Where is God Taking Us?
Adam Clarke, a famous Irish theologian and Bible scholar, relates a story where Thomas Aquinas was having a conversation with Pope Innocent IV in which the pope declared to Thomas, "The church is no longer in an age where it must say, 'Silver and gold have I not.'" To which Thomas replied, "Neither can it say, 'Rise up and walk.'"
Over the years, the Romanized Church radically deviated from the story and teachings of the Bible, adding all kinds of traditions and doctrines that have nothing to do with Biblical faith. Even in their errors, however, they are simply consistent in their assertion that God gave the Church the authority to deviate from Biblical truth: whatever the popes/patriarchs and councils said to do, they did.
When the Protestants came along—starting with Luther in 1517, they correctly understood that the Bible is the final rule of faith and practice, and that the Church was wrong in believing it has authority to change from what was written. Thus they saw and corrected quite a few errors the Church had made; but because they failed to ask many of the right questions, and because they started from the wrong vantage point from which to even ask those questions, they fall short of their own claim to practice 'Sola Scriptura'.
The most obvious practical example is the Protestant continuance in observing Sunday worship as opposed to keeping Shabbat as required by the Scriptures. Nothing in the New Covenant Scriptures mandates or even truly indicates any sort of intended change to God's original command, and even the Catholic Church acknowledges this. They argue that Protestants are hypocritical because Protestants claim to adhere to Sola Scriptura, but have not reverted their day of corporate worship (with the possible exception of Seventh-Day Adventists). They have a point…
Today, 500 years after Wittenberg, the Western Church is facing an entirely new set of circumstances—and yet, not so new:
- The European Church, both Catholic and Protestant, has fallen into decline and disarray, beaten down by the New Age forces of universalism and multiculturalism.
- The American Church rose to prominence as the bastion of Protestant Christianity; it spread the Gospel all over the world, but now it has lost the culture and so it is waning, attacked and harassed by the same forces which decimated the European Church.
- Biblical literacy is at an all time low since the Protestant Reformation. In the past ten years, even Evangelical Protestant Christianity has increasingly abandoned the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and, consequently, the major tenets of the faith.
- Various revivals have occurred around the globe with the advent of Pentecostalism; in the West, these seem to sputter to life for a while and then decay, while in the Third World, this has caused sustained and continuous growth, even in the midst of intense poverty, oppression, and persecution.
It is very interesting to me that the original adherents of Pentecostalism were concerned with holiness; as time went on through the 20th century, however, the emphasis of the Apostolic/Pentecostal/Charismatic/Word of Faith branch of the Western Church has shifted toward seeking miracles and prosperity—and many are caving into the cultural trend of denying Biblical truth in favor of subjective personal experience.
- The Messianic Jewish movement began in the 1800's and has exploded with exponential growth in the last four decades around the world, but specifically in America and Israel. This has been generally a good thing: for the first time since the New Testament was written, large numbers of Jews are accepting Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah, and Gentiles all around the world are reconnecting with the Hebrew context of the Christian faith. But there are splinter groups that are causing division both inside and outside the movement, which tends to cast a bad reflection on the relationship between Messianic Judaism and the traditional branches of Christianity.
Having observed these issues as a person who strives toward Biblical faith, and as someone who has spent most of his life as a member of churches in many denominations, I believe the LORD has told me He is calling us to step forward in the following areas; I have encapsulated these values on the diagram below as a comparison-contrast to what we currently experience:
Let’s analyze each one of these aspects of God’s plan for us…
1. Biblical Faith vs. Traditional Faith. The sole source of truth for the Judeo-Christian experience is the Word of God. Traditions, while sometimes being helpful to explain or facilitate our understanding of Biblical truth, are not authoritative; at various points of history, leaning on tradition has actually proven to be a barrier to the type of relationship God desires with us according to the Bible. Reasoning, while certainly being a component of our humanity which God created and ordained for us to love and worship Him, can easily move us into a condition of self-worship as we make determinations on matters based upon our own understanding as possibly opposed to what God has said. This is particularly true concerning the logical structure of belief systems we create for explaining who God is and our understanding of how He operates. This is why God said that we should worship Him with our heart (our spirit and our will), our soul (our mind and emotions), and our strength (our bodies). I say this as a person who tends to be very cerebral in his approach: theology is very helpful, but God is not a concept–He is our creator who knows us intimately; He is the most complex living being in the universe, and He calls us to an active relationship with Him using our whole person–which sometimes takes us beyond what we can derive with our own logic.
