Prophetic Insight or Divination?

propheticWe’ve allowed many to play fast and loose with the term “prophetic” whenever we see folks proclaim “prophetic insights” based on calendars (Hebrew and Modern). Is this Prophetic or merely divination by other spiritual means (numerology, astrology, omen reading).

Let us begin with what will undoubtedly be a season of supposed “prophetic words” that will capitalize on the upcoming Hebrew New Year (Rosh Hashana). It seems every year there is a “prophetic word for 20XX” that never gets reviewed or tested. A prophet of God must be 100% accurate or they are false and need to repent for their blasphemy. There is no in-between.

The Seventh Month

On our western calendar, Rosh Hashana falls on the evening of September 25. While it is called the “Hebrew New Year”, it doesn’t mark the first day of the calendar year as we westerners have come to think of “New Year”. It is in-fact the first day of the seventh month of the year. This is an important month in the Mosaic Covenant, so let us brush up a bit on what Scripture says regarding this month.

Leviticus 23:23-25 (ESV) | The Feast of Trumpets
23 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. 25 You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the Lord.

Okay, so this is to be a Sabbath day in addition to the weekly Sabbath (since this calendar is based on both solar and lunar cycles to keep the seasons) the day on which Rosh Hashana falls varies from year to year. Keeping track of Sabbaths the months, the lunar cycles and the holy days was a priestly duty, but all of the people of Israel had to abide by them in order to keep the Law.

Leviticus 23:26-32 (ESV) | The Day of Atonement
26 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 27 “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord. 28 And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. 29 For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people.30 And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people. 31 You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. 32 It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.”

Now in Numbers we see what sacrifices were to be brought for the Day of Atonement:

Numbers 29:7-11 (ESV) | Offerings for the Day of Atonement
7 “On the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation and afflict yourselves. You shall do no work, 8 but you shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing aroma: one bull from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old: see that they are without blemish. 9 And their grain offering shall be of fine flour mixed with oil, three tenths of an ephah for the bull, two tenths for the one ram, 10 a tenth for each of the seven lambs: 11 also one male goat for a sin offering, besides the sin offering of atonement, and the regular burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings.

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is arguably the most important day on the Hebrew calendar. Lots of sacrifices made to atone for the sins of the people of Israel. It marks the end of the High Holy days that begin on the first day of the seventh month. Let’s look at the historical significance of the Day of Atonement within the Mosaic Covenant.

Leviticus 16:1-10 (ESV) | The Day of Atonement
1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, 2 and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. 3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. 6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

Okay, so we have now a full picture of what was required as far as sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. It was quite the bloody affair, and it was the only day when the High Priest could enter the Holy Place. The High Priest must first offer a sacrifice to atone for himself and his house, then he had to follow God’s commands to make atonement for the Holy Place because of the sins of the people, and then the tent of meeting and the altar. Then he would lay his hands on the live goat and confess over it all of the sins of the people (this is where the term “scapegoat” derives its meaning) so that it will carry away the sins of the people.

Everything we have discussed in the Law is a foreshadowing of the final sacrifice, the final Day of Atonement, the day that Jesus Christ died on the cross to atone for our sin forever.

Hebrews 9:19-28 (ESV) 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

This is the significance of the Day of Atonement for those of us who are in Christ Jesus. Plainly taught in Scripture. We now have the great High Priest at the right hand of God the Father interceding on our behalf. No more animal sacrifices, no more waiting for the seventh month of the year, much less the 10th day of the seventh month.

Prophetic Insight or Divination?

There is an unquenchable drive within the community of self-appointed apostles and prophets to always have a “fresh” or “new” word of prophecy. There is very little Biblical teaching in that community. In fact, there is a sense that what is old is no longer relevant, so there is no point of going back to what the Scriptures teach. Oddly enough, when these individuals do go back to the Scriptures, they tend to dive into odd portions of the Old Testament to rip verses or promises out of context. Finally, what is often times presented as a “prophetic word” or “prophetic insight” is really no different from divination.

Numerology and Astrology presented as Prophecy

Why do accept the idea that God is in any way bound to a Calendar (Hebrew or Modern)? Were the feasts and the Sabbaths to be observed by God or by men? Was God bound to certain days on which He could speak to His prophets? No. God spoke when He chose to speak, through whom He chose to speak to whomever He chose to speak. The Lord God is Sovereign. If God is not bound by certain days of the Calendar while the Mosaic Covenant is in effect, He is definitely not bound by those days now that the Truth of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God has been revealed. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, and Paul taught that we, Christians, are now the temple of the Holy Spirit of God. If He dwells within us, then we needn’t wait for the Day of Atonement to approach the mercy-seat, or to confess our sins and be forgiven. So, why… WHY have we adopted the pagan practices of astrology and numerology in an attempt to divine the Will of God for “the New Year”?

We’ve already been dealing with false-prophesy in the form of astrology regarding John Hagee’s “4 Blood Moons” nonsense. The supposed tetrad of lunar eclipses that (depending on how you are trying to sell this ‘prophesy’) spell either doom or an opportunity for unlocking some secret blessing from God. Astrology.

Now, thanks in-part to the Hebrew-roots movement, we get 2 seasons of “annual prophetic words”, one for our modern New Year and another for the Hebrew Calendar New Year. We’ve already seen the Biblical significance of this month and how it points to Jesus, but the Hebrew year is also 5775. We’ll undoubtedly see ‘prophetic’ insights tied to some sort of divine significance of the numbers 5 and 7, and the fact that both numbers are doubled. (Rod Parsley and Chuck Pierce have apparently already done so). Numerology.

