The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

3. Invisible, unrepresentable, unassimilable

The second area of distortion in our understanding of God and of following Christ is about how we express our faith and spirituality. This has to do with the nature of God as Spirit and therefore invisible.

Os Guinness and John Seele write about the Roman general Pompey entering Jerusalem in the first century B. C. He wanted to see the Jewish representation of their god. On entering the Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem, he found nothing. The inner sanctum was empty. There was no graven image of God. Pompey was stunned and infuriated. Pompey “could invade Jerusalem and carry Jews back to Rome but he could not lay his hands on the Jewish God for his Roman pantheon. What was unrepresentable also was unassimilable. Such a God was intolerable to Pompey. The God of the Jews was an utterly impossible God… He who is, beside whom there is no other — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is also the God and Father of Jesus Christ — is an impossible God.”

The crux of the issue is this. The God of the Bible, the infinite and immeasurable God is also Spirit. Therefore He is invisible. He who is invisible is unrepresentable. He who is unrepresentable is unassimilable. This is what makes the God of the Bible impossible. And His people too are impossible people when they remain unassimilable like their God. But alas, that is not the story of the church in the last 2000 years! We have made that which is impossible, possible – the invisible, visible; the unrepresentable, representable; and the unassimilable, assimilable!. This is our SIN and our GUILT!

How has this come about? This has come about precisely by letting the Christian faith to be represented as any other religion and by adopting lifestyles which are totally antithetical to the teaching of the New Testament.

Within a few decades after the death of the last of the twelve apostles – we started building places for Christian gathering which began to be called sanctuaries or houses of God or churches. We then appointed special people to conduct the services in these special places. Then we gave them a special procedure or liturgy to conduct the services. The insistence on attendance at a church service on Sundays, the giving of tithes and offerings as part of the service as an act of gratitude and worship unto God completed the representation of Christian faith as a religion. We now have religious places, religious people and religious customs and traditions like any other religion. Is this not the reason why we are now reckoned and numbered with other religions of the world?
Neither Christ nor any of the twelve apostles taught nor encouraged any religious system nor any religious custom nor talked about building any religious structures. The New Testament is totally silent on any of this. We might try to read religion into some of the statements of the apostles but no where do they explicitly talk about it.

On the other hand apostle Paul in Galatians 4: 1-7, talks about the Old Testament law and its system as ‘guardians and governors’ appointed over a son while he is still a child. A child is no different from a slave, says Paul. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Later in Colossians 3: 16-23, he argues that several religious practices prevalent among Christians were a mere ‘…shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.’ Suggesting that since the substance is now with us we do not need these shadows any longer.

The Letter to Hebrews leads a scathing attack on all external, physical and temporal forms of religion, religious structures, systems and traditions. The author talks about all the Old Testament forms, traditions, priesthood and sacrifices including the old covenant as a copy, a shadow and now obsolete. “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9: 11). He concludes that ‘the just shall live by faith’ and goes on to draw portraits of people who lived by faith.

It is very sad and unfortunate that these passages from the Letters in the New Testament were interpreted as referring only to the Mosaic Law and its requirements of sacrifices and priesthood. While primarily such an interpretation is correct, my thesis is that the passages and their essence must be extended to include all forms of religion. Because both the Lord Jesus and his twelve apostles make it plain that ‘to follow Christ’ is not to follow a religion but to come under the authority of God as revealed and represented in Christ. This is not a religion but a life in relationship with the God of the universe through the mediatorship of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Christian life therefore is a life of faith. It is represented in the way we live and not by any religious system, structure, tradition or custom. Any teaching or insistence on any practise as mandatory to Christian faith and living makes Christian faith like any other religion of the world. Hence even a legalistic insistence on attendance at a ‘church service’ and the teaching about regular tithing and offering is no different from the insistence by any religion to offer different forms of oblations and sacrifices to appease the gods. All such forms even in the Old Testament were only symbolical, a shadow and were given as guardians and governors in childhood. But now since Christ has come, we now have the substance. We do not need shadows and symbols any longer. We ‘look to Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith’ and live our lives by faith and freedom in Him.

The point I am making here is simply this. We have made Christian faith representable and thus made it assimilable into the surrounding regions of the world. We did this by introducing different forms of practices, customs, patterns, systems, structures whether in the form of buildings or institutions like any other religion of the world. Practically all of us are guilty of it. Some of us have taken it to a religious extreme some of us are a little more circumspect.

Even the groups and congregations who are not affiliated to any mainline denomination and boast of being different from them have lapsed into same religious forms and practices which they originally resisted. Practically all of them began in rebellion to the mechanical and religious forms of worship in the denominations. But in the end each of them turned out to be equally enslaving in the patterns of their worship. And the reasons are the same – a lack of right understanding of the God of the Bible.

Today the world over Christianity is almost assimilated into the world of religions and is considered no different from any other religion. And by pursuing political and economic power we have begun to be counted with the nations of the world unlike the people of God about whom Balaam prophesied in Numbers 23: 9, “I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.”

What more? In many instances apart from creating these different forms, patterns, systems and structures, we have raised these to the status of absolutes. Thus committing idolatry. Because only God is absolute and everything else and everyone else is relative. When that which is relative is given the status of an absolute, we raise it to the status of God.

When we make God and faith in Him representable by anything that is not commanded by Him then we not only reduce God to less than what He is but make Him relative to and comparable with the created and man-made. This too, is idolatry.

To raise that which is relative to the status of the absolute and to reduce the absolute to the status of the relative is idolatry and therefore sin against God. Oh, how many Christian groups and congregations have fallen into this trap by making God representable in some form or the other through the patterns, systems and structures they have created. Or by giving the place of God to these patterns, systems and structures and in some cases to the leaders or the teachers who teach and lead them. Is it any wonder that we have lost our power and our witness?

Some one has said that the human heart is an idol-making factory. Do you now see the subtlety of the deception? In the name of worship and devotion to Christ how often we make our own systems, patterns, programmes, leaders and even churches the measure for everyone. And when you notice that many well-meaning and sincere Christians are in it, one cannot but lament!

The God of the Bible is an impossible God and His people are impossible people too. He is impossible because He is immeasurable. Therefore invisible. Therefore unrepresentable. Therefore unclassifiable. Therefore unmalleable. Therefore unassimilable. His people are shaped by His truth and therefore are uncompromising to all pressures, molds, and seductions. Their allegiance is to Him alone. Their love for Him is unconditional therefore they are unconquerable.

Os Guinness & John Seel write, “A central consequence of the vision of such an impossible God is God-centered relativising: God and His truth call into question all opinions, customs, loyalties, and claims that differ from their own… God alone is absolute, so all that is not God is relative… Unconditional obedience to God therefore means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Thus those who confess one God are those who are ready to criticise everything else – nation, class, race, party, power, wealth, ideology, science, government, and church – whenever it threatens to usurp the place of God. After all, there is no other.”

As if giving representation to God in the religious forms and systems were not enough there is one other more dishonourable and repugnant things among Christians today. This is to think that we can give representation to our God through the ‘blessings’ we have garnered from our pursuit of the world. This only shows how biblically puerile our thinking has become. So we have the sad spectacle of many Christians chasing the knowledge, the power and the glories of the world. What more? When Christians think that they can use these ‘blessings’ to serve God, what can one say? It is like Judas Iscariot wanting to fulfill the ‘great commission’ with the thirty pieces of silver he gained from selling His master! Alas, I lament!

We have forgotten that a church or people who have pursued and benefited by the gifts and blessings of the world have no gospel to preach and would lose their witness and authority. We forget that if worldly blessings were the measure then there are more people in the world who have more of the said ‘blessings’ than most Christians. But the saddest part of it is when you see so many enslaved to the world – to acquiring knowledge, wealth and respectability you cannot but lament with Jeremiah, “How the precious children of Zion, once worth their weight in gold, are now considered as pots of clay…Those who once ate delicacies are destitute in the streets. Those brought up in royal purple now lie on ash heaps….”

This is the reason why I wonder, if much of today’s evangelism and ministry were not from guilt than from a true devotion to Christ, notwithstanding the sincerity of those who do it!

It is no wonder that we seem to be producing people in our own likeness through our evangelism and missions. “For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” Jesus warned. What a shame if after all our efforts to convert people to Christ we make them more worthy of hell, because we don’t seem to be converting them to Christ but to our structures, patterns and lifestyles. And I wonder if it is to such people Jesus would say, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Oh, the prospect of being ‘banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and of being erased from the knowledge of him who knows all’! (C.S.Lewis) One cannot even imagine how it would be!

