Tag Archives: Church

Knowing the Ways of God

Deuteronomy 5:33 (ESV) You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you…

Personal Observation

The fear of ‘missing God’s plan for my life’ was for many years the cause of my driven-ness. To somehow reach the end of life and discover I had not gone to the right church, believed the right end-time teaching, or been a part of the right vision, can produce paralysing fear and erratic living.

Under such pressure how can ‘the righteous live by faith’? How do you ‘walk by faith not by sight’?

The answer is as clear as it is simple. It is not so easy to miss God’s purpose when we realise that it is God who is at work to fulfil His purpose in us (Phil 2:13). And His purpose is that we should be like His Son Jesus Christ. Every event and purpose we encounter in life – if we are in Christ – works to this end.

Proverbs 19:21 (ESV) Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

So, free from paralysing fear and erratic living we can live by faith knowing that He redeems the time in which we live and the paths in which we walk. The evidence that our steps are ordered by the Lord is not in what we think we see ahead and or in our plans (Pr 16:9), but in looking back and seeing His guidance through the paths we have already trodden.

Hindsight has 20/20 vision

The events surrounding the establishment of the first church are recorded in Scripture primarily in the book of Acts. Acts records the development of New Testament doctrine and it’s transformative purpose, as the Holy Spirit directed the actions of the apostles and other early church saints. In Acts we see what came to be known as praxis theology (theology which is the pursuit of the knowledge of God and praxis which is the cyclical process of experiential learning). In the gospels, when Jesus spoke of the future, the apostles struggled to understand, but once they ‘experienced’ that future then God’s plan and purpose became clear.

In simple terms, we come to know and understand God as a result of reflecting on what He has done.

Throughout the course of its history the early church came to know God and His ways through the revelation of Jesus Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit. What is, from the perspective of praxis theology, most notable is that God’s ways, his plans and ultimate purpose came to be understood through the activity of the indwelling and ever present Holy Spirit.

Praxis Theology – An Example

In Acts chapters 11 and 12 a monumental event is recorded that changes – from man’s perspective – God’s historic dealings with Israel. No longer is he only the God of natural Israel, no longer is natural Israel the Israel of God, but the gentiles, foreigners, those who were not a people, are given equal status as citizens of heaven, grafted into the same vine (Rom 11:24). The church was to discover that not all who are circumcised are Jews but those whom the Spirit cleanses from within (Rom 2:28, 29; Phil 3:3; Col 2:11).

Though Peter’s vision prepared him for what was to come, the Spirit did not give him a ‘plan’ to be pursued, rather it was a peg that would later confirm the divine origin of the events that were about to unfold. Only in hindsight was God’s ultimate purpose revealed to Peter. Even the event itself, the outpouring of the Spirit on Cornelius and his household did not fully reveal the extent to which God would move among the gentiles. After the event the apostles and elders came together to try to comprehend what had happen (Act 11), so that they could move forward by faith as the Spirit propelled them into the phenomena that was to become The Church[1].

Practical Implication

God’s reveals himself through his acts in human history (Rom 1:19,20; Ps 68:28). The height of His self-revelation is Christ Jesus (Ps 33:6; Heb 1:1-3) who is the express image of God, and it is through the cross of Christ that Trinitarian activity is revealed as the Father is revealed as the one who suffers the anguish of the Son’s death as man’s sin in dealt with in God-forsakenness, Jesus is revealed as Son of God who suffers the rejection of the Father (Mat 27:46) for mans sin, and the Spirit is revealed in the resurrection (Rom 8:11).

The premise is that all we have come to know about God and His will is revealed in His deeds throughout history. Indeed understanding only comes in ‘hind-sight’.

Today there are numerous books and seminars promoting vision and some personal purpose. The basic idea being that we receive a clear and divinely appointed mission that must be fulfilled according to the visionary’s plan. Speakers frequent the ‘Christian speaking circuit’ motivating well paying hearers to find their divine calling and purpose and to pursue it with determination.

Passages used like Proverbs 29:18 and Habakkuk 2:4 to inspire you to receive a personal vision and make it happen, are in fact prophetic pointers to Christ, who alone is the vision to which we press toward.

As apostle Paul proclaims:
Philippians 3:8 (ESV) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

The Christian life is less about a mission and more about a journey – a journey to gain Christ. It is not lived by the achievement of visions and goals but by faith in Him who is eternally faithful.