Neither of these forms of divination are Biblical nor are they Prophetic. While it is true that God repeats patterns of significance in His Word when He chose to work Creation in 6 days and rest on the 7th, it is God who sets the pattern, not the pattern that sets God. The pattern must point to God, or it is meaningless. For example, if I commit a sin (you pick one), there is no power in the number “7” or “10” that I can invoke to get God to forgive me, but if I remember that the Day of atonement (10th day of the 7th month) points to Christ on the Cross, then I can be reminded that Christ already made atonement for my sin, and that all that is required of me is to confess and repent from my sin. Nothing prophetic about your watch showing 7/7/77 as the date, or 7:55:07 as the time… there is no power of prophesy in the number, nor is God obligated to give a prophetic word just because the Calendar has a certain number or letter on it. Divination points to omens, not to the Living God, and not to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Divination is not Powerless

The real problem here is not only that God is not bound by any calendar to give a word of prophesy, but that divination is prohibited. Remember the test of a prophet isn’t limited to whether or not the sign or wonder comes to pass. Both the Law and Jesus tell us that false prophets will also produce signs and wonders. We are NOT to listen to every spirit, but only God the Holy Spirit.

Deuteronomy 18:9-12 (ESV) | Abominable Practices
9 “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.

Acts 16:16-19 (ESV) 16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.

So here we reviewed what was in the Law and then jumped ahead to Acts 16. Notice here there is a slave girl who had an unclean spirit, a spirit of divination. Her owners made money off her divination. She followed Paul and Silas for days and what does the scripture record her crying out? That they were servants of the Most High God proclaiming the way of salvation. Was she telling the truth? Yes. Was she prophesying? No. She was calling attention to herself and to Paul and Silas, but was not seeking to honor the Most High God. For we know that it was a foul spirit. A demon. It was not of God, and that is a problem. I believe this example is recorded in scripture to demonstrate that even if the proclamation sounds right (and this one does seem right in written form) the spirit behind it was wrong. It did not bring glory to God, nor did it edify the Church.

Conclusion

Stop reading omens. Stop searching out others to read omens. Don’t accept divination as a counterfeit for prophesy. Seek first the Kingdom of God by reading His Word, revealed in the Bible. Scripture defines scripture. All scripture is God-breathed. God is unchanging. He will not speak now in a way that runs contrary to Scripture. We are awaiting the Return of Jesus Christ our King, and we have our marching orders, the foundation laid by the Apostles with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. He is also the Head of His Church. Remember, that the Testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy (Revelation 19:10). Test the spirits to know if they are of God or of error. The only test we have is Scripture.

One final thought… anyone who claims to speak Prophetically in the Name of the Lord and demands a fee from you in order for you to be blessed by God has flipped the Gospel upside down. Jesus didn’t give His life on the cross for you to earn forgiveness, much less blessing. The sacrifices in the Law don’t translate into “seed offerings” of money commensurate with your faith to believe for miracles from God. The offerings we reviewed for the Day of Atonement didn’t become the wealth of the priests, they were sacrificed to the Lord to atone for their sin. The High Priest faced certain death if he displeased the Lord God on this day. The false teachers of today who seek to sell you false-hope and take advantage of your desperation by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not teach (Titus 1:9-11).

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

What is your Testimony?

Stiftshuette Modell

Stiftshuette Modell Timnapark CC BY-SA 3.0

Growing up in Evangelical churches, we heard often from folks who wanted to share their testimony with the church. A lot of weight was given to the sharing of one’s testimony. In fact, it was weighted so heavily that many times I heard caveats that both disturbed and discouraged me in my faith. Caveats such as, “well, my testimony isn’t nearly as powerful as that of brother so-and-so” or “I don’t have much of a testimony, because I grew up in a Christian home”. Such rubbish. This is NOT Biblical, and I want to end the week by looking at what our testimony is.

Your Testimony isn’t about you

We will look at the Biblical definition of what a testimony is, and what our testimony is supposed to be in a minute, but I want to point out that the major flaw in the caveats I mentioned is that they betray a fundamentally flawed view that a testimony is about the person giving it. It isn’t. Have you ever heard someone give their testimony and start to get a little uncomfortable about how they keep going on and on about how bad they were? We get into weird competitions over who was the “most bad” person was before they were saved.

Everyone born of man is born equally dead in sin. Sin isn’t a merely list of wrongdoings, it is a state of being.

Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Romans 3:9-20 (ESV)
9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law,so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Apart from the Gospel, no one is righteous, nor can they be made righteous or justified in God’s sight, even by the Law. Man’s need for Jesus Christ is Universal. In the same way, all who have come to the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ share in that same testimony, that we all need Jesus. We don’t need to add to our sinfulness to amplify the Gospel. On some levels, we want people to know that the Gospel finding ME was such a super big deal that no one should ever doubt in it. But that isn’t the focus of the Gospel, it is a blanket truth for all of mankind. Unless the Gospel of Jesus Christ finds you, you have no hope of salvation. And that is why we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our testimony isn’t supposed to glorify our sin; rather, it is supposed to focus on the Word of God.

Now, let us take a look at some Biblical foundations of what a Testimony truly is so that we might have a better understanding of what it means to share your testimony.

