually hear the words of Jesus when He comes to judge the world, “I never knew you. Depart from Me you who practice lawlessness” (Mt 7:23). Therefore, “… be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (Js 1:22). When we are doers of the word of God, we can have hope that we will eventually hear the following words from Jesus when He comes again: “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34).

If we are confident in teaching the word of God, the word will prevail over error. And in the end, we will prevail over the world when our Lord comes.

[Final lecture of series]

God Works Through Change

We were once working a mission area of the world where we had friends from “back home” come and visit us. We always remember the inadvertent compliment of one of these friends. He said, “All of you are always making a liar out of me when I visit you and return home. I make a report of what you are doing, and when I come back the next year, you are doing something different.”

Our friend realized that we allowed God to work in our lives. And as we lived in the ministry, doors would open that demanded a change in ministry.   Changes needed to be made according to the opportunity of each open door. If we did not change our methods or tactics by changing our thinking, then we would have been shutting God out of our plans. Our inability to change would have shut God out of our lives.

We have known of several supporting churches throughout the years who have submitted the evangelist they supported to work according to a “contract of work.” The contract would carefully be drawn up after much thinking and prayer, and then committed to paper. The supporters, as well as the supported, would dutifully sign the contract. The evangelist would then go to his designated field of ministry with his hands tied. What everyone had done when they signed the agreement was to limit God in the lives of the evangelists. Prayers were made that God would work according to the contract, that is, “God please bless our plans.”

The more one confines his ministry to his plans, the less God can intervene with His plans for His own glory. If we are successful with our plans, we seek to take the glory. After all, did not God bless our plans? God does not work according to the corporate world of good business management that is outlined on a spreadsheet. We cannot manage God with our plans. God is not confined to our corporate agenda.

When an evangelist goes into all the world to preach the gospel, he should be thoroughly prepared in his mind to change from what he first envisioned would be. As he encounters open doors that God makes available, he should be prepared to change. When things change, the effective evangelist will change in order to take advantage of new opportunities.

The same is true in reference to the work of disciples who are trying to reach the folks in their own community. We remember when a “gospel meeting” or a “campaign for Christ” was productive. The problem was that this method of preaching the gospel publicly in many areas of the world died several decades before we were willing to give up the method.   One day we did wake up and looked at the audience who attended our gospel meetings. We were looking at ourselves. There were no visitors. We were preaching to the choir.

If churches are not able to change according to the receptivity of the people in their community, then they will die.   Their inability to change will eventually lead to the removal of the lampstand from Ephesus. No matter how many good works we are doing, or how great a name we make for ourselves in the community, our inability to change with the times will vacate the lampstand of the gospel from our community (See Rv 2:2,19; 3:1). Satan will have used one of his best tools to terminate the church in our city.

The apostle Paul sometimes faced this challenge.   He worked with purpose and dreams.   As an independent personality, we would expect nothing less from him. So the Holy Spirit had to do some fine tuning with him in order that he learn to change his plans. On one occasion he was traveling through Phrygia and Galatia. He planned to go into Asia and preach the gospel. But he was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (At 16:6). We do not know how he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit, but we do know that he had to change his plans. At the time, Asia had to be stricken from his “contract.”

As Paul, Silas and Timothy continued on their journey, they came to Mysia. Again he, Silas and Timothy had plans to go into another region and preach the word of the Lord. On this occasion the team of three evangelists wanted to go to Bithynia (At 16:7). “But the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (At 16:7).   They had made their plans, signed their contracts, but they had to change. They continued their mission to preach the word of the Lord, but their plans had to be changed. After they were informed by the Spirit of Jesus that they were not to go into Bithynia, it seems that they may have been somewhat disheartened. For some special reason, the Lord sent Paul a special vision concerning where he must go. In the vision, “a man of Macedonia was standing and pleading to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” (At 16:9).

Now notice how quickly Paul was willing to change his plans once he saw the vision. “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia …” (At 16:10). Paul, Silas, Timothy, and now Luke, were men who allowed God to work in their lives according to His will, not theirs. We must keep this lesson in mind when we make our own plans. We must be people who are entirely opened to God working in our lives. The business world may think that we are unpredictable in our work. We are as predictable as the many open doors we see before us. We work for an unpredictable God who does not open doors until we have launched out of the security of our own plans. If we do not have a spirit of change, we will lock God out.

We have always wondered what Paul’s friends from back home would have said when they visited him in Macedonia. Would they have said, “Paul you made a liar out of us back home. WE reported that you were going into Asia. But here you are in Macedonia. And then you said you were going to Bithynia, and you ended up in Macedonia.   You certainly are unpredictable in your ministry.”

We are reminded of the following statement of the Holy Spirit:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out (Rm 11:33).

If one finds security in writing up a contract for his own destiny, and is not willing to change when God opens doors along the way, then he may be limiting God in his ministry.   But if one seeks to serve the God whose ways are past finding out, then he should be prepared to tear up contracts that may bind the work of God in our lives. When we allow God to plan in our lives, we will be willing to change in order to enter many open doors.

[Next lecture:   Aug. 2]

Opposition of Politicians

We were once on the island of St. Vincent in the West Indies in the early 1980s conducting a seminar for church leaders. There was some frustration among the church leaders concerning some brethren on the island who were teaching a matter of opinion, but different from the accepted “traditional interpretation” of the established church. The leaders of the establishment were having some difficulty “refuting” the “erroneous brethren” simply because the matter of contention was a matter of opinion, not a fundamental Bible teaching. So one of the brethren of the establishment made the statement, “We need to take them to court to bar them from promoting their teaching since their teaching infringes on what we believe.”

And so it goes among church politicians.   When the Jewish religious leaders could not win their argument against Jesus, they resorted to the government of Rome to do their dirty work for them. They could not crucify Jesus on their own since Palestine was an occupied land by the Romans at the time. So the Jewish leadership went to the higher court of Pilate in order to rid the Jewish religious establishment of a rebel whom they could not refute. They delivered Jesus to Pilate for execution.   Satan still uses misguided brethren today to accomplish his evil deeds.

One case in the life of Paul illustrates the motives of church politicians. Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote the Philippian letter. In the introduction of the letter he made a very interesting statement concerning some local preachers in the city of Rome. Though we do not know all the details, these political preachers must have been out in the streets preaching against the jailhouse preacher in the local prison.

We might better understand their motives for their political preaching if we better understood the socio/political environment in which both Jews and Christians lived in Rome. Caesar Claudius had run all Jews out of Rome a few years before (See At 18:2). The infamous and narcissistic Nero was in power as Caesar at the time Paul was in prison. It was not a good social situation at the time Paul was in prison in Rome in the early 60s, and thus, some of the local preachers evidently succumbed to the intimidation of the powers that existed. These preachers were locals, but Paul was an expatriate from out of town. They were free, but he was in jail. To them, he may have been an embarrassment to the church.   They were willing, therefore, to sacrifice him for their own selfish ambitions. At least this is what Paul wrote of the situation to the Philippians,

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not with pure motives, supposing to add distress to my chains (Ph 1:15-17).

We would not confine Paul’s statement to the social culture of Rome. Throughout his ministry, Paul faced envy and selfish ambition (At 14:1-6,19). It continued even to his imprisonment in Rome, for through their envy and selfish ambition, some religious leaders would be so political that they would add distress to his chains while he was in a Roman prison.

Envy is when one seeks to have that which another has. Here are some preachers who possibly envied the notoriety that Paul had. Maybe they envied his influence. We are not told exactly what they envied in the life of Paul. But in their envy, they caused strife among the disciples. They were as some arrogant preachers in Achaia who spoke slanderously against Paul, judging him to be afraid to show up in Corinth and defend himself (2 Co 10:10). Paul would show up, but he would show up with a rod of discipline (1 Co 4:21).

When preachers envy other preachers, Satan is at work to sow strife among the disciples. When preachers are cursed with selfish ambition, they will preach and behave in a way that will add to the distress of those who preach out of pure motives. The religious leaders of the Jews’ religion envied Jesus. Their envy drove them to remove the influence of Jesus from the people.   Pilate “knew that because of envy they [the religious leaders] had delivered Him” (Mt 27:18; Mk 15:10).   When a preacher starts to envy another preacher, only evil will result. And with evil envy the Jewish leaders followed Paul from one city to another. Luke recorded,

But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy. And contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed those things that were spoken by Paul (At 13:45; see At 14:19).

