Gospel of Conviction or Convenience?

I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favourable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:1-3 NLT

 

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 1 Corinthians 9:22

 

At first glance, these passages would seem to be at odds with each other. Some might say it’s a contradiction. Some others certainly use the latter to justify almost anything that goes on in church, with the risk that the Gospel is pushed into the background. So, to reach the unchurched, we try to become more like the world, or at least provide the entertainment they would be used to. Churches have become locations for: drop in centres, musical shows, movies, and arts and crafts of many sorts. Each probably good and innocent in their own right, but at what cost to the only message that saves souls?

 

What is the sole purpose of the church of Jesus Christ? Paul makes it clear to his young protege pastor Timothy. It is to “preach the Word of God” whether you think the timing is right or not. And Paul gives the reason – valid 2,000 years ago, and I suggest even more so today. The wise apostle argues that “a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching.” When numbers drop, with the best of intentions we use the church as a recruiting base but instead of giving the life changing gospel, we give them the same things the world gives and call it outreach and evangelism, but we don’t do it as well as the world, and invariably is compared and fails. It is worth bearing in mind that the ONLY thing that Paul tells his young protege Timothy to do is preach the gospel. No sidelines, no gimmicks, just the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ. Are we up to the challenge? After all, where else will the unsaved hear that life changing message of salvation in Jesus Christ?

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Omniscience of God?

When it comes right down to the basics of my faith, I admit to being Bible based as far as my intellect allows, so it may appear to be a bit old fashioned to some. It seems to be going out of style, but I hold to the ‘Omnis’ of the Christian faith but I notice they are being questioned, if not attacked, by the very church leaders who should be protecting them.

 

You see, I believe in, and defend the fact that God is Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Omnipotent. The one which is mostly under attack by some academics and theologians, is the thought that God isn’t really all knowing (Omniscient). It is only a matter of time and circumstance when others will fall under the academic gaze and red pen of the professors of liberal theology who want to carve out a name for themselves and make unnecessary changes.

 

Do you remember the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes? It is based on the fact that although the Emperor was in his underwear, the inner circle of the royal court kept telling him that his imaginary fine clothes were real and exquisite. It was in these royal courtiers’ interests to bask in the reflected glory of the Emperor, and as long as they could convince everyone else that their leader was dressed in the best, their place was secure.

 

It took a child who was innocent of the selfish game being played on his Emperor, to shout that the nation’s respected leader wasn’t wearing any clothes! The game was up for those who led the Emperor into his mistaken and false identity. So, why tell that old story? Because there are students and professors of theology who want to be seen as clever as their theological peers and heroes who claim that the outlandish theology of Omniscience is actually untrue and outdated, and that we have been labouring under a falsehood for a long time. The thing that troubles me most, is that the basic belief of free will, held by the majority of Christians, is used to disprove the omniscience of God.

 

What about you? Do you believe that God is omniscient? Or do you believe our free will means that God is like us in that He only knows those things that He CAN know, and only then after we have exercised our free will? It is a serious question that I believe needs an answer at both personal and corporate church level.

Elitism?

Christians are a funny lot. No, make that a strange bunch. We have those on the fringes of faith who barely know much about the Bible, but their hearts are soft, safe and pure. They may be poorly educated but they are the salt of the earth. Then at the other end of the spectrum we have the well educated academic and the well read Bible scholar, different people but both of whom see themselves as elite, and better than most Christians. They are very different people, but each one will feel elite, whereas the soft hearted Christian is lowly and humble.

 

So, why am I saying this? It’s because recently I came across a Christian who falls into the well read Bible scholar, and who has decided that he must take the Bible literally. That’s ok I hear you say, but let me continue. We all know faithful ones who may differ on their beliefs about the Garden of Eden, and if it was an apple or a fruit that Eve took. Literalists and those who take that part of the story as picture language, seem to get along fine because we can see where they are coming from.

 

BUT (big BUT) what if the literalist believer says that the earth is really flat, and then rolls out many verses of Scripture to support that belief? In order to hold the flat earth principle, many things have to be thrown aside as conspiracies of the devil. Things like, man never being in space and certainly never walking on the moon. The curvature of the earth’s surface first calculated around 300BC is a lie of satan and we have all been deceived by the master of lies by devilish conspiracy theories. There was much more as I listened to my friend expound his own late belief that the earth is flat, but the main thing that came across was the elitist way he spoke. Those who didn’t believe like him were not as Biblically wise as he is. They had not properly studied and believed the Word of God, and so were not in the place he was. Make no mistake, there are many others like him across the world. The small group of Christians with me who listened, heard him in respectful silence, but wore a confused smile of disbelief. I say that because we found his new found ‘discovery’ to be harmless because he still fully believes Christ as Saviour, and all the other main characteristics of salvation.

