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Recovering Foundation Truths of the Christian Faith – Intro

New_Smyrna_Turnbull_Palace_foundation_02 

I recently had the privilege again of hearing a message preached by Pastor Glenn Loewen at Portage Evangelical Church in Portage la Prairie on the topic of Itching Ears and the passage of scripture found in 2Tim. 4.1-5. These verses have captivated my attention for many years and I believe that the prophetic words shared by Pastor Glen in this message are a confirmation of what the Spirit has been speaking to me. I suggest that we are indeed living in the time that the Apostle Paul predicted many hundreds of years ago when we wrote a warning to Timothy a young minister: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (2Tim. 4.3-4).

False teaching:

In his book “Spiritual Avalanche” the late evangelist Steve Hill warns the church of an impending spiritual avalanche that could spiritually wipe out the faith of millions of Christians. The following is a summary of some of the great lies [false teachings] that Steve identifies as being taught in the church today:

Overemphasis of Prosperity: Undoubtedly, some adherents of the carnal prosperity message are motivated by greed. For them, preaching Jesus is a means of financial gain, something Paul rebuked in the strongest possible terms, speaking of men “of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5).

Antinomianism – long word, simple meaning. The word literally means “against law.” It begins with an overemphasis on the grace message that then leads to complete antinomianism. In practice, it means that “anything goes,” since Jesus has set us free. The problem is, Jesus didn’t set us free to sin; He set us free from sin.

Deification of Man: Many false teachings today start with man rather than with God. In contrast, when Paul laid out the gospel message in Romans, he started with God and then went to man: God is holy and we are not; He is righteous and we are not; we are under His judgment and in need of mercy, and that mercy comes through the cross.

Today’s gospel, especially in America, has a very different ring to it; rather than being all about God, it’s all about me. Just as the American way is to make everything bigger and better, the American gospel says that Jesus came to make you into a bigger and better you. That is not the gospel!

Challenging the Authority of the Word: The challenging of God’s authority goes back to the Garden of Eden, starting with the serpent’s challenge to Eve: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1). This satanic challenge was twofold: First, did God really say that? And second, God didn’t really mean what He said. After all, you won’t die if you eat from the tree (vv. 1-5).

Rejecting Hell: Nowhere is this questioning of God’s Word seen any more clearly than when it comes to the subject of hell and future punishment. And because we preach an imbalanced gospel—emphasizing God’s love and ignoring His wrath, emphasizing His mercy and ignoring His justice—we no longer have room for hell and future punishment in our theology.

Universal Reconciliation: Universal reconciliation promotes a get-out-of-jail-free mentality—that in the end, everyone will make it into heaven because of Jesus’ death on the cross. (In contrast, universalism teaches that all paths lead to God.) There may be future suffering, but it will be purging rather than punishment, and ultimately everyone will be saved.

Immaturity:

In the Epistles to the church in Corinth the apostle Paul addresses a number of perplexing issues that require a stern response in the form of two letters know to us today as First and Second Corinthians. The underlining problem in the Corinthian church seemed to be rooted in an absence of spiritual maturity. He writes in 1 Corinthians 3:2 “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready”. He describes the Corinthians as exhibiting qualities that would be likened to being “mere infants in Christ” (v. 1). One of the principal reasons used to make this judgement is found in verse three: “for since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people?”[1]

We can observe a similar lack of spiritual development in the modern, western church, where for the most part we focus on the watered down version of the gospel and avoid the “solid food” of the cross. We see a dearth of gospel preaching that focuses on the crucified Christ, his death, and resurrection and how this reality “impacts our entire Christian life”.[2]

Apostasy:

In the Old Testament God warned the Jewish people about their idolatry and their lack of trust in him and his ways. In the New Testament the epistles warn us about not falling away from the truth. “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [Jesus’ return] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,” (2 Thess. 2:3).[3] This verse tells us that there will be an apostasy that is associated with the coming of the Antichrist.  Most Christians are looking for the arrival of the Antichrist, but very few are looking for “the apostasy” that must come before. 
As Christians we ask this question, “Is there an apostasy in the Christian church today?”  The answer is that as we anticipate the arrival of the Antichrist, we should also be looking for an increase in apostasy. When we carefully examine the word of God and compare the present-day Church it becomes evident that we are on the road to Apostasy.

The solution: The Foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

We are in a state of emergency and we are in danger of losing our way. The foundation of the church is disintegrating and being swallowed up in the tide of “post-modern” ideology. We are in need of a recovery program. We must reclaim ground and begin reconstruction.

The first step is to ensure that we have a solid, lasting foundation to build upon. I believe that God today is calling the church to a place of reconstruction. We cannot wait and we must begin at once before we find ourselves in a critical situation. The first stage in this labour will be to make sure that we have the firm foundation. We need something to build upon that is not of this world for the bible says that this world is passing way (1Cor. 7.31). We need something that is lasting and will stand up to everything; every awful thing that this world can throw its way. Every war, every drought, every storm, every plague, every deficiency, every disaster, every catastrophic event, every force that is not of this world. Something that can even stand up against the gates of hell when they try to prevail (Matt 16.18). What is this foundation?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ:

1 Corinthians 3:11, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ”. I believe that the solution to the apparent deficiency in the church is found in a return to fundamental gospel truths. Once again we must expound upon the message of Christ and the significance of His death and resurrection, until those who will listen will respond to what is being said. Perhaps over time the appetites of the many will be changed and become “ready” for solid, Christ-centered teaching and preaching.

There is one true foundation and that is the person of Jesus Christ. The knowledge and experience of Christ forms the basis of Christianity. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;  But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22—23).[4] And again in chapter two, For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v. 2). Jesus himself is the foundation of the church that bears His name.

The First Ways:

In the next few blogs articles we will examine further the teachings of Jesus Christ. We will be looking at key scriptures found in the gospels that will give valuable instruction for laying the solid foundation that we so desperately need. My desire and prayer is that as we proceed through this study we will be better prepared to be involved in the building of the church of Jesus Christ. I am praying that we will go deeper then we have ever gone before in our understanding of the foundational (first) truths that are found in the New Testament. These same truths that were the roots of Christianity and vital to the early followers of Jesus Christ.

[1] New English Translation (NET)

[2] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 124

[3] New American Standard Bible

[4] King James Version (KJV)

The Christian Assembly

 The following paper is the final assignment for a course that I am taking to complete an undergraduate degree at Horizon College & Seminary. The course I am taking is B263 1&2 Corinthians tahght by Adam Z. Wright Ph.D (Cand.).

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Introduction

In 1 Corinthians 14:26—33 we have a passage of scripture that provides an important discourse on the Christian “church” meeting. In these verses the apostle Paul concludes a discussion that began in Chapter 12 with a final practical application of the use of spiritual gifts in the assembly of believers. What we find is a practical example of mutual participation and the building up of the body that is hardly present in the contemporary (western) church.

In this passage and its preceding verses we catch a glimpse of what it must have been like to gather with believers in the early church. There was no apparent program or liturgy and the meetings were spontaneous. The manifestation of the Spirit through a diversity of gifts was the dominating factor for the edification of the body. The pattern of the New Testament church was a community where Christ and the Sprit are distinguishing features, that is, the grace of Christ and the charisms given by His Spirit, with all that that involved.[1]

When we study the New Testament we learn about the early church and that a great deal of what we presently do on Sunday mornings more resembles the traditions and practices from pagan culture in the post apostolic period.[2] What we observe is that the majority of Christian meetings in the contemporary church hardly resemble that of the New Testament:

If the truth be told, we Christians never seem to ask why we do what we do. Instead, we blithely carry out our religious traditions without asking where they came from. Most Christians who claim to uphold the integrity of God’s Word have never sought to see if what they do every Sunday has any scriptural backing. How do we know this? Because if they did, it would lead them to some very disturbing conclusions that would compel them by conscience to forever abandon what they are doing.[3]

We must refer to the New Testament scriptures as the source of authoritative instruction related to church function and there is no better passage that examines the way the first churches met and conducted their gatherings then Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 12-14. We will begin by looking at the context of the church meeting followed by an examination of what happens when the believers “come together” (14:26). Through this study we will learn valuable information that will aid in our understanding of the vibrant New Testament church meeting.

