The Church in North America has long been a house divided against itself. We have sustained so many breaks in fellowship over small matters that we now find ourselves incapable of uniting over big issues that truly matter. That is the consequence for our past sins of disunity – of failing to “be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Phil 2:2). My prayer for this next cultural era, however, is that true believers from every denomination, culture and expression of faith will draw together once more in unity of the Holy Spirit. This happens to be the only thing Jesus prayed over all believers (John 17:21-23). In order to do that we MUST set aside all matters peripheral to the Cross and assume our identity as the true Bride of Christ – holy, pure and fully committed to Christ in every way. And this will only happen when we stop insisting on our own interpretations of the truth and instead allow the Holy Spirit to guide us collectively – not individually – into the perfect image of God made manifest in Christ Jesus.
The Lord has not called us to be lawyers who cleverly use the law to justify ourselves, defend God, or attack others. Herein lies the epitome of legalism, whether in staunch defense of a self-earned righteousness or to negotiate religious justification for a sinful lifestyle. Far too many of us have leveraged religion to legitimize our own self-actualization rather than lending our lives as a testimony to Christ’s finished work at the Cross.
Regarding our own justification, it is not by works of our own righteousness that we have been saved, lest any man should boast (Titus 3:5). Should we be tempted to use self-righteousness as a platform to attack others, we must remember that God has called us to take the plank out of our own eye before seeking to remove the speck from someone else’s. Do we truly believe Jesus when he says that God will judge us to the same degree we judge others? (Mat 7:2-5) Even in the midst of injustice committed against us; we are commanded to keep no record of wrong, forgive them as many times as needed, and fully entrust ourselves to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).
We cannot wield the law according to our will or advantage, for the law itself has been made of no advantage to us. Whether in an effort to defend ourselves or attack others, the blood of Jesus Christ has rendered the law useless. We are called instead to walk in the Spirit, which is by faith and not by human eyesight or insight – for man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. Therefore, those who search the heart, know the mind of the Spirit because He intercedes for us according to the will of God (Rom 8:28). “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” (1 Cor 2!)
Whenever we feel the urge to “defend” God or ourselves before non-believers – remember that we were never intended to approach the world with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in a demonstration of the Spirit, so that their faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor 2:4). Recall that Jesus specifically told the disciples to wait to begin their witness to the world until they had received “power from on high” in the form of His Spirit (Acts 1:8) who was to guide them all things and bring to mind all that he had said to them (John 14:26). Even when we find ourselves to be the ones on trial before men, we can trust the Spirit to give us “a mouth and wisdom” which no adversary could withstand or contradict. (Luke 21:15)
I myself have been convicted of this in the past. Seeing the embarrassing blunders and faux pas continually made by respected Christian authorities and figureheads, I quite literally thought to myself, “What the church in North America really needs right now is some good Public Relations.” If only Christians could figure out how to answer the questions of the world truthfully, yet in a way that still makes God still look good. I have since come to realize that there is an essential flaw in that line of thinking. Jesus was keenly focused on feeding hungry souls with words of life – not winning cultural influence or social favor by marketing himself amongst his society. Come to think of it, Jesus had a terrible public image – could you imagine being assigned as his Public Relations agent?
Likewise, “we who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise, but an ultimatum.” (A.W. Tozer) While the world “ultimatum” may seem harsh, “the word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). For every person on earth will either choose to believe or choose to reject the good news of Christ.
Maintaining peaceful relations between the church and the world might have been feasible in our grandparent’s generation, when American culture was still somewhat seasoned by the moral flavors in the palate of Christian tradition. But today it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a MAJOR distinction between Christ’s agenda for the earth and the priorities of fallen humanity at large. If the more “forward-thinking” churches do somehow manage to salvage Christianity’s public image so that a few non-believers will be won over by their impressive lack of embarrassment in the eyes of the world, we might be tempted to congratulate them for accomplishing such a difficult feat.