But the question still remains, if God is invisible how can he be represented then? What representation does God allow of Himself, if He does at all?

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The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

2. God is number one, He won’t be number two

Let us first take up the issue of our discipleship to Christ and how it has been compromised. This has happened precisely because we have not understood the implications of knowing God as One!

The Bible is united in its affirmation of God as One. The Jewish Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

What does it mean in practise and what are its implications for life?

We do know that intolerance is born of a monotheistic understanding of God. If God is One and there is no other, then no other god or faith or religion can exist. Generally all who believe in God as monotheistic, express it in the form of intolerance towards all who do not believe in Him. But intolerance is a negative form of expressing the belief and it has no place in Christian faith. The Bible does talk about God as One, but it also teaches that the One God reveals Himself as Three. If three personal beings with free wills of their own co-exist and be so united that they are One then intolerance of the kind that is prevalent in the world today has no room in Christian faith. But what is the right and positive way of expressing our belief in God as One? It is ‘single-hearted devotion’ or as stated in the second part of Jewish Shema and affirmed by Jesus Christ in the words of the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The first of the ten commandments is, “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me.” A popular chorus for children restates it as “God is number one. He won’t be number two”. Jesus stated the same in his call to discipleship, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Os Guinness and John Seel write, “To say that there is one God and no god but God is not the conclusion of a syllogism nor simply an article in a creed. It is an overpowering, brain-hammering, heart-stopping truth that is a command to love the only one worthy of our entire and unswerving allegiance.” (Emphasis mine)

Is this not what is missing among Christians today? The right way of expressing our belief in God as One, is unswerving allegiance to him or in the words of Apostle Paul, ‘single-heartednes’ towards Christ. Instead we have begun to live dual lives – a life of faith in God, of following Christ and of pursuing self and the world!

The words of Paul ‘…simplicity that is in Christ’ can also be translated as ‘sincere devotion to Christ’ or ‘single-heartedness towards Christ’. As I said in my first article on this subject of ‘Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority – Riding Two Horses’, rather than singleness of heart we have begun to ‘ride two horses’. Or as Paul says about Timothy in Philippians 2: 19-20 ‘…all seek their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus’. The modern world has made it both easy and very attractive to ‘follow Christ’ and to pursue self-interest, self-preservation, and personal material affluence. This kind of duality among Christians today is so universal, pervasive and entrenched that we hardly notice it and even if noticed we think it is normal and nothing to worry about nor worthy of paying any attention to. It is appalling to see that many well-meaning Christians are living such dual lives and do not see anything wrong with it!

Quite early in my own personal walk with Christ I came across the statement, “No man or woman amounts to anything in the kingdom, no soul ever touches even the edge of the zone of power, until this lesson is learned that Christ’s business is the supreme concern of life and that all personal considerations, however dear or important, are tributary thereto (Dr. Francis quoted in ‘Streams in the Desert’ – Devotion for December 14) Such thinking clearly indicates one’s theology. Stories of men and women who pursued God and made loving Him their primary pursuit in life testify to it.

If we are created by God and bought with the blood of His own Son then surely we do not belong to ourselves. Therefore “…those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” We just cannot live for anyone else or for anything else. To do so amounts to not only violation of the first commandment but also to violate the terms of discipleship to Christ.

In my first article I had written, “Nothing can be more plain than that. We cannot live for ourselves. Period. Not for our own desires, ambitions, pleasures, aspirations, comforts, security, identity, dignity, glory whatever. We cannot live a life of self-seeking. We live for Christ and His kingdom – his pleasures, his desires, his will, his glory and nothing else. The day you and I decided to follow Christ or the day His choice fell upon us, my friends, we have lost all rights to live for ourselves. If you do not like this then you do not understand the gospel or you are still holding on to your self. There is no choice here. Either we follow Christ and give him our total allegiance or we leave and go our own way.”

Os Guinness and John Seel explain that this kind of unconditional allegiance to Christ means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Such people are uncompromising, unmalleable and therefore unconquerable too. Often they are viewed as intolerant because they are intransigent. Their intransigence is born because of their allegiance to God, the One and only, who has revealed himself in the incarnation of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not the rabid intolerance of the religious fanatic, who bays for the blood of those who disagree. But these uncompromising people do not engage in coercion nor in the extermination of those who disagree with them. But it is seen in their unswerving allegiance or sincere devotedness to Christ and His kingdom.

Such allegiance or devotedness is what constitutes true worship. Paul calls it ‘reasonable service’ or ‘right kind of worship’. Anything less is not worthy of him. Anything else is not worship but strange fire. Any worship without such unswerving love and devotedness is not worship. There is no religious ritual or custom or tradition that can compensate for this. There is no need for any religious place or sanctuary where this worship can be offered. It is given in the life of the individual in spirit and in truth.

Let me bring in a parallel from the book of Exodus. God sent Moses to Pharoah saying, “Let my people go that they may worship me”. But Pharoah would not let them go. He reasoned that they were not kept busy enough with work and therefore they wanted to go on a day’s journey into the desert to worship. First he said they could worship right where they were. Later he said that only men could go and leave the rest of the family behind. He increased their work so that they would not have time to think about worship. I believe we have a modern-day Pharoah in our work and employment. Our employers and employment keep us occupied with work so that we do not give single-hearted devotion to Christ. Or they would have us treat work as worship! Or even work as mission! Or work-place as fishing pond to fish men for Christ! There are a thousand and odd ways the world and its system would want us to be bound up with, so that we do not give unstinted love for Christ. Our God would have none of it. Either we love Him whole heartedly and follow Christ wholly or serve Mammon and the world!

Anyone who wishes to be faithful to his call to follow Christ can never be totally comfortable in the world. Nor can they be comfortable working in any of the organisations and corporations today including church and ministry related works. Any prayer seeking to be comfortable in the world is a wrong prayer.

Oswald Chambers writes, “Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ…The greastest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him…The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Hm.” Only when our discipleship to Christ is understood this way and we are willing to give such unswerving allegiance to him, can we recover our calling and our witness. Without this our own discipleship to Christ would be suspect.

Do you now see, why I say that our condition today is lamentable?

How Then Should We Live? Part 4

Read Part 1,2 and 3 below…

4. Lifestyle of faith

Most of the God-talk, the talk of ministry and the talk of being Christian around us today, is just that. Just talk and no walk! And I include myself in it. For all practical purposes and practically everywhere, what we all have ultimately settled for, is to pursue our concerns of security and identity even while claiming to be following Christ and ‘doing ministry’. We use God to serve us on the pretext of serving Him! Practically all our problems that we face in our churches and ministries are related to these pursuits. We will serve Him and follow Him, as long as He allows us to build our securities and identities. We rationalise and protest, we fight and quarrel, we victimise and play the victim, and we politicise and divide when our agendas and pursuits are not served. The politics we play, the leadership problems we have, are all to do with the same pursuits, in the final analysis. I am reminded in this context a quote from Os Guinness’s book, ‘The Call’. Thomas Linacre (1460–1524), founder of the Royal College of Physicians and a distinguished Oxford humanist, was so troubled after the reading the four gospels, he said, “Either these are not the gospels or we are not Christians.” I believe what he said is as true today almost six centuries later as it was during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII in 15th century England albeit, possibly for different reasons.

Let me address two or three objections my readers might bring to what I am saying. The first is that I am making huge generalisation and painting all Christians with the same brush. I must admit that it is true to a large extent. I am making huge generalisations because what I am saying in these articles is generally true of most of us globally, barring a few stray exceptions among us. We have become so much adapted to the modern lifestyles and are so used to the comforts and conveniences of modernity that we hardly understand nor practise our calling to follow Christ, truthfully. Os Guinness writes, “Hardly any Christians are world-denying these days…On every side we see Christians pursuing the rage for relevance, whether seeking the respect of the “cultured despisers’ of the gospel, reaching out to the contemporary “unchurched” with a “user friendly” gospel, or just enjoying the comforts of the age. For many believers the Christian life is now a good life: it simply “goes better with Jesus” even if there is no God and no Resurrection. The result is a series of adaptations of the Christian faith to modern man, that are a capitulation with few rivals in two thousand years.” (The Call, Os Guinness, 2003)

One of the most blatant and universally common adaptations of life to the world, among Christians is the career-driven model of life. This is so common that today even ministry is viewed as a career, as argued in my first article. What is so disquieting is that, it is taught and practised so brazenly even by most pastors and leaders. We spend hours in praying for God’s blessing on our pursuits not realising that we are asking Him what He has so distinctly proscribed(1 John 2: 15-17; James 4: 1-4). The call to follow Christ sounds the death knell to all our ambitions and aspirations for personal or organisational power and glory. It means an end to all kinds of self-aggrandisement and for all prospects for coming up and making it big in life. Don’t we know that anyone who takes up the cross to follow Him must be willing to die on that cross?

