Saturday, December 26, 2009

Immorality and the Church

A time for cleansing….

In this late hour, Satan has a plan to dis-empower God’s people and weaken His Church by ‘normalising’ immorality.

Godly hatred of sexual sin is considered ‘old testament’ by many these days, and the ‘New Covenant’ is seen as a soft option as if God has somehow relented of His staunch moral position.

Infidelity among institutional church leaders is common and parents are finding it harder to argue the case for moral purity, when state run education provides all the tools for a ‘safe’ and guiltless immoral lifestyle.

Casual sex is expected of today’s youth and this pressure is impacting the Church.

Clearly there is grace for those who err and seek God’s forgiveness with repentance, but often this is not sought, as if somehow Jesus will ‘understand’.

What does the Bible say about keeping pure and saving one’s self for marriage.

Firstly, Marriage needs to be defined, as young people can consider themselves married simply by committing to an exclusive immoral relationship.

If marriage is not defined then Adultery and fornication are equally vague terms.

Marriage has four essential elements, the spiritual, the social, the legal and the physical.

Marriage includes the exchanging of vows before God and friends, entering a contract under law and adopting an exclusive ‘one flesh’ relationship.

Marriage is a God ordained institution within which He intended children to be raised.

Jesus acknowledges the place of marriage in Matt 19: 4-6. and adultery as unfaithfulness in marriage in v9.

Adultery then is sexual behaviour that violates the exclusive marriage covenant.

Fornication is a sexual act without having a married relationship. Pornography is commonly an associated sin and is derived from the same Greek word (Porneia).

Now many of us are aware of the Ten Commandments handed to Moses on a Stone Tablet.

Commandment Seven is not to commit adultery.

Jesus referred to these commandments saying’ Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments and so teaches others shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven’.

In fact the requirements of Jesus are more strict than the Commandments, as Jesus said the desire of the heart to commit adultery, is as serious as committing the sin physically.

Jesus said ‘depart from me you who practice lawlessness…’ (Matt 7:23) so the rejection of Law and adopting an amoral world view is a serious spiritual offence.

Clearly Jesus broke the power of the law through the cross (Eph2:15) but the law remains Gods standard to expose sin. (Rom 7:7) In fact sin is lawlessness (John 3:4)

In Hebrews 10 we read “For if we go on sinning wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a certain terrifying expectation of judgement…. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses, dies without mercy on the testament of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified and has insulted the Spirit of Grace?

So the consequences of casting aside New Covenant Grace is more severe than casting aside Old Testament Law.

What then does the New Testament say about Adultery and Fornication?

Jesus said “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders…. these are the things that defile... (Matt 15:20)

The disciples as Fathers of the early church were equally clear about the sin of fornication. They included sexual sin among the top four sins to avoid, along with the drinking of blood. (Acts 15:29) All the sins on this list resulted in personal spiritual defilement.

When Paul wrote about the sins of the flesh, fornication (in the Greek text) was at the top of the list… Gal 5:16-21 “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The New Testament writer of Hebrews gives similar warnings: “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Heb 13:4

So the Gospel of Jesus is not a soft option allowing some more liberal approach to sexual sin, rather the opposite, we are called to purity – not in action only, but also in thought.

How then do we respond when falling short of these higher standards?
Paul tackles this issue in detail in Romans 7.
It will be an intense personal battle, and we all fail in some measure.

Firstly “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… “

Secondly, we have been given all the spiritual tools to break the power of sin and be fully restored - through confession, repentance, renunciation, cleansing and healing by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Name of Jesus.

We have been talking about two threads of Gods Grace that work together. God’s Law that exposes sin and God’s Kindness that leads us to repentance. (Rom 2:4)

Lets walk together in the light, renouncing secret and shameful ways (2 Cor 4:2) and restore power to His body so we can be fit for the battle in this late hour.

What are you worshiping?

There is a myth causing considerable confusion in the Body of Christ originating from the greatest threat to the Christian Church today. Sadly this myth is believed, and passed on, by many who should know better, but have failed to think the issue through or have simply failed to properly weigh the claim.

First, however, let us anchor our thoughts together by considering the biblical account of the events that unfolded concerning Moses and the Children of Israel recorded in Exodus 31.