The Context of the Meeting: 1 Corinthians 12&13

The participants are Christian. “No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4). Those who shared in the fellowship and community of the New Testament church were those who had made a personal confession of “Jesus is Lord” under the inspiration of the Spirit (12:3). This confession was not with meaningless words, but one that “declares absolute allegiance to Him and accepts His absolute authority over every aspect of life”.[4]

Paul advises that this confession is only possible through the help of the Holy Spirit and therefore all who make this sincere confession are spiritual. In the Corinthian church there were those who considered themselves more spiritual because they possessed distinct spiritual gifts and thus set apart from the rest of the body.[5] However, Paul at the start of this discussion makes it clear that “All who are in Christ have entered the realm of the Spirit, and no one should be despised”.[6] From these verses it is clear that those who participated in the New Testament church were spirit filled Christians, no longer pagan or led astray by “mute idols” (12:2) and completely devoted to the Lord Jesus and his church.

The Participants are charismatic. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (12:7). “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines” (12:11). A charism by definition is “the result of God’s gracious act; it is divine grace come to effect and expression in word or deed”.[7] Paul’s most common usage is in reference to charisms for the assembly.[8] The grace gifts of the Spirit, also known as “manifestation (phanerosis) of the Spirit” were for the common God of the church (12:7).

Paul provides a representation of these gifts in verses 8-10 that reflects the Corinthian situation with no intention of providing an exhaustive list or systematic discussion.[9] There are many “gifts of grace” besides the gifts prophecy and speaking in tongues and Paul puts the Corinthians favorites at the end of the list. This was to emphasise the point that not just the public (inspired) speaker receives the groups attention and respect when compared to the gallery of listeners.[10] In today’s setting perhaps we would compare this to the “pastor” or “preacher” as the one who uses his gift with the exclusion of all the other “spectators” in the congregation.

The Participants are members of one body. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (12:12). Paul uses a metaphor of the human body to illustrate how “the functioning of each part contributes to the health of the whole, to show that in the church, ‘the body of Christ’, a variety of endowments and ministries was necessary for the general well-being”.[11] They are interdependent on each other each relying on the other in order to remain as part of the whole (body). This is something that is difficult for us to understand today: “Each part of the body has a unique function that gives it worth. In a capitalistic society the corporate model is extremely powerful and tends to dominate the way the church thinks of itself. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if contemporary Western church took Paul’s model seriously?”[12]

By making a contribution in the body, the believer experiences the life giving flow of the Holy Spirit (v. 13). “What draws and keeps the believer’s together for Paul was not simply a common membership of a congregation, but the common experience of the Sprit. It was the awareness that their experience of the Spirit was one in which others had also shared which provided the bond of mutual understanding and sympathy”.[13]

The experience of the Spirit was a distinct characteristic of the New Testament church, “we were all given the one Spirit to drink” implies “a much greater experiential and visibly manifest reception of the Spirit than many have tended to experience in subsequent church history”.[14]

In verse 18 we are advised that God chooses the parts and this is important, “Assuming Middle Eastern traditional culture, if the parts of the body were free to choose their own functions, every part of the body would be an eye, a right hand or a head, and the body would die”.[15]

The Participants are consumed by love. “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:4). In chapter thirteen, in the middle of encouraging the use of spiritual gifts for the edification of the body, Paul points the Corinthians towards the context in which all these things are to happen: “the way of love”.[16] Love (agape) is the underlying attitude of everything that is done or said within the church of Jesus Christ. It is the command given by the Lord himself, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13).

This kind of love must be understood through the lens of the cross, “Though God and Christ are not mentioned, the cross of Christ as the manifestation of God’s love for the world is the central defining reality for Paul’s understanding of agape. He is speaking not about some human virtue but about love that is rooted in God’s love in Christ”.[17] Only when love is the focus and the motivation will the church be capable of functioning as it should, “Love is the most excellent way for a Christian to use his spiritual gifts”.[18] “Otherwise, they are meaningless, no matter how sublime and admirable they may seem to be”.[19]

The Participants seek to prophecy and edify the body. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3). As a manifestation of the Spirit (12:10) there is the potential for any believer to prophecy and speak under the inspiration of the Spirit in the assembly of the saints. In fact Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “eagerly desire” the gift of prophecy (14:1). The early Christians understood the prophecy of Joel 2:28 to have been fulfilled: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions”.

Prophecy was the gift preferred above all the others listed by Paul: “The evidence in chap. 14 indicates that it consisted of spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, intelligible messages, orally delivered in the gathered assembly, intended for the edification or encouragement of the people”.[20] It was desired over the use of unintelligible tongues (without interpretation) as it edified the church, whereas in speaking in tongues one builds himself up in seeking “spiritual fellowship with God”.[21]

The Meeting

To conclude his arguments in chapter 14, Paul provides a practical application and example of what an ideal Christian assembly should look like. Through the verses in 14:26-33 we are provided a description of what should take place at any given meeting:

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

Everyone has something to contribute (26). When the church meets, “each one has opportunity to participate in the corporate ministry of the body”.[22] Here we find the attitude very different then what is portrayed in the today’s church, “People apparently attended worship thinking about what they were going to contribute, not about what they were going to receive”.[23] Each believer was encouraged to come prepared to minister and edify the body and this would have looked radically different then what happens in a modern day church service. Four examples of individual contributions are provided:

The hymn (psalmos) was probably a reference to one of the 150 Old Testament psalms that were widely used in the early church as prayers or sacred songs of praise. Throughout the New Testament the use of the psalms was an important feature of early Christian worship.[24] There was no lengthy song service of preselected and rehearsed music performed by a talented group of musicians on a stage accompanied by a flashy light show. The singing was spontaneous, spirit led and sung from a heart full of gratitude and grace. Teaching also translated as doctrine, or a lesson in Christian truth and this, “would appear to require a sustained biblical reflection rather than something spontaneous”.[25] Possibly several teachings would occur that would assist in the spiritual growth of the many young converts of the early church. Revelation was something divinely disclosed and presented in a comprehensible language and could happen prior to or during worship. The congregation was hungry to hear from God and would listen with great expectation as the Holy Spirit moved amongst the people revealing things that needed to be shared within the body. [26]Glossolalia (tongues) within the context of the public meeting involved an utterance that had no meaning unless it was accompanied by someone who could provide interpretation so that the listeners would understand the message behind the unintelligible words: “Paul grants that speaking in tongues is a way of communicating with God (14:2) but now insists that it should become public only when someone is present to interpret what it means in plane language”.[27]

Everything must be done to edify (26–30). At the heart of edification is the manner in which the participants conduct themselves during public meetings. Paul spends a lot of time establishing guidelines for the Corinthians so that they will conduct themselves in way that will promote edification for everyone in attendance. It appears that a lot of emphasis was placed on the utterance gifts such as public displays of tongues and prophetic words. These displays were to be synchronised with other gifts such as interpretation and discernment. They were to have their place in the order of things and not dominate the meeting and therefore limitations are recommended: Two or three at a time for prophecy and two or three tongues at the most in any given meeting and only if someone interprets (27).