The Ark of the Covenant

If you remember in a post from earlier in the week I made reference to how the Passover Lamb pointed to Jesus on the Cross, as an atonement, the final atonement for all our sin. How in the Israelites leaving Egypt points to our being rescued out of the kingdom of Darkness, and how their passing through the Red Sea points to our water Baptism which represents joining Christ in His death and burial and resurrection to a new life in Him. We also compared the wandering of Israel for a generation in the wilderness to our living in a fallen and sinful world as we make our way to the Promised Land which in our case is the Kingdom of Heaven by the blood of Jesus Christ. In keeping with that same imagery, let us now turn to Exodus 25, when God commanded Moses to build an ark.

Exodus 25:10-22 (ESV)
10 “They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on itsfour feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.

17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

Now, outside of the Law of Moses, this ark is most commonly referred to in the Bible as the Ark of the Covenant. What we see in Exodus and in Numbers, though, is that it is referred to several times as the Ark of the Testimony. I hadn’t noticed that before, so it’s very exciting for me to read now. We see here God instructing the building of the ark, and he tells Moses that he will be giving him a testimony that should be placed into the ark. Before we get to that, notice where the mercy seat of God is placed… over the testimony. We can already see here, that the Mercy Seat of God rests atop the Testimony that God will give. Let us move ahead a bit as we follow the instructions regarding the ark.

Exodus 26:31-35 (ESV)
31 “And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. 32 And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. 33 And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy.34 You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place.35 And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table, and you shall put the table on the north side.

This veil, is the one that was found split when Christ died on the cross. Notice that before Christ, the veil separated God’s people from the mercy seat except for certain times, and then only by proxy (the High Priest). Now, let’s jump ahead a bit (Moses was given a lot of instructions here) to chapter 34.

Exodus 34:27-35 (ESV)
27 And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai.33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.

34 Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Praise the Lord. The testimony is the Law of God, the 10 Commandments. They were given to Israel as a testimony to His Covenant with them. If you read from the beginning of the chapter, you see God instructing Moses to bring 2 fresh tablets to replace the ones that he smashed after seeing the sin of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. Those, too, were called the tablets of the testimony.

Exodus 31:18 (ESV)
18 And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

Exodus 32:15-16 (ESV)
15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

Exodus Chapter 40 concludes the instructions given to Moses regarding the tabernacle and the ark.

Exodus 40:16-21 (ESV)
16 This Moses did; according to all that the Lord commanded him, so he did. 17 In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected. 18 Moses erected the tabernacle. He laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars. 19 And he spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent over it, as the Lord had commanded Moses. 20 He took the testimony and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark and set the mercy seat above on the ark. 21 And he brought the ark into the tabernacle and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

The Day of Atonement

Now that we know that the testimony Moses was to place inside the ark was the two tablets of the testimony. They were placed into the ark of the Testimony, upon which rested the Mercy Seat of God, and all of it was behind the veil. Let us skip ahead to Leviticus to see the Ark of the Testimony and the Mercy Seat.

Leviticus 16:1-5 (ESV)
1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, 2 and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.

Leviticus 16:11-16 (ESV)
11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.

We see a great deal going on here, but I wanted to point out this Day of Atonement and the special place of the ark of the Testimony and the Mercy Seat, and the blood of the atoning sacrifice. All of this points to Christ.

Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant*

In closing, I recommend reading the book of Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews explains the 2 covenants beautifully, and when you read through it, take the time to cross-reference the Old Testament passages.

Hebrews 8 (ESV)
1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

8 For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

And the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, is that this new covenant is available to all people, not just the Jew. And our testimony, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Revelation 19:9-10 (ESV)
9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Amen. Whenever you share your testimony, know that what you are sharing is not supposed to point to you; rather, it is to point to a risen Savior, whose blood was shed on your behalf, so that you can stand before the Mercy Seat of God without fear of judgement.

Hebrews 10:19-25 (ESV)
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Grace and Peace to you in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
Jorge

Looking for a New Church

churchBe blessed today and this weekend. So we made it through a 5-part series on The Church. I want to thank you for enduring what was essentially me laying out my understanding of what the Bible teaches regarding the Church and subsequently the church. I am really looking forward to moving on to different topics that have been placed on the back burner while I worked diligently to complete this series. However, I didn’t want to dive into anything new on a Friday, so I thought I might share some thoughts regarding the search for a new church body. I do not presume to be able to tell you exactly how to find a new church body for your family, but I would like to share some thoughts and some questions that I feel should be asked whenever the search for a church body is at hand.

Why are you looking for a new church body?

Aside from having to relocate due to work or family needs, this is perhaps the single most important question for which a Biblical answer must be found. Now, let me begin with the obvious and work toward the subtle. If the church you have been attending has wandered off into false doctrine, false teaching, or a different gospel then the “why” of the matter has been identified. We can then move on to the “how”. Are you leaving because of an individual? Personality Conflict? you were offended? These motivations are tougher to pin down, but they tend to be the vast majority of reasons that folks leave their local churches. I’ve made these categories quite broad because I don’t intend to give a panacea response for highly personal situations. I will say that personality conflicts exist everywhere, because each of us bears responsibility for our own conduct, speech, and personality. The Body of Christ is also composed of people, forgiven and adopted children of God who still walk in fleshly and sinful bodies. So, if your response to personality conflict is to leave the church, you will be leaving often. I’ve met a few church-hoppers who tend to only survive about a year or two before some drama “pops up out of nowhere” and they are “forced” to leave, usually creating as big a vacuum as possible either being on staff or in the worship team. Finally, there are those who want to leave because they (or their kids) just want to find something “cooler”, “more exciting”, or more “relevant”. This last group I can honestly say has the wrong “why”. They don’t understand the purpose for church and are instead looking to be entertained or have their itching ears scratched.