Moses had been called to commune with the Lord on Mt. Sinai. He had experienced The Lords’ terrible yet compelling presence. He had received from the very hand of God two tablets of stone that had writing engraved on both sides by the very finger of God.
Meanwhile the Children of Israel, in Moses absence, guided in deception by Aaron, were instructed to bow down to a golden calf, which he had crafted.
Now God could see what was happening, He told Moses that the people had corrupted themselves and were bowing down and worshiping an image and not God. The Lord was very angry and decided to destroy them all and start again to build a righteous nation beginning with Moses.
Moses pleaded with God and reminded Him of the covenant He had made with the patriarchs Abraham Isaac and Jacob concerning a people and a land of promise. So the Lord changed His mind, and sent Moses down the mountain to correct this abominable behaviour. Clearly these descendants of Abraham were no longer worshiping God

Today millions of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are behaving in a similar way.
They bow down five times each day to a black cube in Mecca called the Ka'bah. From God’s perspective they are similarly corrupted.
It is what people do that reveals what they worship, not what they say.
Muslim commentators try to explain the phenomena as simply reverence for Allah’s house. Ironically some traditions suggest that Mohammad consecrated this stone as a memorial to end all idolatry. How clear it is that this is not the worship of the God of Israel who commands that we direct our worship to Him alone.

That leads us to the myth that some believe, and even teach – that the God of Israel and the god of modern Islam, Allah, are one.

The primary scripture that guides Allah worship is the Koran. The Koran records that Allah is the author of evil. (Surah 91:7&8) The Koran records that Allah commanded Satan to worship Adam.(Surah 2.32) Islamic worship is characterized by repetition and the image attributed to their god is one who is distant and impersonal, uninvolved in the detail of life and leaving human affairs to fate.

Christians are guided in behavior by the Bible. The Bible teaches that God is Holy and Righteous and that Satan authored evil through prideful disobedience. The Bible consistently condemns any worship not directed to Him. The Bible teaches against vane repetition and encourages prayer to a Personal Loving God who understands and personally changes life circumstances as supremely demonstrated by Jesus.

In no way do I judge these children of Abraham who have become loyal to death to a scripture and tradition that has departed from the direct worship of the God of Israel. Like Moses I plead for their turning back to the Worship of the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. May they no longer be corrupted, and may the church no longer be silent, but bring a message of liberation to these cousins of faith.

Restoring Reverence for God.

There is another issue that has contributed to a weak church today.
Our Father wants to express Himself to the world today through the family of God - in His fullness.
Social pressure has led to us presenting a palatable Gospel without the aspects of God’s nature that might offend.
We have failed to allow expression of many of His attributes and in doing so have made our God ‘PC’
To get a balanced picture of His character it is necessary to consider the whole of scripture and not just the New Testament.
Many believers have struggled to reconcile the Christ from the New with the God of Israel from the Old.
The aspects of God that have been conveniently ignored are in fact crucial to a strong Church. These could be called the ‘negative’ attributes of God, are not ‘nice’ and include the following…
Our God judges, is jealous, hates sin, is terrible, destroys, gets angry, consumes like a fire, takes vengeance and is intolerant.
Presenting a soft view of God has lead to having a generation of believers that have little comprehension or experience of the “fear” of God. There is a corresponding lack of wisdom among us, compounded by the modern trend towards young leadership in some Churches. By fear, I mean to honour and respect for a God who is awesome and holy. This is not to be confused with an unholy fear associated with sects and cults to control adherents.
This failure to represent of the fear of God to the Church has also meant that the Church’s voice in the world is muted.
How do we correct this lack of knowledge of such an important part of God’s character?
Three things come to mind.
Firstly, these aspects of God’s character are more often than not expressed through God’s prophets. You may ask - where are they? In many cases the structure and dynamic of our churches fails to make room for such a ministry. The one who is brave enough to say that we need to repent is often seen immediately as imbalanced ‘flakey’ or plainly deceived. In the early church there was a fellowship of prophets serving the family of God to bring His word. This is virtually unheard of today and would likely be viewed as a dangerous clique. This grouping of prophets in a district should be welcomed and serve to bring God’s Word to the Shepard’s in the area.
Secondly there has been a trend away from preaching and towards teaching. It is not surprising that preaching the Gospel has less appeal in the modern church as we are exhorted to go out and preach whereas most preachers stay in and preach. In staying in, they are all too often addressing a convinced audience. As in the early church, preaching should be done in public where the unsaved are. This is where the word of judgment has a significant place. Preaching with signs following in the market place results in radical conversions, which in turn challenge the church and stimulate renewal.
Thirdly our current generation seems to lack the personal close encounters with the Almighty that many of us remember, permanently changing our lives. I still recall a prayer time with students at Otago University in the 70’s when ‘God passed by…’ I was speechless for several hours. An encounter of that nature leaves one with a permanent deep respect and healthy fear of our Lord for a lifetime.
We sing about His awe, but if there was revelation knowledge of His holiness our gatherings would be more likely to command His respect and fear.