The second objection I hear is that I am proposing a perfectionist few of Christian faith. I wonder how anyone can make such an objection. I am not talking about perfectionism. I am talking about obeying Christ and following him whole-heartedly. We do not read anywhere in the gospels, Jesus lowering the terms of His call to follow Him. There are no discounts or rebates offered for discipleship. Instead Jesus challenged people to first count the cost and only then to follow Him (Luke 14: 25-33). Do I hear some say, “What about the thief on the cross?” I hope that it does not reveal the thieving mind to somehow sneak in into heaven at the end, without any cross and cost! The problem with our fallen nature is that when we are bent upon doing what is wrong and evil, “…the mind turns from reason to rationalisation” as Dallas Willard points out. Our heart is desperately wicked as the Bible tells, so when we are cornered, rather than accepting that we could be wrong. It finds ways of explanation, excuse and if possible escape from doing what is right. Or to justify that what we are doing is right.

Take heed, how you build

A third objection could be about my credentials or authority. What authority do I have to question so many and across the board especially when so many well-meaning, godly men and women have done so much for so many centuries? Am I not being arrogant or simply a charlatan? To answer the objection, let me point that we cannot be our own judges. How can the accused be the law-enforcement, the lawyer and the judge? It is no wonder that we justify ourselves! We must all stand before the bar of His Word now (Matt 7: 21-27) and later before His throne. “…But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Cor 3:10-15). We are called now, to take heed how we build. It will be too late at the final judgment.

I have no doubt that the Lord has used so many women and men of God and the organisations raised by them for the salvation of many and the building of His kingdom. Yet I must point out that the fact that God graciously uses our weak and faltering efforts is no excuse for us to continue to do what others have done all along, without any reflection and introspection. We must constantly reflect and learn from the mistakes of the past and move on towards the model He has Himself set for us in His own life on earth. My only concern and appeal is that we not only focus on the goals and objectives of serving the cause of God’s kingdom, but also to see that the ways and means we employ are also derived from the scripture and are in alignment with the values of His kingdom. Otherwise we would be employing, tools borrowed from the world and designed by the devil to do the work of God. This is precisely what the devil wanted Jesus to do in the temptations on the mountain top, as explained earlier in my articles. Quite early in my life I have learnt that the fact that God uses us is no guarantee that everything is alright with us. He uses and blesses our efforts to get his work done for reasons and purposes only He knows. But we must always be waiting on him to know and see if we are following in His steps and doing as He wants us to do. Finally about my authority and credentials, I have none except what prophet Amos claimed in Amos 7: 14-15: “…I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet…Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock…” That is my only claim to any authority, apart from sincere but faltering efforts at following Him for nearly forty years of my life.

Removing the old, bringing in the new

The letter to Hebrews ends with the statement that God is shaking up everything that can be shaken in order to remove them so that, that which cannot be shaken may remain (12: 26-28). What is it that God is shaking up in order to remove? And what is it that God is brining in which cannot be shaken and which remains?

The drift of the whole letter indicates that God is shaking up the old order of things in order to bring in the new. He is removing the old form of worship, the old covenant, the man-made structures, the external, that which is physical and a shadow of the real. He is bringing in the real, the heavenly, and the spiritual. He is removing the temple worship, the never ending sacrifices which needed to be offered year after year and which never made anyone totally righteous. The priesthood was only a shadow of what Christ was to do upon the cross, a perfect priest of a perfect sacrifice offered in the very presence of God, the Holiest of all. How was all this going to be mediated to the believer? It was through a new covenant. The terms of the new covenant were that God would now work through His Holy Spirit by putting His word into our hearts. And therefore, how are we to live? There are no more animal sacrifices to offer. No more temples to attend. No more any need for priests to mediate for us. In fact there is no need for any ecclesiastical orders or for any kind of standard liturgies to follow, in order for man to approach God to worship Him or to live our lives pleasing to Him. Ecclesiastical orders and liturgies might have been of use to some in the past and they might still be helpful to many. To the extent these do not become enslaving forms they might still be good. No doubt these have been devised as helps with good intentions by godly men and women and are based on the teaching of the scripture. But we are now called upon to live by faith, “The just shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38). It is very unfortunate that the Christian world has reverted back to man-made systems and structures in order to worship God. It is a sad irony that while we talk about being the ‘temple of the Holy Ghost’ we still build sanctuaries and demand attendance at those physical structures as a mark of faithfulness and devotion unto God. This is the reason why I assert that the darkest day in the history of the church was the day when we began to build physical structures and began to call them sanctuaries or places of worship. Is it not true that it was this practise more than any other that has made us more like any other religion of the world? And that it was this more than any other that has brought in all kinds of ills that plague us today – our politics, our divisions, and everything else that we needed to run them. Whether the management systems or the organisational models that we borrowed from the world to run our systems and structures.

How do we live then? The just shall live by faith and not in fear is the answer of the letter to Hebrews.

Most of us live by fear – fear of people, fear of future, fear of disease, fear of death, fear of losing our dignity and name, fear of losing our securities and so on. But in the Bible we are called to live by faith – faith, not just for justification but we must learn to live our whole lives by faith. In chapter 11, the author sets forth for us what it looks like to live by faith. We shall explore three men and their lives of faith mentioned here in Hebrews 11, and draw lessons about them from other parts of the scripture as well. But we must address a few popular teachings on faith before we begin to explore the life of faith of Enoch, Abraham and Moses.

Faith as positive thinking

There are three very popular teachings on faith which need to be clarified in this context. These have become very popular over the last fifty years or so. These are generally known by catchy slogans – The ‘power of positive thinking’, the ‘power of positive confession’ and the ‘seed-faith movement’. The first one came into popularity through the book of the same title and a radio talk hosted by Norman Vincent Peale in 1960s. The teaching views faith as positive thinking. It is what most management students learn about the importance of perspective – the ‘glass is empty or full’ tool. That one should not look at the negative aspect of the situation but to look at the positive. His book became very popular even among those who are not Christians and was read by millions across the world. Later Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral fame, Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteen are among the other most popular televangelists who have successfully used this teaching combining it with scriptures and have built multi-million dollar ministries. There is a lot of simple common sense in what they teach. The subtlety is in the using of biblical texts to buttress what they say. But it does not constitute the gospel of Christ. Their books and talks, in my opinion can be categorised as purely motivational. Schuller and Meyers books are very popular and are read by many people across the world.

Faith as positive confession

The power of positive confession or positive speaking or the Word-Faith movement school, has sprung up as an offshoot of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. It combines the positive thinking teaching of Peale with scripture which teach about speaking out what you believe. One such texts is the one Jesus taught, “I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17: 20). Positive confession/speaking teach about claiming in prayer and speaking out boldly in faith what you claim. That what you speak out and say out loud will be done because you are speaking out what you believe to be true. The power of positive speaking is about speaking directly to the problem, sickness and need, and not necessarily to God in prayer. The most popular among those with varied shades of the teaching are Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Paul (David) Yongi Cho, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Charles Capps, Morris Cerullo, Andrew Wommack, Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen, D. G. S. Dinakaran, his son Paul Dinakaran in India and a host of other small time and regional preachers across India. Most of those listed above have gone on to build huge personal empires in the name of ministry. Some of them live very lavish and opulent lifestyles, quite often with the gifts given by many unsuspecting, sincere and simple people. They justify such lifestyles as a blessing from God. The point is you do not see the cross or the lifestyle of Christ in their lives.

Faith as sowing seed

The ‘sow and reap’ or the ‘seed-faith’ teaching also falls into the same category. Seed-faith was first taught by Oral Roberts. Later several picked up on it, teaching people to give or sow in the church or the ministry of the preacher, in order to reap a harvest of blessings. The ‘sow and reap’ or’ seed-faith’ teaching is generally based on 2 Corinthians 9: 6, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” If one reads carefully the context of what Apostle Paul is writing here, it becomes very plain that his emphasis was not on the reaping at all. It was in order to encourage liberal giving to send relief to the needy Christians in Jerusalem; the Apostle is giving the illustration of the farmer who sows liberally. Paul was appealing them to give liberally neither to support the work he was doing nor to maintain a rich lifestyle. If one reads 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 the tenor of Apostle Paul’s appeal makes it plain that, giving should not be encouraged to the point where the giver is put under the stress of poverty nor the recipient under the stress of riches or luxury. Good giving should lead to equality and not to inequality or to uphold the lavish lifestyles of the pastors and leaders.