When a preacher finds himself “contradicting and blaspheming,” and opposing truth that is preached by his fellow preacher, then he should know that he has assigned himself to the company of those envious Jews who opposed Paul. Paul reminded the Corinthians with a question: “For where there is envying and strife, are you not carnal and walking as worldly men?” (1 Co 3:3).   Political preachers are carnal.   They are walking as worldly men.

Love does not envy (1 Co 13:4). And thus, when one envies his fellow leader in the faith, then he knows that he does not walk in love. He is walking according to the flesh (Gl 5:21). Such a person …

 is obsessed with controversy and disputes about words, from which come envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, perverse disputings between men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, supposing that godliness is a means to gain (1 Tm 6:4,5).

Paul’s above instructions to Timothy in reference to his relationship with carnally minded leaders was direct: From such withdraw yourself (1 Tm 6:5). Timothy was to personally withdraw himself from those religious leaders who would stir up controversies about “disputable words.”

Satan uses church politicians to stir up all sorts of contentions. Paul mandated that both Timothy and Titus not give such carnally-minded church leaders their fellowship in discussions over nonsense (2 Tm 2:23). We must keep in mind that the Holy Spirit wrote the following in reference to church leaders who are obsessed with causing controversies among the disciples:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and contentions and strivings about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man [a brother] after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned (Ti 3:9-11).

Satan uses factious brethren to disrupt the peace of the disciples. Once a person is identified to be a factious man by his obsession with arguments over matters of opinion, then he is to be given no opportunity to express his foolish controversies before the church. We must keep in mind that the factious brother is a politician. He is seeking a following. He is trying to recruit members to agree with his foolish controversies (See Gl 4:17). The church that allows the factious man to have an audience before the church has violated the mandate of Paul in 1 Timothy 6:4,5 and Titus 3:9-11.

A contentious brother can usually be identified by his call for others to meet with him concerning one of his foolish “disputes about words.” When those with whom he would argue do not answer his call or letters to come down to Ono, as some enticed Nehemiah, and discuss his matters of contention, then he accuses the godly brethren to be in error because they would not show up for his contentious meeting. Godly leaders need to answer the contentious brother as Nehemiah answered Sanballat and Geshen: “I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Ne 6:3).

Our advice to godly leaders who have identified a contentious brother in their midst, is that they follow strictly the mandate that the Holy Spirit gave through Paul to both Timothy and Titus.   Do not go down to the meetings that are about disputable words of those who are filled with envy and selfish ambition!

Some envious church leaders in Corinth, who were filled with selfish ambition, slandered Paul. They thought that he was too weak to come to Corinth and face their accusations against him (2 Co 10:10,11). Paul answered them:

Therefore, I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake.   For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Co 12:10).

It was not that Paul was weak in spirit.   If he came and found his accusers arrogant in an unrepentant frame of mind, some were going to be delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Co 5:5; 1 Tm 1:20). As a Christ-sent apostle, he had no choice in the matter exercising the discipline of the Lord. Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead at the feet of Christ-sent apostles (At 5:1-11). Something similar was going to happen in Corinth if the slanderous church leaders did not repent before Paul arrived. Everyone in the church throughout the world had heard of the death of Ananias and Sapphira. “And great fear came upon all the church and upon as many as heard these things” (At 5:11). It was for this reason that Paul wrote the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians. He wanted to come to them with joy, not grief (2 Co 2:1). He wrote that some repent before he came.

The encouraging thing about the Corinthians is that they stopped listening to those who were causing the strife among them.   Paul eventually went to them with joy, for he did not need to use the rod of discipline as a Christ-sent apostle.   No one was struck blind; no one dropped dead; and no one was delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh.

God is not working in a direct manner as this today. Nevertheless, we read these things in the New Testament as a warning against anyone who would behave as those who were judged directly in the first century. All judgment for the envious person who is corrupted with selfish ambition, and thus sows strife among the disciples with his disputes, will be his part in what John described in Revelation 21:8.

[Next lecture:   July 31]

Heavy Purses

We were once sitting with several preachers at a conference in Zimbabwe. Many of the young preachers in the conference were complaining that the church would not support them. The discussion carried on for some time until a frustrated old businessman from Malawi yielded out, “Men, get a job!”

That was the end of the discussion, and the introduction to one of the means of attack by which Satan works against the preaching of the gospel. At the conclusion of a parable in Luke 16, Jesus made the statement in reference to the religious leaders of the religious establishment of His day, “And the Pharisees who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they scoffed at Him” (Lk 16:14). What these preachers had heard from Jesus was a parable that was spoken against them as religious leaders.

In the parable, Jesus spoke of a certain rich man (God over Israel), who had an unjust steward (the Pharisees) who plundered his goods (they stole the loyalty of the people). So the steward was fired. The steward said to himself, “What will I do? For my lord takes away from me the stewardship [his means of support]. I cannot dig [for a living for myself]. I am ashamed to beg” (Lk 16:3). So the steward set out to embezzle support from his Lord’s debtors. In the parable, Jesus stated that the unjust steward did act shrewdly, because he acted according to his character (Lk 16:8).   He provided for himself, though the means by which he did so was shrewd. In a moment of desperation when he lost his salary, he did that which any shrewd servant would do. It was in this context, however, that Jesus was speaking against the hireling practices of the Pharisees.

A.  Opposition of idol-makers:

When the preaching of the word of God endangers the financial security of fully supported religious workers, one can only expect that they will rise up in opposition. Demetrius, a silversmith in Ephesus, and many others like him, made a great deal of money from the idol-making business that was associated with the temple of Diana. But when Paul came to town with the message of the gospel, multitudes of people disposed of their idols and obeyed the gospel. This did not set well with the idol-makers (At 19:23-35). Demetrius rightly stated of the results of Paul’s preaching of the gospel that “almost throughout all Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods” (At 19:26). Then he added that the idol-making trade was being disenfranchised (At 19:27). So when his fellow idol-makers heard this, “they were all full of wrath” (At 19:28).

When men who make money through religion feel that their salaries are in danger, they will be “full of wrath.” They will spill their wrath out on the ones who persuade the people away from gods that are made with the hands of men.

B.  Preaching for money:

Sometimes, men who have great abilities to speak to the people use their gift of speaking for the purpose of gain. This often occurs among religious leaders who use their gift of speaking for personal profit. Such happened in the case of Balaam (Ja 24:9ff). He sold his gift for gain. His legacy was that an example was made of him for all time that he ran after money to the extent of betraying his ministry for God (See Jd 11).   Balaam ended up dead because he preached for money (Ja 13:22). At least those who do the same today end up spiritually dead.

We can understand why one of the qualifications for being an elder of the body of Christ is that one not be greedy (1 Tm 3:8; Ti 1:7; 1 Pt 5:2). Leaders are often in the position to take advantage of others in reference to money.   If one is greedy, the temptation to receive money can become too great, and thus he will sell his gift of ministry for money. This is a common practice among many today who have shamed Christianity for the sake of their own purse.   This is especially true of independent churches who see their members as an opportunity for a salary.

Traditional religions ordain those who are to preach for their churches. Being ordained means that the preacher must conform to the doctrinal guidelines of the particular religious organization by which he was ordained. Therefore, when approached with truth that conflicts with the established catechism of the religious organization, the preacher has his hands tied by his salary. We once read an interesting newspaper statement in a Namibian paper. The short article was entitled, “Anglican preachers baptize their families in secret.” The preachers studied themselves out of the practice of infant baptism, but were afraid of losing their salaries because they preached adult baptism for remission of sins.

When a preacher is wedded by money to the message he preaches, then he is in the bondage to money. He is a servant to his support, not knowing what he would do if he lost his “job.” The only answer to those sincere preachers who know the truth, but are afraid to preach the truth because of the intimidation of the religious establishment, is to “Get a job!”