How did you leave the last church?

I have never been a fan of ultimatums. Anyone who demands the church bend to his or her will “or else I’m leaving and taking my money with me” is a carnal, fleshly, immature Christian at best. Similarly, causing a big scene to act out the fore-gone conclusion that you are leaving is equally infantile. So let us look at how the Scriptures tell us to address problems within the Church.

  • A problem of false teaching/doctrine/gospel. While I consider this to be the easiest “why”, it is perhaps the most heartbreaking, gut wrenching, and difficult “how” we will face. Depending on how long you’ve been a part of this congregation, how involved you and your family had become, and how your closest friends feel about the issue at hand, it can lead many to simply never say anything or to suddenly disappear without much explanation. Why? Because this is an issue of leadership in the church. Since we just finished examining 1 Timothy, we’ll start there and I am including old-testament foundation for these rules.
    • 1 Timothy 5:19-21 (ESV)
      19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.

      • Deuteronomy 19:15 (ESV)
        15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.
    • Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV)
      6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

      • Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (ESV)
        13 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.
        Note: this holds true even if the sign/wonder/miracle actually happens. The miracle alone does not serve as proof.
    • One note I’ll make on this is that if the structure of the local church is in error (not in keeping with Acts, Titus, Timothy) then this matter can be very difficult to resolve. Pray, search out the scriptures, and ask for Wisdom from God the Holy Spirit, and do what is right, leaving the outcome in God’s hands. Something that is prevalent in today’s Evangelical churches is a false notion of “unity under the visionary” instead of Unity in the Word of God. It generally comes with a Mosaic church structure where everyone is expected to follow (and abide by) the word of one or two leaders and they have the final word (often times, preemptively).
  • Personal Conflict. This is a very broad category, but the Bible does cover how we are to respond in these matters.
    • Matthew 18:15-20 (ESV) 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
    • 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 (ESV) 1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Now, in the interest of full disclosure and transparency, these things are rarely easy or clean. We recently stopped attending a local church over doctrinal concerns and church-structure. We were very involved in the church and didn’t realize there any problems until some major shifts in doctrinal focus and awkward disciplinary calls forced my wife and me to start searching the Scriptures for answers. That search revealed a great deal. Still, we did not purpose to leave the church because we were sure that God had led us to that church (even more so now that we’ve grown so much as a family through the whole experience). I spent 2 months discussing doctrinal issues with the Pastor (at the time I was on staff) regarding what I believed to be mishandling of Scripture in sermon material taught nearly verbatim from popular mega-church leaders. After two months, I stepped down off of staff. A month later, another family was given a false rationale for why we stepped down and not a single elder of the church approached us. It was then that we decided we could no longer attend that church, though we longed to maintain relationships with those who truly considered us their brother and sister. We are currently being fed in a church of a different denomination, and completely different style of service from what I grew up with, but we are being fed well. We are not in a rush to become members, but we thank God for His Grace and Mercy for our family.

What should we be looking for in a church?

Who is being preached, Christ or man? First and foremost, you should be looking for a church that faithfully preaches the Word of God. This isn’t something you can determine in a single visit. If they post their sermons online, listen to them with an open bible and take notes. Pause the sermon, open to the scripture being referenced. Is the context being conveyed? Is it being used in context? Is it a full quote? Is the passage being defined by Scripture or by the speaker’s life experience? Are you being taught what the Word of God says or are you getting life advice loosely justified by a random scripture quoted out of context? Are you getting an anecdote to help understand what Scripture is teaching or is the anecdote being presented as proof that a life tip is valid? What is the scripture to pastor ratio?

Christian Denomination. This is NOT a denominational choice, because there isn’t a denomination that has a corner on the market. Denomination plays a major role in familiarity and a sense of commonality for many people, so if you are uncomfortable stepping outside of your denomination, then you must continue to focus on faithful preaching of the Word of God, you just might (depending on your geographical location and preferred denomination) be choosing from a very small pool of churches. When it comes to denominations, it is important to gauge each denomination’s doctrine against the Scriptures, not by what one denomination accuses the other denomination of believing. I find this particularly true of the “Reformed” (Calvinist) denominations who are very quick to call anyone who disagrees with TULIP a Pelagean. The best example of this is that despite the Catholic Church declaring Pelagianism heretical (Council of Trent) most Reformed Churches lump Catholics under the semi-Pelagean banner because of their emphasis on man’s response to the Gospel of Grace (Council of Trent also declared the doctrine of passive grace heretical, basically the U, I, P in TULIP). So yeah, take each doctrine and compare it to the Word of God, not to some other doctrine since not every point of each doctrine can be taught from Scripture because they attempt to explain in-depth what the Bible doesn’t explain. What the bible does explain, like the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they must agree upon (and for the most part Protestant denominations do agree on the Gospel). Now, among Protestants there are 2 major divisions, Monergists and Arminians. Monergism is a label that covers Lutheran and Calvinists (who disagree on double-predestination and sacraments). Calvinists are found in Baptist and Presbyterian traditions, though some Baptists lean more Arminian these days. Arminians disagree with TULIP in that they believe that Christ made the only way of salvation but did not preassign people to believe or not to believe; rather, they hold that in the hearing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, man must choose whether to listen and accept the Word of God as the Only Way of Salvation, or reject it and be condemned my their lack of faith. This doctrine can generally be found in Wesleyan Methodist Churches, Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Free-Will Baptists. I’m still dealing with these categories in broad terms, but hopefully you can see that there are denominations you might actually find some common ground with you weren’t aware of before. Once again, the standard is the Word of God… not the denomination you grew up in.