But to what salvation have they been won over? “To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ?” (A.W. Tozer) The problem is that some churches present this generation with a gospel offer they won’t refuse, and then hesitate – or rather fail – to inform them that in following Christ they must deny their flesh, as the world with all its human logic, as well as every allegiance with the god of this world.
Any and every attempt to make Christ appealing to the world on the world’s terms places us in that dangerous alternate universe where the Kingdom of God becomes the Kingdom of Christians and the Body of Christ ends up simply being an unsuccessful – not to mention pathetic – imitator of the worldly patterns and alliances we were called to break. There is nothing more unattractive than the Bride of Christ attempting to seduce the lost by appealing their unsanctified flesh rather than drawing them into an all-encompassing heart-soul-mind-strength love for the Lover of their souls.
While we are told that Jesus is the sole author and finisher of the faith, many of us are busy acting as “Journalists for Jesus” in an attempt to legitimize our faith or de-legitimize the faith of other Christians or churches who express their faith differently from us. However, the Holy Spirit does not need you to publicly or privately attempt to discredit the faith of anyone – He alone knows who is authentic and who is a fake. The Spirit alone has the authority to legitimize – we are simply called to testify. We are all witnesses to the testimony of Christ – through the inspired Scriptures, from our own experience and by the Spirit who lives and breathes inside of us.
Of course there are many false prophets in the Church today. There are those whose teaching could lead you down a path of deception – that much is clear. But what advice does the apostle Paul give to his churches on how to deal with them? It is very simple: “Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.” (Rom 16) He does not instruct believers to confront the deceivers but rather encourages them to walk the other direction.
Paul did not seem threatened by those who preached the Gospel out of impure motives when he said “some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will… What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil 1) I once heard a well-known Christian thinker dismiss the idea of reconciling doctrinal and denominational differences in the church, saying that Truth was “too important to kill it in the streets for the sake of peace.” However, I would argue that Truth was killed in the streets for the sake of peace – only Truth was a person who willingly laid down his life in selfless love for a broken humanity.
So for those who have always felt it their civic duty to “expose” the fakes in our midst, we must remember that God Himself is allowing the weeds to grow up with the wheat until judgment day (Mat 13:30). And every moment we spend searching for the weeds among the wheat, we are neglecting the plentiful harvest Jesus has called us to reap. More importantly, our fascination with exposing the wolves in sheep’s clothing is a dangerous diversion from hearing the voice of our Shepherd.
The pen is mightier than the sword – except when it is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph 6:17). And this passage does not use the “logos” word of God, but the “rhema” word of God, which is the Spirit’s living breath of inward illumination of the Scriptures and all Spirit-lead intuition, insight, and inspiration in our everyday lives. It is the rhema (breath of God) which makes the logos (word of God) living and active (2 Tim 3:16, Heb 4:12). Divine truth can only be received through revelation of the Holy Spirit, for all spiritual truth is spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14). So instead of relying solely on your best Biblical arguments, start inviting the Spirit to guide you into all truth (John 16:13) – He will instruct your thoughts, direct your words and guide your steps in difficult situations or settings.
I once heard at an RZIM apologetics conference that “it is not about having a set of invincible arguments, but about identifying yourself with the Invincible One”. So the next time you feel the itch to release your next “expose’” – remember that you are called to hold fast to the confession of the hope you profess without wavering, regardless of what you see anyone else doing or saying. Seek first the kingdom of God along with His righteousness and let go of your own agenda. Instead, try to discern what His agenda is in any given situation (Eph 5:10,17). Keep your eyes on Him and your ears attuned to His voice – obey His nudgings, but ultimately trust Him to do His work.
Instead of a publicist with a savvy spin, be a proclaimer of unequivocal truth: Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)
Instead of a lawyer with clever arguments, be an ambassador for Christ: All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. (2 Cor 5:20)
Instead of a journalist for judgment, be a publisher of salvation: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation. (Isaiah 52:7)