When everything shakes, in whom do we trust?
Widespread error and apostasy across the spectrum of organised churchianity has caused many believers to question of what or whom to trust.
"Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: "Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done," declares the LORD. "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the LORD.
" 'For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
There is very significant concern and unrest in the body of Christ as we see glaring departures in many significant quarters from the authority and Truth of God’s Word.
When we experience shaking and instability, we naturally grab for a handhold on those things that we regard as fixed, reliable and immoveable.
However as we read of political, economic and social problems and the quakes impacting upon the major institutions in our nation, we are also seeing the error and collapse within those mechanisms of organised religion that have existed over many, many centuries.
Any architect or engineer worth his salt will look beyond the cracks in an upper storey and examine the foundations of the affected building, because it is there that these other problems find their source. And as the Psalmist wrote: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps 11:3).
The current crisis within much of institutional churchianity is due to problems which have carried through from as far back as the 3rd century – problems which even the Reformation didn’t rectify.
The Augustinian concept in the 4th century of the ‘visible’ (flawed) and the ‘invisible’ (pure) church created a mindset which has permitted and even condoned sinful behaviour in the churches. Meanwhile the standard model of everyday evangelism which has prevailed over the great span since then, has been that of inviting unbelievers to church.
This has resulted in vast swathes of questionable faith at all levels in the church. Even today, and very sadly, we are hearing the parable of the ‘wheat and the tares’ being used to justify a passive ‘shrug-of-the-shoulders’ acceptance of gross error and outright heresy which is manifesting in open rebellion against God and the authority of His Word.
The prevailing ecclesiastical backdrop in all of this is the unbiblical hierarchies into which denominational structures have evolved. This has produced a recipe for the serious problems which we are experiencing today whereby faithfulness to Scripture in a local and personal situation can be trumped by unbiblical developments at national/denominational levels.
No stereotype solution
Regarding the present and grave crisis facing the Church of Scotland there is no clear pattern emerging; no discernable response of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ nature. There are almost as many responses as there are ministers, elders, members and congregations. In a situation like this, it is incumbent on each and every believer to seek the Lord’s guidance at a personal and individual level.
Re-inventing broken wheels
A large part of the present situation (and of those similar situations before) is the collective tendency to manufacture (or realign with) a different but essentially-similar expression of that which has just failed: the familiar being more comfortable than the unexplored.
Yet Albert Einstein defined insantity as
“doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The southern tribes of Judah were mocked for their mis-placed reliance by the King of Assyria as he taunted them:
“On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have strategy and military strength—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me?
Look now, you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man's hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him."
However, enough of the problems: what about positive and productive responses?
Close fellowship in the body
The need of the hour is for every believer – whether minister, elder or church member – to seek out those true believers in his/her immediate circle – irrespective of denomination, background and affiliation – and join with them in fellowship, learning and prayer. And to do this on any day of the week and in any situation: in the home, in the shop, office or workshop; in domestic or workplace settings.
The thrilling pictures which God’s Word gives us of the early church can be replicated today. But to allow this to happen there needs to be a more Scripture-based model which will no doubt include, but in essence surpasses and transcends, existing methods of evangelism, discipleship and growth.
We may have to wait and see how this could pan out; but one thing which is sure – the more we conform our living to the patterns set out for us in the Bible, the more we will find ourselves in the centre of God’s will for His church and His people. And it is in that place that we can claim all the wonderful promises of God in Jesus Christ.
It may require some risky ‘out of the box’ and ‘into the Bible’ thinking (Rom 12:2), but the greatest risk of all is to merely look for a solution in the patterns that have so evidently failed and continue to do so. As one blogger recently put it:
"The great necessity today, at least in the West, is not for new denominations and Church meetings but for the Church to see herself as a true society that functions as a society and thereby creates a Christian social order that will transform the world. There is no reason why the Christians in any community should not start doing this. All that is lacking is belief in this vision and the will to follow it."
A biblical model
We are adjured by the writer to the Messianic community of that day:
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
And we see clearly in the life of the early church how the follower’s of Christ:
‘devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
A call to perseverance
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathised with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
Stability amongst chaos
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire."
Footnote: It is very possible that Western Christianity stands at an important point in its history. Everyone knows and understands the way things have been, many will accept that the status quo has gone, but few will be brave (or silly) enough to suggest what will be.
However a future article will describe one interesting model for the church of tomorrow; and it is found in the Bible.