Who is being praised and worshiped? Okay, so we haven’t spent a great deal of time on this one here at Faithful Stewardship. But who is being praised in the Praise and Worship at the church. Is it truly focused on God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? Or is it focused more on who we are, what we are doing, and what we are going to get? Are we worshiping the Biblical Savior or are we just sort of singing love songs understood to be pointed at Jesus, but not clearly articulated as such? Is it about praising and worshiping God or is the focus more on entertaining non-believers?

Non-Denominational or Evangelical? While each of these labels has some meaning to those who wear them, they lack any solid definition that could serve as a filter for looking for a new church.

  • Non-denominational. What it should mean is that they don’t point to any ideology of man and their aim is to stick with Biblically defined Christianity. In practice, what you will find is that they broke away from one of the denominations and still hold to most of that denomination’s doctrine except for a few key points. What makes them problematic is that you have no way of knowing up front what they do or do not believe/teach. You just have to talk it out, or attend their membership information classes (even then you still need to ask all of the questions that you can). Many take the road of dividing what they call “essentials” and “non-essentials” of the faith… but rarely are the “non essentials” clearly defined. I have also seen that most “non-denominational” churches are former Pentecostal or Charismatic churches looking to distance themselves from the label. Perhaps one of the most dangerous elements of non-denominational churches is that they are rarely held accountable by anyone. In the New Testament, the Church in Antioch looked to the Church in Jerusalem for encouragement, direction, and guidance. Paul strongly rebuked the Galatians for blindly accepting the false gospel of the Judaizers and exercised authority, correction, and instruction over them.
  • Evangelical. This is supposed to mean that the church’s focus is in Evangelism, or Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What has been taking root in modern Evangelical churches lately is a false social gospel, where the goal of the church is to entice non-believers to enter their doors and stay long enough to hear the Gospel. Much of the church-growth, seeker-sensitive, emergent theology expansion has been within evangelical churches. In order to achieve rapid growth and high attendance numbers, they’ve abandoned preaching Law in accordance with Gospel, therefore we get a half-picture of a Savior but we don’t get an understanding of our need for a savior. Prosperity and Word of Faith doctrines also thrive in non-Denominational/Evangelical circles.

Fathers, remember your role.

In closing, I want to remind fathers to remember your roles as heads of your house. You are the priest of your home. Whether you are members of a local church family, struggling through trials and tribulations, or searching for a new body of believers, your responsibility to feed, nurture, and instruct your family never goes away. Pray continuously, and dig into the Word of God and bury it in your heart and share it with your wife and kids. Church is not a means of offloading the responsibility of leading your family spiritually, church is where you get the training you need to better fulfill your responsibility. Plugging your family into church is essential for Christian living, so I’m not suggesting that a father can replace the church, he can’t. My point is that regardless of church membership, a father’s role remains the same.

Well, this ended up being longer than I anticipated. In trying to address a broad scope of issues, concerns, and categories of doctrines, it is possible that some may feel I misrepresented their denomination or church. That was not my intent, I’m just trying to give some broad-scope definitions for those who (like I was a year ago) might never have thought about what all of the denomination stuff really meant. I’m not interested in bolstering or attacking any denomination or doctrine of men here… my only focus, and sole purpose here is to point to the Word of God and what it teaches. As always, if you have additional or specific questions/concerns, feel free to comment or contact me directly.

 

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Him,
Jorge

 

The Church | Part 5

churchAs we close out our study series of the Biblical picture of the Church, I want to be absolutely clear that I am not trying to “call out” any specific churches, or fellowships, or pastors. I’m not trying to convince you to leave your church, or join mine. The purpose of this series is to clearly state my doctrine regarding church and to challenge individuals and heads of households to weigh everything they are taught in their church (down to the very structure of said church) against Scripture. I will endeavor to keep these discussions on prescriptive passages in God’s Word, plainly written for us to follow. If you take umbrage with any of my assessments or commentary, I ask that you take some time to share your thoughts or questions with me (either via comment below or personal message). If you take issue with what the Scriptures say… well, I leave that to you, your elders, and God the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s Closing Thoughts in 1 Timothy

Today, we will close out our reading in 1 Timothy, with a look at chapter 6.