Returning to the Source of our Faith

I have another topic for our consideration.
Again I want to touch on a matter that is at the heart of our being effective as Christians.
Can we look this time at what should be the central resource for us yet we neglect drawing on this divine provision.
We often give heed to its centrality symbolically but rarely draw on its resources in practice.
Some will have guessed that I am referring to… the Cross.
The Cross is much more than a historical event to be remembered, it is a timeless event happening now. God in Jesus subdued every dark power, conquered every sickness, defeated death, disempowered sin, and secured our freedom, at the Cross then, for us now.
This event though spiritual in nature is no less real than the chair we sit on.
We can literally kneel in belief before the Cross and for example, give over our stress, He wants us to have a light burden and an easy yoke.

The key to understand is that Jesus on the Cross experienced our individual struggle and stress for us. If we can receive the truth of this and apply it, our lives will be much easier and the Chemist’s bill much lower. But there is a cost, we may need to pray for brokenness because the Lord detests a proud heart.

Paul spoke of dying daily, taking up the Cross daily. He clearly came back to the sacred hill often and I believe this was a key to his being able to endure extreme hardship.
So often today, hardship is seen as the fruit of a disobedient life, somehow indicating a separation from the blessings of God. We counsel those who struggle, not so much by kneeling together with them and appropriating the grace of God, but rather by encouraging self realisation, self esteem and self help. Many Pastors in fact have been taught to professionally manage their relationships with those in need, as if survival depends on it. In my life I have met few who will offer to kneel with me, and fewer that will weep.

I recall a vision I had about 25 years back. In the vision there was a throng of believers all walking in the same direction with indescribably beautiful music in the heavens overhead. On either side of this company of believers were well meaning officials indicating which way to walk. I was strongly aware that they in fact did not themselves know the way. As we walked there appeared on the horizon a single destination for all of us, you guessed it, it was the cross.

It is a travesty that Jesus went to so much trouble to provide release from all manner of impediments on the Cross, made available conquering power through the Cross, yet we generally seek release and power elsewhere.
Modern Christianity tends to be success orientated, ‘Knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection’ is often taught but the verse goes on… ‘and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death’. Jesus said ‘I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life’.

Paul speaks of a very different ministry than that to which we have become accustomed today, he summarises in this way… “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christs afflictions, for the sake of His body which is the church.”
No one looking for a career in Christianity would be attracted by this job description.
In modernising Christianity, we have departed from the very guts of what it means to walk as Jesus walked, we have substituted for the call of the cross sophisticated methods of Christian service assisted by every electronic aid imaginable.
As a result of this we have a disempowered church.
May the Lord have mercy and bring us back to the cross.

Living our Christian Faith Together.

In my first essay I spoke about returning to unity-based fellowship as a stepping stone to rediscovering the power of Jesus.
Today I have another issue for us to consider, the neglect of community in our modern Christian lives.

In the last five decades I have seen the erosion of community in society in general. The corner store was squeezed out by the supermarket; the local urban cop is no more. We know few others in our streets these days. Spontaneous local support has been largely replaced by professional ‘care-givers’ A church elder once regularly visited every family in the parish. Nowadays the churches are often closed during the week and the needy soul no longer has access to a caring father heart, rather a professional counsellor at a cost.

As if God had an answer to this trend, back in the 70’s many mainline churches experienced very significant growth, assisted initially by the evangelism crusades of Billy Graham, and later Luis Palau and others, but more significantly, a re-discovery of signs and wonders Christianity akin to that recorded in the book of Acts.
There was a great deal of bible study going on then, as leaders and lay alike tried to understand how this new mode of Christian life with phenomena like healing and prophecy, and a strong sense of community among believers should be lived.
Families were beginning to break bread together with friends – unheard of before.
At that time various attempts were made to establish some form of Christian community with varying success. There was a tension between the house meetings that spontaneously sprung up and the official church-based activities. Would they try to grow into churches, would control be lost? Would the church lose out on the tithes?
During this period of New Zealand church history there were many outstanding miracles as Jesus was for a time able to move with a fluid body of believers but this was not to last.
Strong ‘cover’ teaching began to reign in many of the believers who were enjoying a vibrant but threatening walk with Jesus. Little theological room was given to the notion of a corporate cooperating body of believers in a district having daily fellowship outside the organised programmes of the church.