[Next lecture: July 29]


Opposition of Heritage

In reference to religion, it is not uncommon for some people to resist being confused by the facts. Those who are seeking to preach the truth of God’s word to the world must understand that this is often common among those who are steeped in their own religious heritage or dogma. One of the means by which the Roman Catholic Church establishes truth is through binding heritage. For example, James Gibbons, a former Catholic authority in “church” doctrine once wrote the following in his book, Faith of Our Fathers:

For several centuries after the establishment of Christianity Baptism was usually conferred by immersion; but since the twelfth century the practice of baptizing by infusion [sprinkling] has prevailed in the Catholic Church, as this manner is attended with less inconvenience than Baptism by immersion.

The point is that if a particular teaching of the Bible is not convenient, but is historically practiced by the church, then the church has the authority to mandate what is a tradition of church heritage. If the error of this heritage is pointed out by those who stand for the final authority of the word of God, then they are often accused of being “change agents,” and thus, they are excommunicated from the fellowship of the religious institution.

When confronted with the change that was made by the “church,” it is asserted that the “church” has more authority than the written word of God. Some who strongly disagree with what the Catholic Church did in changing immersion to sprinkling, would often do the same in reference to establishing their own traditional practices or interpretations. Those who would question any teaching according to the word of God, are often questioned why they would question established interpretations in matters of opinion.

A.  Religion based on heritage:

The preceding is what Jesus walked into among the Jewish religious establishment of the first century. The religious establishment had laid aside the word of God in order to honor their heritage, which heritage was often contrary to the word of God (Mt 23:23; Mk 7:8). In many areas of their theology, the religious establishment of Israel had rejected the word of God in order to keep the teachings of their heritage (Mk 7:9).

When religions are created after either the heritage of the adherents, or the doctrines that have been established as codes of identity of the religion, then there will always be confrontation between those who teach the word of God and those who seek to maintain their heritage.

Teachers of the word of God must not be surprised at this confrontation. One of Satan’s greatest tools by which he promotes the kingdom of darkness is to convince good and sincere people that their heritage and catechisms of faith are valid in order to be the foundation of their faith. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, and on more than one occasion, Jesus confronted the religious leaders in reference to their heritage upon which they based their faith.

During one encounter when Jesus said that the religious leaders had rejected the word of God, He pointed out that they honored their teachings more than the revealed word of God. Jesus reminded them of what God said through Moses: “Honor your father and your mother …” (Mk 7:10). But the religious leaders, particularly the Pharisees who were lovers of money (Lk 16:14), said that the children must first give their money to the religious establishment before they take care of their mothers and fathers. (Mk 7:11). Upon the pretense that their support of the religious establishment should be pronounced Corban, that is “given to God,” the religious leaders coveted the money of the children. They convinced the children to give to them first, before considering their God-given responsibility through Moses to take care of their mothers and fathers. For selfish reasons, they thought of themselves, rather than the principle of the law of Moses that the children are to care for their parents.

Jesus reminded these religious leaders that they were “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition that you have handed down” (Mk 7:13). In other words, they were teaching that their traditional teachings should be honored above the word of God. The adherents to the religion, therefore, listened more to the doctrine of the religious institution, than their Bibles. When the religious tradition of the fathers is more important than the teachings of the word of God, then the effect of the word of God in the lives of the righteous is minimized.

Jesus continued in His rebuke of the religious leaders by saying, “And many such things you do” (Mk 7:13). At the time when Jesus came in the fullness of time, the religious establishment had constructed a religion that was not based on the law of God. It was based on the traditions of the fathers. The religious leaders promoted and propagated this religion throughout Palestine. The advantage that Jesus and His disciples had, therefore, is that they could point out the many areas where the religious leaders were maintaining a religion that had been handed to them by their fathers. They brought to the attention of the people that their faith was based on the heritage of Judaism, rather than the word of God. This opened the door for those who were sincerely seeking God. They could see the difference between what Jesus was teaching from the law of Moses, and what the religious leaders were propagating from their heritage.

B.  The power of heritage:

The problem with basing our faith on a heritage of teaching is that the minds of the adherents of the heritage are often closed. They are sometimes so closed that even a miracle of God will not convince the adherents to reconsider their beliefs. In fact, the heritage is so strong that the adherents will maintain their faith in their heritage regardless of any teaching of the word of God that would contradict the teachings of the heritage. In the first century most of the Jews maintained the faith in their Jewish heritage regardless of all miraculous confirmation that Christ and the apostles unleashed in the world.

The Holy Spirit confirmed that the early disciples went forth and preached everywhere, “The Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that followed (Mk 16:20).   God bore witness with them, both with signs and wonders and with various powers and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Hb 2:4). However, the staunch attitudes by which many of the religious leadership of the day refused to accept the confirming miracles of the word that was preached, led them to refuse the gospel.

When Peter and John were put on trial by the religious establishment in Jerusalem, their opposition had in their presence the man they had healed. He was standing right there before them (At 4:14). Everyone knew that this healed cripple had begged on the temple steps for years, begging from everyone who passed by. So the people “were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (At 3:10). But neither the witness of the man being healed, nor the people who witnessed the healing, was sufficient to change the minds of those of the religious establishment. If they accepted the fact that the man was healed, then the foundation for their religious heritage would crumble. They would have to accept the message that the apostles preached. Since religious leaders could not work miracles to confirm their own teaching, then we would assume that they would turn to the message of Peter and John since their message was truly confirmed miraculously.   But they did not.

We must notice what was affirmed by the religious establishment at the trial of Peter and John: “And seeing the man who was healed standing with them [Peter and John], they could say nothing against it (At 4:14). When the religious leaders put Peter, John and the healed man out of the court room, they said among themselves something that would be true of those who maintain their religious heritage and teachings above any confirming miracle of God:

What will we do to these men?   For indeed, a notable miracle has been done by them and is apparent to all those who dwell in Jerusalem. And we cannot deny it (At 4:16).

The statement of these religious leaders reveals the nature of those who are confronted with truth they cannot deny.   The two “change agents” in town not only taught that Jesus was the Christ and Son of God, but God also confirmed their message with a miracle that followed their preaching. So when confronted with undeniable proof, those who are in the bondage of their heritage can only resort to threats. In this case the leaders of the religious heritage “sternly threatened” the two apostles.

When confronted with teaching that is from the Bible, those who have established their faith upon tradition, or their religious heritage, can use only threats against those they oppose.

We must never forget that the primary source that establishes a religious heritage is something that originates from the fathers, not the Bible. The heritage may contain Bible teachings, but those of the heritage who are honest and sincere will always maintain that the authority of the Bible over any traditional interpretations must be maintained. When those who are sincere students of the Bible point out some contradictions between the heritage and the word of God, those who are in the bondage to their heritage will often resort to threats in order to maintain their heritage. They assume that their threats as religious leaders of the heritage carry some authority among the people. They thus lead by the intimidation of threats. The threats are often covered in the cloak of “the brother’s soul is in danger,” or the brother should be excommunicated from the church (3 Jn 10).   But when threats are used to maintain a heritage of faith, then one knows that there are serious biblical flaws in the heritage.

In the case of Jesus during His ministry, the threats did not work, and thus, a scheme was carried out to have Him eliminated from the people. In the case of the early disciples, the religious leaders, through Saul, “made havoc of the church, entering into every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (At 8:3). And some, as Stephen, they stoned to death (At 7:54-60).

When religious leaders cannot deny truth, they will first threaten, and then they will often carry out their threats with bodily harm. We have heard of some preachers of the word of God who have been threatened with bodily harm. In the case of some, the threats have been carried out. One elder punched out a brother because he would not submit. Another brother stood up in a council meeting and screamed to his opposition, “If I had a gun, I would shoot you.” When one resorts to threats, one point is very clear. The one making the threats, as the religious leaders of the days of the early disciples, has no truth to substantiate his position. He believes that threats will prove his position, and thus, bring his opponents under his control.

When faced with threats, there is always the correct recourse of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:44: “… love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …” (See Lk 6:27-29). We often conclude that when He used the word “enemies,” Jesus was speaking of wicked people and evil governments. This would certainly include some of the enemies that the disciples would face.   However, in the context in which Jesus both made the statement and lived His ministry, His enemies were religious leaders who set themselves against Him. He loved those who became His enemy. He loved them into eternity when they eventually realized that He truly was the Son of God, and subsequently repented. Therefore, if one loves his opposition, and those who would bring a railing accusation against him, he too would be as Jesus concluded. We love so that we “may be the children” of our Father who is in heaven (Mt 5:45).