1 Timothy 6 (ESV)
1 Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.

Teach and urge these things. 3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

I really should have included the beginning of chapter 6 in yesterday’s post, since Paul is closing out those thoughts. The “these things” are pointing back to all that was discussed in the previous chapter. Notice how Paul again revisits the charge to resist false doctrine. I find it interesting how in our modern-day liberalism often accuse those who dare to exercise Biblical discernment as being puffed up with conceit, and even having an unhealthy craving for controversy. Paul is making clear that it is not those who hold Scripture who are guilty of such sin; rather, those who teach a different doctrine that does not agree with the Word of Jesus Christ. We also see Paul warning of the trap of riches. Notice also the wording toward the end of verse 5, “…imagining that godliness is a means of gain“. As heirs to the Kingdom of God, through the blood of Jesus by His Grace and Mercy, we do have an inheritance… in Heaven. Jesus did not promise worldly riches, in fact, He specifically taught in Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV) 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We live in a time where so many false teachers have become rich and living lavish lives preaching a false doctrine with false promises of earthly riches through living godly lives. Brothers and sisters in Christ… that is not the Gospel, and it is not our Promise. God blesses His children here on earth according to His Will and plan for us in this life, but the Promises laid out in Scripture primarily for the life that is to come, in the Great Day of Christ’s Return when we join Him in the Heavens.

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

It is not impossible for the rich in this present age to be faithful stewards of God’s resources, though it brings along its own temptations. Namely, that earthly riches tempt man to set their hopes on their riches and themselves rather than on God.

20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.

Did you know that the Greek philosophers Plato, Socrates, Euclid, and Aristotle all pre-date the virgin-birth? By hundreds of years. The Roman Empire replaced that of the Greeks, and had philosophers of their own (Cicero and Ptolemy), all pursuing earthly “knowledge” via metaphysics and philosophy. Many of the early heretics pulled from these “ancients” for their Gnosticism, Pantheism (multiple gods), and Panentheism (god is in everything). In our present culture, the temptation is to believe that due to man’s vastly superior scientific accomplishments, we should now change how we read Scripture (particularly the Genesis accounts of Creation and the Flood) based on what the world falsely calls “knowledge”.

My Closing Thoughts for this Series

The Bible lays out very plainly how God intends for His Church (and churches) are to be structured, managed, and overseen. God has made it clear how the church is to be led, what its focus should be, and its purpose. The Church is to build up the Body of Christ into the fullness of Christ who is the Head of His Church, and we who comprise the body of Christ are to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ as ministers of reconciliation. The smallest unit of the church is the family, God’s first institution for man to embrace as a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, the Church should first seek to raise up fathers, priests and leaders of their households who raise up the next generation in Christ. After showing themselves approved, they should likewise raise up other fathers. Those who wish to teach and become overseers should therefore be tested and appointed as Paul laid out clearly in Titus and 1 Timothy. Regardless of what you might have heard from a celebrity seeker-mergent “pastor”, the role of the Church IS to feed God’s sheep. In some cases literally. Christians need to step up their game in sharing the Gospel with the lost in the world, but the role of the Church Elder (pastor, teacher, overseer) is to serve the Body of Christ as one who will give account.

Specific concerns and special cases

  • The Church was not granted the authority to determine itself, its doctrine, its structure, or its purpose. Christ is the Head of His Church, and the Apostles and the Prophets are its foundation, with Christ as the cornerstone. The Reformation was a move to return to Biblical doctrine, not a reinvention of the church. The Catholic church refused to repent, so the Protestant Church was born. The role of Elder is to preach the Word of God and to correct all false teaching. Elders do not have the authority to change Biblical doctrine. They have the authority to correct, rebuke, and training in righteousness according to the God-breathed Scriptures (2 Timothy 3). There is nothing in Scripture that leaves room for the Catholic doctrine of the Pope or Papal authority to pronounce unchangeable doctrine (ex cathedra). Such authority was not given to the Church. Additionally, there is no reason to believe that God would be raising up new Apostles to lay new foundations for the church. The foundation has long been laid in Scripture. I do believe that 1 Corinthians 12 through 14 remain as valid and instructive of the Gifts of God the Holy Spirit, but God is not changing the Body of Christ or Scriptures. We have been given the Word of God by which we are to test every spirit and every teaching to know if it is from God or from a spirit of error.
  • Churches with women pastors/elders/deacons.  As we saw in 1 Timothy 2 and in 1 Corinthians 14, having women in a position of authority over men is prohibited. When we see a church with a female pastor, we know that something is wrong. Either the church is completely lacking in godly men, or the church has simply decided to disregard Paul’s instructions to Timothy, Titus, and the Corinthians. I do believe Grace can be given to those in transitional periods, or newly formed churches planted within strongly matriarchal societies (such as in various African tribes); however, the Word of God is sufficient for all instruction and correction. God’s plan for mankind is for man to bear the mantle of leadership an its responsibility. Men cannot be expected to step up and perform their Scriptural role as men, when the church has willfully placed women into positions of leadership. A woman cannot Biblically disciple a man into his rightful place of leadership. In 2 Timothy 1, Paul praised Timothy’s mother and grandmother for planting the seed of God’s Word in his heart, and Timothy was charged to guard the gift given him. Paul took Timothy as a disciple, an adopted son, and trained him in the Word and the Ministry before setting him as an Elder.
  • Youth Ministries. This series was sparked by my post on How We Do Church. We don’t see anywhere in Scripture where the youth are separated from their parents and taught their own things. Throughout Scripture, the expectation is for fathers to raise their sons and daughters in the ways of God until the time comes when they leave their fathers and their mothers and cleave to their spouses, becoming one flesh and starting their own families. So, our modern “youth groups” present a problem of usurped authority (although often with permission). We’ve embraced the worldly messaging that says that parents just don’t understand their own kids, therefore we need a young pastor who can “speak their language” to reach them with the Gospel. How can we assess how a man manages his household when we’ve inserted others into the role of discipling his kids? How can we command the fathers to turn their hearts toward their children, and the children to honor their fathers, when in church we encourage them to look to a “youth pastor” for guidance, love, and instruction? Is there truly a way of “doing it right” if the Bible doesn’t provide us with a guideline or parameters for such a ministry? I think we should have outreach programs for lost youth, but we need to reach their fathers and mothers. We need to focus on equipping the fathers and mothers in our congregation to be the leaders, role models, teachers, and counselors for their children. That is what youth ministry should be focused on. Do I expect all churches to abandon their Sunday school and youth group models immediately? No. But we should return to Biblical standards of family and church guided by the power and wisdom of God the Holy Spirit.
  • What about the fatherless families? The young men in the congregation who do not have fathers at home are starving for mentors and discipleship more than anyone else. The answer is for the Elders and the other Fathers in the church to disciple them, and for the older women and mothers to gather around their mother to strengthen and nurture her. Divorce is more prevalent in our day than widow/widower. It is outside of God’s plan for us, and is far more difficult and treacherous as a result. We are the Body of Christ, and when one member of the body hurts, we all hurt; therefore, we are supposed to come together to help those caught in sin (guarding ourselves from sin) to restore one another into right standing with Christ. That doesn’t always mean the marriage gets restored, but repentance and the forgiveness of sin is available at the foot of the Cross.
  • Praise and Worship. Well, nothing has been addressed thus far by Paul in his letters regarding a “worship pastor”. The Elders are overseers of the church, and they are to teach the Word of God and discipline those who step outside of it. What we sing is more important than what instruments are involved in the accompaniment. What we do in church must always Glorify God and edify the Body of Christ. It must be orderly (1 Corinthians 14). I will say that since the Church is indeed for the believers, any attempt to manipulate the purpose of Praise and Worship so that the unbeliever can be entertained is foolishness and should be rebuked sharply. Christ must be our focus, now and forever, in our praise, in our worship, and in how we live our lives. To the unbeliever, we preach Law (repentance from sin) and Gospel (forgiveness by the blood of Christ). I care more about the conduct/focus/heart/content of worship than I do the method or technology employed.