Philippians 3:9–11 (ESV) and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

A True Vision – Christ in You

God has a vision for you –it’s not a mission to be accomplished but a purpose to be embraced:

Romans 8:29 (ESV) 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

In bringing this to pass we are led down many and varied paths seldom fulfilling our expectations nor our understanding, which is the reason ‘the righteous live by faith’ even as the righteous one lived by faith!

We trust that the vision of God in bringing ‘many sons to glory’ (Heb 2:10), which was begun in Christ, will be completed in Him so that we will ultimately and completely be conformed to the image of His Son.

The ‘vision’ for us is to pursue Christ as we live by faith trusting in the hope to which we have been called. The detail of our daily living is engaged by faith not by sight or vision and in hindsight God’s dealing is clearly seen. If we venture down a path that ends abruptly, or we somehow appear to have missed some perceived mark, we do not fear, or become despondent as though we have failed to do amazing things for God, but rather by faith we trust him who works all things out for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28,29)

[1]They were not given a vision to establish religious forms and structures but to preach the message of the Kingdom and make disciples. Church was the spiritual community birthed in Christ through gospel proclamation, whose members through faith engaged in shared life as the body of Jesus.


Repent And Be Baptised – The Forgotten Word

In his booklet “The Peter Package” Gary Johnson1 highlights the apostle’s response (Acts 2:37,38) to the question “What must we do to be saved?” “Repent and let everyone of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Ps Johnson then says of this response, “If this is the pattern established by God Himself, who among us has a right to change it?” He then goes on to say, “I like to refer to this as the button principle. If we don’t get the top button in the right hole the rest of the buttons will be out of line.” (pp 1, 2)

Over recent months I have been asking some tough questions about the gospel and salvation. “If God has chosen the preaching of the cross through which His grace will be given so that hearers can be saved by faith, then who are we to change it?” The next logical thought is that if this is indeed true, are those who come to church as the result of any other message actually born again?

Inevitably we are then led to baptism and the thought that if one has been baptised into any other ‘gospel’ is that baptism valid? I have been asking this question in my preaching lately and have found some amazing things happening. People who have been church-goers for many years have been getting baptised again and experiencing freedom from sin and amazing transformation in their lives. In fact many of these people were ‘saved’ through the prosperity movement that preached, not Christ crucified, nor that God’s blessing is salvation and the gift of the Spirit, but that God wants all men to be prosperous.

(This is a slight detour from my main point here but one I feel I must take. Much has been said about the ‘blessings of Abraham” and that we are his seed and recipients of his blessing, being free from the curses of the law. Unfortunately, what the blessing is has been misrepresented, as has the curse. Prosperity, personal health, happiness and popularity have been promoted as Abraham’s blessing – amazingly Scripture refers to the root of sin as being lust of the flesh (pleasure) lust of the eye (possessions/wealth) and pride of life (reputation or position). The curse has been called sickness, disease, poverty, persecution etc. But is this the ‘blessing of Abraham” and the “curse of the law”?

Gal 3:6-14 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Note that the Scriptures foresaw that God would JUSTIFY the gentiles BY FAITH. The blessing of Abraham is justification by faith for those who believe.

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. NIV

The curse of the law is that no one can be justified by it. The law condemns all men. So, any other gospel, even if it uses Scripture or mentions the name of Jesus, is no gospel at all if it is not the Word of the cross that justifies by grace through faith.)

Now, back to my original purpose in this paper – here is my reasoning concerning repentance, baptism, forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit:

1 Co 1:21 …God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. NIV

The foolishness of the Word of the cross is not simply the spoken words but The Word made flesh who comes as the event of the cross is preached. The message in Acts chapter 2 begins by pointing out that the promise of the Holy Spirit has come – the indwelling Spirit of God is the promise of the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-44; Ez 36:22-27). Then, without missing a beat he brings the message immediately to the means by which this promise is appropriated – Jesus of Nazareth and His work on the cross. Peter is far from politically correct, and his content was far removed from the offensive-to-God humanist view so often preached today that ‘people don’t need to be condemned offended or spiritually bashed, they need to be encouraged.’ Peter abrasively declared, “…and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Ac 2:23)

When Peter preached that message on the day of Pentecost did people respond because they thought this was an intellectually stimulating and satisfying argument? Did they respond because it was esteem-building and personally encouraging? Or did they respond because Jesus – The Word – was present through the Spirit to apply grace so that faith could be received? Ephesians 2:8 says that we are saved by grace through faith. God has chosen the foolishness of the preaching of Christ crucified as the vehicle through which His grace would flow. That grace enables faith to be birthed in the hearer’s heart, and faith empowers the hearer to repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of sins. Conversely, if the Word of the cross is not preached, grace cannot flow from the throne of God, faith cannot be received and any action on behalf of the hearer has little to do with receiving forgiveness from sin.

If a person hears a message that God wants them to have a good life on earth and they are then told to ask Jesus into their life to receive that good life, this is not the gospel, therefore there is no divine grace, there can be no measure of faith given, no empowerment to repent and any baptism of this message is another baptism.

The power of the gospel is that men and women have their sins removed and stand forgiven before God. This is a very powerful thing. It is more than simply a legal standing before God, it is literally the adoption of those who are forgiven by God having had the guilt of sin removed from their conscience (receiving a clear conscience, being made perfect Heb 9 & 10). It is God becoming our God and us becoming His people, being united with Christ as joint heirs, sons of the living God. The forgiveness of sin is precisely the removal of all sin from us. Not simply words of forgiveness but removal of all past wrong and therefore of all guilt. This is the power of 1John 3 when it declares that “He [Jesus] appeared to take away our sins”

1 Jn 3:7-9 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. NIV

To destroy the devil’s work is to remove sin and replace it with righteousness. When people attend church but still live in the futility of their idolatry then sin has not been removed. (Truly, men love darkness and darkness is the norm in many churches)

If a person has not received the forgiveness of sin as described above then they are still under God’s guilty verdict. This is why a true conversion produces a sense of overwhelming freedom, something that cannot be experienced when one receives and is baptised into another gospel. (Becoming a successful middleclass Christian is not the same thing as being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb)

When Paul arrived at Ephesus he found some disciples (Acts 19). His first order of business was not to accept them as brothers and join with them, rather he wanted to know whether they were indeed born again. “Have you received the Holy Spirit” he asked them. It was soon discovered that their baptism was not one in line with the new covenant but was of another message. It was about Jesus but it was not the message of Jesus. Paul’s response was to baptise them again in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Galatia Paul had to address a problem not too dissimilar to ours. Agitators, who professed to be Christian, insisted that the message of Paul was not enough2. They had to ‘move on’ to a more perfect or complete gospel. This is Paul’s response:

Gal 1:6-9 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! NIV

Paul makes it clear to the Galatians that there is only one gospel which is by grace through faith from first to last (Rom 1:17; Eph 2:8; Gal 1:1). He then drives home in no uncertain terms that ‘a different gospel’ is ‘really no gospel at all’ and that anyone who preaches any thing else ‘let him be eternally condemned’. This is strong stuff. This is not the language of people-pleasing gospels but of a God honouring apostle. Indeed, Paul asks, ‘am I now trying to please men or God?’(Gal 1:10)

So, are we prepared to ask the question of those who appear to be disciples, “what baptism did you receive?” If salvation comes only through the preaching of the cross – and it most assuredly does; anyone who says otherwise let he or she be eternally condemned – and if forgiveness of sin only flows when grace produces faith to repent and freedom to be baptised in the name of Jesus, then “who among us has a right to change it?”

I have always preached the Word of the cross but I have also been guilty of assuming that all who came from other churches were converts to that gospel. What I have since discovered is that many were converted to another gospel. One young woman (a single mother) testified that she ‘became a Christian’ because the church promised to help her through a messy life circumstance. When she heard me preach the cross she just thought “oh, that’s what we are meant to accept.” Later, when I began to preach about this very thing and asked people to consider their baptism, this young woman was one of the first to respond. As a result she went from one who struggled constantly with living Christ – and one who was a struggle to pastor and disciple – to one who was miraculously changed. She is not now a religious church-goer but a child of God redeemed by His blood.

Many others have followed this path and as a result other non-church-goers have been witnessed to with the resultant grace and faith present to save. We have seen repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Spirit being imparted. Even some who had professed to “having the Spirit” – a concept that, like salvation, has been dumbed-down to a place of impotence – have suddenly been filled with the Holy Spirit and found a power beyond the pretence that they received initially.

Revival is a work of the Holy Spirit that brings salvation and Spirit empowerment to the church; this produces empowered evangelism that adds to the church those who are being saved.

What I propose is not condemning but life changing. Many read John 3:16,17 declaring that Jesus did not come to condemn but to save and this is true. But that is not all Jesus says:

Jn 3:18-21 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” NIV

My message is one of freedom from sin and therefore life and encouragement and power to those who are being saved; however, it is also offensive to the established Christian Church and the market leaders because it contradicts their message which is no gospel.

I propose that we approach people as though they are unsaved and proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ instead of assuming they are saved and risk leaving them in a man-made religion and ‘dead in their sins”. Paul encouraged the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12) and the Romans to “…wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (13:11)

I further propose that we call people to repentance and [re] baptism for the forgiveness of sin and pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit. I believe we will see an amazing transformation of people who have had a form of godliness but without power and it will transform our churches as a result.

Are we prepared to offend our cultic religious system so that people can experience the joy of salvation and God’s grace can flow? Or shall we keep being nice, refusing to cause offence to this western church that preaches another gospel and seeing many ashamed as they stand before God?

Let revival come to the Church of Jesus Christ.

1 – Johnson, Gary. The Peter package. Dove Christian Center, 1213 Harmony Heights Ln Rapid City, SD 57701.2 – Cf “the identity of the agitators” by Fung, R.Y.K. 1998.The epistle to the Galatians: NICNT Grand Rapids:Eerdmanns, Pgs 3-9 also see the textual commentary pgs 43-54 Continue reading

The Word of the Cross in the Face of Cultic Religion

The more the Christian church obtained public recognition, the more it was also obliged to fulfil this public need for cult and sacrifice. The church did suppress pagan sacrificial actions and cultic drama, but replaced them with its own cult… It is not enough simply to Christianize the cults of religious societies… Cultic religion must be replaced by the spreading of the word of the cross, the celebration of faith and the practical following of Jesus. Jurgen Moltmann1

When tracing the history of the Christian church a recurring theme emerges; the church is birthed in power through the message of the cross of Christ. The church experiences persecution and opposition – usually from the power holders of the current religious system – which strengthens and reinforces the message of the cross to the community of faith. Faithfulness in the face of suffering brings God’s blessing and a time of rest. A generation arises that only knows that time of blessing and rest and longs for the religion of their birth to be accepted by the society of their birth – the society that accepts them (See for example the degeneration of theology through men such as Schleiemacher- romanticism and Tillich- liberalism). The word of the cross is gradually de-emphasised; gospel becomes a relevant word for society and eventually the church Christianises society by declaring them basically good and becoming society’s cultic religion. This new religion lives side-by-side with society each affirming the good and/or importance of the other.

God raises up a new generation of prophets and apostles who recognise the church for what it is; the church of society or cultic religion and not the church of the cross. They begin to preach the word of the cross – an offensive message to the established ‘christian’ cultic religion. The church that is birthed as a result of such preaching experiences persecution and opposition and, over time recapitulation occurs – the theme is repeated.

The reformation is the most notable with Luther, Calvin and Zwingli – though men like John Hus, who was a forerunner to the reformation, and groups like the Anabaptists should not be overlooked.

Of particular interest is the Methodist revival/movement that was birthed through John and Charles Wesley (and others). Notably, John Wesley – an ordained minister of the Church of England2 – began to preach the word of the cross. In his journals he writes of the rejection of the established church as he was told time and again that he would not be welcomed back. Many people in those congregations however, believed and were saved. This is an interesting thought, that Wesley preached in the leading churches of his day to large congregations and some of those people got saved. Though Wesley encouraged them to stay in those churches it soon became apparent that it was not possible for born again believers to remain in the churches of society. The result was the birth of the Methodist Church.

There are many other examples which could be cited such as William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. What they all have in common is that they were critical of the church in their day and the expression of cultic religion. Such men began to challenge the religion of their day by preaching the word of the cross and encountered extreme opposition from that religion. The leading preachers of the largest churches ridiculed these apostles/prophets and opposed their message as foolishness. Sounds very much like the Pharisees in Jesus day and the Judaisers who opposed the apostle Paul.

This brings me to today and the contemporary church movement. From my perspective the contemporary church movement includes churches from a variety of streams. They are Pentecostal, Charismatic, Word of Faith or Rhema, Latter Rain, and various forms of independent and evangelical backgrounds. This plethora of backgrounds means that almost every church that calls itself Christian is influenced by the contemporary message in some way. Contemporary churches take their lead from the ‘mega-churches’ and various market leaders of the Christian world. The underlying message is relevance and the aim is to be the church of society.

The point?

If the salvation of people is essentially the reason Jesus came and died; if it is more important than healing, prosperity or earthly success; if it is more important than this life; and if it is the message of salvation that has been entrusted to the church, then it would be mandatory for the church to reveal the way of salvation.

The coming of Jesus revealed that a message of obedience to law, or to religious oughts, even to being a ‘nice person’ fails to bring salvation. Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ.

Ac 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” NIV

Jn 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. NIV

The grace of God for salvation is available only through the preaching of the word of the cross.

Ac 10:39-42 They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. NIV

1 Co 1:18-25 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. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. NIV

1 Co 15:2-8 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. NIV

So, my question is this: “if a person hears that Jesus wants them to fulfil their purpose or destiny on earth, or to free them from alcoholism or drugs and that if they accept Jesus they will have a better life; if that person responds to that message are they born again?” What I am asking you to think about is this: “if all a person hears is the benefits of the Kingdom that come from salvation and ask for those benefits are they saved?”

The apostles made it clear how salvation came:

Ac 2:38-39 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” NIV

(Cf also acts 3:19; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20)

“…The New Testament never tells us to love and trust Christ in order to be saved. We are told to repent (Acts 17:30) and place our faith in Christ (Eph 2:8,9), not ‘learn to love and trust’. Just how does the unbeliever go about learning to love and trust Jesus? These are fruits of regeneration, not means to regeneration.”3

To extrapolate further: “if that person then begins to preach that message themselves and becomes a “minister” are they ministers of Jesus Christ?”

2 Co 11:3-4;13-15 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough… For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. NIV

Put simply, not everything that glitters is gold. Not everyone who uses the name of Jesus is a minister of His. And not every message preached that has the name of Jesus or Christ or God in it is a message of Christ. This is true of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and it is true of cultic ‘christian’ religion.

Once Evangelical and Pentecostal churches used to think that Catholics needed saving, that members of the Church of England or other traditional ‘spirit-less (?)’ churches needed to be saved. We once believed that the Spirit of God was the guarantee of our salvation and that everyone needed to repent of sin, confess Jesus is the Christ who died for sins, receive Him as Lord and they would then receive the Holy Spirit. When people experienced persecution they were told to rejoice (James 1:2; 1 Pt 4:13-16) and not pressed to have faith for and expect deliverance because suffering was the result of sin.

Today, contemporary evangelists encourage people to return to the churches of their birth (one evangelist who went to Africa encouraged converted Muslims to return to their mosques and worship Allah in Jesus name); pastors see the gospel as any message or teaching that fits people out for this life; what once demanded deliverance is now a complex medical issue that requires psychiatric evaluation and trained counsellors.

Is this The Church of Jesus Christ or is it society’s cultic religion in the name of Jesus?

If we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as it was passed down through Scripture by the Apostles then we are faithful to God. But is it enough to simply preach without speaking against those who preach another Jesus, who impart a different spirit, or speak another gospel? At the very least should we make every effort not to commend leaders of this cultic religion as being minister of Jesus Christ?

1. Moltmann, J. The crucified God pg 42, 43

2. The Church of England is called the Anglican Church in Australia or Episcopalian Church in USA

3. Gilley, Gary. This little church went to market pg106

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The End Of The World Is At Hand

1 Jn 2:18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. NIV

It seems that every generation, from the days of the foundational apostles until now, has sensed the imminent return of Jesus Christ. This eschatological hope has produced an environment ripe for a wide assortment of end-time prophets expounding their pet theories concerning world events. The only real issue to my mind is that Jesus will return and those who are faithfully watching and waiting will be propelled into the eternal reality of uninhibited existence in the fullness of the Godhead.

Unfortunately, what seems to dominate any discussion on the return of Jesus is a focus on temporal earthly events. It is true that Jesus indicated signs of his return but it is for him we must look, rather than interpreting the signs.

I have chosen to make a few comments about the last days because of a discussion I have had recently. One of our church leaders, Maryleen, told me of an email that was going around (again) “revealing” a new development in credit cards. Apparently “they” (whoever they may be) have developed a card that is designed to go under the skin of the hand or behind the ear. If you try to remove this implant there is some “poison” (come on) that is released into the blood stream. What is even more amazing is that people are passing this on with the understanding that they were “spreading the gospel”.

The first point here is that the gospel is NOT about cards or marks or poison; it is not about Israel, Jerusalem, or persecuted believers; it is not even about healings, miracles, signs and wonders; it is Jesus Christ and the message of the cross. Secondly, with the extreme human rights activism in this current age, not to mention the fact that many societies are now democratic, only the most gullible would believe that people could be duped or forced into receiving a poisonous credit card in their hand or head.

Col 2:17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. NIV

Let me explain firstly about interpreting Scripture. Jesus made it very clear that all Scripture speaks of himself (Jn 5:39) as does Peter (1Pt 1:10-12). Revelation declares that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10). People interpret Scripture using many different keys. Some interpret Scripture to prove God wants us all to be rich, or to live until we’re 100 or to justify their decision to act in a particular manner. This is mishandling the word of truth. To correctly handle the word of truth (2Tim 2:8-15) is to interpret Scripture with Jesus and the cross as the key.

Apocalyptic literature, which Revelation is, is a series of pictures containing symbols etc to express a truth. If I were to describe a person as having eyes of fire, would people expect to literally see flames coming from his or her eye sockets? If I said my wife was an angel, would you expect to see her flying around with wings? Of course not! It is symbolic language used to express an idea. The symbolisms of Revelation are no different.

My biggest concern though, is that with so many people continuing to interpret apocalyptic language in a literal fashion they leave themselves open to missing the subtle work of antichrist.

Mt 24:24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible. NIV

Jesus pointed out that if it were possible for the elect to be deceived the work of antichrist in the last days would be so deceptive that even they would be fooled. If we are waiting for cards to be inserted under our skin; for temples and sacrifices to be re-established in Jerusalem; for scorpion tailed flying beasts or swarms of modern gunships to begin killing millions of people (though helicopters are already doing this in many regions of the world) then we will fail to realise that the spirit of antichrist is already at work and the figurative warnings of marks on the hand and forehead are already happening.

Controlling people through a mark on the hand is symbolic of trade – the hands are used for work, to trade etc – and the forehead symbolises thought – the forehead symbolises our ability to think, to reason and to discern what is right or wrong. (For a complete discussion of the knowledge of good and evil see my book “will the real church stand up” page 45) Scripture tells us not to conform to the patterns of this world (thinking as the world thinks) but to be transformed through renewed minds (Rom 12:2).

From the minute we are born we are taught how to think. Our values, beliefs and systems of thought are manipulated and controlled by Hollywood, advertisers, education systems, books and peers. Our ability to trade and our desires for profit are also controlled; firstly, by how we have been taught to think; and secondly by the market place. Politics is not determined by human needs and/or priorities but by business. Multinational corporations influence world monetary policies and many well meaning Christians believe their billion dollar marketing propaganda. Business is good, better, best and social reform and social welfare are evil. (This is my big concern with the “marketplace ministry movement” in its current form. I do not believe it has been adequately “transformed” by “renewed minds” to flow in a way that is Kingdom focussed.)

What I am endeavouring to say here is that the mark is already at work. The spirit of antichrist is already evident. It is subtle not obvious. It will, or already has, deceived the brightest minds but those who are spiritually discerning will see the philosophies of western corporatism for what they are – antichrist.

What is subtle or deceptive about guns and cards and tattoos on the forehead etc? How would this “deceive even the elect”? Yet, listening to many television preachers, noting the preaching and philosophies of many churches, and seeing the priorities of many professing Christians it is clear that the deception is here. Their minds are already controlled with no ability to discern their own evil desires, let alone the evil in the world. Lust is not revealed in extremes but in amicable middleclass living. Pride is not revealed in the few obsessive egotists but in the self-congratulatory attitudes of most people.

The accumulation of sensual experiences found in food, thrill rides, reality TV and celebrity watching is lust of the flesh. The accumulation of possessions and earthly security is lust of the eye and the need to be respected and acknowledged is pride.


I am not trying to become an end-time preacher or prophet. I will leave that to the many conspiracy theorists, I am simply stating that if it is sooo obvious, as many have portrayed, then no one would be deceived, not even the world. I know many non-believers who know all about 666, the antichrist and Armageddon. Will they be tricked by a poisonous card? Only an idiot would be.

Revelation is happening now. It began 2000 years ago and it will culminate with the return of Jesus Christ. When Jesus returns he is not going to be looking for the most accurate end-time prophets but for faithfulness in the earth. For those who stand in opposition to the spirit of antichrist in every age and are not conformed to the patterns of this world by corporatist propaganda but are transformed by the renewing of the mind through the power of the Spirit. He is coming for those who have stood firmly on the only Word of God – Jesus Christ (Jn 1:1,14) and the one gospel – the message of the cross (1Cor 1:18 – 2:5).

Let’s stop looking down and around and start looking up! Jesus – not end-time teaching – is our redeemer, the author and perfector of our faith.

Even so Lord Jesus, come!

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An Irrelevant God

Listening to the “Christian” radio station here in Perth recently my wife Lesley heard the announcers applauding a church that was to show live on Sunday morning a football game between Australia and the New Zealand All-Blacks. The rationale was that many would stay home and watch it so by bringing it to church we bring the people to church.

Another church, in an endeavour to reach people, offered a “mystery man” and a glass of Champagne event for women and a beer and sausage-sizzle event for men. In our self-congratulatory climate of modern western religion such endeavours are applauded as being creative methods to bring people back to church; a way of becoming “relevant” in a society that has little time for God.

The word “relevance” has become the catchcry of many of our churches today. It has become a jargon word implying that the message of the church has become irrelevant to society and we are “losing ground”. While the “Christian” market-leaders have managed to corner the market on crowds and programmes many others struggle to increase as they feel they should. After all, God is into big, success, prosperity, rapid growth etc, etc, etc.

Relevance through success

Without getting too sidetracked here (so early in this paper) I think we should consider our fixation with “big” and “success” and the like. If God is the infinite God of eternity what makes us think that our big is God’s big? If God is God then one or one thousand is of little significance. When I look at a bucket of sand and a wheelbarrow of sand I am not overawed with either. Even a truck load is not that impressive. Why do we think that God is impressed with what impresses us or that he demands or expects us to strive for what we deem to be impressive? Doesn’t the gospel indicate that God is impressed only with his son and that if we are found in him then that is enough! Peter eloquently describes God’s economy this way:

2 Peter 3:8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. NIV

While this is talking about time and the Lord’s return it reveals much about his greatness and our insignificance. To us a thousand years or thousands of people is a big thing. But to God it is insignificant. I am tempted to pursue this thought, but I’ll resist except to say this;

Eccl 4:4 And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. NIV

Is the driven-ness of many church leaders and overseers today motivated by envy, pride and their need for self-actualisation? Have we become a prideful people who must be seen as successful by the standards of this world?

In regard to success it is surprising that our popular gospel declares that “God wants you to succeed”, yet it was Jesus who made the remarkable statement highlighting the life of the believer this way:

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” NIV

He makes it clear that power, popularity and worldly success stand in contra-distinction to Kingdom living in this world:

John 15:18-21 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. NIV

An Irrelevant God

I wonder if anyone has stopped to consider what we mean when we declare the church to be “irrelevant” to modern society. We consider that 20th and 21st century sin is unique. The needs of this generation are somehow different from previous generations. In doing so we also declare that the message of the cross in not – in its current form – able to be the power of God to bring salvation. The end conclusion – if we are to take the gospel of relevance to its own illogical conclusion – is that God is not relevant today.

Am I being unfair? Well, I think the two examples stated above are evidence of this conclusion. People will not come and worship God at a meeting on Sunday so we offer them football, alcohol or some other attraction that they already enjoy. The argument is that it is simply “pre-evangelism”. That argument does not stand in the first example where worship is changed for another god, but can perhaps be considered for the second. The problem with “pre-evangelism” is that it introduces a “programme” in an area that is the domain of every member of God’s kingdom. The contact of the church with the world is through those working, trading and interacting on a daily basis within society. The believer is the “pre-evangelism” or meeting point.

Two immediate thoughts present themselves here; the first is the relevance of the message of the cross and the second is the relevance of the church as the expression of Jesus Christ on earth.

An irrelevant gospel

It matters little how clever the arguments sound that we need to package the message of the church differently, the fact remains that the gospel is now and will always be an irrelevance to those who are perishing.

According to the Macquarie Concise Dictionary the word “relevant” means: bearing upon or connected with the matter at hand; to the purpose; pertinent. Conversely irrelevant means: not applicable or pertinent. So, when we consider the need for relevance we are in fact considering something that is contradictory to the gospel and Scripture.
God is never “relevant” to a self-focussed and self-absorbed world (Rom 8:7-8). The gospel in fact can never be relevant (1Cor 2:14). It is a contradiction to the corruption that is in the world through lust (2Pt 1:3,4). Paul makes it plain that the standards of thinking in this age are foolishness and so it is not the message that is irrelevant to people it is people who are irrelevant to the message.

1 Cor 3:18-20 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” NIV

The message of the cross, as Paul declares (1 Cor 1:18) will always be foolishness (irrelevant) to those who are perishing, even sophisticated, wise, unique modernity, and wisdom (relevant) to those who are being saved.

To justify a gospel of relevance rather than the message of the cross we are given the contrast between some angry doomsayer proclaiming a turn or burn message as being the alternative to a culturally acceptable and relevant – though useless in the context of salvation – message. It is this fact alone that can bring salvation: Jesus died for the sin of all so that many can repent and come into the salvation of God. Beer, mystery men, football or messages that help people feel at home in this world (see Heb 11:13; 1Pt 1:1,17; 2:11) may be relevant to this age but they cannot bring life and freedom from sin and death. The gospel of relevance is irrelevant to those who are being saved.

In short and to put it bluntly, the message of relevance that is being proclaimed today is a message of death.

An irrelevant church

Quite amazingly, contrary to popular belief in the church, The Church is not called to be relevant to the world but to God. A church that is relevant to God will be a church that is relevant to those who are being saved.

Paul makes it clear that the increase belongs to and comes from God (1Cor 3:6). Salvation belongs to God (Rev 7:10; 19:1) not to the church and it is he who draws men to himself (Jn 6:44,65) not our wise and persuasive words. The church that proclaims the Word of God is not relevant to society but to God.

1 Cor 1:30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. NIV

Why is it that we, who were brought into the kingdom even when we were enemies, (and if we are honest, we entered even though our minds were saying a different thing) think that God NEEDS US to grow the church?

Jesus declares:

John 5:44 How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? NIV

This verse makes it clear that to be relevant to man is to be irrelevant to God.

What is needed here is a discussion on ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. The church is more than a Sunday meeting; it is the body of Christ on earth. Paul points out in Ephesians 3:9,10 that this body, called church, is the manifest wisdom of God to principalities and powers and rulers of the air. It is an active and dynamic community of faith. When we declare it to be irrelevant we declare it to be failing as the manifest wisdom of God. If it is indeed failing – and I believe it is – it is failing God first and by extension fallen humanity.

The church that is not the community of faith, that is not the family of God on earth, is an organised religion of society and therefore irrelevant to God and to those in society seeking God.

Jesus said that it is when the church is seen as a loving community that others will know that the church is indeed the church of Jesus Christ.

John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” NIV

The life of a community of faith is evidenced in the shared life of Jesus and his disciples when he ministered as a man. They continued on in this shared life after his ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. As the message spread, it did not simply produce saved lives, but communities of faith sharing the life of Jesus together. The evident love of this shared life was a catalyst through which the Spirit drew others into the family of God.


Getting people to a Sunday meeting is not the same as making disciples and is not the purpose of the church of Jesus Christ. If we want more people at a meeting let’s buy a pub, or some other establishment that caters to the lusts of the flesh and offer people what they want. This is the logic of a gospel of relevancy.

Let me conclude by saying that I am in agreement with the message that the church has become irrelevant. The difference however is to whom the church has become irrelevant. Our relevance is meant to be to God alone. The church has become an irrelevance in the earth only to the extent that it has become irrelevant to God. That is, much of our focus is not pertinent to Scripture and has no bearing on or connection to the matter at hand ie being the manifest wisdom of God on earth.

What is the response then to this? Only God’s grace can bring life to a dying world. The church that wants to really make a difference in the world – as opposed to those who want to impress society and be accepted and praised by society through the accumulation of the world’s measurements of success – needs to become the church of Jesus Christ and seek to impress him and him alone. That church will make a difference even if that church is considered irrelevant by society and by the contemporary church of this society.

“To be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God” (James 4:4 paraphrased)

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