 

However, having said all that, I find the educated, academic scholar to be more dangerous in their elitism. They use bigger words and advance their own theories about interpretation and many times do not back it up with Scripture, whether understood literally, pictorially or even in poetic form. As new ideas emerge from their theses or dissertations, it can puff up and produce a sense of worth which shows them above others. Sometimes then, basic and fundamental tenets of our faith are questioned, and we are prone to accept them because they come from a lettered theologian that we are expected to respect.

 

Give me those Christians who enjoy a simple faith every time, who barely know much about deep theology, but who read the Bible with a clear head, and an open heart which is humble, soft, safe and pure. Turns out I know just one Christian who believes in a flat earth, but what about you? Do you or anyone you know believe in the flat earth theory, Christian or not??

First Do No Harm

You will recognise these words from the beginning of the Hippocratic Oath, which is taken by student doctors around the world, and ingrained into their minds even before they touch a patient. The reason is clear. If you can’t make the patient any better, then at least don’t do them any harm. Oh that as believers we would take the lesson to heart.

 

Some Christians are so used to ‘speaking the truth in love’ that they cannot, or will not, hold their tongue when they should. After all, the argument goes, it’s in the Bible, so it must be right. I would suggest that when the truth is really spoken in love, only good will be done. After all, God does not, and will not, do harm to His own witness. He may convince and convict of the sin in our lives through the Holy Spirit, but He can do that without our feeble attempts to speak for Him in a misguided ‘in love’ pretence.

 

Sadly, I have come across very few Christians who are loving or lovely, when they speak their version of the truth ‘in love’.

The Word Of God?

The Bible is called “The Word of God” and for good reason. The canon of scripture handed down to us contains the creation account, the prophecy of the coming Messiah, and the arrival of the promised baby which we celebrate at Christmas Time. When that baby grew up to be a man He suffered and died for our sins, was resurrected and ascended back into heaven where He pleads to the Father on our behalf. What a story, and the full account is faithfully recorded for us in the Bible.

 

Someone who can save us, and ensure our place in heaven is truly the Messiah, the Christ, Son of the Living God, Emmanuel, God with us! Since the Bible contains the very words of life, how do we treat it? With respect? Do we read it regularly? Take it to church? It has been 500 years since Martin Luther started a movement which would result in the Bible being made available to everyone in the land. People of conviction died and many were tortured to give us this freedom which thankfully remains until this day, and all that is left for us to do, is read it. We are indeed blessed to have the Word of God freely available, and the choice is ours to read it thankfully, or ignore it.

Shame

It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. Ephesians 5:12

 

You don’t have to look too deeply to see the wisdom in these words from Paul. Recently, the media has been highlighting the seedier side of the celebrity world, with all the force of their hedonistic worldview. Of course, some even openly report these tasteless activities under the guise of being informative and open with their readers and viewers because it is in the public interest.

 

As believers, we can see through the fog. There is good reason for the sinful lives of people who have become famous, to go without comment. We don’t benefit from the exposure of the sin, do we? And that is what it is, it’s sin. The Bible calls it for what it is, and tells us not to help gossip the sin, because Paul reminds us that it is ‘shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret’.

 

Did you catch that? Even when these shameful acts are done in secret, or in the privacy of their own lifestyle, we do not have to mention it. In order to protect ourselves from this lifestyle, there are some things we can do or, to be more accurate, not do which will help.

 

How about not reading those newspapers and magazines which glorify the things that deliberately pander to the senses? How about being more careful with the TV programs we watch where adultery is commonplace and homosexuality is shown as normal? How about the movies we watch, and it doesn’t matter where the film is screened?

 

In all of this, ask yourself what the church is doing to combat the sinful lifestyle in our nation? We are reminded that the church is not the building. The church is me, and the church is you. What are we doing to try to turn the tide of what is acceptable, and those things which are now seen by the majority as normal? I’m sure God knows we should have a stronger voice from the pulpits of our churches, and more so from the lives of our leaders to start with. At pew level, we do not have to give the oxygen of ever more publicity to ‘what the disobedient do in secret’. It’s not that we can’t do it, more a case of do we want to?

Nearly

Having been around churches of various denominations throughout my life, I can usually recognise the differences, and even appreciate the things that separate us in theology and practice. I’m not going to argue that we have more in common, than that which separates us, but make another observation which has been growing in my mind over the recent past.

 

The one thing we all share, is the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ. Or it should be a common thread running through all evangelicals to some degree.

 

It concerns me that we are becoming ever better at talking about what the gospel is, than we are at preaching it. We have become clever and intelligent as we learn more about Bible times, and how the early disciples changed the world. Armed with this great knowledge, why do we not preach the gospel instead of talking about it? I see a real and fundamental difference, and in this case ‘nearly’ is not good enough for all and any of the mainstream church denomination family.

 

I well remember the induction service of a new pastor, and an old saintly pastor, close to retirement after many good years in the pulpit say to the new minister, “The pulpit is not here to have a conversation with your congregation, it is here to preach the Gospel”. The words were spoken many years ago, are true today, and nearly is still not good enough.