To the ordinary person, this sounds like very good counsel. Within Christian circles, we are to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," (Eph.4:3). We are to pursue "peace with all men,...." (Heb.12:14). The writers of these wise words knew full well that it is simply not possible to be in good terms with everyone because all do not hold to the historic Christian faith. So their own experiences and the experiences of fellow apostles and disciples of the Lord demonstrate that these words are not to be taken at their face value.
But some churches do just that! They counsel their ministers not to follow any divisive course. Now you know what that means in practice. They are never to take a decision that would tend to cause disharmony within the congregation even though the congregation is made up of the converted and the unconverted. They are to keep in with the unconverted members of the church, and do or say nothing that would cause them to be offended. As one former theological college principal told a young colleague, "Say what the people want you to say and do what they want you to do." This is what even the professedly purest reformed churches are doing in practice, the most theologically orthodox, the separatist churches.
When it comes to sacramental discipline, they are bound to accept as Christian members those covenant children and young people who are requesting church membership, provided their behaviour does not undermine their profession. The policy seems to be that if a potential church member's behaviour does not contradict their profession, the church presumes that they are regenerate, so admits them to full church membership. If it creates a mist on a mirror that is placed under its nostrils, and its parents are already members of the church, then baptise it - just to keep the peace. Whatever you do, do not ask about whether or not they are born again, or saved, or converted to Christ. Why? Because that is liable to cause division in the congregation.
But perhaps the worst manifestation of this is in the case where the Gospel is not preached with anything resembling clarity by the minister. Problems arise when the minister preaches a clear biblical Gospel. But problems ought to arise where the minister simply does not preach the Gospel clearly and biblically and to the consciences of the members. In fact, problems ought to be caused in any church that does not preach the Gospel. Elders have an awesome responsibility to God and to those who worship in the same church to ensure that the Gospel is preached with power and conviction, and that hearers are left in no doubt as to their spiritual condition and what God requires of them if they are to escape the wrath and curse of God due them for sin. How will they answer to the Lord when while on earth they knew the gospel is not being preached in their church, yet they took no decisive action to have this unacceptable situation rectified? Such elders have now come to accept that it is OK for the churches not to preach the everlasting Gospel. And what can be more divisive than a minister who does not preach the Gospel. What can be more spiritually dangerous than a man who claims and is accepted to be a Gospel minister in a 'Gospel' church refusing to preach the Gospel? That is massively divisive. But it is not deemed to be divisive because no one creates a stir about a non-Gospel preaching minister. And the church authorities are content to tolerate such a situation.
And all because their church requires of them not to follow a divisive course. What if Luther, who preached from the Bible as we are supposed to do, had have taken that approach to church life; would the reformation ever have taken place? Had Calvin been content to let things go on as they had done, would the reformation ever been organised? What if the Huguenots and Covenanters and Puritans had taken this advice and 'followed no divisive course,' where would the church have gone?
Ask yourself this: if every church member and elder was like me, how long would the Gospel survive in your church?
Thursday, 3 October 2013
It’s amazing how much the Lord teaches us about Himself when we’re faced with an illness as serious as cancer. He proves His faithfulness in every situation. He demonstrates that however things appear to the contrary, we can still cast our burdens on Him (1 Pet.5:7), and not be disappointed. In fact, we feel ourselves being carried along, upborne, and blessed. He manifests Himself to us in various ways – in normal ways through the kindness and support of Christian people and also, as a testimony to God’s common grace, of non-Christian people. He also demonstrates His love for us in much more personal ways, as when He draws really near to us by His Spirit and assures us that we are His children by new birth and also by adoption (we’re doubly His!). During family devotions when He comes right into our room and leaves the unspeakable impression that we have been in the presence of the great King Who is our Father, we know we are His and He is ours (Song of Songs 2:16; 6:3; 7:10). How sweet are these precious lessons. What He teaches us in the dark places and in the valleys of life cannot be learned out of a book or even by listening to sermons.
But it’s also amazing how much He teaches us about ourselves – and most of that is not always nice; but it’s needed. One of the big lessons He has taught us is that head belief will certainly not get an individual through the challenge of a life-threatening illness. Having all the right words and repeating them will just not ‘cut it’ when faced with the ultimate. We need more than that.
What we need, however, are the right beliefs that have found their way into the heart, beliefs that have warmed the heart and melted the heart, and beliefs that have motivated the will to give our all to the Saviour. It is the head that understands (and we need biblical understanding), but it is with the heart that we believe. “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom.10:10).
Looked at from another angle, Jesus is our Prophet, Priest and King. True faith lays hold of a whole Christ. So true faith is believing Christ as our Prophet, trusting Christ as our Priest and submitting to Christ as our King. All three must be present otherwise we have ‘faith’ in only a partial Christ – which is no faith at all. When all three are present, our head, our heart and our will are all engaged in our faith. And remember, no one who has submitted to Christ the King will live in daily disobedience to Him.
This lesson was reinforced to us during this period of challenge. How true it is. And how necessary it is when we come to pray. Praying with the mind only is not enough; nor is praying only with the heart, or with the will (however that may be done!). That’s why we need that knowledge of God that comes only from the Bible. But if our hearts are cold when we approach the Lord, then of what use are right words? And if we are not motivated to surrender our all, our life, to Him, then the mind and heart roles are redundant.
Remember what old John Bunyan said: In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart. Make sure your prayer comes right from your heart. Charles H. Spurgeon added: “Groanings which cannot be uttered are often prayers which cannot be refused.” So be deeply encouraged, and pray on. Let us come as whole persons to a whole Christ and we’ll see even greater things happen.
Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he'll take and shield thee;
Thou wilt find a solace there.
Tuesday, 1 October 2013
Trusting is about rolling our all onto Christ, and leaving it there – easier said than done. It’s about depending upon Him to do what’s right and best. We have no one else really in whom we can trust always. Trust in the sovereign Lord is not a vain thing. I know how easy it is to become all theological and say all the right things, and I also know how hard it is at times to put all this trust into practice. We fail so often; and it’s then that we have to cast ourselves unreservedly on our Lord for His mercy and grace. Thankfully, it is we who fail, not our faith (Lk.22:32); because it is our faith that takes us straight back to our glorious Lord and Saviour, our only hope and refuge.
The good thing is, this is true however we feel. How futile a thing it is to trust in our feelings! We have feelings and feelings have their place; but they can be so deceitful if allowed to rule us. In dare not act on the basis of my feelings just now because these could encourage me not to trust the Lord. Wasn’t Edward Mote (1797-1874) quite correct when he penned those immortal words:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
If I were to trust “the sweetest frame,” I’d be undone. It’s a case of “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mk 14:38). Our Lord shows that there is a distinction between the lack of faith and the weakness of the flesh. No matter how clearly we see and understand the teaching, yet when faced with situations we cannot control, we feel fearful. God understands our human frailty and has made provision for it by reminding that His greatest servants of old were mere men like ourselves – Abraham, Jacob, Noah, Elijah, Elisha, David, Peter, Paul - I could go on. So how wonderful it is to know that human fear combined with God’s unerring Word is then order of the day.
Why am I writing these things? To teach myself those precious truths that will minister to my weakness and fear, and overcome them. It’s to get my mind and heart fixed afresh on Christ, and to “Wholly lean on [His] name.” It’s about re-gaining spiritual perspective, and moving on from there. It’s about standing on Christ the solid Rock Who will never let us down, whatever His plan is. So we rest content in this.