When was the last time we prayed for another who made a threat against us (Mt 5:44)? We must always remember that “God so loved the world,” which world included the One who came into the world to save it from sin (Jn 3:16).   Nevertheless, though we love our enemies, we must heed the warning of Jesus in reference to religious leaders who are more concerned for their positions and purse, than they are for the truth of God’s word: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Mt 16:6). Paul was a little more harsh when he warned the Philippians: “Beware of the dogs. Beware of the evil workers. Beware of the false circumcision” (Ph 3:2).

[Next lecture: July 27]


Institutional Judaism

Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians referred to as an institution according to the definition of institutions of this world. In fact, much of the confusion that hinders our understanding of the organic body of Christ is that we want to create the body of Christ after the definition of worldly institutions. All that is essential to understand the organization of the body of Christ is that there is only one Head in heaven, and this Head has all authority over all things as King of kings on earth (Mt 28:18; Cl 1:18). There is only one standard of authority by which all men will be judged (Jn 12:48). Discipleship is no more complicated than this when referring to the “organization” of the disciples. Neither is the organic function of the body of Christ more complicated.

On earth there are to be no authorities or rulers among the members of the body (See Mk 10:35-45). And thus, there are no authorities as popes or pastors to defend the mandates and propagate the legal codes of an earthly religious organization. We can use our titles and subtitles to define the work of our ministries, but when we start using such titles and subtitles to define authorities among the slaves of the King of kings, then we are moving into the realm of defining the church as an establishment that must be propagated. When this happens among disciples, the “authorities” begin preaching the church and not the Christ. They focus on defending the codes of identity of the institution, and not the discipleship of the believers.

The best way to define the nature and behavior of an institution, specifically institutional religion, is to use the Holy Spirit’s accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in reference to defining institutional Judaism, or the Jews’ religion. The Jews had established an institutional religion after their own desires (traditions of the fathers), which definition was not based on the Sinai law. The Sinai law defined God the Father as the King of all Israel, though after about five hundred years in Palestine the Israelites called for a king over themselves at the beginning of the years when they were rejecting God and His word (See 1 Sm 8). Their desire for an earthly king helps us understand the error of institutional religions. When people seek to establish authorities on earth after whom they can call themselves, then the foundation is laid for institutional religiosity, or what is called “organized religion.”

When an institution is established among religious people, they are trying to protect their heritage or identity. And in order to protect their heritage and their identity as different from all other religious institutions of the day, they organize in order to exalt authorities among themselves. This progression, or digression, is the specific thing that Jesus stated would not be among His disciples (Mk 10:42,43). This system of religion was what the Jews had constructed in the “fullness of times” when Jesus came into the world as the Messiah.   They had assimilated all the traditions of the fathers into a religion that was contrary to that which God had instituted at Mt. Sinai. Their religious institution, therefore, was identified by Paul to be the Jews’ religion (Gl 1:13).

We must keep in mind that institutions are founded on the authority of individuals who have been entrusted with the responsibility of guarding the heritage of the institution. The authorities are the establishment of the institution who are responsible for defending the institution. When men leave the authority of the word of Christ, they have no other option but to “ask for kings on earth” who can propagate the institution from one generation of authorities to another. The institution is thus preached worldwide in conjunction with Christ, and thus, one is in fellowship with Christ through the institution. Outside the structure of the worldwide institution, it is taught that one cannot be in fellowship with Christ, and thus saved. Therefore, membership in the institution becomes the means by which one is saved, and not one’s obedience to the gospel of Christ. In order for one’s baptism to be valid, he or she must have been baptized by one of the representatives of the institution. “Baptismal authority” is a cherished doctrine of an institutional religion.

If one were to leave the institution, it is pronounced by the establishment, “The rebel will lose his soul.” “He has left the church.” What is meant is that he will lose his soul because he is no longer a member of the institution. And thus, discipleship to Jesus is denied on the basis that one’s salvation is dependent on membership in a particular institutional religion.

Remove Christ from this picture, and we have the definition of the institution of the Jews’ religion of the first century. It was this institution of bondage that the religious leaders had constructed by the time Jesus came. All the rules had been established to identify the institution, especially rules concerning the keeping of the Sabbath. All the authorities had been set in place to guard the heritage of the institution and to pronounce judgment on those who made any infractions of the rules. The primary means that was used to keep all the adherents (Jews) in conformity with the mandates of the institution was social intimidation.

Jesus was thus condemned because He did not conform to the legal codes that defined the Jewish religious institution. The Holy Spirit witnessed to the fact that He lived without sin (See Hb 4:15). However, this was not the pronouncement of the Jewish religious establishment, for they affirmed that He had violated their laws, especially their laws concerning the Sabbath. And because He did not conform to their laws, the religious establishment condemned Him to the cross.

Since Palestine was occupied by a Gentile government, the social orders of the Jewish institutional religion were highly organized by the time Jesus arrived. The strictness of the rules that identified Judaism were intensified so that no adherent to the institution (the Jews’ religion) be associated with the Gentiles.   The Jews were socially structured to the point that no Jew had any dealings with those who were half Jews, the Samaritans (Jn 4:9). If there were social infractions and violations of the rules that identified the Jews’ religion, then there were chief priests, Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, and the senate and councils (the establishment), who would deal with the violators. And since the people were in fear of the establishment, they were intimidated into conforming to the rules of the institution.

John explained the social scenario in reference to one incident when Jesus healed a blind man at a time when doing such was contrary to the rules of the Jewish institution:

These words his parents spoke because they feared the Jews, for the Jews [the establishment] had already agreed that if anyone confessed that He was the Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue (Jn 9:22).

Social intimidation by the Jewish establishment was one of Satan’s greatest tools that he used against those Jews who would accept Jesus as the Christ. It was a very effective weapon. Diotrephes used the same tactic in reference to those over whom he had assumed authority.   He threatened to excommunicate from the fellowship of disciples those who would accept other evangelists as the apostle John (3 Jn 9,10). Through his assumed authority, he instilled fear in the hearts of those over whom he functioned as a demagogue. If the members did not submit to his mandates, then they were kicked out of the fellowship of his loyal following. He had established an institutional religiosity that was propped up by his self-designated authority over the people.

Those who would maintain their freedom in Christ will run head on into institutional religiosity. It was this system of religion into which Jesus came in the fullness of times, and it was the leadership of this religiosity that eventually nailed Him to the cross. The problem with the digression of the church into an institutional establishment is that the members are intimidated by the leadership to conform to the rules of the institution that are exalted above the lordship of Jesus in the hearts of the individual members.

[Next lecture:   July 24]

Rise of Institutional Religion

The Jews of Jesus’ day did not in a short time develop that which rejected Him. Institutional religions develop over decades, if not over centuries.   The Roman Catholic Church did not come into existence overnight. However, by the end of the first century there were signs among some of the disciples that it was coming. Paul warned the Ephesian leaders that there would arise those who would call disciples after themselves (At 20:29,30). There were those during the ministry of the apostles who intimidated disciples into conforming to their legal system of religiosity (Rm 16:17,18; Gl 4:17; 3 Jn 9,10).   These were all indications that there were those who were seeking to organize the disciples as an institution with a hierarchy of leaders on earth.

By the time Peter wrote in the middle 60s there were some elders who began to lord over the sheep of God (1 Pt 5:1-4).   Lords only exist where there is assumed or delegated authority. And thus by the time Peter wrote, there were those who were violating one of the first principles of discipleship that Jesus said should not exist among His disciples (Mk 10:42,43). Leaders were seeking to lord over the sheep of God as the world exercised authority among the institutions of the world.

Throughout the New Testament, the Holy Spirit gave warnings concerning the rise of institutional religion that would be perpetuated by the authority of established rulers. And because the warnings exist in the pages of the Holy Scriptures, we must assume that the Spirit knew that institutional religion would eventually lead a great many disciples away from the sole kingship of Jesus.

We have often witnessed the same today among religious people. There are countless institutional religions throughout the world that are sustained by established authorities. These religions exist and have their own unique heritages. In order to separate the groups from one another, a common name of identity has been claimed by the adherents of each group. Adherents are intimidated to remain loyal to each named institution. This is especially true in reference to the established leadership of the groups who draw any type of salary from the institution. Threats to withdraw salaries are used to bring the preachers of each particular institution into conformity with the unique catechisms that are promoted to identify each particular institution.

In order to solidify a particular religious institution, regular meetings are conducted by the leaders. Reports are made and leaders are checked for their compliance to “doctrinal soundness,” and in conformity with the “constitution of the church.” Required attendance at such meetings is demanded by the establishment of the religion in order that each be checked off as faithful to the institution. Schools are often established by the institutional church in order to give a “diploma of validation” to preachers in order that they may be indoctrinated with the correct shibboleths to say and catechisms to promote among those who are deemed faithful to the institution. Everyone is brought into conformity to the worldwide organization of the denomination, and faithfulness to the institution is perpetuated throughout the world and history.

And then comes a rebel as Jesus. He was a rebel because He did not conform to the authoritative structures of the Jewish religious institution. Neither did He promote the legal identity of the organization. In fact, He violated the rules.   He violated one Sabbath rule after another. He had no theological diploma from the “Theological Seminary of Jerusalem.” He preached without the authority or approval of the established leadership. He did not attend the preacher meetings. Nor did He seek to be sanctioned by the existing religious establishment of Jerusalem in order to preach in the villages. He was a rebel of both the institution and the established leadership.   He was a true protestant for He protested against the leadership of the establishment (See Mt 23).

Jesus was often summoned to appear before the authorities of the religious institution. And because He refused to conform to their wayward religion that they had fabricated after their traditions, they secretly plotted to rid Him from their religious society. As many today, they would threaten with written letters that they would circulate among the synagogues. They would threaten and intimidate with courts and councils. But because He would not conform to the heritage of their religion, nor submit to the authorities of their institution, it was judged that He had to go, that is, go to the cross. Though He had done no evil, the religious leaders cried out, “Crucify Him!” (Mk 15:13,14; Jn 19:6). So they “… led Him away to crucify Him” (Mt 27:31).

If one would be a disciple of Jesus, he must take the same road of suffering as Jesus. Just in case Timothy forgot this, Paul admonished him with the words, “For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach because we trust in the living God …” (1 Tm 4:10). In fact, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tm 3:12).

We would give a word of caution to those who seek to follow after the order of religions as the institutional religiosity of the Jews. When preachers or elders regularly assemble to encourage one another through Bible study, they must be cautious that such meetings do not turn into synods where judgments are made to judge others with whom they may disagree in matters of opinion.   We live under the authority of the word of God alone, not the authority or pronouncements of any man or group of men.   If attendance to such meetings is necessary in order to be considered faithful to the heritage of an institution, then such meetings have become synods by which the established leadership would judge others. If pronouncements are made during such meetings concerning those who are not present, then the meeting has become a council of judges with evil motives. If the meetings are exclusive of any disciple being present, then the meeting has become a synod of authorities who have assumed authority over the church. If the meetings represent only those of a sanctioned heritage who conform to a specific name and a legal catechism of definition upon which everyone has fully agreed, then the meeting has become a group of authorities who would pronounce judgments on the disciples. The Roman Catholic Church started with such meetings where elders gathered in order to make judgments concerning the church. The meetings eventually became synods from which pronouncements of doctrine were delivered to the church.

In the beginning of the American Restoration Movement, such meetings were conducted by church leaders in order to establish unity among many independent groups. The meeting of the leaders was originally meant to bring unity among the disciples. In order to promote unity, the representatives drew up a doctrinal statement (“confession of faith”) in order to guarantee conformity for the sake of a fabricated unity. But one day all of those who had signed their names to the document realized that they had become a religious institution, as the religious institutions from which they had all fled. By producing and signing a document that defined their agreed upon doctrinal positions, they became the accepted establishment of leaders who would defend the document of faith. They discovered that they had circled around through the document (creed) and become an institutional religion against which they had all previously struggled to leave.

All the leaders eventually agreed to have one final meeting. In this meeting they drew up another document. It was called, The Last Will And Testament Of The Springfield Presbytery. They thus killed their former document that was initially drafted to promote unity, but actually became a catechism to which the supposed faithful were to conform. They determined that everyone go forth from this last meeting only with the authority of the word of God, claiming their freedom in Christ, and thus preaching the gospel of the grace of God according as each individual interpreted the Scriptures. They realized that there was a logical contradiction between promoting a restoration to the authority of the word of God in matters of faith, and at the same time establishing any document of man that would steal the freedom of the individual to study the word of God alone and apply its teachings.

If one finds himself among those religious leaders who seek to morph into a synod of authorities among the disciples, it would be wise to seriously consider the direction to which the meeting of established leaders is moving. Meetings for leaders are good, but if such meetings become a means by which to intimidate everyone into conforming to the norm of that upon which everyone must agree, then the meetings should be banned. If it is not banned, then each attendee must make a choice. He can remain with the meeting until it becomes one day just another synod of authorities that identify the institutional religion of the day, or he can simply not show up and move on with his Bible alone. Paul urged both Timothy and Titus not to show up at those meetings where debates are generated in order to intimidate the attendees into conformity for the sake of peace (See 2 Tm 2:23; Ti 3:9-11). We will seek to meet with those who seek not to bring us again into bondage (Gl 5:1), but into being better disciples.

As we move on from this point, we must caution ourselves about any religious movement of men. Whether reformation or restoration movements, movements have a tendency of giving too much honor to the man or men who started them.   Because there is too much honor given to the initiators of the movements, the followers often call themselves after the “father” of their respective movements. Those churches that align themselves with the movements thus adopt a unique name in order to be associated with a particular movement, or a unique systematic theology that was first porported by the originators of the movements. Many such religious movements originated out of Europe and America, all of which can today be identified by the unique name attached to each aligned church that is associated with each unique movement.

Man-made movements eventually establish themselves as heritages. And when movements established themselves as heritages, it then becomes the duty of the preachers or synods of the movements to defend their heritage. When the “job” of the preachers depends on the existence of the heritage, then it is almost impossible to call any of the leaders out of the heritage since at this stage in the existence of the movement the dedication of the leaders is first to their heritage, and then to Christ.   In reference to loyalty, heritages have a tendency to move Christ into second place. And when Christ is moved into second place, the word of Christ is rejected in order that one maintain his identity with the movement (See Mk 7:1-9).   When a leader within a heritage does start questioning any particular doctrinal position of the heritage, it is then that he will come to Jesus in the night, or baptize his family in secret.   Heritages will always begin by laying aside the commandment of God, and then progress to rejecting the commandment in order to eventually protect the legacy of the heritage.

 As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must establish our heritage only in Him. We are heirs of His kingdom only because of Him, not because of some religious leader who took a stand against apostasy. We call ourselves only after Christ.

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rm 8:16,17).

Because we are “justified by His grace” we are “made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Ti 3:7).   Christ only is the means by which we are heirs of the kingdom (Js 2:5).

 We are not called after Christ via some movement or religious heritage that was initiated by men. For this reason, we call on all men to put away the names of movements that identify their association with unique doctrinal or organizational heritages. We call on all men to be Christians only.

In order to make a bold change away from the “Jews’ religion” of a particular religious heritage, it takes great courage on the part of those who have for years validated their existence as “church leaders” by the existence of the heritage that was delivered to them by their fathers. In order to take a stand for unity in Christ alone, we can better understand what Paul, who change from his religious heritage that existed for centuries. Those who would change from the religious movements of men to Christ alone would do well to read the testimony of Paul: Philippians 3:1-11.

[Next lecture:  July 21]


Institutionalized Individuals


We often hear of discussions that use the word “institution” to define an organizational structure that promotes a particular product or stands for a particular theology. In order to separate one institution from another, each institution is given a unique name. In this way we have often heard of the church being defined as an institution.   However, this would be a inaccurate definition of the church if the word “institution” is defined according to the corporate/business world in which we live. The church is not a corporate business that is identified by a unique name, though it is defined by a unique organizational structure and product (the gospel). Jesus is the head of the organization of the body, and the function of the members is to preach the gospel to the world.

In order to be caution about defining the church as an institution, it might be helpful to be more specific in contrasting the definition of the word “institution” in the corporate/business world and the organic function of the body of Christ. For example, Google is a corporation, and thus, the Google Corporation is defined by its unique name, function and organization. It is a corporate institution of the world and defined by the terminology of the world. If an employee leaves Google and moves to the Facebook Corporation as an employee, then he has left one institution for another. He is no longer a “member” of Google, but a member of Facebook.

This is not how it works with the universal body of Christ. Our statements and words sometimes betray our lack of understanding or misunderstanding of the nature of the body of Christ. Ever heard the statement, “He has left the church”? The one making the statement is thinking like the institutional corporate world. He is actually stating that a member has left one institution for another, or has just “left” the institution of which he was a member. He may have “placed membership” with another institution, and thus, he has left one church for another church.

The institutionalist has forgotten that membership with the body of Christ (the church) is God’s business. God adds to His people (At 2:47). Since God is the one who adds, then it is only He who can take away or cast away from His people. No one on earth has the right to cast any of God’s children away from God. Disciples have the right to disfellowship from their fellowship (2 Th 3:6), but they do not have the right to “dismember” anyone from the body of Christ. As stated before, this is God’s business.

One can be disfellowshipped, but he is only a disfellowshipped member. His fellowship means that the remaining members “have no company with him so that he [the erring brother] may be ashamed” (2 Th 3:14). And while a member is outside the company of the faithful, the faithful are charged, “Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (2 Th 3:15).

Here is how we betray our lack of understanding of the noninstitutional nature of the church. When we say that one “has left the church,” we have made ourselves judges and lawgivers over the body of Christ. “There is one lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (Js 4:12).   Judging in reference to salvational matters is the work of God alone. But if we assert that one has “left the church,” then we have identified our thinking to be institutional, for we have equated being a member of the church with being a member of our unique corporate group. If we determine the “Google church” to be an institution, and when one leaves the “Google church” and goes to the “Facebook church,” can we assert that he has left the church?

When we pronounce one to have “left the church,” we have declared ourselves to be denominational. What we are actually saying is that someone has left the legal definition of our group for another legally defined group. If someone across town makes a decision to cease driving across town to meet with a legally defined assembly, and determines to meet in his own house in his own community, he has not “left the church.”   He is still a member of the universal body of Christ who is sitting somewhere else on Sunday morning. If we proclaim that he has “left the church,” then we have declared ourselves to be a denominational institution that one can leave in order to place membership with another legally defined corporate body of believers.

In the context of this book, the word “institution” is often used by religious people who seek to construct a legal outline of laws that would define a unique body of people that one can leave in order to join another unique body. However, we would not codify an identity of the body of Christ, for in doing so we would make the body a legal organization according to the definition of the denominations around us. Such is not done in the New Testament, and we are fearful of doing such today lest we bring others into the bondage of our own fabricated “legal laws” that we arrange from our own chosen proof texts to identify our corporate group. The church is not a denomination, but making the church an institution denominates the members of the body from one another.

If the church is denominated as an institution, then the church becomes an establishment that must be legally defined and defended. This would be somewhat different from the identity of the body according to the beliefs and behavior of the early disciples who were Christians only.   What many have done by identifying the church according to a legal code of behavior is to develop a legal identity of the assembly of the disciples, and then from this legal identity of assembly, determined the existence of the church at any particular location. Such identity procedures are nowhere found in the New Testament.

Do we need to make this point clear. Allow us to revert back to our early farming history in the rural farming community of central Kansas. In the nineteenth century, the newly arrived farmers and their families lived on their individual farms and worked the land. In order to meet together for worship, several farmers made the decision to meet on the banks of what was called Peace Creek.   So on Sunday they all gathered in assembly on the banks of Peace Creek. After the assembly, the church boarded their covered wagons and went home to their respective farms. Now did the church continue to exist on the banks of Peace Creek?

As time went by, the farmers decided to build a church building for assembly at the location where they were meeting.   But the same thing happened after the assembly on Sunday morning. The church got into covered wagons and went home. Did the church remain in a building at Peace Creek? If the church is identified by the performance of legal ceremonies on Sunday morning, when the ceremonies are terminated with a “closing prayer” on Sunday morning, and the farmers went home, did the church cease to exist at Peace Creek? Or was the church scattered to the homes of the farms?

The body of Christ is not identified by assemblies, but by individual disciples of Jesus wherever they may be. In the first century, disciples of Jesus existed before there were any assemblies, simply because the church is composed of baptized people. And baptized people were disciples before the first assembly of the saints ever occurred the first Sunday after the Sunday when about 3,000 were added to the disciples (At 2:41).

Christians are not validated as such because of their assemblies, but because of their submission to the lordship of Jesus.   Assemblies are only the serendipity of being a baptized disciple of Jesus. Therefore, we would be careful in using the word “institution” in reference to the identity of the church of our Lord, lest we start using the assemblies of the saints as the identity for the existence of Christians. A Christian is not determined by an appearance at a legally defined assembly. (See Book 55, The Organic Function of the Body of Christ, Book 65, The Power Of Many As One,

[Next lecture: July 18]


Attack of Slander

Evil preaches tolerance until it is dominant,

and then it seeks to silence good.

Charles Chaput

In order for one to be condemned by the populace, there must be a trial. If the one who is to be condemned is innocent, then there is no other recourse to generate a guilty verdict than to slander the actions or teachings of the accused. In the case of Jesus, it was both. When the power of religious leaders is under attack by a rebel of the establishment, then the leaders of the established leadership will resort to evil tactics in order to silence the opposition.

Notice what Matthew recorded concerning the trial of Jesus: “Now the chief priests and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death” (Mt 26:59). One would think that the religious leaders of a community would seek the truth. But in this case, they sought that which was false in order to condemn the One against whom they had great consternation. They wanted a conviction, and thus, they were seeking for those who would give a false testimony concerning what Jesus had taught and done, or would do. Their goal was not to determine the truth, but to convict the innocent.

A.  Slanderers judge.

We must never assume that Satan will play fair in any dispute. When he wants to destroy the influence of any individual, he will resort to that which brings into question the character of those who are making the greatest impact on his kingdom of darkness. Unrighteous men reveal that Satan is using them when they either seek false witnesses against their opposition, or they actually become the false witnesses to be called by the court to give false testimony concerning their opposition.

Diotrephes was one who was willing to speak lies against his opposition in order to protect his dominant position. This was the same tactic that Satan used to have Jesus crucified. Because he loved to be first, Diotrephes slandered the apostle John and others in order to convince his loyal followers not to receive them (3 Jn 9,10). When a religious group is dominated by a demagogue, the demagogue will always slander those whom his loyal followers might receive.   Therefore, it is not uncommon for a preacher to slander another preacher in order to keep him away from “his” church.

It is important to understand this behavior in order to discover the true motives of the one who slanders. Once slander is discovered, then the one who is speaking evil against another can be identified as one who has ulterior motives for his slanderous remarks.

God does not speak kindly of those who intentionally invent evil things to speak against others. When Paul described the degradation of humanity in times of old, one of the characteristics of those of the morally digressed society was slander (Rm 1:30). We would conclude, therefore, that slander is evidence of one who is morally degraded.   Unfortunately, this behavior existed among some in the early church.

Because of a desire for power and recognition, there will always be those who are eager to speak evil of those with whom they feel they are in competition. When jealousy is rife among power structures in the church, slander is the most common method used by Satan for jealous individuals to discredit those whom they project to be of their own motives. The slanderous person assumes that those against whom he launches his lies is also in competition with him for power and recognition. He projects his evil thinking on those he believes are doing the same to him.

It is not uncommon for the slanderous person to go to the extreme of questioning the salvation of the one on whom he projects his slanderous statements. But one conclusion is true, if the one slandering another person assumes that the one he is slandering is in danger of losing his soul, then certainly the slanderous person is bringing his own salvation into question. John concluded the book of Revelation with the warning, “But … all liars will have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone (Rv 21:8).

The slanderous person will end up in the lake of fire and brimstone because he has an evil heart. His slanderous words only betrayed his heart. Jesus judged, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts,” which evil thoughts, He listed, includes slander (Mt 15:19). So the person who willfully generates lies against another has identified himself to have an evil heart, and thus, he is not a candidate for heaven.