When a prophecy is given it is recommended that those listening “should weigh carefully what is said” (29). The congregation is not to receive everything that is said just because a person claims to speak under the influence of the Spirit, “The assumption is that the prophets do not speak with unquestionable divine authority”.[28] “No inspired utterance should be accepted as a prophecy simply because it was inspired; rather it had to be tested and evaluated”.[29]

Orderly conduct was vital to the success of the gathering and no person was to dominate the meeting, “It appears that after brief remarks by up to three prophets, they were to break into a general discussion regarding what had been said. It sounds like an informal setting with presenters and responders”.[30] It is true both now and during the time of the early church that when opportunity is given for sharing in a public meeting there will be those who try to dominate the spotlight, “In offering these guidelines, Paul may not be concerned simply to promote good ‘order’. He also may wish to check any selfish monopoly of prophecy by those who may esteem themselves as belonging to a select circle of prophets and who are used to taking center stage during worship”.[31] Even so, these guidelines did not appear to include a human moderator: “What is striking in this entire discussion is the absence of any mention of leadership or of anyone who would be responsible for seeing that these guidelines were generally adhered to. The community appears to be left to itself and the Holy Spirit. What is mandatory is that everything aim at edification.[32]

Everyone should be instructed and encouraged (v. 31—32). The meeting receives a positive evaluation on the basis that those who have attended the gathering have received something constructive: They leave having experienced the grace and presence of the Holy Spirit. They have been edified through the ministry of the body of Christ. This edification is primarily as a result of the function of prophecy and this is why Paul recommends prophecy as the gift that should be desired (14:1).

Through prophecy believers are instructed and learn something that will impact their walk with God and will help them live out the gospel in day to day life. Perhaps they came to the meeting discouraged and weary from life’s challenges and need encouragement. Encouraged (paraklontai) is a strong word and Paul uses it twenty three times in in the Corinthian correspondence alone. “The worshippers who come with their pain should find comfort. Those who are estranged should see open doors for reconciliation, and the depressed should find encouragement. Paul’s language includes all of these nuances.[33]

Everything must resemble the character and peace of God (v33). “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace”. Having given the guidelines of conduct in open Christian meetings, Paul now validates these recommendations in the very character of God, “For God himself is not characterized by, and is therefore not the cause of, disorder” and equally, “peace in the society is a mark of the presence and work of God”.[34] The peace of God is the prevailing atmosphere of all that is said and done.

The point that Paul now makes is crucial as it bases his instruction on theology and what is known about the God of peace. It was vital that a sense of harmony be evident in the Christian gathering as this was the true mark of God’s presence and manifestation. “The theological point is crucial: the character of one’s deity is reflected in the character of one’s worship”.[35] The peace that so many seek and need is truly found in God through Christ and this must be evident in the lives and assemblies of those who gather in His name.

Conclusion: All the congregations of the Lord’s people

With the concluding words in this section, “as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people” (33), Paul sets a precedence that the instruction he is giving is the standard for all the churches. His coaching was not just pertinent to the Corinthian assembly, with all of their difficulties and mistreatments in corporate practice: It was applicable to how Christian assemblies were to be conducted everywhere. The question needs to be asked: Does this apply to the modern day church? Can we gather together today in the same manner that the early church did and experience true body ministry and edification?

On many occasions I have heard disillusioned church attenders exclaim, “I did not receive anything at church today” or, “I am not being fed at the church that I attend”. Usually this is followed up with a well-meaning response by someone who advises: “you should not attend church with the attitude of receiving, but with the attitude of giving”. However, the question remains, are people provided the opportunity to contribute when they attend a church meeting? According to the passage of scripture that we have just examined, effective edification happens in the context of body ministry. Perhaps they are not receiving because there has been no occasion for the operation of spiritual gifts in the gathering? Maybe they are only permitted to take a pew as spectators, watching the few “ordained” who perform the ministry? Perhaps over time many who attend the modern day church have become obfuscated and no longer have a desire to assemble with other believers? “By and large the history of the church points to the fact that in worship we do not greatly trust the diversity of the body. Edification must always be the rule, and that carries with it orderliness so that all may learn and all be encouraged. But it is no credit to the historical church that in opting for “order” it also opted for a silencing of the ministry of the many”.[36]

In order for the church to edify itself and attain the “fullness of Christ” we must once again incorporate the diversity of gifts that all too often lay dormant and stagnated within the assembly of the church. This begins by understanding the Lord’s design of having a body made up of imperfect and interdependent members; recognizing that it was the Lord’s intention that we need one another and that each one has a part to play no matter how unimportant the part seems (12.12—31). When we come together we must also allow the Holy Spirit to lead and orchestrate His divine purposes in our gatherings, manifesting the grace of God through whomever He chooses. And finally we must make every effort to conduct ourselves in way that reflects the God in whom we serve, a God of peace and order, a God that is worthy of our adoration.

[1] James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 561.

[2] Frank Viola, and George Barna, Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 2008), 6.

[3] Viola, Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices, 5.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 572.

[5] Such as speaking in tongues. See Fee, 571 ff., for further discussion.

[6] Richard Hays, First Corinthians. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 208—209.

[7] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 554.

[8] Romans 12.6; 1 Corinthians 12:4, 9, 28, 30—31

[9] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 585–86.

[10] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 562.

[11] F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 273.

[12] Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011), 342.

[13] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 562.

[14] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 605.

[15] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, 339.

[16] The “way of love” used in 1 Corinthians 14:1.

[17] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 606.

[18] W. Harold Mare, “The Expositor’s Commentary,” Romans-Galatians, Vol. 10, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 267.

[19] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 609.

[20] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 595.

[21] Mare, Romans-Galatians, 272.

[22] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 690.

[23] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, 406.

[24] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 658; cf. 14:14; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16

[25] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 658.

[26] Cf. 2Cor. 12:1-7; Gal. 1:12, 16; 2:2.

[27] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 658.

[28] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 662.

[29] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 557.

[30] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, 406.

[31] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 660.

[32] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 691.

[33] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, 407.

[34] C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013), 329.

[35] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 697.

[36] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 698.

A CHURCH IN DELUSION

 The following paper was submitted as an assignment for a course that I am taking to complete an undergraduate degree at Horizon College & Seminary. The course I am taking is B263 1&2 Corinthians tahght by Adam Z. Wright Ph.D (Cand.).

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Introduction: The Corinthian Delusion

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines delusion as: “something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated” Other words in the dictionary that portray the same idea are illusion, hallucination, and mirage and they all mean basically the same thing: “something that is believed to be true or real but that is actually false or unreal”.[1]

In the New Testament we find a group of Christians that believed that they were wise and knowledgeable when it came to following the “way” of Jesus Christ. When we read the epistles to the Corinthians, we become painfully aware that this was not the reality. The apostle Paul, who founded the church, wrote two lengthy letters addressing several obvious areas of concern. Among others issues, there was an attitude of enlightenment in which the ‘men of the Spirit’ at Corinth placed a lot of emphasis on wisdom (Sophia) and knowledge (gnosis). They measured these qualities by the secular standards of the day, whereas the message that Paul preached, the gospel of Christ crucified, made these standards look foolish.[2] The Corinthian believers had deceived themselves into believing an illusion that they had somehow “arrived” spiritually.

Self-deception is the common fate of those who mistakenly fancy themselves wise; deluded in this, they are deluded in many other matters also…In Corinth the particular danger is that men (even within the church) may delude themselves into thinking that they are wise, because they estimate wisdom by the wrong standards. Such men need to take new standards and reverse their judgements[3]

We live at a time that is not that very different then the period of the early church. In our day we have become an increasingly “enlightened” society with vast amounts of “knowledge” (information) at our finger tips (acquired through the use of technology and the internet). We find ourselves living in what has been termed as the “Postmodern” era, where we profess a “greater understanding” of things. Truth that is defined in the bible is considered primitive or no longer relevant due to our modern advancements and sophistication.

Perhaps the church of today has fallen victim to the attitude that prevails in our world. Perhaps we have developed an exaggerated sense of pre-eminence. We have become deceived supposing that we are wise “by the standards of this age” (1 Corinthians 3.18). We have become proficient in the “eloquence or human wisdom” (2.1). The apostle Paul would respond, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1.20); “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1.18). Perhaps like the church in Corinth, we are in danger of becoming a church that is deluded and deformed?

When the apostle Paul became aware of the problems in Corinthian church he initially responded by writing a letter known today as 1 Corinthians. In this letter he uses a metaphor of a building to re-establish the correct view of the Church of Christ (Read: 1 Corinthians 3:10—17).[4] In this passage he defines three components of this building: The builders (3.10), the foundation (3.11), and the structure itself (3.12—15). By examining these three components we will have a better understanding of how and what the church of Jesus Christ should look like and hopefully avoid the delusions of our day.

The wise (master) builder: (1 Corinthians 3.10)

In this passage of scripture Paul introduces three classes of builders: (1) those who are truly wise; (2) those who are unwise and introduce wrong material but do not leave the foundation; and (3) those who are fools and try to destroy God’s temple.[5]

The wise builder is one that depends on God’s wisdom as he labours to establish the work of God. Paul instructed the Corinthians that each one that labours must do so knowing the plan that God has for the building: “[we] speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2.6—8). He goes on to say that these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God (2.10).

The wise “master” builder is wise because he possess “spiritual” wisdom. The “spiritual truths” of God can be understood only through the Holy Spirit, just as human wisdom needs the human spirit to understand it.[6] Others that build on the foundation of Christ and attempt to use the wrong materials do so with a warning that they may suffer loss when their labour is tested. Those that attempt to build on a different foundation are considered fools for there is no other foundation in God’s building other than Jesus Christ.

“To build upon”, refers primarily to the task of preaching and teaching that happens within the body of Christ. This undertaking is not limited to the leadership of the church (the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers), since they are given to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11—12; cf 4:16, 29). Each member of the body “must use fit materials and follow the plans of the architect (who is God, not Paul) and the building code.[7]

The True foundation: (1 Corinthians 3.11)

There is one true foundation and that is the person of Jesus Christ. The knowledge and experience of Christ crucified forms the basis of Christianity. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;  But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22—23; KJV). And again in chapter two, For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v. 2). Jesus himself is the foundation of the church that bears His name.

This revelation is something that would easily have been understood by the first followers of Christ. They witnessed His ministry and authority as He healed the sick and raised the dead. They saw firsthand His death, resurrection and glorious ascension into heaven. They experienced the powerful arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost when everyone present was filled with the Sprit and spoke in other languages (Acts 2.1—4). These living eye-witness accounts glorified Christ and paved the way for a solid foundation for the early church to build upon.

However, it would also be easy to confuse those who bore the first testimony of Christ as the actual foundation of the church; they demonstrated a powerful witness of the Spirit’s power (Acts 4.33; 1 Corinthians 2.4). This has been the case in the tradition of some, who have exalted the apostle Peter and have misunderstood the promise given by Jesus that he would build His church on “this” rock. Jesus did not intend that Peter or any man would ever be a substitute for His divine purpose as the foundation and exalted head of the church (cf Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18; 2:19).

The Permanent Structure: (1 Corinthians 3.12-15)

“The quality of the superstructure must be appropriate to the foundation”.[8] The permanent structure is composed of good materials that are imperishable, as compared to those that will not endure when burned by fire. Paul compares incombustible materials such as gold, silver and precious stones, with combustible things such as wood, hay and straw.

A Day of Judgement is coming and fire will judge the quality of materials used in the construction of our building. In this warning Paul is reminding us that a day will come when the quality of our work will be exposed and rewarded. For some there will be no reward and they will suffer loss (v. 15). “At the final judgement, all such building will be shown for what it is: something merely human, with no character of Christ or His gospel in it”.[9]

What are the materials that we are using today to build the church? What and how are we building our churches with? Will these modern day materials result in a lasting structure and eternal rewards? Let us examine two building materials that are common in today’s church assembly:

The contemporary “worship experience”. We live in the day where music is the predominant force behind the corporate worship service. Over the past 2 years I have visited countless churches and I have observed that the vast majority of people are not engaged in the singing aspect of the service. People have become more interested in attending the Sunday “worship concert” and listening to a performance, rather than worshiping Jesus; they are more interested in singing a song about Jesus rather than directing their worship to Jesus.

We are at a worship crossroads between two models of worship leading: Congregationalism: a model of worship leading that views the engagement of the congregation as integral to the success of a worship service. And Performancism: a model of worship leading that views the engagement of the congregation as incidental to the success of a worship service. This is about substance. It’s more about the “And so?” and less about the “And how?” It’s more about the heart of the leaders and less about the preferences of the worshippers.[10]

If we desire to be a church that has an “eternal purpose” we must ask ourselves some important questions pertaining to the substance of our contemporary worship services:

  1. Are people engaged in the worship of the saviour? If not, then why are they not participating in worship? Is this not the purpose of corporate worship?
  2. Does our worship times focus primarily on the singing of songs? Are there ways to express our adoration to God other than singing songs?
  3. Are people looking for a music experience? If they are then how can we steer them away from the “concert” mentality and towards a deeper communion with the Lord?
  4. How can we as leaders provide instruction that will build up the body and encourage worship that is done in “Spirit and truth” (John 4.23)?

The wisdom (Sophia) of the day that emphasises church growth techniques. There is a prevailing school of thought today that believes that it is acceptable to pattern a church after the felt needs of unbelievers. The mission of the church becomes centered on growing “big” churches and its success is measured by how many people are attending the meetings. The function of the church then becomes “pragmatic” and focused on the shallow purpose of growing numbers or “purpose driven”:

Pragmatism is the practice of relying on methods or techniques rather than our Sovereign Lord for results. Pragmatism is the notion that meaning or worth is determined by practical consequences. It is the philosophy that looks to the world’s marketing methodologies or poll results rather than Biblical examples or mandates. When determining how to “run” a church a Bible-based pastor will ask the question “what most honors God or is clearly revealed in Scripture” while the pragmatist will take a survey.[11]

When church leaders obtain their inspiration from the world this should be a warning for those who want to uphold and practice biblical truth. Many church leaders today have been influenced by these secular marketing techniques. “They believe that in order to be successful, we must target and appeal to our audience. This is the same concept used in advertising to market a product. Entertainment is how the world sells their products; should we advertise the church as a better product than the rest?”[12]

The Apostle Paul states that the purpose of the church is to be “eternal driven” for on the day of judgement, fire will test what has been accomplished (the building) and “If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss…” (1Corinthiams 3.14—15).

What are the good and lasting materials that we are to build with? The central element that will stand the test of fire is good doctrine (teaching) that is centered on Christ: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (I Corinthians 1:18). Another vital building material is the example of good leadership: Leaders that work together in serving God (3.6—9), who are servants and stewards of the gospel of Christ (4.1—2), and are good examples of selfless humility (4:6ff). Through these instruments the “building” of Christ is being erected; keeping in mind that ultimately the source of growth comes from Christ who is the foundation, “From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4.16).

Conclusion: A holy dwelling place for God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 3.16-17)

The description of the building is now completed by a picture of the ultimate purpose of the church: To be a holy dwelling place of God’s Spirit. “Paul here is reflecting on the church as the corporate place of God’s dwelling, who, when gathered in Jesus’ name, experienced the presence and power of the Lord Jesus in their midst”.[13] The definitive outcome of the construction of Christ’s local body of believers is that it is a residence of the manifested presence of a living and holy God.

One of the desperate needs of the church is to recapture this vision of what it is by grace, and therefore also what God intends it to be. In most protestant circles one tends to take the local parish altogether too lightly. Seldom does one sense that it is, or can be, experienced as a community that is so powerful indwelt by the Spirit that it functions as a genuine alternative to the pagan world in which it is found. It is perhaps not too strong to suggest that the recapturing of this vision of it’s being, both in terms of it’s being powerfully indwelt by the Spirit and of its thereby serving as a genuine alternative (“holy in the most holistic sense) to the world, is it’s single greatest need.[14]

Paul concludes the building metaphor with a final warning: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (v. 17). “God in his justice and holiness cannot allow part of his holy work to be damaged without bringing retribution. Here is a fitting warning to every Christian minister and worker”.[15]

[1] Merriam-Webster.Com, “Delusion.” Accessed November 8, 2014. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/delusion.

[2] F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 261.

[3] C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013), 93.

[4] The bible version used will be the NIV unless otherwise stated.

[5] Paul A. Hamar, “The Complete Biblical Library,” Study Bible, Romans-Corinthians, Vol. 7, ed. Ralph W. Harris and Stanley M. Horton (Springfield, MO: World Library Press Inc., 1989), 291.

[6] W. Harold Mare, “The Expositor’s Commentary,” Romans-Galatians, Vol. 10, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 202.

[7] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 115.

[8] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 140

[9] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 145

[10] Jamie Brown, “Worship at a Crossroads: Congregationalism versus Performancism,” Worthily Magnify (blog), September 30, 2014, http://worthilymagnify.com/2014/09/30/worship-at-a-crossroads-congregationalism-versus-performancism/.

[11] Brian Jonson, “An Examination of Rick Warren’s Teaching on “Exponential Growth”,” Monergism (blog), Unknown, http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/questions/ RickWarren_growth.html.

[12] Mike Oppenheimer, “The Growth of a Purpose Driven Church,” Let Us Reason Ministries (blog), 2009, http://www.letusreason.org/Popteac24.htm.

[13] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 147

[14] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 149—150

[15] Mare, Romans-Galatians, 208

The Return of God’s Glory – Has the Glory Departed?

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During one of my long drives to Thompson last week I listened to audio messages by Leonard Ravenhill, Paul Washer, Bill McLeod and Brian Long. These fiery preachers share an uncompromising message about a desperate longing to return to God and experience real and lasting revival.

The message by Bill McLeod was entitled, “The Return of God’s Glory” is a sobering message regarding the departure of God’s Glory from our lives and our churches and how we must have it return. All week long I wrestled with this message and the question “has the glory departed?” At our “Deeper Life Network” meeting on Saturday evening the discussion and prayer was “yes, we do need the glory of God!”

Bill McLeod was a pastor in Saskatoon who for several years led his church to pray for revival. In 1971 their prayers were answered and we have documented what has been termed the “Canadian Revival”. Over the course of two years this move of God was experienced in every province in Canada, every state in the USA and all over the world. From this experience Bill traveled in Canada and abroad for several years in full-time revival ministry, challenging believers to a deeper walk with God.

The message that Bill shares carries weight and comes from a man that knows the deep workings of God in the lives of man. He shares several accounts of the things that happened in in his ministry and during that time of awakening.

We live in a time when we constantly hear about revival movements and people praying for revival and the presence of God to be manifested. This probably comes from a legitimate desire and longing to see our world impacted by God. This past year I believe that God has been working in my own life to produce a deep yearning for a move of God. During my life I have experienced these times before when there was a real sense of God’s presence that had an impact on people from backsliders to the ungodly. Back in the mid 1980’s when God deeply touched my life it was during a time of revival and awakening in our church when many lives were impacted for His Kingdom.

Revival has always been controversial in that people just do not like to be shaken up and forced to deal with the sinful obstacles in their lives. When God begins to deal with the hearts of man, we can quickly be made to feel uncomfortable in the rut of dead religion, having a “form” of godliness but denying the real power of God. Conviction is not an easy feeling to shake when the almighty puts His finger on the things that have long been hidden within.

With all the desire and talk of revival comes the question, what does real revival look like? We have had several recent “revivals” that seem to be a lot of smoke and sometimes mirrors. At no other time in Christendom have we seen such a pursuit for “revival” meetings and conferences where people are seeking experiences. Unfortunately, many times they return from these meetings unchanged and sometimes disillusioned.

I have concluded that much of what we see today does not bare the marks of something that is a move of God or at least not to any great degree. You see today churches are often full of people, even having multiple services to accommodate the crowds. They have lights and smoke and well-tuned instruments. People will stand for an hour during concerts of worship and I would like to say that they really are worshipping God, however singing, clapping hands and participating in a celebration of joy and victory is rapidly being replaced with the muttering of a few familiar words while observing talented musicians on a large stage. I can still remember when the glory of God would fall on the congregation and for several minutes people would spontaneously shout, clap and even weep in the presence of God. I long for those days again.

We have substituted the Glory of God with counterfeits. Music and sound and programs and dynamic communicators and media and technology. They have for the most part replaced the real work that God does and wants to do in the hearts and lives of His people. What happened to the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit where you didn’t know what was going to happen in the next moment? Perhaps rather than standing for an hour listening to loud music we would be quietly sitting, hesitant to even move because the sovereign presence of a Holy God was gently resting on the people of God. Where is the spontaneous prayer that erupts in unison from hearts that are desperate for a taste of the living water of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps just like king Saul had given up on the arrival of the prophet Samuel and took matters into his own hands we have done likewise. (1Sam. 13). And the glory has departed. And we do not even know it.

I believe that the Apostle Paul had something to say about this when he was forced to substantiate the legitimacy of his ministry in 2Corinthians 3 (NIV):

3 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

In this passage we learn about important truths regarding the “revival” ministry of Paul the apostle and the “surpassing glory” that needs to be evident in the church today:  

  1. Revival is about People’s Hearts (vs. 2-3): The tablets of human hearts is where God does his work and changes lives. That God is working sovereignly in the lives of people bears testimony of real revival.
  2. Revival comes from God and is Spiritual Ministry (vs. 4-6): God is the source of revival, not man made programs, technology, great music, state of the art facilities, or dynamic communicators. We must not get distracted by these things as they can prevent God from moving sovereignly. God is a spirit and must be worshipped in the spirit and in truth (John 4.24). Ministry must happen at the spiritual level and go deep within and not just appeal to our flesh and physical senses. You can always determine if what is happening is spiritual and real by the fervency of the prayer time. If people are not praying and seeking God then what is happening is shallow. This is true without exception.
  3. Revival produces Life (vs. 6-7): When the Spirit of God is present He is the source of an abundant life that cannot be manufactured by human means. The letter [form] kills but the Spirit gives eternal satisfying life (John 4.13).
  4. Revival is the manifestation of God’s Great Glory (vs. 7-11): God’s Glory is defined as the manifestation of God’s presence. It is the evidence that God is present and working. In the New Testament we have a glory that is far greater than the glory revealed in the Old Testament when God’s law was articulated. This glory is manifested through the Holy Spirit in many ways: spiritual fruit (Gal. 5), spiritual gifts (1Cor. 12), divine guidance (John 16.13), and divine works (Mark 16.15-19). We are in desperate need of this Great Glory today as there is little evidence of it in our ministry.
  5. Revival brings Righteousness (vs. 9): The law [form] cannot make us righteousness in God’s eyes. It only brings condemnation. The ministry of God has an end result: people are made righteous. In our eyes this may seem unimportant. In God’s eyes this is everything. Righteousness represents our RELATIONSHIP with God. When we are unrighteous we will lack the confidence that we need to approach the holy throne of God and find mercy and rest (Heb. 4).
  6. Revival Endures (vs. 11): Revival brings lasting results that continue into eternity. People go forth and change the world. The fruit that is produced does not cease and lives are changed forever.
  7. Revival is something that we POSSESS [we have] and produces Great Boldness (vs12): You do not have to go searching for revival as it is something that has been engraved in the lives of those who are truly called of God. The only place it can be found is within and it comes by seeking and laying a hold of the throne of God. With such a glorious manifestation of god’s presence in our lives how can we not be bold?
  8. Revival brings Revelation (vs. 13-16): Only the Lord can remove the veil that covers our HEARTS. When we turn ourselves completely to him [surrender]. This spiritual veil will prevent us from contemplating the glory of God. Without revelation we cannot know our [spiritual] Lord. We also cannot know one another spiritually.
  9. Revival brings Freedom (vs. 17): Where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. I have never met anyone who does not want to or need to be set free. The world and physical body that we dwell are prone to bondage. The devil is a tyrant whose only objective is to cause slavery and death. Freedom is cause for great celebration and joy. How I long to be in company of a host of the redeemed that with all their strength praise the Lord for his saving mercy.
  10. Revival results in Transformation (vs. 18): We are changed into his image with INCREASING glory! As we move forward we look and act and think like our Lord more and more as we undergo this transformation. We sin less and love more and the presence of God in our lives is INCREASING.

So you see revival and the Glory of God are NOT OPTIONAL. In fact in the ministry of the New Testament leaders it was the standard and the evidence of true Christianity. I believe that we once again are in need of the Glory of God to return to our lives, families, and gatherings. We need a “desperate response” to a desperate situation.

In 1966 Pastor Bill McLeod had been faithfully shepherding Ebenezer Baptist Church for four years. Through this time he brought in evangelists, musical quartets, speakers, and more, but saw himself and his church make little spiritual advancement. In desperation, he shut the doors, closed down the events, and brought the church together so they could pray for revival. The Wednesday night prayer meeting slowly grew from a mere 25 to finally 175 (more than the church membership), and for many, many years they persevered in this manner not knowing what marvelous things God had in store.

Finally, Pastor Bill invited two evangelists, Ralph & Lou Sutera, to speak to his congregation. With much anticipation the first night of the meetings came, but nothing happened. The first night passed, the second, the third, but on the fourth night, October 17, 1971, God in His sovereignty came in revival. Without human means or explanation, the revival spread from church to church, community to community, city to city, and not long after from province to province.

With the worship of God being refreshed in hundreds of churches, and thousands being transformed with the display of God’s glory, a core group formed to serve pastors and churches while the revival continued. Pastor Bill, the Suteras, Harold Lutzer, and others of this group administrated meetings across the country, supported pastors, and managed financial support. In 1972 this group officially became the Canadian Revival Fellowship.
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from: http://www.revivalfellowship.com/?i=14083&mid=2

God’s Got an Army

This past week I was saddened at the news of the passing of evangelist Steve Hill who was best known as the “preacher” for the Brownsville Revival occurring at Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola Florida. I had the privilege of hearing him preach during one of the leadership conferences held at the church during the revival. Steve was a fiery, old fashioned gospel preacher whose greatest passion was to preach the gospel to lost sinners. His love and devotion for The Lord was contagious and impacted millions who attended the revival services that lasted for almost 5 years between 1995 and 2000. Steve was a man whom God used greatly during more than 34 years of faithful ministry and I encourage you to listen to one of his sermons entitled “You Can’t Have it”, a message that he preached years ago about the rewards that we may or may not receive when we stand before The Lord on judgement day. You can find the link to his message here.

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After hearing about Steve’s death I found some old sermons online and what started out as a few moments of reminiscing ended up being hours of listening to hard core, no compromise preaching. Needless to say the Spirit of God gripped me and wrecked me and I would like to share two things that happened to me this week:

1. All week long I have been burdened for the lost as I have not been for a long time. I became aware again of my cold heart as it pertained to the deep needs of people around me. I found myself breaking down and deeply moved for the needs of others. At first I did not understand what was happening to me, but then it became clearer as the week went on. You see I have been through this before in the past. I believe it happens to everyone who wants to follow The Lord with intensity. Over time our passion for God begins to wane and our deep love for people slowly drains away. Then something happens to shake us up and something breaks on the inside. The only way that God can truly change our lives is when we break! In that brokenness the Spirit of God moves in and regains control.

The only problem is that when you go through these times you may feel like your life is coming to an end. And you would be absolutely correct that is exactly what is happening! Living for self-gets knocked out of the way as God moves into the picture and shifts our eyes towards Himself and others. Once again there is a deep desire to reach out to a broken world and morn over the spiritual condition of lost souls.

2. The second thing that God did this week is remind me that He has an army that he has raised up for this very task. The burden of reaching the lost and hurting is far too great to carry alone. The task must be shared with others who are strong and equipped for the work. Several times This week I found myself singing an old course that I have not heard in a long time:

God’s got an army marching through the land
Deliverance is their song, there is healing in their hands
Everlasting joy and gladness in their hearts
And in this army I’ve got a part!

Oh the wonderful joy that comes in the knowing that you are not alone in the struggle with sin, Satan and self. That we have brothers and sisters that fight alongside of us. This army belongs to God and in this army you and I have a part to play. This past week I heard references to Steve as being a “general” in God’s army. I believe that this accurately describes the position and authority that he held in God’s work here on earth. Steve’s spiritual father was the late David Wilkerson and another mentor was Leonard Ravehhill. Both of these men were considered great men of God in our day. They had a powerful anointing and were used greatly by God, and they had a wide influence within the body of Christ. They were humble and obedient to call of God in their lives.

We all have a part to play, there are only a few generals in any army but there are always many soldiers. Soldiers are the ones who upon receiving orders march forward into battle, “onward Christian soldiers marching as to war”. In 2Timothy we are exhorted by the apostle Paul to be “first class” soldiers of Jesus Christ, enduring hardships and suffering. The Christian life is one of discipline and hard work with a desire to please the commanding officer (2Timothy 2.3-4).

The question has been asked, “How did the revival in Pensacola continue on for so long?” One answer that has widely been considered as accurate is that the city of Pensacola is a military town and that many of the people in the church came from a military back ground. They were accustomed to a respect for authority and following orders. When the leaders of the assembly shared their vision for revival and that they believed that God was going to send revival they pressed into that vision and marched forward with great sacrifice and intensity.

As I prepare to post this blog the service to remember Steve Hill will get under way being held in the very place that he became known, Brownsville Assembly of God. This will doubt be a great gathering of battle toughened solders and faithful servants of God. A time of remembering and reminiscing of the victories and spoils (souls) of war. I believe the occasions of remembering faithful, fallen soldiers are a taste of the celebration that we will experience when we all gather in heaven. What a day that will be when we stand before The Lord and offer him the only thing of value that we will possess – our crowns and rewards from this life of service in His army!

During his long battle with cancer Steve was quoted in Charismanews:

“I’ve never seen such loneliness and despair. People are grasping at anything that will give just a moment of relief. Christ must be offered without apology. This generation of Christians has the greatest opportunity, the most incredible tools and an audience that is craving the hard-core truth,”

“We must burn with the passion of Elijah and have the endurance of the apostle Paul. Trials like the one I’ve been passing through are certain to come. Press on! These are hard times yet these are the best of times. Let’s not let the curtain close without pouring everything we have into this conflict. Victory is certain!”

CHARISMANEWS 11/08/2011

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Casualties of Change – Part 2

God does not change. He remains the same God today as He was yesterday and for all eternity (Hebrew. 13.8). However the world that we live is constantly changing and in the process of decay (1Cor. 7.31). Furthermore the bible prophesies that there will be an end to this world and before that happens there will be some drastic changes. The second epistle to Timothy chapter three warns of some of these changes:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Although God does not change our world is changing and changing fast. During the past century we have seen more change then we have seen since the beginning of time. We would all agree that some of these changes have been wonderful and have impacted our lives in positive ways, both in the way we do things and in the quality of life that we now enjoy. However I do believe that some of these changes are adversely impacting our lives and that we are in danger of losing some important things.

In part one of the “Casualties of Change” we looked at how we have or are in the process of losing the ability to “wait” on God. We have become so focused on ourselves, “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” that we no longer have the desire to seek God and “draw near” to Him. Or perhaps we are just too busy with the pursuit of wealth and career, “lovers of money” that we do not have the time to spend lingering in the life changing presence of the almighty. Consequently we are missing out on the blessings of a deeply satisfying life “in Christ”.

Knowing People

Another casualty of change today is our desire to really “know people”. I believe that there is an area of intimate fellowship that is lacking in the Christian Community today. We do not take the time to really get to know people and as a result we are tricked into believing things that are not true about those who we are in fellowship with. The above scripture warns of “gullibility” when it comes to discerning those who have a form of godliness but are lacking the real depth of a transformed life. These deceivers are able to “worm” their way into people’s lives because they appear to be godly on the outside but they are actually dangerous on the inside. They are “always learning” but never allowing the truth to change their lives. We are warned to have nothing to do with such people. What a description of the time we are now living! A time when we have vast amounts of information, theories, doctrines and philosophies but little change of heart and affections.

Virtual relationships. You have probably heard stories as I have about people who have had an experience meeting someone online and thought they “knew” the person only to find out that they had been deceived. It turned out the person was not the same person in real life as they portrayed on the internet. A term that describes this type of relationship is a “virtual” relationship. I even read an article recently that encouraged church leaders to embrace “virtual” relationships as “real” relationships and if we failed to do so this would be a reason why would fail to impact our culture. The dictionary defines virtual as “very close to being something without actually being it” (Merriam Dictionary). In other words something that is virtual looks real but in essence it is not the genuine article.

Effective ministry. If we do not take the time to know people we cannot effectively minister to the real needs that are present in people’s lives. Nor can we effectively equip people to minister to the needs of those around them. In fact much of ministry today is done in the context of the large group “meeting”. We have become very good at doing meetings where we bring lots of people together for a little while and then send them home until the next meeting. This is a shallow way of how the body of Christ is to function in relation to our fellowship with one another. People long for something deeper. An example of this desire is found in the shift of many away from the traditional larger “church meeting” approach in church attendance to gathering in smaller groups or house churches as the primary way of fellowship. According to research by the Barna Group the “organic” church movement has been rapidly growing in North America for several years. The Barna Group has provided research on their web site to help people understand the dynamics of the organic church movement. Check it out here.

Small Group Ministry. My wife and I have experienced this kind of fellowship. For about three years during our time in Thompson Manitoba a “house church” was our primary source of fellowship with other believers. We met at around 5pm on a Saturday evening in our home for a meal and a time of fellowship. Eventually we would head down stairs for a more formal time of bible study and prayer. As we grew more intimate with one another two things began to happen: We began to effectively minister to the needs of each group member, and we began to experience in a deeper way the life changing presence of God in our lives. Many of us were going through challenging times and we would pour out our hearts to one other and bring our needs before God. We would pray for one another and carefully exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There were no time constraints in our meetings and sometimes we would be on our faces before God until well into the night, not wanting to leave the wonderful sense of God’s presence. On one occasion we even had a spontaneous baptismal service in our hot tub! Although the group eventually disbanded we knew that we had experienced a unique time of ministry and spiritual growth in our lives. Yes there were times when things got messy and our intimate approach to doing church led to brutal honesty and too much knowledge being shared about one another. But I would not trade this experience for anything!

prayer-meeting1

Since that time my life with God has not been the same. Because of that time I have a greater desire than ever before for believers to experience a deeper fellowship with one another and a deeper life with God. I would trade a Sunday morning service any time for an opportunity to meet with believer’s in a setting that would allow for deeper relationship. I am of the opinion that the deep and lasting things happen in the “smaller” setting when we dive under the surface. Don’t get me wrong, good things happen in the corporate setting. The corporate setting is like the “icing” on the cake, we gather together as the larger body to worship the Lord and we are strengthened by the proclamation of God’s word. However the real cake comes in the form in the journey that we experience during the week with other believers when we put the things that we have learned on Sunday into practice!

The Casualties of Change – Part 1

We live in a world that is increasingly changing. In just a few decades we have gone from a pace of life that was manageable to a rate of change that is spinning out of control. An interesting chart can be found here that gives perspective on how many generations that it has taken for the development of some important things in our world today. It has been said that we are entering an age of accelerated change. “Because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress” (Ray Kurzweil). Although I am not in total agreement with the humanistic and evolutionary theories of such futurists as Kurzweil and others, it is obvious that we are in the midst of extraordinary change!

Life as it was for millennia for the average person was relatively simple. Daily challenges consisted of simple routines that centred on the provision of food and shelter. For example we depended on such things as horses for a slow and steady means of transportation for thousands of years whereas in relatively a short time we are now able to drive or fly anywhere in the world in just a few days! In the future we may travel anywhere in minutes and hours in vacuum tubes! Another example of change was the need for people to cultivate and grow their own food in the past. Before the days of industry and city dwelling, people understood better the toil that was involved in growing food and the work of sowing and reaping. Today we shop for almost everything in large super markets and department stores. We drive through “fast food” restaurants and receive fully prepared meals in minutes with no thought of the time that was involved in growing and producing the end result (good or bad).

Unfortunately the consequences of today’s conveniences may not always be for the good of our culture and character. We are increasingly loosing important values. We are in danger or leaving behind a way of life that once produced important character traits such as perseverance and discipline. We are entering a time when important perspective of the past is being lost in exchange for new and shallow ways of living. What once demanded effort and pain is realized with little cost! Or perhaps is not really being realized at all?

The church and especially Christianity in the West has been and will continue to be greatly influenced by the desire to have a “shallow” existence. Over the past few years I have increasingly reflected on some of these changes and have desired for some time to share my thoughts on what I will term the “consequences of these changes” and how they have impacted the church and my own life. I am aware that my perspective is limited by the length of time that I have been alive – almost 46 years and that those who have lived longer would offer much more perspective regarding some if these changes. This will be the first of several blogs that will be devoted to this theme. The first casualty of change that I want to discuss is:

Waiting on God.

In times past people would gather to pray and wait on God sometimes for several days (examples would be during times of revival and camp meetings). These prayer meetings were a reflection of the collective lives of prayer that the participants lived out each day. Many rising early in the mornings before the labour of the day to seek the Lord. When they came together to pray it was an extension of a cultivated life of prayer and hunger for God.

Today prayer is almost non-existent both in the lives of believers and in the gatherings they attend. Leaders are too busy to pray and because they are not cultivating a personal life of prayer they do not encourage others to pray or exemplify a passion for prayer. Because of this we now face a dearth of Godly, spiritual leaders in our congregations. The modern church leader has little or no connection with God! Pulpits are used to deliver sermons that are void of the voice of God and there is no conviction and change in the lives of the hearers. There are three important aspects of prayer that I would like to touch on:

Hunger. Prayer begins with a craving and hunger for God. As a man I have many “natural” appetites. I have the desire to work, play, to have adventure, to love and be loved. These desires can easily consume my life and become my focus. A hunger for God is an aspect of prayer that needs to be cultivated in the life of the believer. Our natural food diet will have a bearing on our physical health and strength so also our spiritual diet will have a bearing on our spiritual lives. I believe that we can develop a spiritual craving for the presence of God and a greater desire to seek His face. This hunger and thirst for righteousness can and should be nurtured in our lives so much so that we are dissatisfied with what the world has to offer. The temptation to satisfy the carnal impulses will no longer have a hold on our lives (Galatians 5.16-26)

Desperation. When we become aware of the disheartening condition of the body of Christ, the dangerous deterioration of our culture and society and our own lack of spiritual fortitude we must express this reality by going to our knees in desperation before God. I am at a loss as to why we do not see more desperation in the body of Christ today. Never before have we been in such a dire need of God’s intervention in our society and the world that we live. I remember seeing the preachers of old so troubled at what they saw happening in the church and the world that they were driven to their knees, fasting and praying and crying out to God for His intervention and for revival. God would hear their prayers and move by His Sprit and conviction would come into the lives of those who heard their prayers and preaching. The presence of god was very real! This did not happen because of fancy church programs, talented musicians on the stage or large state-of-the art facilities. God moved because of people who walked with God became troubled at what they were seeing happening around them and they became desperate before God. Why is there little desperation in the church today? Why are we so consumed with building “big business” ministries with little focus on making disciples and Christ-like followers?

Contentment. When one lives a life of finding God there is satisfaction. Striving ceases. This is vitally important in this day of great change. We live in a day when people are experiencing a dissatisfaction with life and are searching for something that is meaningful and real. I believe that to walk in godly contentment is one of the greatest indications of having a deep spiritual life. During this past year something has happened in my life that has never happened before. I have always been a “night” person and found it easier to stay up at night and study and pray. Over the past while this has been getting harder to do and I have been forced to go to bed earlier, sometimes as early as 9pm! This has resulted in rising earlier, as early as 4:30 or 5am. This is not something that I planned or wanted to happen it has just happened. Naturally my quiet and prayer times have been switching over to the early mornings instead of the late evenings. What I have found, and I do not believe this to be a coincidence, is that I am experiencing greater contentment during the day. It seems that I am experiencing less desire to strive and more satisfaction in my life as I spend more time seeking God in the mornings!

Another casualty of change is “Knowing People”. Do we really know or take the time to know people and have deep fellowship? How do we deal with the temptation to have “virtual” relationships as opposed to “real” relationships? Please watch for part two coming soon…

Convenience or Conviction

For the second week in a row I have had the privilege of listening to a pastor preach a sermon that has had an impact on my life. This week we were in Portage la Prairie attending Portage Evangelical Church and the Lord used pastor Glen Loewen to share a word that stirred my heart. For those who do not know pastor Glen he is a man with a “burning” heart and he passionately calls believers to surrender and obedience to Christ. When you listen to pastor Glen you will be stirred by his zeal for the Lord. I believe that he is a prophetic voice for those who dare to listen! (You can listen to his sermon online here)

I want to highlight two things in particular that caught my attention: The first being the idea of convenience. The text today was found in Genesis and centered on the story of Abram [Abraham] and his nephew Lot. In Genesis chapter 13 Abram & Lot were at a crossroads and they had to part company because they had become too big to remain together. In verse 10 Lot looked around and saw the rich lands in the Jordan plains and decided that this was the best place to live. However this choice led Lot close to the evil influences of the people in that area and eventually we know the disastrous results of his decision. Abram however chose to trust God and allow Him to bless not based on convenience, practicality or greed.

Many times we allow a western mindset to influence our life and faith. Among other things this mindset encourages us to live our lives with convenience in mind. We make decisions such as where we will live, what job we will take and even what church we will attend based solely on the “convenient” outcome. For example we will live near a school, take the higher paying job and worship in a church where we like the music because that may be the convenient choice that makes the most sense or has the most appeal. However that is not necessarily the way in which God desires for us to live our lives. The word of God is full of examples of men & women who obeyed a call that was often inconvenient and challenging to say the least (check out Hebrews 11 – the “faith” chapter).

I was challenged today to examine my life. We are currently making some major decisions and I do not want to make them based on what sounds good or what is most convenient.  I do not want to live my life that way! I believe that I feel this way because of the second thing that I want to emphasis and that is conviction. The dictionary defines conviction as “a fixed or firm belief”. I have some “deep” convictions in my life. One of those convictions is that Jesus Christ was and is God and that He came to earth as a man and provided a way for my salvation. This conviction lies at the very core of who I am and have become. It is the reason for why I live and breathe. If it was not for this salvation I do not believe that I would have survived life to this point! Another conviction that I have is that Christ wants to be the Lord of my life. He demands my complete surrender to His will. Because of these two convictions I cannot chose to live my life based on how comfortable I am or how safe I feel!

In closing I want to share a poem that captures the convictions of William McChesney, missionary Africa Congo. This poem was found in his home after he was martyred for his faith:

My Choice

I want my breakfast served at eight
With ham and eggs upon the plate
A well-broiled steak I’ll eat at one
And dine again when day is done.

I want an ultramodern home
And in each room a telephone;
Soft carpets, too, upon the floors
And pretty drapes to grace the doors.
A cozy place of lovely things,
Like easy chairs with inner springs,

And then, I’ll get a nice T.V.
– Of course, I’m careful what I see.

I want my wardrobe, too, to be
Of neatest, finest quality,
With latest style in suit and vest
Why should not Christians have the best?

But then the Master I can hear
In no uncertain voice, so clear:
“I bid you come and follow Me,
The lowly Man of Galilee.”

“Birds of the air have made their nest
And foxes in their holes find rest,
But I can offer you no bed;
No place have I to lay my head.”

In shame I hung my head and cried,
How could I spurn the Crucified?
Could I forget the way He went,
The sleepless nights in prayer He spent?

For forty days without a bite,
Alone He fasted day and night;
Despised, rejected – on He went,
and did not stop till veil He rent!

A man of sorrows and of grief
No earthly friend to bring relief;
“Smitten of God,” the prophet said
Mocked, beaten, bruised, His blood ran red.
If He be God, and died for me,
No sacrifice too great can be
For me; a mortal man, to make;
I’ll do it all for Jesus’ sake.

Yes, I will tread the path He trod,
No other way will please my God,
So, henceforth, this my choice shall be,
My choice for all eternity.

Idol “Worth-ship”

Today I had the privilege of listening to pastor Dan Krebs preach a sermon at Evangel Chapel Winnipeg on a topic that is not too widely preached on: “Idol Worship”.

As I listened to him preach this morning I got the sense that what he was saying was expressing the very heart of God and that his message was timely and one that has been lacking in our pulpits for some time. I remember hearing this same message preached many times while growing up by the preachers of old. These men and this message had a profound impact on my young life. They helped me to examine my heart and identify the idols that we’re stealing away my affections from the One who was jealous for my total devotion.

I found myself again understanding in a “deep” way the desire that God has to be number “one” in our lives. When it comes to god’s desire to be the only God in our lives He will never be satisfied with being the “runner up”. Recently I heard a great definition of runner up: “second place in a long line of losers!”

It seems to me that we spend a lot of time today focusing on all the problems that we have in the church such as worldliness, family breakdown, apathy, sexual sin, and the list goes on that we forget that these are all symptoms of a much deeper issue. Don’t get me wrong we should be troubled by what we see happening in our world and in the church today. In the Old Testament the people of God were always being warned of the same issues (read the Prophetic books). However at the same time the prophets of old seemed to be better at putting their finger on the reasons for sinful behaviour, “This is what the Lord says: “What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. (Jeremiah 2:5 NIV). Strong words repeated over and over…

I believe that we live in a time when we have more idols or the opportunity for more idols then we have ever had before. There are so many technological advancements and devices that consume our time and “worth-ship”. So many things that we hold in high regard, perhaps higher than our desire for the [living] God or the things “of” God.

As I pondered the message again this evening before going to bed I realized that the idols in our lives not only hurt our relationship with God but they also adversely impact our relationships with our family and friends. All the time and energy that we focus on our idols diminishes our relationship with our loved ones. We lose our affection and desire to spend quality time with family and edifying the body of Christ.

In the end the ” biggest loser” is ourselves. We miss out on a vibrant relationship with our God full of joy and love. We end up empty and “seeking” and never satisfying the vacuum of our heart, soul and spirit. The greatest prophet that ever lived gave his followers the two most important commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Luke 10:27 NIV)

Be blessed and go “deeper” in your devotion to God!

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