All these teachings prey upon the fears and the need for security and identity of the people and promises well-being, wealth and prosperity in the name of Christ and His gospel. This encourages and enslaves people to the pursuit of the securities and identities of the world. Exactly what the Lord Jesus said the people of His Kingdom should not be seeking. There is practically very little emphasis on the need for repentance from sin. There is no teaching about the lifestyle of faith, or of the cross which includes self-denial and sacrifice. If self-denial and sacrifice are taught at all, it is taught so that people should deny themselves and give liberally to the ministry of the teacher or the evangelist. Such preaching is not biblical and misleads many from the truth of the gospel. It brings great reproach to the name of Christ.

But the lifestyle of faith looks totally different from any of the above teachings. Let us now turn our attention to Hebrews 11.

 

He walked and he was not!

In Genesis 5: 24 it is written that Enoch walked with God. And Hebrews 11: 5-6 says, “…he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

It must be pointed out that when the Bible talks about faith it does not mean the general spiritual or mental ability to believe. When the Bible talks about faith, it means the response of trust and commitment that a person shows towards the revelation of God or to the Word of God. First, the object of faith is in focus. It is faith in what or whom? It is faith in the God who speaks or reveals Himself. Such faith is seen in trusting the person you believe and giving off of yourself to Him at any cost and against all odds. It means relying or leaning upon Him. These are the first steps in the life of faith. This is what marks each person mentioned in Hebrews 11. And this is what draws God’s attention and approval.

Third, the life of faith is demonstrated in diligent seeking or desiring. It is not enough to claim that we believe in God. But it must show in the way we live and the changes we make in order to seek Him and know Him. Diligence is about putting effort into, or bringing in the needed disciplines to know God. To discipline means the willingness to deny ourselves of anything that hinders. It means saying ‘no’ to certain things but saying ‘yes’ to Him, to His claims and to His demands over us. So the life of faith is a life of discipline. It is a life which puts in, regular and honest effort to seek Him and to know Him. It could mean spending in times of silence and solitude with Him. It means setting apart times of prayer and Bible reading. It means making sacrifices and denying ourselves in order to please Him.

“Can two walk together, unless…”

Enoch walked with God – to walk with another involves agreeing with that person as written in Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Walking with another means intimacy, friendship, agreement and pleasing. It is no wonder then that the Bible says that Enoch pleased God. And their intimacy was such that God took him away to be with Him. He is one of the two people in the whole Bible, who did not see physical death as known to us. But, if walking means agreeing together, then in a walk between two unequals who must agree with whom? Obviously the lesser must agree to the greater. In this walk of Enoch and God, Enoch must agree with God. But what is it that we have to agree to, in order to walk with God? I can think of two major areas where we must agree with God, in order to walk in intimacy with Him. The first is His sovereignty and the second is His holiness.

Anyone who wishes to know and walk in intimate relationship with the God of the Bible must at some point come face to face with His sovereignty. Because He is God, His authority and His control over everything is final and supreme. And since He is the One and only, and no one else beside Him, His supreme command in the words of the Lord Jesus is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt 22:37-38). This means that we are not our own, we belong to Him. That we have no rights only the responsibility to live for Him and to please Him. Does it sound autocratic? Does it seem enslaving? But that is what we are made for. Living for Him, in love and obedience is our safe haven. As the birds are made to fly and the fish to swim in water, we are made for Him, to live, to move and have our being in Him. As the strings of a guitar find their meaning and music in being tied at both ends, we find our freedom and fulfilment in being bound to Him alone. And everything else and anyone else that tries to take His place must be eschewed.

Os Guinness & John Seel write, “To say that there is one God and no god but God is not the conclusion of a syllogism nor simply an article in a creed. It is an overpowering, brain-hammering, heart-stopping truth that is a command to love the only one worthy of our entire and unswerving allegiance…Unconditional obedience to God therefore means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Thus those who confess one God are those who are ready to criticise everything else – nation, class, race, party, power, wealth, ideology, science, government, and church – whenever it threatens to usurp the place of God. After all, there is no other.” His is a call to absolute submission and obedience. Either He is Lord of all or not lord at all! He brooks no rivals, nor any defiance.

Dismantling and redefining

Second knowing Him in His holiness brings us to a shattering and dismantling discovery of ourselves, that there is nothing in us that can make us acceptable or pleasing to Him. Anyone who has come face to face with the Holy God cannot be the same anymore. The holiness of God shatters all images we have of ourselves. The images that I have of myself, as a good son or daughter, a good spouse, a good preacher or teacher, a good leader or any other role that I play in life – all these, when compared with the Holiness of God, are shattered. I begin to see that I have not been and done what is expected of me and that I have failed to meet His mark. We cast ourselves at His mercy, broken. But He reaches forth in grace to redefine us, to be reconstituted into the image of His Son. Such a person begins to live in the shadow of God’s grace. All his credentials are laid upon the cross and all that he is now is defined by the grace of God. Hence he says, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14). We learn to live in meekness and gratefulness. When we deserved judgement, He showed mercy. What more can we demand of Him. How foolish we are to complain, to sulk or to demand that God do as we wish? Listen to the words of a man who understood grace, “For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king. Yet you set your servant among those who eat at your own table. Therefore what right have I still to cry out anymore to the king?” (2 Samuel 19: 28). That is why, I wonder if they are talking about the Christ of the New Testament gospels, when people brag and take pride about who they are and boast about what they have and do and still claim to be followers of Christ! And how can anyone who understands the grace of God fight for positions of power in ‘church hierarchies’ as is often the case in our churches and ministries? Anyone who understands the grace of God and lives in the shadow of it, cannot but be meek and grateful for whatever lot he is given in life.

Having been reconstituted and redefined His command now is, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:16). And we are called to go outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Heb 13: 13). We cannot be comfortable anymore living the way the people of the world live, pursuing the things that the people of the world pursue. As Jesus said, it is the gentiles who run after them, not the citizens of His kingdom (Matt 6: 32). Like the people of Israel about whom prophet Balaam prophesied, “I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.” (Num 23:9 NIV). Listen to Os Guinness & John Seel again, “Or at other times, again, the moral demand makes us uncategorisable. Marching to a divine drummer, we are often out of step with others. Condemned to be seen as outsiders, mad, possessed, odd fellows, dangerous, “we are the imposters who speak the truth…the penniless ones who own the world” (2 Cor 6:8, 10, NEB). But the same absolute demand is also what makes the impossible people unconquerable.” It is no wonder then that God took Enoch away. A man who agrees with God to be able to walk with Him in intimacy cannot be comfortable, living in a world that rejects Him. It is because of this reason I believe, apostle Paul writes that he desires to depart and to be with Christ (Phil 1: 23). How can the followers of Christ, live the way the people of the world live? Is it not disquieting, that God’s people are so comfortable living the way the people of the world are living? Does that not reveal how far removed we are from knowing and walking with Him, as Enoch walked with God?

He went not knowing where!

The record of Abraham’s walk of faith in the book of Genesis is a cornucopia of lessons for the life of faith. He is an epitome of a man of faith. We shall explore three aspects of the life of faith of Abraham.

A brief overview of the life of faith of Abraham reveals that, there is an element of uncertainty built-in, into the life of faith. This is implied in the statement that Abraham went not knowing, where he was going. The call of God to Abraham came with such clarity and authority that there was no room for second guessing or side-stepping it. He was certain about the One who spoke but uncertain about the details and the destination. When God speaks you must obey, you cannot not obey. This is true for every follower of Christ. The summons to follow Him was very clear for the early disciples. They forsook all and followed Him. Os Guinness writes, “As Dietrich Bonhoeffer insisted, ‘The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.’ They did not consider his claims, make up their minds, and then decide whether to follow – they simply heard and obeyed. Their response is ‘a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus.’ The call is all. Jesus is the reason. The only way to follow is to leave everything and follow him. Here is a call that makes short work of all our questions, objections, and evasions. Disciples are not so much those who follow as those who must follow.” And Eugene Peterson explains, “…”faith” – trusting obediently in what we cannot control, living in obedient relationship to the One we cannot see, venturing obediently into a land that we know nothing about.”(The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson, 2007). When have we seen anyone following the Lord this way in our times? Our modern lifestyles do not allow for such obedience. We want everything to be reasoned, analysed, planned, budgeted, programmed, and booked in advance. Implicit and unquestioning obedience is hard for us.

But I have known one such man who lived and obeyed implicitly. Bakht Singh(1903-2000), was a man who came to know the Lord personally while studying in Canada in late 1920s. He was known to have lived in such intimacy with God. He would narrate many such experiences in his life when he went according to God’s word, unplanned and unprepared. He would tell of how God took care of every detail as he went in obedience. When he came back to India in obedience to God’s call to preach the gospel in India, he had no place to live in Bombay (now Mumbai) and no money to buy food as his father, a Sikh, refused to entertain the converted son in his home in Lahore. Bakht Singh was forced to live in uncertainty and yet enjoyed the peace and glory of God’s presence with him on the streets of Bombay. His motto in life was to know the will of God and to do it. He was a man who taught the importance of listening to the voice of God. I grew up under his ministry till my mid20s. But unfortunately today we hardly know such intimacy with God nor can live with such tentativeness in life.

God demands and deserves such obedience from us, because of who He is. We let Him control our lives. We let Him make the decisions and move or stay and accept people, circumstances and even possessions in life only as He allows and at His command. After many years of teaching, I have personally learnt to say to God, “Lord, I will take what you give. I don’t want what you do not give – people, possessions, circumstances and even ministry opportunities. I will be content with whatever lot you would allow me in life.” Like the servants of David always ready to obey, “And the king’s servants said to the king, “We are your servants, ready to do whatever my lord the king commands.” (2 Samuel 15:15). Isn’t our Lord, the King greater than David? Does He not deserve such allegiance? If we cannot trust the One who died for us, who else can we trust?

Living as strangers and pilgrims

Second, faith in God leads to a lifestyle of strangers and pilgrims. We are not called to or promised settled lifestyles. This is implied in the call of God to Abraham and the call to discipleship to Christ.

“By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;  for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb 11:9-10).

We are called out of the world to be part of His kingdom. And as long as we live in this world we find it hard to settle down. There is tentativeness in the lifestyle of strangers and pilgrims. They do not live settled lives as far as their professions, residence and the things they acquire are concerned. They do not amass wealth and possessions and become rooted to a place to such an extent that they cannot uproot and move on at the Lord’s command. Friends we are called to be people who ‘Go into the world to preach the good news’. Even if we were to build or own a house for any reasons, we do not allow it to become a hindrance to move on at the Lord’s command. The modern world does not allow us such lives. Although the modern world made lives very mobile and made it easy for people to move across the globe yet the basic human instinct is for security and settled lives. The career-driven model, the security and identity seeking mind prevent us from living the way of strangers and pilgrims. In fact, for many in India settling down in life – finding a well paying, stable and permanent job, being married and owning an own house – is a major pursuit. For the follower of Christ the idea and the practise of settling down in life with a permanent job and a permanent residence ought to be odious. His hold over everything in life has to be tentative. Why such a lifestyle? First we have no ‘continuing city and we wait for one to come, and we are called to ‘Go’ into the world and yet not live the way the people of the world live. How did Abraham handle it? By building altars and making regular sacrifices. There is in him a constant giving up and moving on. Each place he went or each time he strayed, he built an altar, he sacrificed as a mark of giving up and as a mark of rededication and moved on at the Lord’s command. Eugene Peterson writes, “Abraham was a veteran in the sacrifice business…Each altar became a place of prayer: “Is this the way God commanded and promised, or is this a version of the command and promise that I have customised to my convenience?” At each altar he learned a little more, acquired a deeper discernment, a sharper insight into God’s command and promise in contrast to his innate wilfulness and indulgence but also in contrast to the anti-faith world of Ur with its ziggurats. Altars built at many a crossroads, a life of repeated sacrifices, each sacrifice an act of discernment, separating the chaff of illusion from the wheat of promise.”

But many reason, was not Abraham a rich man? Did not God bless him with a rich herd of livestock and a host of slaves? What is wrong about acquiring wealth? Yes, but Abraham also was always ready to sacrifice, give-up, to pull up His roots and move on. How many of us would be ready to disturb our settled lives and move on if God commands us to go to a troublesome spot in the world? How many of our pastors and leaders would? First, as pointed out in my earlier articles, God does not bless us in order for us to flaunt, nor to hoard. He does not bless us in order for us to roll in luxuries while many around languish in destitution and poverty. He blesses us so that we share with those who do not have. We must learn to give sacrificially and bless others with what God has blessed us with. The practise of giving up and sacrificing begins right from the time Abraham left Ur. First he had to give up his homeland, then the family – his father and brothers. He had to let go off his nephew and unselfishly deny himself the choice of a fertile land. And later he firmly rejected the spoils of war in Genesis 14, “But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’”. (v 22, 23). Elisha demonstrated this when Naaman, the Syrian commander offered him gifts in gratitude, “But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. (2 Kings 5:16).

The wisdom of knowing what and when to accept or when to refuse gifts from people, is rare among us. The blight of ill-gotten wealth has ruined many followers of Christ. It is not becoming of the followers of Christ to flash, flaunt or gloat over their wealth or achievements. While being grateful to God for letting us have more than other unfortunate neighbours, let us not use our riches, or our status or anything else as symbols of our greatness. We may use the treasures of ‘Egypt’ but we may not make a ‘golden calf’ of it. Remember Nebuchadnezzar. Despite being warned through a dream he bragged, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honour of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30). While the word was still in his mouth, his kingdom was taken away from him and was driven into the forest to live like a beast for seven years until he lifted up his eyes to the heavens, acknowledge and praise God’s authority over him. May it not be that some among are stricken with the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar.

Tyranny of the love of God!

What is the tyranny of the love of God? How can love be terrifying? Does it not say that there is no fear in love? To understand it one must stand with Abraham on Mount Moriah. The son of his love bound to the altar. His trembling hand raised and poised to slay him to be offered as a burnt offering unto God. But before that you must endure the ‘agonising’ journey, trudging along with the son born in his old age. Can you see his heart in painful turmoil that he would soon, part company with his son? With his own hands he must put an end to his life for whom, he waited into his old age? No, you must start even before that. You must start on that fateful night before he began his journey, when the word of the Lord came to Abraham and agonise with him about the kind of God he has followed many decades ago. How many sacrifices he has made? How many things he has left behind? How many years he has waited trusting the God who spoke? We do not know what went through Abraham’s mind that night or through the journey or as he raised his hand to slay his son. He has endured many a test. He would yet endure any other trial sent by God, but this one? How can he kill his own son and offer him as a burnt offering? What kind of a God is He? But the record in Genesis is silent about all that. Abraham knew what the test was about. He did not waver and we do not find any hesitation. He was robust in his faith. He knew the God who he believed, trusted and followed all these years.

The Holy Spirit of God gives us three brief glimpses into the heart of Abraham about the fateful event. One in Genesis 22: 5 – Abraham tells his servants to wait while he and the boy would go and worship God and that they will come back. They will come back? How can they come back if he was going to slay his son? The second glimpse is given to us in his answer to his son. When asked where was the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” The third glimpse into his heart is given to us in Hebrews 11: 17-19 – By faith Abraham concluded that God was able to raise Isaac up even from the dead. What faith and confidence in the God he knew!

The tyranny of the love of God is this, that he brooks no rivals. This was the test for Abraham, a test that was like none other which he had endured thus far. If God alone exists and there is none other beside Him, then no one else or nothing else can be loved, worshipped, sought or pursued except Him. No one else and nothing else can control, guide, lead or drive us except Him. Not careers, not the promise of wealth, not the prospect of settlement nothing can be loved or pursued. No green pasture is green enough to attract us. No glitter is strong enough to draw us. Everything else and anything else must be subservient to our love for God. Even the son of promises must be sacrificed if he comes between us and our love for God. For the follower of Christ, His call is clearer, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14: 26-27).

God tested Abraham. But Abraham responded with worship. Hence his answer to the servants – we will worship. True worship is an expression of love and obedience to the One who alone is worthy of such love and obedience. And such worship is too sacred for the public eye, hence the servants needed to stay back. They cannot go to the top of the mountain. They cannot assist him in this worship. They cannot see what was going to happen, understand and remain silent. They must remain at the foot of the mountain. It was a matter to be settled between him and his God. It was extravagant worship in response to the extravagant love of God. The world does not understand such love and such a sacrifice. His God had loved him, provided for him, and taken care of him all along his life’s journey. He had kept His promises. And Abraham knew that He will still keep His promise to make a nation for him through Isaac. He concluded that God will raise up Isaac from the dead! So Abraham honoured God by believing and obeying Him. But who can worship God acceptably? What can mortal man offer equal to the honour and the glory of God? Abraham knew, even the offering of his son as a burnt offering was not enough for the honour and the glory of God. Such an offering must come from God, himself! So his answer to his son, “God will provide for himself the lamb.” What a father! And what a son! And much more – what a God! His God did not let him down. He did provide the lamb. Oh, but subsequently in history, He did not spare His own Son for us all! So that, we can worship Him in truth and in spirit. And Paul asks, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8: 32).

This brings us full circle back again to the words of our Lord and Master, “… and all these things shall be added to you.” Do not run after ‘all these things’. It is the gentiles who run after them – what shall we eat, what shall we wear, where shall we live? The citizens of God’s kingdom live above all these, for he will ‘freely give us all things’ pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1: 3, 4). Our sustenance, our security, our identity and everything else we need are promised and given to us as inheritance in Christ. When we trust in Him for all these and live in such assurance and joy then we shall have honoured Him truly. This is worship that is worthy of the name, the nature and the glory of God. Such worship delights God and brings down the promise of His covenant blessing, “In blessing I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply you… In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

Friends, where is such trust and obedience unto God these days? If we claim to be worshipping God and yet are driven by the things that drive the people of the world, I wonder if we understand true worship. Where there is no such trust and obedience as that of Abraham, anything that passes for worship today among us is mere noise! And anything that goes on in the name of missions and evangelism is but lip-service if we do not honour God with an extravagant love as that of Abraham. Becoming a blessing to the world is an outflow of such worship. Any worship that is offered and any ministry that is done, if it lacks the trust, obedience and sacrifice as that of Abraham lacks the presence, the provision, and the pleasure of God.

It was the lack of trust and obedience on the part of the people of Israel during their journey in the wilderness that prompted God’s displeasure and censure. A reading of Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 makes this very plain. Hebrews 3:12 – 4:10 reads,

“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief… For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it… There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”

If you notice carefully the unbelief was about their lack of trust that God could provide food and water and about their safety through out their journey. The same issues of sustenance, security and identity of the people of Israel, they always wanted to be like the rest of the nations! Why can’t they be like other nations of the world, was their frequent complaint. This is what led them to murmur against Moses and rebel against God. This is what made them to want idols to worship like all others. And they wanted a king like other nations of the world. They were not satisfied with God as their King.

I wonder if the same displeasure and censure of God is upon us today as well! There are many among us who claim to have salvation but do not have the experience of entering into His rest. My contention is that the lifestyles we have adopted as followers of Christ fall far short of the trust and obedience that it demands. Our career-driven lives, and chasing the securities and identities of the world undermines our trust and obedience to Him. We are woefully like the people of the world. Unless we learn to repent and restore our trust in Him, we will not experience the Sabbath rest promised in Christ. True worship leads to such blessing.

He saw Him who is invisible!

We learn from Moses that the life of faith leads to making choices. In Heb 11:24-28, it is written about Moses, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”

It must be noted that this is not blind faith or dumb faith. This faith was based on God’s word or His revelation to them. Words such as, concluding as in case of Abraham, choosing, esteeming, refusing, and enduring in case of Moses suggest that it was not unreasoning or unthinking faith. They had the option of rejecting but their faith lead them to choose correctly and properly according to the revelation and the understanding they had of God. Their faith involved the engagement of the mind to weigh and to make the right judgement.

One question that bothers many is how come people heard the voice of God with such clarity in those days and why don’t we today? I believe they lived in such pristine times and there were so few influences over them that they recognised when God spoke to them. In our day we are bombarded by voices from all around, the voice of family, friends, public opinion, and our own fears and so on. We give ear often, to voices of convenience, expedience, fear, comfort, greed, procrastination, sheer laziness and a host of others. Today we are exposed to so many external influences. We find it hard to hear the voice of God. This is why the diligence of seeking Him and bringing in the needed disciplines of silence and solitude are so very important for us to rediscover and to hear the voice of God.

We learn from Moses, that faith in God and the desire to please Him leads to a refusal of anything, everything and anyone who do not give allegiance to the One and Only God. Faith in the one and Only Holy God chooses affliction, poverty, loneliness, solitude, rejection, and even loss rather than stand on the same side of that which is antithetical to God and His word. It is for this reason Moses refused the identity of being called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chose to be counted with the people of God. He rejected the treasures of Egypt and chose affliction, rejection and the prospect of becoming the future Pharaoh of Egypt. When you choose to bow down to the One and Only Holy God and His Son, you choose to stand against and in conflict with all other authorities.

This was what made Martin Luther to take a stand against the Papacy. When dissuaded by friends from appearing at Diet at Worms, the simple monk responded, “I am determined to enter the city in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, though as many devils should oppose me as there are tiles upon the houses at Worms”. And later when standing trial and challenged to recant from all that he taught and wrote, he answered, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

These men feared God more than they feared the political or religious authorities of the day. They knew their God and therefore they took a stand and carried out great exploits for Him. When you see today among many followers of Christ, a casualness of faith, the lack of discipline, and the abject surrender of many to the allurements and the seductions of the modern world, you wonder if they understand the call of Christ, or the gospel and the meaning of the cross. Os Guinness writes, “Faith in Christ will regain its decisive authority in the modern world only when we who follow Christ fear God more than we fear the powers and favours of modernity – when we hear God’s call and are so captivated by his summons that we say with Luther, as the earliest printed reports add, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” And again he writes, “Clearly God’s impossible people are never troublesome to other authorities unless they are mastered by God’s authority…Thus for followers of Christ who have the consuming passion to be His, entirely His, at all costs and forever His, the present cultural captivity of evangelicalism is a scandal and a sorrow that is also a test of love.”

And finally about the lifestyle of faith in the God of the Bible, the I am who I am God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ: in the letter to Hebrews we read, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country…And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise” (Heb 11:13-16, 39-40).

The lifestyle of faith leads to the conviction that nothing is final or complete until he comes in all his authority and glory and therefore lives with hope. They wait for the full and final revelation of the kingdom which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. This is their blessed and glorious hope. The certainty of their hope is in the resurrection of Christ, their Lord. And so in that assurance they continue to live and serve Him until He comes. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor 15:58).

O happy bond, that seals my vows

To Him Who merits all my love!

Let cheerful anthems fill His house,

While to that sacred shrine I move.

It’s done: the great transaction’s done!

I am my Lord’s and He is mine;

He drew me and I followed on;

Charmed to confess the voice divine.

Now rest, my long-divided heart,

Fixed on this blissful center, rest;

Nor ever from they Lord depart;

With Him of every good possessed.

High heav’n, that heard that solemn vow,

That vow renewed shall daily hear,

Till in life’s latest hour I bow

And bless in death a bond so dear. Amen.

Does it sound hard? “You shall not say ‘too hard’ of everything that this people call hard; you shall neither dread nor fear that which they fear. It is the Lord of Hosts whom you must count ‘hard.’ He it is you must fear and dread” (Isaiah 8:12-13, NEB).

 

 

 

For further reading:

(Notes and quotations are mostly taken from the following resources)

Guinness, Os, The Last Christian on Earth (Ventura: Regal, 2010) (Formerly published as The Gravedigger File:Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church, IVP, 1983).

Guinness, Os, The Call (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003)

Guinness, Os and Seel, John, No God but God: Breaking with the idols of our Age (Chicago: Moody, 1992).

Peterson, Eugene, The Jesus Way (London: Hodder, 2007).

Clouse Robert G, Pierard, Richard V and Yamauchi, Edwin M, Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture through the ages (Chicago: Moody, 1993).

Barton Ruth Haley, Invitation to Solitude and Silence (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010)

Sproul, R. C. The Holiness of God, (New York: Guideposts, 1985).

Ramachandra, Vinoth, Gods That Fail: Modern Idolatry and Christian Mission (Cumbria: Paternoster, 1996).

Willard, Dallas, The Great Omission (Oxford: Monarch Book, 2006).

Philip Doddridge, 1702-1751.

 

 

Whatever Happened To Worship?

Whatever Happened To Worship?

OR

The Subversion of Christianity

The subversion of Christianity began with the subversion of worship. The subversion of worship began with pushing it to the periphery of the life of a Christian and thus reducing the calling to follow Christ, first to a mere religion. Later the vacuum which it created at the center of one’s life was overtaken by the pursuit of a middle-class lifestyle.

When worship becomes peripheral to the life of a Christian his witness is compromised and his life and message lose their authority. In the New Testament, worship was meant to be individual and a moment by moment offering of life unto God in trust and obedience unto Him. But within 100 – 150 years after the Church was born, worship began to be pushed to the periphery of the life of the individual follower of Christ. When worship is removed from being moment by moment offering of one’s life unto God in trust and obedience, to a service or programme conducted and attended once a week; and when worship is removed from being offered in one’s life to being offered at a place of worship, a chapel, or a cathedral; and when it is removed from the individual personally offering his life unto God to someone else conducting or performing the service, the subversion of worship is complete. Thus Christianity was reduced to a religion like any other religion in the world.

The more peripheral the worship from daily living, the more verbal, vocal, loud and ostentatious both worship and witness become. This kind of subverted worship needs external and superficial embellishing – so we have huge and ornate structures, garish vestments, the trappings of and claims to clerical authority and the state-of-the-art technology to compensate for the missing witness. The demise of true worship was complete!

The corollary to it, is the birth of strange gods…church buildings, sacred places, relics of saints, religious and spiritual personalities and many more are held in high esteem as divine. And in modern times we started worshipping our educational degrees, jobs, salaries and worldly achievements and attainments (This applies even to people in so called full-time ministry). Of course we even conduct thanksgiving services for these. In another article I had written, if man is made in the image of God, then man enjoys a supreme position in the whole created order. He is practically next to God and above everything else. How can he think of finding his worth or value in anything other than God and in anything less than him? Worshipping anything or anyone else other than the true and living God actually lowers our status as humans created in God’s own image.

The history of missions shows that the Christian witness has now become a matter of numbers, reports, programmes and projects. This can be verified from history, especially of the last 100 years. While ostentatious religion, elaborate rituals have been part of the larger Christian denominations for quite a long time, since the beginning of the missionary movement in the 18th Century and later the evangelicals have demonstrated a predilection for statistics, budgets, projects and reports. Their preaching became more strident and shrill. There is practically no true worship – the kind of trust and obedient living that I am talking about – today, except for a few stragglers here and there. We have plenty of the loud and shrill kind, not the lifestyle kind. Both Christianity as a religion and lifestyles of middle-class pursuits have edged out lifestyle discipleship, of faith and obedience unto Christ.

As a religion Christianity continues to this day practically in different forms all over the world even among evangelicals. But to this was added another dimension. Since worship could now be offered once a week at a special place and by a specially appointed person, the individual Christian was now free at least for six days in a week. With the rise of industrialisation and later modernisation and the possibilities this has brought, the world with all its glitter was now within everybody’s reach to be pursued and gained. The Christian could now worship God on Sundays and pursue the world the rest of the week. He could even pray and seek God’s blessings with helpful quotations from the Old Testament to support. He could also bring his tithes and offerings as a token of his gratefulness to God. He could contribute liberally for ministry. What a cosy arrangement to assuage a nagging conscience! God and the world could now live peacefully together! There is no need for self-denial, repudiation or rejection of anything.

Now even our interpretation of scripture is subverted. Religion and the middle-class lifestyle have become the grid for interpreting scripture. Practically everyone seeks to understand the word of God through these two grids now. Following Christ is understood as church attendance, faithfulness in tithing and offerings and doing some ministry. Worship is understood as sincere participation in soul full singing and/or verbalised extempore prayer of adoration, to be done once a week. Faith and prayer have become utilitarian – both are used as tools to gain the world and all that it has to offer. Christian fruitfulness is seen as material and temporal success. Fruit of the Spirit as social and communication skills.

The questions is, how can one claim that middle-class living is antithetical to Christian walk? It is true that industrialisation and later modernisation of life has brought in several improvements to the way humans began to live their lives. It has made education available to the masses. It brought secure employment and stable salaries into the realm of the possible for millions across the globe. People could now buy what they wanted, when they wanted and can give themselves comforts which were mere fantasies in the past. But precisely it is these benefits of modernity that undermine Christian calling and living. Certainty, confidence, and comforts gained from the world, subvert faith in God and make lifestyles of faith practically impossible. Modernity and middle-class living are the backdoor used by the enemy of our souls to enter into our lives and undermine our discipleship unto Christ. No doubt many Christians across the centuries endeavoured gallantly and many continue to forge their lives in faithful service unto Christ. I would still say that we make too many compromises unbecoming of our faith and calling. In fact we have made following Christ and gaining the world, a desirable and manageable enterprise with deft sermonising from our pulpits and soulful praying to undergird our efforts. But if we understand our calling correctly and treat our discipleship unto Chrsit seriously then we have to admit that the lives we are living today are a far cry from what is required of us. John the beloved, probably saw us when he wrote many centuries ago, “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!… For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

People whose lives are similar to the rest of the world – in their dreams, desires, disappointments, prayers, and efforts cannot be witnesses and have no authority to challenge anyone or anything. Therefore our witnessing is seen as a power game to boost our numbers and as mere religious conversion with no real difference nor any inherent authority.

Friends, there has been a progressive deterioration of true and biblical Christianity over the centuries that it is almost proper to say that there is hardly any room for the Holy Spirit of God today in our ‘churches’. I believe he has been grieved and has been silent or has withdrawn totally from us just as the Shekinah of Glory left the temple in the OLd Testament. But even when the ark of God was taken away from the temple and the Shekinah of Glory left, the priests were as busy as ever keeping the motions of religion alive. Is this not true of much of what is going on in the church today?

What should we do? Teach people lifestyles of worship. Period.

There is no need to start another ministry to do this. This must happen by personal discipleship and mentoring not by conducting more seminars.

But the question still remains, what is worship?

What is worship?

Worship at its core is about ‘trust and obedience’. This is evident from the life of Abraham and in the words of prophet Samuel to King Saul, “Obedience is better than sacrifice and to heed better than the fat of rams.” All through the history of Israel, God’s frequent lament against his people was that they would not trust him nor obey him. It was not so much the ritual of the temple worship even where there was insistence on temple worship, it was about obeying God’s commands given through Moses.

The strident call of Christ in the gospels to follow him is a call to a life of obedience and trust in him. This the early apostles elaborated in their letters. Nowhere in the New Testament does one read about a ritual or a ceremony or a programme or a service of worship to be done or kept as worship unto God. All the New Testament letters are replete with practical aspects of following Christ and not about where or when or how a church service needs to be conducted. Worship was not and is not a matter of a ceremony nor a religious tradition. Neither is it an attendance at a service on a particular day at a particular place.

We are taught in the scripture that our bodies are the temple of God. How come we build physical structures and call them sacred? There are no places sacred enough for God to dwell but the life and being of a redeemed child of God. Even the ‘holy land’ is not holy as far as the Bible is concerned. The recent trend of people going on conducted tours to the ‘holy land’ is nothing but another form of commercialism and worldliness. There is nothing holy there any longer. In fact those who go there are demeaning themselves by committing idolatry! What can one say about the leaders who lead them…nothing but blind leaders of the blind!

Worship was and is still a matter of obedience unto God in faith and total confidence in Him. This is what it means to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” We love Him with all our hearts, minds and strength by trusting in Him for everything pertaining to life and obeying Him to the point of dying for Him.

Lets take a look again at Abraham, the father of nations and a friend of God. He set out from his native country in obedience to God’s call, trusting in Him to provide and to take care of him all through his journey. The culmination of this journey of faith is seen on mount Moriah when he took steps to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering unto God. He had trusted and had obeyed God the last 40-50 years of his life. Would he trust Him and obey Him now in this final test of giving up all the promises and the future bound up in his son Isaac and offer him unto God?

Genesis 22, begins with the words that God tested Abraham, but Abraham himself treated this test as worship unto God (verse 5). And how did he worship God? By his obedience to God’s word to offer his son as a burnt offering. But even as he offered his son, according to Hebrews 11:19, he trusted that God would raise him up from the dead. So faith in God led him to believe that even if he offered his son, he would be raised again to life for the fulfilment of God’s promises – to be made into a great nation and to be a blessing to the nations of the world. He offered up his son as a sacrifice. What faith! What obedience! What worship!

It was because of this faith that when Isaac asked his father about the lamb for the sacrifice, he answered, “God will see to it” or that God will provide. Abraham knew that in the final analysis man has no suitable sacrifice worthy enough to worship God. Such a sacrifice must come from God. And God did not let him down then nor in the subsequent redemption history of man. He sent his own Son to be the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, so that we could worship God in truth and spirit.

But Abraham’s worship merited God’s immediate response. Implicit obedience on the part of man brings an immediate response from God. God said to Abraham, “Because you have done this thing…in blessing I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply you and in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

Apostle Paul picks up on the thought in Romans and asks, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? ” The God who provided the sacrifice for true worship, would he not provide for us to live a life of worship unto God? He would, certainly!

It is with this confidence we live our lives, knowing that the God who provided for our salvation will certainly provide for all our needs. Hence Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not worry what you shall eat or what you shall wear…for it is the gentiles who run after these things…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

For Abraham, his faith was in the future provision of God. For us our faith is in the past provision of God. Abraham believed that since God will provide, he could now sacrifice his son the one in whom all his future was bound. We believe that since God has already provided for all things that we need for life and godliness, we can now give up our all, knowing that our present and future will be provided for in Him. As Paul writes, we can now offer our bodies as living sacrifice unto God. This, he writes, is the right kind of worship.

Let us explicate this further. According to ‘The Complete Word Study New Testament’, in Greek the word ‘present’ or ‘offer’ is in the aorist infinitive active, suggesting that it is a punctiliar or specific action by the subject at a specific point in the past . The word ‘bodies’ means the whole of our being and not just the physical or material part of our being. The words ‘living sacrifice’ as against the dead animals sacrificed in the Old Testament. And the words ‘reasonable service’ is worship which is offered with intelligent reflection unlike the thoughtless cultic or ceremonial worship of the Old Testament.

Apostle Paul urges each believer to present or offer his or her body as a living sacrifice unto God as intelligent reflective action in gratitude for God’s mercies. Thus every believer is a priest who offers himself to God not in ceremonial worship but as an intelligent response.

It must be noted that Paul has already used the word ‘present’ or ‘offer’ earlier in Romans 6: 13, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”

Putting it together, the right kind of worship is not ceremonial and it is not offered by another on one’s behalf and not just once a week or at a special place of worship. But the right kind of worship is an intelligent response of every believer to God’s mercies. She or he deliberately and decisively offers or submits to God every part of one’s being in obedient service unto Him.

In response to what God has done for us in giving us His Son, we give up our all, knowing that our present and future will be provided for in Him for our life is hidden with Christ in God. We offer ourselves as living sacrifice unto God. We give ourselves to Him for His will and His rule to come into our life. We begin to live by His will and by the values of His kingdom. We begin to live a life of trust and dependence upon Him. No more would we look to anyone or anything in the world to find our sustenance, security or identity. We adopt a lifestyle of faith in Him. Trusting in Him, we would be ready to go anywhere He leads and do whatever He commands us to do. We will not allow the world of secure jobs, stable incomes and permanent residences to bind us down, because our security and identity does not come from these any longer. We would learn to live lives of uncertainty, expendability and tentatively in order to do His will and pleasure – being certain of the one we have trusted in. Such a person finds it easy to ‘go into all the world’. Such a person sees transformation happening daily. This is true discipleship. This is the meaning of ‘living sacrifice’. This is the right kind of worship.

Everything else is mere religion, a sham, a psychological crutch, the opiate of the masses, a mechanical repetition of ceremony or ritual. Such ‘worship’ might give a false sense of peace, but it generates more fear and enslaves the person to a life-time of routine. In many cases, the weekly attendance and participation in a ‘worship service’ among evangelicals has become a religious repetition. A ‘feel-good time’ once a week and a release from the day to day tensions of life. But we do not want to see that, the day-to-day tensions of life in the first place are because of pursuing the world not because of pursuing God! We know (as Bill Hybels, founder pastor of Willowcreek church, admitted that even after 30 years of programmes and meetings they could not produce disciples. Unfortunately and sadly the Willowcreek people have graduated to global leadership summits in true capitalist model, rather than personally mentoring people to be true worshippers. Is this not Babelite thinking?) that such services do not produce disciples nor the needed transformation. For it is mere religion being dished out in the form of Christian worship.

I wonder if such forms, services and ministry that passes for worship today is nothing but presumptuous and strange fire not commanded by God if it is not undergirded by a life of trust and obedience. It is like Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire! (All the material used by them to offer the fire was regular, including the censers in which they offered. And there certainly was fire. Heat and light were there too. But alas it was not commanded by God and they were struck down dead at the altar!)

True worship brings in God’s kingdom into our lives. This is the meaning of ‘seeking his kingdom first’ and this is what it means for ‘Thy kingdom come’. First it must come into the life of each believer. Then it spreads to others around. Such is the kingdom of God. It spreads as yeast spreads in the dough – conquering everything in its wake and thus bringing in the transformation first in us. Then in others around us.

Do you now see, how the agenda of middle-class lifestyles has ruined our commitment to the Lord’s Kingdom in our lives? First as worship became a religious ceremony our focus on God was lost. Religion actually springs from fear and not from faith. Faith in God leads to worship. Rather than trust and obedience, we were overtaken by fear and introduced ceremonial worship to mitigate our fears. Thus pushing God and the worship of Him out of our lives. We set ourselves up as ripe targets for the agenda of middle class dreams and pursuits.

I would venture to say that much of the witness, evangelism and missions that’s going on today….has no divine power nor divine sanction and so lacks in divine authority. These have become mere projects and programmes which do not bring about God’s kingdom nor bring in the needed transformation! There is only a semblance of fire, heat and light but no power and no authority of God.

It is because we have lost the witness and authority, we have the sad spectacle of the church trying to make up for it by courting the power structures and systems of the world. Thinking that authority comes through numbers – we claim large membership in our churches, we court and try to gain economic clout and position ourselves in order to gain political leverage. (You have the saddest spectacle of the American evangelicals falling head over heels to court the presidential candidates in order to gain that leverage even in the White House. And in this year of the Lord – 2016, they are lining up to endorse a sworn Babelite!!)

Worship And Transformation

You see where worship is a moment by moment offering of ourselves unto God, such a life would be a careful and disciplined life. A disciplined life cannot but be transformed in the course of time. This is how God’s kingdom comes. It comes through transformation, by teaching people true worship and not by conducting seminars and conferences…nor by starting ministries to provide education and poverty alleviation and so on… and not in the least by controlling global economics through military power and political leveraging.

Biblical transformation starts with the individual and spreads to the community. It is a spiritual transformation of seeing and understanding things from Gods perspective and letting God’s will and heaven’s perspective take over one’s thinking and living. It is about lifestyle change of giving up of oneself unto God and letting God’s authority and will take over one’s life.

When Abraham worshipped God by demonstrating that he trusted Him and offered up his son – God knew he could now channel His blessing through him to the nations of the world. True worship brings down God’s blessings in the form of transformation. And the blessings of transformation overflow to others around us. Missions flows from worship.

Much of what is going on in the name of missions today is about bringing health, education and economic development – development often in the mould of the western capitalism. Our evangelism produces converts to either the Christian religion or converts to our institutions. Our missions no doubt produces educated and economically empowered individuals. But where is spiritual transformation? There may be converts to Christian religion and to the capitalist model of life but there is no real transformation. (Much of the persecution that we see today globally and the rise of religious militancy worldwide is actually a reaction to this kind of conversions and not to true spiritual transformation).

The church today has lost its vision of God and therefore has lost true worship. She is enamoured by the power and glory of the world and therefore its missions produces more people who are enamoured by the power and the glory of the world.

Until true worship is restored to the center of the life of the individual Christian and the local body of believers…there will be no divine provision, presence or power. There will be no real witness and no real transformation. Lacking the divine provision, presence and power, we shall stumble from one broken pot to another and from one mirage of glory to another…while the world continues to languish without God.

One last word about my authority in writing or saying what I write and say. All I can appeal to is the truthfulness of what is said. The rightness and the truthfulness of what I have written is enough to stand by itself. It needs no external authority although I can certainly claim God’s calling over me as my authority. If we ask ourselves and examine ourselves and history – objectively, carefully and honestly in the light of His Word, what other reasonable conclusions can one draw except to go down on our knees and cry for His mercy.

May the Lord help us!