Thank you for taking the time to read these posts and share your thoughts, questions, and comments. I pray that this has helped or challenged some to read the Word of God to test all that I’ve said here. As I hear from those at Stand Up for the Truth and from Chris Rosebrough, don’t ever read what I’m writing with an open mind; rather, do so with an open Bible. Test everything I share against the Word of God. Where I am found faulty or deficient, please point me to the proper Scripture.

I’d like to close with Paul’s charge to Timothy at the end of the second epistle:

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)
1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Amen. May the Lord bless you and keep you.
In Him,
Jorge

Series: The Church | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The Church | Part 4

churchAs we continue in our study series of the Biblical picture of the Church, I want to be absolutely clear that I am not trying to “call out” any specific churches, or fellowships, or pastors. I’m not trying to convince you to leave your church, or join mine. The purpose of this series is to clearly state my doctrine regarding church and to challenge individuals and heads of households to weigh everything they are taught in their church (down to the very structure of said church) against Scripture. I will endeavor to keep these discussions on prescriptive passages in God’s Word, plainly written for us to follow. If you take umbrage with any of my assessments or commentary, I ask that you take some time to share your thoughts or questions with me (either via comment below or personal message). If you take issue with what the Scriptures say… well, I leave that to you, your elders, and God the Holy Spirit.

Qualifications of Overseers (Elders)

Today, we will continue reading in 1 Timothy, beginning in chapter 3.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 (ESV)
1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Paul goes into greater detail in his letter to Timothy than we saw in Titus, though we see no contradiction. I have highlighted here what I mentioned back in Part 2 of our series, that a man must manage his own household well. It makes no different how knowledgeable, charismatic, or affluent, if his house is not in order he is not fit to manage God’s church. His attention should be firmly fixed upon his household, as his first duty and responsibility to God. This doesn’t mean he is unfit to share the Gospel, or serve his brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, it means he is unfit to be an Elder or Overseer. I have also highlighted able to teach. You see, Paul will not be going into the qualifications of “teachers” or “pastors” because the role of pastor is to be performed by an Elder. How can one effectively “Shepherd the flock” if he is not qualified to serve as an Elder?

Qualifications of Deacons

1 Timothy 3:8-13 (ESV)
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

The role of Deacon is one of service to the Body of Christ. This role began when the Early Church in Jerusalem had grown large and the widows of the Hellenist were being overlooked in the daily distribution (Acts 6). Now their task was to minister to the people so that the Elders would not be drawn away from their primary task of seeking the Lord in prayer and preaching the Word of God. That is not to say that these men did not minister or preach the Gospel themselves. Of the first 7 appointed as deacons of Christ’s Church, we Philip and Stephen being used mightily of God. They were servants in the Church, and they were Ambassadors of Jesus Christ outside the church (as are we regardless of our role within the church). While a deacon is not an overseer, he is still being entrusted with the task of ministering to the body of believers. The daily distribution was for the feeding of those in need, particularly the widows. The Church is to take care of its own. We are to serve one another in love and humility. Where did we get the idea that it was somehow wrong or out of the ordinary for Christians to seek help from the Church? May God have forgive us of our neglect.