Now the mandate for corporate living goes back a long way in fact scripturally precedes the birth of the church. Further the first churches functioned with a vibrant community in support, in which there was sharing of possessions, elimination of material hardship and a resulting material equality (Acts2 2:42-47 and 2 Cor 8: 13-15)
We are light years away from this today and are missing out on being the visible testimony of Gods love in the process.
Jesus indicated in John 17:23 that the visible unity of the believers was a key aspect of evangelism. The modern church has lacked significant conversion growth for decades for this reason.
Not only do we lack this vibrant community today but many of the modern churches are without shame adopting a business or an army model, alienating those who naturally seek a family experience.

What then is the answer?
We need to let the Church attend to matters like the call to corporate worship, apostolic teaching, and prayer while the believers in community are devoted to neighbourhood fellowship, lay ministry, market place evangelism, as a separate yet co-operating spiritual entity, visible to the world. Then the gathering of the saints for church worship would be an occasion to share testimony of what the Lord has done, with the associated spontaneous response of praise and thanks upon which true worship naturally builds.
The challenge is to implement a structural change to the way we do our Christianity.
No longer should all our Christian activity proceed from the ‘vision’ of the local church. Families with a like call to Christian living should combine and become an effective expression of Jesus in their neighbourhood. This movement would cut across the denominational divide and feed back new life into all the churches. Many believers who have given up attending church would relate to such a vibrant non-church life and return to fellowship.
This model tends to operate in parts of the world where Christianity is under persecution. While it is true that true faith under pressure produces resurrection life, why wait for things to get worse when we can combine now?
There is little opportunity for Church leaders to step outside traditional thinking and grapple with the issues being raised here let alone implement such change.
That change can however happen from initiatives that you and I make. I invite you to pray about who you can meet with on a regular basis to pray together and with God’s direction begin to combine together as we read in the early chapters of Acts.

Christians - May I have your attention for a moment?

May I have your attention for a moment? I write as a lay person with a deep concern for Christianity in the modern world.
I am inviting comment and reflection, maybe some will share my passion, some may disagree. However, let us review how we practically live out our Christianity in this age.
Where do I begin? Back in the mid 70’s I made a very conscious decision to refer to the Christian scripture as the last word on matters of faith and reality. I had experienced a prodigal’s return and building on my Christian roots was crucial to the journey back to normality.
It became clear to me early on, that pride in its various forms was a very basic trap, so I resolved to keep matters simple. It was clear to me that our God does not judge on the basis of intelligence therefore the truth had to be simple and understandable.
If the bible was indeed God’s roadmap for life then its understanding was not confined to the scholars, but rather the keys for understanding were available to all.

From my learning about Church history I found that repeatedly, when God impacted a whole society and there was wholesale repentance, everywhere bibles were being dusted off, as everyone intuitively knew that when things got serious with God, the bible was the place to look for understanding.
And so it is today, we are in need of a fresh visitation; our society is progressively and rapidly rejecting Christian values and truths.

But it is us I would like to talk about. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, how does our mode of living compare to the simple teachings of the scripture?
There is general agreement that wherever Jesus reigns the Kingdom of God is present.
God in Jesus was quite specific about how we should recognise this. He sent word to John, in order that these would be no doubt, “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

Now the reality is that these signs of the Kingdom are almost totally absent in New Zealand Christianity today yet these signs confirm the presence of Jesus.
What then has happened? This evidence of Jesus was clearly present in the early church but is noticeably absent in modern day Christianity for the most part.
I have to say that there are some simple reasons for this.
Those committed to our church work have become sophisticated and professional. They are generally well trained, talented individuals, able to lead, good managers, but are usually unfamiliar with the power of Jesus at work.

Why has this happened?
Looking back on the last thirty years, the times when Kingdom miracle signs have been evident in New Zealand certain conditions have been met.
Firstly there has been a God given unity among the believers involved.
Management and motivation were not predominant but simple Faith and Love was.
There was generally a lay ministry flowing, the believers would come together to share what God had done, there was a credible manifestation of Jesus in everyday life.
Being part of such an exciting experience meant that things of earth did grow strangely dim… we held onto our possessions more lightly, and there was supply for those who stepped out in God’s purpose without visible support.
The body of believers owned the vision which was planted in their hearts by Jesus rather than being sold by the leaders.
It seems that in the absence of God’s power we have built better programmes to compensate, become better organised so much so that it would be business as usual whether Jesus turns up or not.
Of course we have modified our theology to justify what isn’t happening, but this only masks the problem.
How then do we return to a vibrant biblical Christianity with conversion growth, and transformed lives? We need to return to the early church model clearly represented in the first Jerusalem Church (Acts 2:42-47), and the writings of Paul.
Start small with your close friends, read the scripture together and give God a blank page and room to move. Say less and pray more. Believe and act on the words of promise in the scripture. Confess your sin to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed…