People of The Living God

Romans 10:9-10

 

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December 2014



 

 

WATCHMEN ON THE WALLS

METAMORPHOSIS

Alfred King

        “Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2a).  Most Christians are very familiar with this verse of scripture written to the church at Rome by the apostle Paul, but it appears that very few truly believe or understand its import.  The church today is so amalgamated with the world that the very idea that one must be transformed from worldly thinking and worldly influence is unimaginable if not impossible.  Maybe in Paul’s day such transformation could have been possible, but in the twenty-first century, such a life is not practical and therefore we must conform to the dictates of our society.  We all find it comfortable in the society in which we grow up, for we are accustomed and familiar with it and have accepted it as our way of life.  To be transformed from this world means a complete change.  The Greek word translated “transformed” in Romans 12:2, is metamorphousthe.  From its root, we have the English word, metamorphosis, which is defined as “to change from one form to another.”  The transformation or metamorphosis of a butterfly or a frog, are great examples of the change that must take place when one becomes a Christian.  If he continues his walk with God, metamorphosis will take place as he is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit working within his heart.

        The Greek word metamorphousthe is used four times in the New Testament and considering how they are used in the other three places can give us a better understanding of the word.  In Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2, it is used in reference to the change which took place with Jesus in the Transfiguration.  “And (Jesus) was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” (Matt. 17:2)  In these two accounts, the word metamorphousthe is translated “transfigured.”  Jesus looked totally different to the disciples, for He was changed, transformed or metamorphosed before them.  The fourth place this Greek word is used in found in 2 Cor. 3:18, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  This verse gives us a wonderful revelation of the process of transformation to which every Christian is called.  We are to become like Jesus Christ, to put “on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14).  Every part of this transformation is glorious.  Each change creates within us more of the likeness of Jesus Christ.  How might we, as Christians, speed up this metamorphosis?

        If we consider how societies have changed throughout history, we catch a glimpse of how transformation takes place.  There have been many cultural shifts throughout history which have affected the culture of nations.  Once, in America, slavery was accepted as the normal way of life, especially in the South.  Even Christians owned slaves, which today seems so totally unthinkable and certainly un-Christian.  Providentially, there has been a change in the way Americans think about slavery, which consequentially has changed our culture.  There is some concern in the events that are occurring in Europe as the Muslim religion seems to be transforming the landscape of the culture. They seem determined, as their population grows, to force their religion on those nations, forming groups here and there and then taking advantage of present laws of equality and political correctness to promote their evil agenda, pushing aside the present culture and replacing it with Islamic ideology.  America is not exempt from this threat either.  Just recently in Montgomery County, Maryland, the school board was pressured by the Muslim community to add vacation days, in respect of Islamic religious holydays, just as there has been Christmas and Easter holidays in recognition of Christianity.  In order to avoid major problems and to comply with federal law, the school board elected to drop the titles, Christmas and Easter, and call them “Winter Break” and “Spring Break”.  Maybe this was the best decision under the circumstances but cases like this are bringing about a cultural shift in our American society.  Through cultural changes some cultures have completely disappeared in our world.  For instance, the culture in which American Indians lived 600 years ago is totally lost today.

        A total reconstruction of our nature is the type of transformation to which God is calling His people.  He desires that all worldly idols, whether they be houses and lands, careers, wealth, popularity, fame or any other thing, which men of the world crave for and serve, be completely forsaken and in its place, a love for God, His word and His will.  The soul who hungers for God will find the appetites of the flesh and the activities of his past life obliterated as he is transformed and God’s nature replaces those old desires with a love for righteousness and holiness.

        If one moves from one society to another, the new society will affect him and he will begin to conform to that society.  His children will be even more influenced by the new society than he.  I was impressed by this several years ago when I ran into a Mexican family who I had not seen for some time.  The children were unable to speak English when I first met them but now they spoke English fluently.  However, I was shocked with their very strong southern accent.  They talked just like the rest of the folks that live in middle Tennessee.  In order to be conformed to God’s society one must dwell in the presence of God and fellowship with God’s people.  He must abide in the Vine, remaining close to the Lord through prayer and searching God’s word.  Consider just a few verses from the great psalmist, David.  “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.  Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me.  I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:97-99).  “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.  I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments” (Psalm 119:130-131).  “Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments.  Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:164-165).  David’s life, purpose and thoughts were transformed as he thought upon God’s law.  As one meditates upon the word of God and applies them to his life, his manner of thinking is transformed and metamorphosis takes place as the fruit of his life becomes more Christ-like.  God’s word is powerful and it causes the serious reader to see things as God sees them, to think more as God thinks.  God has called His people to live as kingdom citizens, and in order for the church to possess the kingdom, there must be transformation from the life of the world to kingdom life, from a world mindset to having the mind of Christ.  In his epistle to the church in Galatia, Paul contrasts the worldly society to a Godly society.  “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.  And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:22-25)  The contrast is obvious, for they are opposites.  The transformation that is necessary is brought about by adhering to God’s word.

        Many think the world has no effect upon their lives, but unless one stays close to God through obedience and resisting the influence of Hollywood, sports, politics, entertainment, and sin that is becoming more and more prevalent around us, we will begin to accept some of the poison spewing from the dragon’s mouth.  Some think that Christianity cannot be hijacked, but it already has been in many ways and will continue to be so if Christians don’t return to God’s standards.  When many Christians believe that we can serve God and the world, Christianity has been hijacked.  Who thought seventy-five years ago that abortion would be legalized in America?  And even more unfathomable, that Christians would accept it as a means of contraceptive?  But not only has it been legalized in America, it is sanctioned by many “Christian” groups.  Who thought fifty years ago that America would recognize homosexual marriages?  But more and more states are accepting this lifestyle that God says is an “abomination,” and “Christian” denominations are sanctioning this abomination and officiating in these marriages.  Christianity has been hijacked.  If the founders of some of these denominations were alive today they would pound their pulpits with tears of grief streaming down their faces as they scream out against such filth being accepted by the congregation of God.  But sin will continue to increase in our land and in our world unless the church begins to return to the old paths.  “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).  There is no limit to sin.  Sin is a bottomless pit and men will continue to stoop lower and lower seeking for some greater gratification for their enslaved sinful hearts.  Jesus came to save us from our sins, to deliver us from the kingdom of darkness and the slavery and tyranny of sin and to translate us into His kingdom (Col. 1:13).

        The old paths, those embraced by the early followers of Christ, were those where Christians rose in the mornings, sharpened their swords by reading the word and prayer, put on the armor of God and went out to war against the world.  The world was their enemy, not some friend to play with, a place for the flesh to enjoy its pleasures, or even accept as a benign necessity; but, rather, the world was an enemy of their very souls.  They went out with the realization that Satan is the god of this world and that they lived in a different kingdom, a kingdom where Jesus Christ was not only Savior but also Lord and Master.  The Christian culture of that early church is foreign to the church of the 21st century.  Often today, songs are sung about the old time religion but very few are desirous to return to that religion where Christians are God’s servants and God governs their lives.  However, as we near the time of Christ’s return, it is paramount that there be a return to that way of life where God is Lord of our lives and we are daily being transformed into His likeness.  May God stir the hearts of those who have a desire for metamorphosis.

 

 

 

WALK IN THE SPIRIT

James Sanderson

        “This I say then, ‘Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh’” (Gal 5:16).  God’s people live far below what the Lord intended.  Too long has the church remained satisfied with its present spiritual state.  The Lord is calling His people to a higher plane of existence in Him.  “Let us go on unto perfection” (Heb. 6:1).  “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest” (Heb 4:11).  Perfection and that rest speak of a spiritual state in God that is far superior to what God’s people presently experience.  The Apostle Paul caught a vision of this wonderful place in God thereby transforming his whole life.  “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).  The Greek word for press is a metaphorical term “from the footrace” (Vine’s).  The word press means to run swiftly, to pursue, to seek after eagerly, to earnestly endeavor to acquire (Thayer’s Lexicon).  The Apostle Paul not only had a view of this heavenly calling but also realized that he must apply himself diligently to a divine process if he expected to attain to this higher state in God.  This same motivation must characterize every believer who aspires to this same calling.  Entrance into this elevated state in God is attainable only through the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.  A walk in the Spirit is God’s path toward that magnificent goal of perfection and complete rest in God.

By Divine Command

        The Scriptures record only two possible ways to conduct one’s life: in the flesh or in the Spirit.  “He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:8).  Again in Romans 8:5-6, Paul presents this same dichotomy, “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”  To the degree that one learns to walk in the Spirit to that degree will he gain the victory in his life and attain to the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  Only those who cultivate a life in the Spirit will truly become obedient children keeping the commandments.  For commandment-keeping is possible only through the agency of the Holy Spirit working in the life.  Jesus Himself stated, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).  Again, of the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:15).  One can understand Jesus and the Jesus life only by the unction of the Holy Spirit.

        A walk in the Spirit is a supernatural walk – a walk above the natural.  It is a walk that draws its strength from Someone beyond itself.  It is a walk in the divine above the mundane affairs of this life.  This walk focuses on God and is designed to embrace the very character and nature of God.  It is a walk with God Himself.

        This present earthly existence offers many hindrances to a walk in the Spirit.  Every Christian who determines to walk this way must be willing to face each obstacle without hesitation and press toward the goal with a steadfast focus.  This walk will lead to a greater sensitivity to the working of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.  The way will actually become more confining.  Many actions and reactions formerly excused will become intolerable in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  New desires will replace old ones.  The world and all it has to offer will begin to lose its appeal.

A Divine Process

        In Matthew 6:28, Jesus stated, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.”  God is looking for spiritual growth and development.  A walk in the Spirit is a learning process that involves daily growth in God.  “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).  In this new-found life in God, one is first a child, learning to crawl.  Then, he begins to make some faltering steps.  Eventually, he gains the spiritual coordination that is necessary to continue toward spiritual maturity.  The cessation of growth results in spiritual stagnation and death.  This lesson of continued growth in God emerges throughout the ministry of Jesus. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2).  Then, in verse five, Jesus continues, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.”  Note the progression: “fruit,” “more fruit,” then “much fruit.”

        Only those who learn to walk in the Spirit will become channels through which the Holy Spirit can work.  God is calling His people to become wells “of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).  Again in John 7:38, Jesus says, “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”  God wants His people to become ever-flowing artesian springs, not stagnant, lifeless ponds.  This Spirit-filled life, described by Jesus, is available only to those who practice a walk in the Spirit.

        Many of God’s people look forward to the restoration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit with the offices of prophets and apostles.  One can have the greatest ministry of prophets and apostles and still miss the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  The children of Israel in the wilderness are a prime example.  The effectiveness of any supernatural ministry is determined in large part by the responsiveness of the individual heart.  The gifts of the Spirit are essential for the perfecting of the saints, but those gifts will perfect only those who have devoted themselves wholeheartedly to a daily walk in the Spirit.

Requisites To Walking In The Spirit

        A walk in the Spirit begins with a hunger and thirst for God along with a dissatisfaction with one’s present state.  This thirst is a holy desire that finds its satisfaction only in Jesus Christ.  The soul that truly seeks to walk in the Spirit must possess a love for Jesus Christ that transcends all earthly attachments.  He must become the longing of one’s heart, the satisfying portion of one’s life.  “Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God.  They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him, the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking” (A.W. Tozer).

        Many Scripture references emphasize the value of a hunger and thirst for God.  “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled”(Matt. 5:6).  The psalmist also cries out, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.  My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2)  The Spirit of God invites those who have this unquenchable longing for God to come and receive, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1).  Finally, in the book of Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself declares, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Rev. 21:6).  Note that this water is given “freely,” that is, gratuitously.

        A walk in the Spirit also requires a total renunciation of all that doesn’t lead to God.  The world, the flesh, and the devil – all work to consume the time and attention of the one who desires this deeper walk with God.  Jesus declared unequivocally, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).  The Apostle Paul also wrote, “What?  Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price” (I Cor. 6:19-20).  The great price that Jesus Christ paid on the cross of Calvary requires nothing short of complete surrender and total abandonment to God.  The writer of Hebrews admonishes the reader to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” and “run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2).  Those who desire a walk in the Spirit must turn their attention from earthly endeavors and fully focus on God and His marvelous plan.  God is calling His people to lose their identities in Him.

        Another requisite to walking in the Spirit is a broken and contrite heart.  A spirit of apathy and lukewarmness will not gain a walk with God.  Hardness of heart hinders the work of the Holy Spirit in the life.  The Prophet Hosea calls upon the people of God to “break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hos. 10:12).  Fallow ground is land that has been left uncultivated.  It must be plowed and prepared before it can receive seed.  The same is true of the human heart.  It must be broken before God in order to receive the work of the Holy Spirit.

        Brokenness appeals to the Almighty.  “Rend your heart, and not your garments” (Joel 2:13).  “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:2).  “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17).  A broken spirit is humble and pliable in the hands of the Almighty.  A contrite spirit is deeply sorry for sin.

        Finally, a walk in the Spirit requires the development of a rich prayer life.  The testimony of many Christians is often one of defeat because their prayer life suffers.  Only those who drink regularly from the fountain of living water will gain a lasting walk in the Spirit.  Ezekiel 47: 2-5 is a portion of Scripture in which the Spirit of God leads the prophet to the brink of a mighty holy river.   The man with Ezekiel casts a line a thousand cubits and guides the prophet to wade into ankle deep water, representing conversion.  Many stop here satisfied with merely getting their feet wet; however, God is calling His people to greater depths in Him.  The man then casts the line another thousand cubits and directs the prophet to knee deep water.  Here God is calling His people to a prayer life in the Spirit.  Those who desire to continue farther into this mighty river of God must apply the knee-deep experience to their lives.  Throughout the Word of God, one discovers that prayer was a vital part of the lives of those who walked with God.  From cover to cover, the Bible reveals that those who had power with God, those who expressed steadfast faithfulness to God, those who displayed those divine attributes so pleasing to God knew how to pray.  They kept the communication lines open between themselves and God.  Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself walked in prayer.  Prayer was the backbone of His earthly ministry.  The greatest test of His life was met with fervent prayer.  Even now He is in heaven interceding.

The Value Of Walking In The Spirit

        The Apostle Paul commanded, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” (Col. 2:6).  As wonderful as it is to receive the Lord Jesus Christ into one’s life, it is much more rewarding to walk in Him.  A walk in the Spirit is a walk in Jesus Christ.  Romans the eighth chapter enumerates some eternal benefits available to the believer who practices a walk in the Spirit: “no condemnation” (vs 1), “free from the law of sin and death” (vs.2), “the righteousness (righteous demands) of the law…fulfilled in us” (vs.4),  “life and peace“ (vs.6), “please God” (vs.8),  “led by the Spirit of God” (vs.14), and finally “glorified together” with Him (vs.17).  A walk in the Spirit is a walk of abundant joy and peace in God, transcending anything that this world has to offer.

 

 

 

A PLACE CALLED GEHENNA

Curtis Dickinson

        How do we reconcile the fact of God’s great love and mercy for His creatures with the common teaching that all who fail to enter the kingdom will be subjected to the most excruciating torture imaginable, and that this will continue for ever and ever with no end?

        The torture scenarios presented through the years would make the atrocities of Stalin and Chairman Mao look like acts of charity.  For example, Tertullian, writing about 200 A.D., and one of the first to teach eternal torture, wrote: “How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult when I behold so many proud monarchs and fancied gods, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness…liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against Christians?” (Gibbon’s Decline and Fall Vol. 1, Ch. 15, p. 537)

        The medieval view of hell portrayed a place filled with “black things as devils, that ever maul them and afflict and harass them with all kinds of tortures; and tailed drakes, horrible as devils, that devour them whole and spew them out afterwards, before and behind.  At other times they rend them in pieces and chew each gobbet of them, and they afterwards become whole again,” and other horrible acts, all going on forever (S.M. Brown, Medieval Europe, Harcourt & Brace)

        The perpetual torture doctrine had no greater champion than the 18th century preacher, Jonathan Edwards, who said, “Hell is a spiritual and material furnace of fire where its victims are exquisitely tortured in their minds and in their bodies.”  He said that they will “suffer to all eternity…It will be their fixed abode.”  (R.L. Whitelaw, Death, Resurrection, Immortality Judgment)  What is most amazing is that he claimed that this horrible torture will “exult the happiness, the love, and the joyful thanksgiving of the angels and men that are saved.  I am ready to think that…the sight of the great miseries of those…that are damned will double the ardour of their love and fullness of joy of the elect angels and men.” (ibid)

        Jesus spoke of the final judgment and destruction of unbelievers by fire.  He compared them to withered branches: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6; compare Matt. 7:19).  He compared them to tares (weeds): “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of the world” (Matt. 13:40).

        In the Sheep and Goats parable, those on the left hand are to depart “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:31-46).  A study of the Greek word aionios, translated “eternal,” reveals that it refers to the result of process, that is; the result of the fire is eternal, so that the unsaved perish forever (See Heb. 5:9; 6:2; 9:12).  The example of an “eternal” fire is given in Jude 7, where it is said that Sodom was destroyed by “eternal fire,” since its results were to last forever.

        Literal fire is used in the final judgment, according to Peter: “But the heavens and earth, which are now, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (II Peter 3:7).

        Finally, the unsaved are to be cast into the “lake of fire,” where they meet the “second death” (Rev. 20:14,15).

        There are some 70 cases in Scripture where fire is used as judgment upon wickedness, or in a sacrifice for sin, and in every case except two, the fire was a figure or an agent of destruction.  Never was it used for the purpose of torture.  In the sacrifice of the “whole burnt offering,” for example, the remains of the animal were burned to nothing but ashes (Lev. 1:17).  This was to typify the final destruction of the unsaved at judgment.

        Then, where comes the idea that God preserves the unsaved alive forever in order to keep them in perpetual fire, something even the most sinful person would not do unless he were totally depraved?  Scripture used to support this idea is found in Mark 9:43 and 48 where Jesus speaks of those cast into Gehenna (erroneously translated hell) “where their worm dies not and the fire is not quenched.”  Many take these expressions to mean that one cast into the fire cannot die and, therefore, must burn there forever.

Unquenchable Fire

        It is amazing that anyone should assume that because the fire cannot be quenched, it will never cease to burn, and stranger still to suppose that one cast into this fire will live there forever without being burned up.

        In declaring the destruction of ancient Idumae, south-east of Judea, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.  It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever.”

        Yet, the fire went out when the destruction was completed, and no smoke ascends from there today.

        God warned Judah of coming destruction: “Then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched” (Jer. 17:27).  This prophecy was fulfilled, as described in II Chronicles 3:19-21.  The citizens could not quench the fire, and it burned until it consumed all that would burn.  Less than a century later Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt.

        Then what does the Bible mean by “unquenchable fire?”  It means a fire that will destroy totally and which cannot be quenched, but will burn up all that is cast into it until it goes out for lack of fuel.

        The expression, “unquenchable fire,” is used throughout the Bible to signify a fire that consumes (Ezekiel 20:4,48), reduces to nothing (Amos 5:5), or burns up something (Matt. 3:12).

Undying Worms

        Many are the bizarre ideas taken from the statement, “their worm dies not.”  John Calvin wrote that the “plain meaning” is that the wicked will be tormented without end by a bad conscience (Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, p. 113).  Johannes Pederson comments: “When the worms gnaw the dead body, the soul feels it” (Ibid, p. 112).  Some claim that the worm is the soul of the sinner, and this shows that the soul can never die.

        Such weird interpretations show how far some are willing to go in order to uphold their position (identical to some pagan religions) of perpetual torture of the unsaved.  The way to interpret scripture is to compare all other scripture, and when this is done, such fanciful ideas vanish.

        In speaking of the place where “the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched,” Jesus used the word Gehenna, which comes from the Hebrew Gai Hinnom, meaning “valley of Hinnom.”  This identifies a narrow ravine southwest of Jerusalem, once notorious for the worship of Moloch, where children were “passed through the fire” in sacrifice.  King Josiah of ancient Judah put an end to these abominations and defiled the valley, making it ceremoniously unclean (II Kings 23:10).  It later became the city dump of Jerusalem, the repository of refuse and animal carcasses.

        Fires burned continuously to consume this mass of corruption.  What the flames left, the worms consumed.  Here, the word for worm is properly translated “maggot,” and while the life of an individual maggot is short, there was never a time when the garbage was not alive with them, hence the expression: “their worm dies not.”

        In using this expression, Jesus was echoing a warning of God’s judgment given centuries earlier by Isaiah: “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, neither will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind” (Isaiah 66:24).  This is a reference to dead bodies being consumed by worms and fire.  Since the fire is not “quenched” it completely consumes all that it feeds upon.  Both Isaiah and Jesus present a picture of a place where life ends in shame, not a place where life goes on forever in unspeakable misery.

        While many traditionalists object that a final and irreversible death is not sufficient punishment, it is universally conceded that capital punishment (death) is the most severe punishment.  The thought of total death, to cease to be, is almost impossible to perceive, and is the greatest tragedy that can happen to a living soul, who might otherwise have received the marvelous gift of eternal life in glorious immortality.

        Praise God that an escape from such a fate is provided through Jesus, His Son, Who took our sins and died our death, that we might receive the gift of eternal life, and all the glories of the world to come (Rom. 6:23; 2:7; I Cor. 15:54).

        “He that believes in the son has eternal life; but he that obeys not the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

 

 

 

TRUTH CRITERIA: EXPERIENCE OR SCRIPTURES?

J. Grant Swank, Jr.

        Today there is much touted as religious: people barking, others flopping on sanctuary carpets, some in trances with glazed eyes.

        There are crystals and talismans, worshipping the god within – any god.  There are gurus sporting their craft on TV talk-shows.  There are good witches and bad witches.

        What is it that serves as the criteria for truth when confronting a proliferation of religious (spiritual) experiences?

        First, experience in itself is not that criteria.  Yet today, experience is the all-in-all when it comes to “proving” one’s religion as being legitimate.  The experience-criteria is even current within some evangelical/charismatic circles.

        Yet experience-as-primary-criteria in religion has brought about so-called holy men climbing trees, sitting there for years, being oblivious to all that is around them.  Devotees of such persons regard these men as being the height of religion – nullifying external reality for internal nothingness.

        Experience-as-primary-criteria in spirituality has yielded “getting your feelings out in hot tubs” conclaves.  Those who pay fat fees for a weekend of bliss surround themselves with warm fuzzies.  In the exchange, they testify to arriving at various “highs” within.

        Experience-as-primary-criteria in religion has given us Joseph Smith with “revelations” from a so-called angel of God.  From this has grown one of the fastest growing cultic phenomena on the planet.

        For the Christian, experience-as-primary-criteria is not the all-in-all.  Why?  Because the Christian knows that human experience can be impregnated by the demonic.

        Satan and his corps can enter into the human spirit when the Holy Spirit is not honored there.

        Consequently, we are surrounded by demonic spirits who have conjured up all sorts of religious experiences in order to detour souls from the eternal truth.

        For the Christian, the revealed, divine truth as set forth in Scripture is the only reliable criteria for faith.  Scripture alone.  If there were any other criteria, then God would have been partial in His revealed truth.

        The Spirit of Pentecost is the same Spirit who inspired Scripture.  Therefore, whatever the Spirit works through a Christian’s experience must never contradict what the Spirit has provided in His written Word.  The Spirit cannot live with inconsistencies within Himself and His expression – whether in the Bible or the human spirit.

        Then, all that is ever experienced in the name of true religion must pass the test of Spirit-breathed Scripture.  And that is not simply parts of Scripture but ALL of Scripture.  God has given us a revelation from Genesis to Revelation.  All of that truth is to be the standard of judgment when investigating religion/spirituality.

        For the Christian, Judeo-Christianity is a revealed religion which cannot be added to nor taken from.  It is complete as set forth in Scripture.

        However, even those who profess to be orthodox Christians are tempted at times to add to the Word their own folk religion; this cannot be.  At other times, they are tempted to compromise the Word in order to accommodate to the prevailing culture; this cannot be.

        If one adds to or takes from the eternally revealed Scripture, then he is in danger of the lake of fire and brimstone.  Therefore, it is an awesome penalty to disrupt the revealed criteria.

        In every age, the true believer is to receive the Scripture with thanksgiving, pray to the Spirit for understanding and then implement that Scripture in daily living.  That in itself takes all the time and energy the Christian has.  Therefore, there is no reason to scissor out nor paste in any extraneous material to the Scriptures.

        Live with the Word.  Saturate yourself with the Word.  Read it from cover to cover, then start all over again and again and again.  Never tire of the Word.  Let it mold you, breathe through you, baptize you with peace and power.  Let its holiness surround you and give you love and hope.

 

 

 

PRECIOUS FRUIT

Harold Scullin

        “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it until he receive the early and latter rain” (James 5:7).

        The fact that this fruit is labeled PRECIOUS FRUIT would indicate that it is an unusual variety of fruit, an extraordinary fruit.  Another very important factor concerning this special fruit is, it is the precious fruit of the earth.  It is planted, it grows, it develops, it matures, right here in this present evil world.  This in itself makes this unusual fruit a very rare fruit; there is not an abundance of people who will partake of this rare fruit.  Also, the means to acquire this unique fruit eliminates the curious and the officious.  This marvelous display of that which is Divine is not only extremely costly but it is also exquisite in detail and design in that it is marked by flawless craftsmanship.  It is beautiful; it is not cheap, it is precious.

        In John 15:5, Jesus stated, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.  He that abideth in me and I in Him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.”  In John 15:2, He said, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away.”

        From these scriptures, we conclude that bearing of fruit is required of every branch.  As the branch begins to bear fruit, He (Jesus) “purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2).  “He purgeth it” means that He cleans it, He scours it, He causes it to be free from all impurities, internally and externally, even to bringing of every thought into captivity unto the obedience of Christ (II Cor. 10:5).  Such conduct demands surrender of your thoughts to the thoughts of Jesus.  Our walk must be “Not I but Christ” (Gal. 2:20).

        Keep in mind we are desirous of expressing divinity, precious fruit.  “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).  “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:7,8).

        It is the desire of the Lord Jesus that His servants so yield themselves to His will and so walk with Him in the Spirit of God, that the members of His body will be ONE.  Jesus prayed in John 17:11,21,22,23, “that they all may be ONE, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be ONE in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”  Just as the members of our bodies contribute to the function of one body, so should the body of Jesus function.

        The fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22, “Love, Joy, Peace, Long Suffering, Gentleness, Kindness, Faith, Meekness, Temperance,” are divine attributes of divine beings.  Just think, we have been called to walk in this realm…In the realm of the divine, a supernatural walk, where we can have divine counsel and divine leading of the Holy Spirit.

        How many of God’s people believe this or know of it?  How many desire to enter into such relationship with Jesus?

        In John 13:34,35, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one anotherBy this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if you have love one to another.”  Unbelievable!  But this relationship actually took place and was manifested in the Book of Acts.  Read the first few chapters of Acts and observe the love of God these people had for each other, also their love and devotion to the Lord Jesus.

        The Lord Jesus desires a people in this present time that will so love Him and obey His Words, that a supernatural testimony can be given NOW.  The world will absolutely know that such people are the true servants of Jesus Christ.

        Jesus gave us the key as to how we can so love one another…“as I have loved you.”

        He was wounded for our transgressions, he was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth, he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:5-7).  “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (I Peter 2:22,23).

        He left us an example to follow, I Peter 2:21.

        Consider the following Scriptures in the light of what has been written.

        “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:38).  Isn’t that plain; so easy to understand?  Jesus told His disciples: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain, Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.  Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:38-44).

        How many Christians practice these commands today?

        Jesus said in John 14:23, “If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.”

        Do you find it difficult to express that which is divine?

        I am sure that we will agree: precious fruit is very costly, but it can be procured, by means or standards that are absolutely contrary to the carnal mind.  Paul wrote in Rom. 8:17, “The carnal mind is enmity against God.”  Enmity is to be hateful.  The carnal mind absolutely hates the things of God.  The Holy Spirit would lead the servants of God into the glories of the Kingdom of God, but the carnal mind opposes the work of the Holy Spirit.  Ask the Holy Spirit to acquaint you with the scriptures that you can use to fight against these evil spirits.  Eph. 6:11,12 and II Cor. 10:4,5 are very good to read and quote when the battle rages.

        Before the end, the Lord God will make a demonstration of what people could have had if they had walked in obedience to the words of Jesus.  Human beings, full of the Holy Ghost, will express and manifest the glory and majesty of the Kingdom of God in all of its fullness and power.

        It is not too late to cast your lot with the few saints that are struggling to please and honor Jesus.

        The precious fruit will be made manifest!

 

 

 

THE MESSAGE OF THE KINGDOM

James Sanderson

        One cannot read the words of Jesus Christ without being impressed with the emphasis that He placed on those truths regarding the kingdom of God.  No other theme so dominated and so colored His message as the reality of the present kingdom of God.  In the four gospels alone the word kingdom occurs almost 125 times.  In fact, the whole life of Jesus Christ with all His mighty miracles was simply a demonstration of the power and glory of that kingdom that He so desired that man would come to understand.

        The very first command that Jesus issued included a declaration of this kingdom message.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).  In other words, entrance into God’s heavenly kingdom was now available to those who were willing to meet the requirements.  The gospel of Mark also bears the same record, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  As Jesus traveled about from village to village healing the sick, raising the dead, and opening blind eyes, His message was the same: “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14).  “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt. 9:35).

        The prophets of old accurately foretold the establishment of this kingdom that Jesus declared.  “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall NEVER BE DESTROYED: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand FOR EVER” (Daniel 2:44).  “And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: his dominion is an EVERLASTING dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which SHALL NOT BE DESTROYED” (Daniel 7:14).  These prophecies were fulfilled in the very person of Jesus Christ.  Every truth that He taught, every supernatural work that He accomplished rested upon His authority as King of a heavenly kingdom that was now in the reach of man.

        Listen to this remarkable prophecy given by the angel Gabriel to Mary, “And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.  He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall REIGN over the house of Jacob FOR EVER; and of his kingdom there SHALL BE NO END” (Luke 1:31-33).  One cannot help but see the close correlation between this prophecy and those given by the prophet Daniel.  The coming of Jesus Christ ushered in the true Kingdom Age with our Lord Jesus Christ Himself ruling as the King of kings and Lord of lords.  It is for this reason that Jesus could say, “The time is fulfilled…” (Mark 1:15).

        As Jesus stood before the Roman judgment seat, Pilate asked a rather significant question, “Art thou a king then?”  Jesus answered, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world” (John 18:37).  Shortly after this incident, as Pilate handed Jesus over to the Jews to be crucified, he declared, “Behold your King!” (John 19:14).  The Apostle Peter, recalling that wonderful scene on the Mount of Transfiguration, said, “We…were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (I Peter 1:16).  After Jesus arose from the dead, as He appeared to His disciples, He “spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18).  Jesus was born a king, He walked the earth as a king, He died a king, and He arose a king.

        The type of kingdom that Jesus offered to man was not a political, material kingdom.  His kingdom was and is a spiritual kingdom with greater reality than any physical kingdom could ever afford.  Man is so in tune with this earthly existence that by nature he is unable to comprehend the true spiritual character of God’s kingdom.  Jesus plainly stated, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 19:36).  On another occasion, He said, “the kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).  In other words, the kingdom of God is first and foremost a STATE OF BEING IN GOD.  The Apostle Paul echoed this same truth when he plainly stated that the kingdom of God does not consist of such outward physical manifestations as eating and drinking.  Instead, the Kingdom of God is a spiritual reality demonstrated by “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17).  “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 15:50).

        If, on the one hand, the kingdom of God is available to man, yet, on the other hand, the kingdom of God is not of a physical nature, how can one enter into such a kingdom?  Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, posed a similar question when he came to Jesus by Night.  “Jesus answered and said unto him, verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  Again in verse five, Jesus said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  Those who wish to become citizens of God’s kingdom must experience a total spiritual transformation called the new birth.  Entrance into this heavenly kingdom is reserved only for those who are willing to repent, surrender their lives to Jesus Christ the King of God’s kingdom, and allow the Holy Spirit to come into their hearts.

 

 

 

QUESTIONS FROM A READER

 

Dear Friends,

          I have enclosed an interesting tract for you to read.  I also have some questions for you to answer in your publication, The Testimony of Truth.

1. Where did Jesus use the words religion or Christianity?

2. Where did Jesus use the words: Christmas or Easter?

3. Where did Jesus mention Lent or Good Friday?

4. Where did Jesus mention: The Pope or Cardinals?

5. Where did Jesus tell His disciples to form denominations?

6. Where did Jesus mention: pulpits, padded pews & pipe organs?

7. Where did Jesus tell His disciples to live out in the country in Christian Communes?

          There are hundreds of doctrines, practices, words and names in the religion called Christianity down through the centuries that I can’t find in the Holy Bible.

          Maybe you can answer some of my questions about the religion called: CHRISTIANITY.

                                                                   Sincerely Yours, M.M.

 

 

          The tract which accompanied this letter is entitled, “Did You Know?  The Early Christians” and was written by Jack W. Langford.  It dealt with some of the same questions as those asked above.

        We truly appreciate all those who respond with comments or questions regarding the teachings presented in “The Testimony of Truth” and will always endeavor to answer them to the best of our knowledge.  We realize that not all Christians believe exactly alike and that we understand scripture in diverse ways.  This is why there are so many different and sometimes conflicting views of what Christianity truly is.  We will proceed to answer these questions as we believe scripture teaches.

Religion and Christianity

        In response to all the questions above: Jesus never used any of these words.  However, “religion” is used five times in the Bible.  Three times it is used in reference to the Jews, speaking of their religion (Acts26:5; Gal. 1:13, 14).  It is also used twice in the book of James, once referring to a man’s religion being vain if he is one who does not bridle his tongue (James 1:26).  The next verse in James speaks of “pure religion and undefiled”.

        Religion is defined by Webster as: 1) “The worship or service of God or the supernatural”.  2) “Commitment or devotion to a religious faith”.  Although Jesus did not use the term “religion” specifically, it does not mean that the term is not suitable in referring to those who follow the teachings of scripture.  Religion is a term that refers to any who worship any form, idol, a being whom they believe to be God or is supernatural.  That’s why we refer to Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, Humanism, Atheism, Gnosticism, and Christianity as “religions”.  Religion is merely a term that identifies people who have some type of belief system that affects the way they live their lives.

        Christianity is also a term that has been adapted in reference to those who believe in Jesus Christ.  According to the book of Acts, the term came into existence in Antioch when believers in Christ were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26).  “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”  Christianity identifies those who are disciples (followers of the teachings) of Jesus Christ.  The word Christian comes directly from the root word Christ.  Although “Christian” was not used by Jesus, it is found two times in scripture (Acts 26:28; I Pet. 4:16).  In the account in Acts, it is used by King Agrippa in his words to Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”  Peter’s words are, “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian.”  Peter’s words certainly give credence to the term.

Christmas, Easter, Lent, and Good Friday

        I will combine the next two questions concerning Christmas, Easter, Lent and Good Friday together since they all are inventions of the Catholic Church.  Christmas came from “Christ-mass”, a Catholic mass.  The word “Easter” is used one time in the King James Bible (Acts 12:4).  The Greek word translated “Easter” in this passage is pascha.  Of the 29 times pascha is used in the Greek New Testament, it is translated “Passover” 28 times.  It is only translated Easter this one time and is clearly a mistranslation.  The four words, Christmas, Easter, Lent and Good Friday, were brought into Christianity by the Catholic Church as they endeavored to appease pagans and bring them into the church.  The adoption of these celebrations was to help the heathen who were (supposedly) converted to Christianity to adapt to their new religion.  We see the same type of practices in many church denominations today as they attempt to mix the holy with the profane.  More and more “Christian” denominations are bowing to the demands of an evil society and consequently are embracing sin.  Christians are pushing God out of their fellowships as they incorporate the prosperity gospel, easy and sleazy grace, rejecting God’s commands of obedience and have become more of a money making machine than disciples of Jesus Christ.  Once one sin enters the church, it holds the door open for other sins to be accepted, such as fornication, adultery, and even homosexuality.  The Catholic Church started down the road of amalgamation and the Protestant churches have followed.  Jesus’ words ring so true, “And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14).  Most churches focus on numbers, both of members and monies.  This was never the intent of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Easter was a heathen celebration to the goddess, Ishtar.  Ishtar was considered the goddess of sex, and from that origin we have bunny rabbits that lay eggs, the sign of fertility and proliferation.  The Catholic Church inserted this heathen practice into Christianity at the time of year when Christians celebrate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Good Friday is taught to be the day Jesus died and Easter Sunday the day He supposedly rose from the dead.  They mingled truth with a lie and therein polluted the words of Jesus.  Truth: that Jesus commanded His disciples to observe what we term “The Lord’s Supper” or “communion” in remembrance of Him, showing the Lord’s death until He come.  Lie: It is mathematically impossible to get three days and three nights from Friday afternoon, when Jesus supposedly died, to Sunday morning when He is claimed to have arisen.  Yet Jesus plainly declared He would be in the grave for three days and three nights (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7; 24:46).  (For those interested in a more in-depth study of this subject, write for our free tract “Three Days and Three Nights.”)  Adding bunnies which lay eggs only pollutes the institution more.

        Christmas (Christ-mass) was instituted as a celebration of the birth of Jesus.  While scripture nowhere instructs us to celebrate Christ’s birth, we must remember that the birth of Christ was a most wonderful and glorious event.  When the angel appeared to the shepherds in the field near Bethlehem, all heaven rejoiced.  Luke 2:9-14: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  While we certainly must not mix pagan celebrations with Christianity, we should never diminish the glory and marvel of the birth of our Savior and rejoice in the love God unveiled before a sinful world.  The truth is that Jesus was not born in December but in the fall of the year, probably in October.

        The four words previously discussed are not biblical but heathen in origin and have infiltrated Christianity through the Catholic Church.

Pope and Cardinals

          Of course these two titles are not biblical.  Pope is a title given to the head of some religions, specifically Catholicism.  The word refers to the head bishop or priest of a religion.  A Cardinal is second in line under the pope, but the terms are nowhere found in scripture.  Of course, the words bishop and priest are used in scripture.  The New Testament teaches that every born again believer is a king and priest to God (Rev. 1:6; 5:10), and the writer of Hebrews invites all believers to “come boldly unto the throne of grace” teaching clearly that it is not necessary for believers to go to a priest or a man to mediate for them.  Jesus sits upon the throne of grace and we can bring our needs directly to Him without the mediation of priests, cardinals, saints, or even Mary.  The Gospel Jesus brought has been distorted, marred, discredited, discarded and profaned by, not only Catholicism, but also by most Protestant denominations as they have rejected the pure word of God and substituted in its place men’s ideas and traditions for convenience sake.

Denominations

        For the sake of a clear understanding of the role of leadership in the Christian church, we must address the order set up for the church.  This will include question number five regarding denominations.  A denomination by definition is “A religious organization uniting in a single legal and administrative body” (Webster).  If we apply this definition to Christians, we universally are a denomination, for we are united in the legal and administrative order of Jesus Christ, whose teachings we follow and we are united in Him.  We are all saved by His blood and His sacrifice and are, in a broad sense of the word, a denomination.  However, the term in its more common use is merely to distinguish one group from another.  Is it biblical?  No.  It is sadly a means of division thus weakening the power of the church at large.  The topic of denominationalism brings us to another point regarding leadership within a body of believers.  The word “Bishop” is a biblical term as are “elders” and “deacons.”  Peter gives some instructions regarding elders in his first epistle (I Peter 5:1-5).  Peter writes to the elders and states that he is also an elder.  Paul adds his views to this order in his letter to Timothy (I Tim. 5:1,17,19) and instructs Timothy to ordain elders in every city.  There were churches (gatherings mostly in homes) in every city, and each of these gatherings was to have ordained elders (I Tim. 1:5-9).  Bishops and deacons were also a part of the order of the early churches.  For Paul’s instructions concerning these positions, read I Timothy 3:1-13.  The point in these verses is to show that scripture teaches that a gathering or fellowship of believers must have order, and there must be submission to those authorities.  God is not the author of confusion but of order and discipline.  Disciples of Christ must learn obedience through submission to those whom God has ordained to be elders, bishops and deacons in the church.  It is obvious, if you read the scriptures presented above, that the church is not to be a one-man organization but is to have a multiplicity of leadership.  Each member in the leadership is to be subject to the others as Peter stated, “all of you be subject one to another and be clothed with humility.”

        Paul stressed to the church at Ephesus that God placed in the body “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12).  This is the order of God for His church.

        A denomination is merely a term to identify one group from another, although it is not biblical, since those who follow Jesus are all one body and should not be divided.  Order, however, with ordained leadership is biblical.  Ordination is not something that men can place upon another; it is an anointing that only God can place upon a man.  Going to seminary or a Christian college is not the means by which one receives the anointing, no matter how many certificates he receives.  Too many trained wolves in sheep’s clothing fill our pulpits every weekend that have not the anointing of God upon them.  More blind leaders of the blind.

        The tract you included in your letter gives the impression that churches are not biblical either.  To say that churches (a gathering of Christians for worship, prayer, study of the word, etc.) is not biblical is to miss several very important portions of scripture.  In every city the apostle Paul ministered, he set up churches.  Peter seems to have followed suit, for he gave instructions concerning elders, bishops, etc.  Why have elders, deacons, and bishops if there is no church?  Why have pastors, evangelists and teachers if there is no church?  It makes no sense.  These men were apostles and set up churches with Godly order according to the divine leading of the Holy Spirit.  Establishing churches is biblical.

This Brings Us To The Question Of Pulpits, Pews And Pipe Organs

        A pulpit is nothing more than a lectern or stand upon which one puts his Bible and notes from which he will be speaking or preaching.  A pulpit is nothing in itself but is an aid for the preacher or teacher.  Pews are generally thought of as benches where the congregation sits.  In many third world countries these pews are no more than a wooden plank set upon a couple of stumps of wood.  There is no back and they are extremely uncomfortable.  In more prosperous countries, these primitive pews have evolved into more ornate benches and have become much more comfortable, although they have nothing to do with the church’s spirituality nor do they make a church.  They are designed for the congregation to have a place to sit while being taught from the pulpit.  Whether a church has pews or just chairs makes no difference to God, but how those who sit upon those seats respond to His word is what is important to Him.

        From a personal perspective, my wife and I made a trip to the Philippines in 1984 and again in 2000.  The churches we attended in 1984 had benches consisting of only a wooden board with no back and their services lasted sometimes for several hours.  I was always glad to get up and preach because I was relieved from sitting so uncomfortably.  My wife was not so fortunate.  People who are thin and boney sometimes have problems sitting on hard surfaces for any length of time so I appreciate a padded pew.  Not so that I can go to sleep but so that I can concentrate on the message rather than on the discomfort of the pew I’m sitting on.

Christian Communes

        Christian communes are not that common, but there are some scattered around the world.  Christian communities have been the choice for quite a few Christians ever since the time of Christ.  One reason some Christians have chosen to live communally is because the word used in scripture for the gathering of God’s people for worship is “church.”  The Greek word translated “church” is ekklesia, which means “to call out.”  In their effort to please God, they believe that coming out is to live very separate lives from that which the world lives.  It is a means by which they feel they can serve God better by being free from many of the things the world offers and which tend to draw one away from God.  The activities and the lifestyle of communities vary tremendously from one group to another, so we can only take up the basic principle of communal living here.  The word “communes” became popular during the hippie movement of 1960’s when many hippies were converted to Christianity, and because of this change of life and perspective, many embraced a communal way of life.  While we cannot judge their encounters with God, nor their intentions to live with all things common, sharing and loving one another as themselves, we can evaluate the results of most of these communes.  Most of them did not last long and dissolved over time leaving many members disillusioned, discouraged and many times angry with God and those involved in the commune.  Free love (sex) was common among many of them, as was a common purse where funds were used for the leader’s personal advantage.  The members were often used as servants (slaves in some cases) to the leaders.  These things opened up the door for all types of sin to enter, and what may have begun in sincerity and with good intent, became a tragedy for most who were part of the commune.  But the question is: Is communal living biblical?

        Most people who choose to live communally believe that it is God’s plan for His people and the best way for Christians to live.  They use the early church as their prime example, for after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon that early congregation, they willingly sold their goods, their lands and houses and laid down the proceeds at the apostles’ feet.  This event is recorded in Acts 2:41-47 and again in Acts 4:31-37.  We read in chapter four of Acts that Barnabas was one who sold his land and gave the proceeds to the apostles.  In chapter five, we have the account of Ananias and Saphira who sold some land but then lied about it and God killed them.  God didn’t kill them because He was unpleased with their joining this Spirit-filled group but for lying to the Holy Spirit.  With all the anointing that was upon these early apostles, they never acknowledged that what they were doing was wrong but encouraged and sanctioned it.  However, scripture does not give the order of how this early community functioned.  One fact is clear, they “had all things common”.  It appears that all the people were ready to aid others who had needs, whatever that need was.  This is perfectly scriptural.  True Christian teaching is to minister to those in need, especially those who are believers (Read Matt. 25:31-46).  We will give account in the day of judgment of how we met the needs of our Christian brothers and sisters, for it is as though we did it unto Jesus.  Or did it not unto Jesus.

        The perception among Christians of how to apply God’s word to one’s life regarding communal living varies.  Some see the importance of coming out of the world, coming out of Babylon (which is not merely coming out of the Catholic Church), being separate from the world; and that coming out, implies communal living.  Others hold more tenaciously to Jesus’ prayer in John 17, where He prays that God would not take them out of the world but that they would be kept from the evil.  That prayer implies that Christians need to be in the world to be a light, for if they are not in the world, there will be no light.  Each Christian needs to stay in tune with the Holy Spirit so they hear His voice and do as He instructs.  If a community lives according to scripture in every part of its communal life, I cannot understand why any true lover of Jesus Christ would not want to be a part of that fellowship.  The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 133, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”  He ends this psalm with, “for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore.”  Notice those two words in bold.  These live together in harmony, following God’s teachings and in that environment, God commands His blessings.  What Christian would not want to live there?  If Christians truly love one another as Christ loves, they will desire to be together.  However, I know of no community where this is the case, and I truthfully doubt that there is one here on earth.  Yet it appears to me that this is what God desires to see among His people.  To live communally does not mean that the group has to live outside of society in some rural wasteland where no people are.  They can live right inside a large urban city and be a tremendous light to that city.  One thing is certain, that a group so living where God commanded the blessing, will be led by God as to where they should live and how they should minister.

        But back to reality, we find no such Christian group anywhere.  Do we then begin and form one or do we just live the best we can under the present conditions?  “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1).  To begin something without direct leading from the Lord is certain to fail.  It seems that under the present conditions the church is the next best thing.  By church, I mean the people who gather together regularly for worship, praise, prayer, preaching, teaching and discipline.  These are united in walking with God to the best of their knowledge, and the elders, pastors, teachers, etc. lead and direct the church to become more Christ-like.

        People of the Living God is a communal group and has lived communally for over sixty years.  We do not teach that one must live this way, but that it is a means of serving one another and loving others as ourselves.  Is it perfect?  Certainly not.  But God is with us and continually labors to create within us Christ-likeness.  To come to the stature of the fullness of Christ is our goal, and we pray God will finish the work He has begun among His people, that we will all love one another even as Christ has loved us.

        For a more-in-depth study of communal living, write, email or call for our magazine with articles on communal living.  It will be sent to any requesting it free of charge.  Living communally is like a marriage: It can be heaven or hell.

        I hope your questions are answered to some degree and that you at least have some things to consider as you search the scriptures for truth and how God would have you live your life.  May God bless you.

                                                                   Sincerely, the Editor