I highlighted an interesting comment in verse 9, “They must hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience”. Well, what does that mean? Thankfully, that is Paul’s next point in the chapter.

1 Timothy 3:14-16 (ESV)
The Mystery of Godliness
14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ. That Jesus, the Son of God, the Word of God was made flesh, vindicated (proven right, pure, justified) by the Spirit of God, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations and believed on in the world ascended into heaven. So Paul has defined what he was referring to in verse 9 and notice how he continues in that thought at the start of chapter 4 (remember, these letters weren’t written in chapters and verses).

1 Timothy 4 (ESV)
1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Within the context of appointing deacons, those who look after the needs of the brethren, Paul reminds Timothy that the Holy Spirit has warned that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. Other things are included in this list, but Paul hits the biggest ones first. Timothy is to make sure that he is not placing into the role of deacon any who would fall into this category of apostasy (falling away). Notice that aberrant food myths will also play a role in the departure from the faith. We cannot simply dismiss these deviations from the faith as merely “nonessential” since Paul is warning of a departure from the faith by such devotions. While the brothers and sisters within the congregation will undoubtedly be at various stages in their walk and growing in the faith, and we are to extend grace to those whose faith is still weak, we are NOT to place such individuals into positions of leadership within the church. Paul then encourages Timothy directly to set for the brothers a role model. He is being charged with authority to lead the appointed Elders and Deacons in the way that they must go. He will undoubtedly be placing men who are older than he is as Overseers, and they will be expected to follow Timothy’s example. Paul encourages Timothy, and charges him to let no one despise you for your youth. I fear we have allowed this passage to serve as a proof text that age is irrelevant completely and that all one needs is a “calling” and “gifting” to preach, or at least a college degree (seminary) and you are good-to-go to lead a church body. Don’t get me wrong, I think a seminary degree is a good thing… but it isn’t a Scriptural requirement, it’s a fairly modern one. Leaders need to be discipled into leadership, tested and proved to be blameless. They must manage their households well, and be above reproach.

General Instructions for Church

1 Timothy 5  (ESV)
1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Jesus told His disciples in John 13:35 (ESV) “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We must honor the older men and women as we would honor our own mothers and fathers. Open rebuke is not acceptable; rather, we must encourage them in the Word as we would our own parents. Younger men and women are to be regarded as brothers and sisters, in all purity. Sexual immorality is not to be tolerated in this sense, we do not allow a wolf in sheep’s clothing to pose as a brother only to defile younger women for his own pleasure (or vice versa).

3 Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

I find this to be extremely poignant and out-of-step with the present culture. We now see that the upholding of family as the smallest unit of the Church working in the other direction. We have clearly established that a man’s qualifications for leadership in the church are demonstrated by his management of the household. Here, we see that true widows are to be honored by the Church. True widows not having any remaining family are to be cared for by the Body of Christ. Notice, however, that Paul looks to the children or grandchildren of widows to demonstrate godliness in their household by taking care and honoring the widows, even compelling some to return to live with their mother. Can you imagine giving that sermon on “Mother’s Day”? We then see Paul warn against true widows taking the “retirement” mentality and becoming self-indulgent, for such a person is dead even while she lives. We are to care for and meet the needs of the true widows in the Body of Christ, but our young women need proper instruction, example, and encouragement from the older women.

9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.

Here we see Paul addressing what might be considered “welfare”. This good work should be handled by the Church, not the State. We should be setting the standard for taking care of those in need, those without family. Having already set the standard for how the true widows should continue in godliness, he also warns against allowing younger widows to be enrolled without responsibilities. Paul’s concern is for their faith. While many will find such generalization insulting, do we not see such behavior now among the newly divorced? Sure, in our culture women are taking jobs and careers outside the home but don’t we see newly single women turning away from the faith chasing after carnality? We also see men failing (woefully) in this regard, but men are not provided the kind of enrollment being offered to widows here in scripture. Paul encourages young widows to remarry and lead godly faithful lives as wives and as mothers, thereby safeguarding themselves from many a temptation that is natural to fleshly man/woman. (Edit: As a point of clarification, I am in no way equivocating divorce and widowhood. Divorce is a sin that requires repentance and forgiveness)

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.

Finally, we see here that Elders are to be the pastors and teachers, and those who labor in such capacities are worthy of double honor. It is fitting to pay those who oversee the church well. Should they become affluent? I think not. Double portion… not 100 fold. Besides, affluence is a snare unto itself. But we will cover that tomorrow when we close out our study of 1 Timothy.

We gather together as a church body to encourage one another in the Spirit of Truth and Love. Christ have to the Church Apostles and prophets (foundations), and pastors, teachers, evangelists (elders), and deacons to minister to the body of Christ, teaching the Word, bearing one anothers burdens, honoring one another, confessing our sins and forgiving each other. One does not seek out or accept a position of authority to serve himself, rather, it is to serve others. In closing, I want to share some strong warnings regarding church leadership.

James 3:1 (ESV)
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

James 3:13-18 (ESV)
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

When was the last time you honored your Elders? I recommend taking some time this week to send them a letter, or a phone call, maybe invite them to lunch. They have accepted a noble task, one that can be quite a burden at times. In the meantime, our series on the Church is drawing to a close. In tomorrow’s post we will close out 1 Timothy, and then I will try to address some of the special cases I’ve witnessed and to which I’ve been made privy.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
In Him,
Jorge

Series: The Church | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5