B.  Slander stops preaching.

Misguided religious zealots followed Paul from synagogue to synagogue, spreading lies about what he believed. They did so in order to have him banned from teaching in any synagogue of the Jews. Some preachers do the same today. Paul’s slanderous opposition said that he was speaking a lie concerning the grace of God that was revealed through Jesus. Paul sarcastically asked his slanderous opponents, “For if the truth of God has abounded through my lie to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?” (Rm 3:7). The slanderous opponents of Paul in the church of Rome twisted his teaching on grace.   They did so because there was jealousy in their hearts. They “slanderously reported” that Paul taught that we can sin in order that grace may abound, since we are saved only by grace (Rm 3:8; 6:3). When teaching on this most fundamental principle of Christianity, Paul’s words were twisted by some in order to bring opposition against him.

The preacher of the gospel of grace will always be slandered by those who would seek to justify themselves before God through the merit of their own law-keeping. This is true because it is the duty of the leaders of the religious establishment to uphold the legal codes that identify the religious establishment. And if the legalities that define the establishment are not legally maintained, then the establishment ceases to exist. Those who would proclaim that we are not saved by grace, but by legal obedience to creeds and catechism, will make slanderous statements against those who proclaim, “For sin will not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace (Rm 6:14).

The fact that one stands for the truth of the gospel assumes that Satan will not be silent. Therefore, in order to discredit the preacher’s name, Satan will work among those who love to be first, or who are jealous of the influence of others. He will work to bring false accusations against the preacher of grace.

These “slander games” were happening among the Achaian disciples in reference to Paul. There were those in Achaia who were puffed up, and thus, wanted to discredit Paul among the disciples of the entire province. Nevertheless, Paul wrote the following of his work and other sincere evangelists:

So we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless.   Being persecuted, we endure. Being slandered, we kindly respond. We are made as the scum of the world and are the refuse of all things until now (1 Co 4:12,13).

Those who would be slandered as a result of teaching the truth of God’s word must not despair. They have simply been added to the host of faithful disciples as Paul and the apostles who kindly carried on, knowing that Satan will always stir up slander against those who endanger the kingdom of darkness. The response to slander, therefore, is kindness. If no slander is coming the way of the teacher of the Bible in a religiously hostile environment, then he should probably check to see if he is actually teaching the Bible.

Paul could respond kindly because slander is stating that which is false or a lie. So when he ministered, or taught in the area of freedom, he was assured that he was right before God. To those in Corinth who slandered him, he wrote, “All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient” (1 Co 10:23). Christians are under grace, not law, and thus those who would establish law where God has not established law will slander those who work in the area of their God-given freedom. Those who refuse to be brought again into a realm of bondage must carry on in the freedom they have in Christ, regardless of slanderous statements that are made against them (See Gl 5:1).

C.  Slander prevents freedom.

One does not have a right to work in the area of freedom in some things until those, whose conscience is still judged by their past religiosity, grow out of their self-imposed restrictions of false religions. Those who might be offended by the eating of all meats, therefore, are expected to grow spiritually out of the restrictions they have placed on themselves as Christians when eating meats that were sacrificed to idols in Corinth. In order to help these new Christians grow out of the legal restrictions they had placed on themselves because of their former life in idolatry, Paul helped them along with the mandate, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake” (1 Co 10:25).

It takes time to change one’s conscience concerning erroneous practices of the past. But there must be change. If there is no change, then there is spiritual death. In the process of the change, those who walk in their freedom of eating all meats must be patient with others who have not yet grown out of their past religious scruples.

It is interesting to note that the 1 Corinthian letter was written about five to six years after the origin of the first converts in Achaia. We would assume that by the time the letter was written, there would be those who were younger in the faith. We would assume that all those who had been Christians from the beginning to whom Paul was writing in 1 Corinthians could follow the mandate of 1 Corinthians 10:25, that is, that they should be able to eat any meat that was sold in the meat market.   Paul expected every disciple in Achaia to have grown to the point that their conscience was not controlled by their former life in idolatrous religions. God, therefore, expects spiritual growth. With recent converts, however, the disciples who had grown out of any religious scruples connected with idolatrous sacrifices should be patient with the recently converted.

Because some of Paul’s opposition had not spiritually grown, he rebuked them with the question, “For if I by thanksgiving am a partaker [of meat], why am I slandered for that for which I give thanks?” (1 Co 10:30). Paul was slandered for doing that for which he had freedom to do. He had freedom to eat meat that was sacrificed to idols.   But those opponents who opposed him claimed that he was doing that about which he had commanded others not to do, that is, eat sacrificed meats that would offend the consciences of the weak.   The problem was in the fact that what they said against Paul was slander because of their competition for power and influence among the disciples in Achaia. Paul had a right to eat all meats. His right, however, could not be twisted by his slanderous opposition to make it seem that he was not practicing what he preached.

Puffed up accusers of Paul were twisted, and thus, false. Their accusations had no foundation of truth by which Paul could be judged contradictory in his teaching and behavior. “All things were lawful” to him, but “all things were not expedient” to do in some situations. If those things within his liberty caused offense, then he would forego such things until the new disciples grew out of their religious scruples of former idolatrous religiosity. But this was not the situation in reference to the Achaians’ eating meat that had been offered to idols. They should have grown out of their scruples in reference to eating meat that was sacrificed to idols. Paul had the right to eat, and to say that he ate in contradiction to what he taught, was simply a slanderous accusation generated by opponents who were jealous of Paul’s influence among the Achaians.

The lesson to learn is that those who have bound on their consciences those things that God has not bound, will slander those who work in the realm of their freedom in Christ. The slanderous person will seek to bring into his realm of bondage those who seek to live in the area of their freedom in Christ.

D.  Slander promotes bondage.

There will always be a conflict between those of bondage and those of freedom. The fact that there will always be those who function in the realm of bondage lies in the fact that there will always be those who stop studying their Bibles.   In the absence of belief that is based on the Bible, they begin honoring their heritage as the validation of their faith. The traditions of their religious heritage becomes the standard by which they judge others.

This is the exact religious environment into which Jesus came, and was explained by Him in the context of Mark 7:1-9. When people reject direction by the word of God in order to guard their heritage, then they have created a realm of bondage that is governed by their own religious scruples (traditions). Any who would violate the codes of their bondage, or question any of the cherished catechisms that identify their heritage, are often slandered in order that they be brought back into the bondage of the religious establishment.

Those who function in the realm of their freedom in Christ must always remember the Holy Spirit’s words in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore, in the freedom by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

We must not make the mistake of believing that those who have created a religion of bondage will not seek to intimidate through slander any who would seek to walk in the freedom by which Christ has made us free. Such people will seek to greatly intimidate others in order to bring them into conformity with the norm.   They greatly intimidated Titus to be circumcised when he went into a religious culture of circumcision in Jerusalem. But both Paul and Titus stood their ground. Paul later wrote concerning the incident, “But not even Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised” (Gl 2:3). He identified those who wanted to put the knife to Titus as “false brethren secretly brought in, who sneaked in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus” (Gl 2:4). We must always assume that Satan has his spies among us to spy out our freedom in Christ.

In reference to the slanderers in Achaia, we must keep in mind that one of the reasons why Paul wrote the 2 Corinthian letter was to call on the slanderers among the disciples to repent before his arrival (2 Co 12:20,21). If they had not repented by the time he arrived, then he had no choice but to exercise the rod of discipline that he carried as a Christ-sent apostle. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, it may have been a surprise to Peter and the other apostles that these two Christians dropped dead in their presence because they lied, and all slanderers are liars (At 5:1-11). Paul knew that if the liars in the church of Achaia did not repent before his arrival, something tragic was going to happen.

There is no place for the slanderous person in heaven (Rv 21:8), and thus there is no place for such people among the people of God on earth. Therefore, we must heed the warning of the Holy Spirit: Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you …” (Ep 4:31).

[Next lecture:   July 15]

Attack of Ignorance

We must not forget the principle of Hosea 4:6. The Israelites about whom this statement was made did not become irreligious or nonreligious in their apostasy.   They forgot the commandment of God, and thus created a god in their minds who would condone their unrighteous social behavior. In their ignorance of the law of God, they established religious codes that conformed to their own idolatrous thinking. Satan is still using the same weapon today to keep people led astray.   In fact, we would say that this is the greatest weapon of Satan today to keep people away from the word of God.

In the absence of the authority of the word of God, religious people will always invent all sorts of religious gimmicks in order to maintain the loyalty of every member of their group. What has happened in the area where we live in the last two decades is the rise of the concert assemblies. Every sort of invention has been introduced to entice people to participate in the assembly of each particular group. Everything from bands to artificial smoke with ballroom lighting, has been used to set the stage in order to generate an atmosphere where attendees are mesmerized. The theatrical spectical has been generated to appeal to a narcissistic generation who seeks a spiritual thrill rather than an outpouring of one’s heart in worship of God. All sorts of outside stimuli are used to pump into the minds of adherents an emotional hysteria. Being emotionally stirred into hysteria, mesmerized by a concert of entertainers, and has replaced coming together on one’s knees with a contrite heart. Assemblies have been hijacked by those who seek an audience. The concert assembly has become the new idol god to draw people, especially young people, away from a faith that is based on the word of God.

When cultures become narcissistic, they seek to change their assemblies from an inward worship to that which mesmerizes their own emotionality. Worship assemblies are thus hijacked from praising God to focusing on what one “gets out of the assembly.” It is a subtle change, but one that is slight enough to keep people focused on what they enjoy instead of the worship in spirit and truth for which God calls on man to offer (See Jn 4:24). When one walks away from an assembly with the complaint, “That was boring,” then we understand that the attendee did not go to the assembly to offer worship to God, but to be entertained by others.

When religious people become ignorant of that for which God desires, they will create a religion after their own desires.   When religious people become ignorant of a Bible-defined description of worship, they will manufacture their own worship. There is nothing surprising about this. It has been the ritual of assembly since men first started forgetting the commandment of God in order to follow after their own desires. Ignorance of God’s word always produces ignorant worship. It has always been as Paul wrote:


For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God (Rm 10:3).

We are as Paul who wrote to the Achaians who were formerly idolatrous in their worship. We write “lest Satan should take advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his ways (2 Co 2:11).

A.  Community ignorance:

Ignorance is in some ways a strong word.   Nevertheless, it is a word that is used by the Holy Spirit to refer to those who are acting contrary to truth.   Out of ignorance, the religious leaders of Jerusalem, through the proxy of Roman law, had Jesus crucified. A few years after the event, Peter made this judgment of the Jews in general, but the religious rulers of the Jews specifically: “And now, brethren, I know that through ignorance you did it, as did also your rulers” (At 3:17). What they did was crucify Jesus.

Regardless of their ignorance of the fact that Jesus was the Lord of glory, from the cross Jesus prayed to the Father, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Lk 23:34).   Stephen was able to request of Jesus that those who were stoning him not be charged with their sin because they were stoning him in ignorance: “Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge” (At 7:60). What the Jews did to Jesus, and then to Stephen, was still sin. However, Stephen knew that many of those in the midst of the multitudes who were throwing stones would later recognize their sin and repent. Their forgiveness, therefore, was based on their ignorance and repentance. The word of God would grow among those who recognized their ignorance, and thus repent.   After some time in Jerusalem, it is interesting to note what Luke recorded concerning many of the priests in Jerusalem who eventually recognized that in ignorance they had crucified the Lord of glory:

So the word of God increased. And the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly. And a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith (At 6:7).

When those on the day of Pentecost heard the words, “let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ,” the people who had called for the crucifixion of Jesus “were cut to the heart” (At 2:36,37). “Then those who received the word were baptized” (At 2:41). Many years later, the finger prints of some repentant Judean Christians were possibly still on the stones that sent Stephen on to glory.

 B.  Paul’s ignorance:

One young man who was in the company of those stoning Stephen was Saul of Tarsus (At 8:1). He was there giving his vote to throw the stones. It was for these who were acting out of ignorance that Stephen prayed that their sin not be laid to their charge (At 7:60). Many years later, Saul, now Paul, confessed that he was one, who out of ignorance, condoned the stoning of Stephen. He wrote to Timothy,

I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious. But I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief (1 Tm 1:13).

Satan will use zealous people who believe that they are doing right to work and speak against the work of God. Ignorance is one of Satan’s greatest tools against the preaching of the gospel. When the ignorant work against God, they are acting upon the knowledge they have at the time of their zealous opposition. However, their lack of knowledge of the facts and truth is no excuse, or a means of automatic forgiveness, for the sin they commit as blasphemers is contrary to the work of God.

A blasphemer is assigning the work of God to be that of Satan. A very religious person, as Saul of Tarsus, therefore, was a blasphemer because in his ignorance he believed that Christ was a false prophet and Christianity was an apostasy from Judaism. He later wrote to the Philippians about his former life in persecuting the church, “… concerning zeal, persecuting the church …” (Ph 3:6). Paul was a zealous religious person, sincere in his efforts to persecute those who were rebels of the Jews’ religion.   Nevertheless, he was dead wrong.   The rebels were right and he was in error.

When Jesus knocked Saul off his self-righteous horse on his way to Damascus, Jesus said to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (At 9:4). We can only imagine the shock that caused tremors to go throughout Saul’s body as he lay there blinded by the One whom he had considered for years to be a rebel to his cherished religious heritage.

The conclusion for those faithful teachers who are persecuted because of the ignorance of their persecutors, is that they must behave as both Jesus and Stephen. If one deducts that their persecutors are doing such out of ignorance, then patience should be the response, not reaction. If we were converted out of a religion for which we exercised much zeal, then we must be patient with those who are still in the ignorance of false religion. Patience, with persistence, will always lead men like Saul out of the error of their way.

It is interesting to note that Jesus did not miraculously appear to the main instigator (Saul) of those who were persecuting the church until after the historical diaspora of Acts 8:3,4. Why did Jesus wait so long before He appeared to Saul? It would be good to consider seriously the historical statement Acts 8:3,4 in view of the ignorance of the primary person (Saul) who was leading the persecution against the church.

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore, those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word (At 8:3,4).

The Judean disciples had not fulfilled their personal duty to evangelize the world until they were persecuted out of their social cocoon in Judea. God allowed Saul, therefore, to flush them out of the Jewish cocoon in Jerusalem and Judea, where they had remained for several years after the establishment of the church in A.D. 30. Once they were flushed, then Jesus appeared to Saul in Acts 9 around A.D. 41,42, for He had no more use for Saul as His “motivator” to get the Judean Christians going into all the world as He had formerly commissioned them (See Mt 28:19,20; Mk 16:15,16). Jesus allowed Paul to remain in his ignorance until He had accomplished His purpose through him to get the message of the gospel moving into all the world.

Another reason why Jesus allowed Saul to scatter the Christians out of Jerusalem and into all the world was to save their lives and prepare the way for those Christians who would scatter from Jerusalem prior to the A.D. 70 calamity. At the time of Saul’s persecution of the Christians, Jesus was coming in judgment on national Israel in about twenty years. Jesus needed to encourage as many of His people as possible to immigrate out of Jerusalem in order for them to establish their homes and businesses in other countries for those who would come later.

Not every Christian left Jerusalem in the Acts 8 diaspora. Nevertheless, many friends and family members left Jerusalem in order to prepare the way for friends and family who would be forced to leave about five years before A.D. 70, the time of the final fall of Jerusalem. Those Christian friends and family members who remained in Jerusalem in order to receive and teach those Jews who continued to come to the Passover/Pentecost feast, would later flee, but they would have homes to which to go in the Christian diaspora in the middle 60s. Jesus did the same thing with the members of His body as God did with the Jews when He prepared the way for their scattering among the nations prior to the Assyrian (722/21 B.C.) and Babylonian (586 B.C.) captivities.   God takes care of His people.

We must, therefore, be patient with those who oppose the truth. It may be that God is using our enemies for a special purpose. At least we know that those who persecute the saints out of ignorance keep those who know the truth from being too arrogant, and thus motivated to study their Bibles. When one is persecuted for teaching the Bible, he is driven to continue to study the Bible in order to make sure that he is teaching that which is correct.

When those who are ignorant persecute others because of their desire for power among the disciples, then this is something different. (More on this later). But when the persecution comes from sincere people who do not know all the facts and truth, then it is time to be patient, as were both Jesus and Stephen. We must always remember how patient God was with us in our own sin. We must never forget the eternal truth that is revealed in Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This statement was written by the hand of the one who formerly persecuted the One who had died on the cross for his sins.

[Next lecture:   July 12]