There are only two entities that are referred to as the Word of God: the Bible, and the person of Jesus Christ. We must recognize that the Bible, interpreted by the life, death, resurrection, and priesthood of Jesus Christ, is the only thing that can serve as our rule of faith and practice. It serves as the supporting backbone for our experience in a life connected to the living, active presence of God. Especially in our post-modern culture that tells us there is no objective truth, we must allow the truth of God’s Word to be the unshakable foundation on which we stand. Traditions, cultures, and circumstances change, but the Word of the LORD is forever–and it must inform everything else we do; it is the center point from which all of our values must flow.
|Biblical Faith||Traditional Faith|
|Unified, continuous love story between God and His people: of creation, rebellion, election, redemption, rescue, victory, and restoration||Rabbinic Jewish tradition|
|Varied Christian traditions|
|The Word of God is the text of the Bible, in its original language and context, interpreted through the life of Jesus as its ultimate example; and it is our final rule of faith and practice. It sets appropriate boundaries and guides our relationship with God like ‘truth buoys’ in the harbor||Greek philosophical approach based on human reasoning|
|Systematic theological belief system that sees success in the structure to answer any challenging question|
2. God-worship vs. Self-worship. The entire Judeo-Christian life can be boiled down to this contrast alone. This theme of God-worship vs. self-worship runs through the entire picture of Biblical faith. True God-worship recognizes YHWH for who He is: the only source of life and everything good. His very nature is unconditional, always other-centered selfless love, and when we see Him for who He is, we are drawn to respond to Him with faith and obedience, motivated by the same love He has for us.
In contrast, self-worship is the default condition occurring from the absence of God: a self-preserving grasp at everything and everyone motivated from a position of fear, and it is always egocentric at its core. Any good that is done from self-worship is for the purpose of reciprocity (“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”) or self-righteous altruism (when I am good to you, I can pat myself on the back for all to see); likewise, any obedience to God's commandments by the self-worshiper is motivated by legalistic self-justification and/or fear of the consequences for failing to appease Him.
God’s goal is to transform us from being self-worshipers to being God-worshipers. The love of God as the driving force of true worship is the primary value epitomizing Biblical faith, which is why it is at the pinnacle of the diagram above. The second chapter of The Upside-Down Kingdom is dedicated to explaining this concept–study this list carefully, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with God’s love and to show you how and where you can deliver that love to other people. It is the singularly most important thing a follower of YHWH can do.
|unconditional selfless love||insatiable desire for self-gratification|
|sin is foundationally a corrupted nature pulling us away from God’s will||sin is a list of activities that I can skillfully avoid to show how good I am|
|responds to God in faith and obedience because one recognizes His love for us, even though we don’t deserve it||responds to God out of anger or fear, trying to justify oneself mostly by comparison to others|
|worships God by loving Him with all one’s heart, soul, and strength, and by loving our neighbor as ourselves||seeks to find the boundary where one can live a self-directed life, yet maintain acceptability to God|
|denies the self to discover the person and glory of God||seeks self-actualization to become all one can be|
|seeks to empower others to experience the person and presence of God as a priest, regardless of who gets credit, and often at personal cost||needs the limelight to feel fulfilled, using others to rise to the top|
3. Judeo-Christian vs. Constantinian Christian. In order to truly understand the Christian faith, one must view it through its original Jewish context. The Gospel is actually the story of God's faithfulness to mankind through the people of Israel from Genesis to Revelation and everywhere in between. He is gathering a people for Himself—a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, with whom He lives and moves, and in whom He has placed His Name. He chose the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and ultimately the Jews—as the foundation of this people; He sent Yeshua (Jesus) as the Jewish Messiah to establish His final, everlasting covenant with them (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:22-38). Like Abraham, God is calling all Gentiles out of the world system (typified by Babylon) to become adopted by Messiah into His chosen people Israel–like grafting wild olive branches into YHWH's carefully cultivated 'tree' (Romans 11); those Jews who do not accept the Messiah are denying the birthright that is theirs and will ultimately be broken off for unbelief. But God is restoring Israel to its place as we are nearing the time for Messiah to return, and He promises that when He comes, all Jews who are alive at that time will accept Him and be saved (Ezekiel 12:1-14:15, Romans 11:26-28).
Beginning in the third generation after Jesus, however, the Christian Church began to tell a very different story which culminated in the fourth century: the culture created by Emperor Constantine 'the Great' divorced itself from Judaism, birthing a Gentile-based Christianity that would have been alien to its founders, which was even infused with pagan worship practices. It actively persecuted the Jewish people, forbade the study and practice of Jewish traditions, and attempted to erase the Jewish foundation of the Gospel, replacing the Jews with the Church as the 'new Israel', declaring that God contradicted His own promises and standards and that He authorized the Church to set their own standards.
At the end of this age, God is calling us back to Himself, to be grafted into the people of Israel as His kingdom of priests and the holy nation. While it is not necessary for us to be ethnically or culturally Jewish in order to worship God, at the very least we must understand and apply the foundational story, ideas, and way of life He has revealed through the Jews to our relationship with Him. My book, The Judeo-Christian, explains this paradigm in detail.
|Gentile worshipers of YHWH are adopted/grafted into God’s people Israel as full sons and daughters; Jews must embrace the New Covenant that is already theirs in Messiah to complete their destiny||the Christian Church has replaced Israel as the new people of God; the Jews must abandon their traditions, adopting Gentile-based Christian practices in order to be saved.|
|life is lived as a priestly mission (tikkun olam) whereupon we are called to be conduits of YHWH’s blessing to all the nations of the earth||life is lived in possession of a ‘golden ticket’ for believing or doing the right things; the goal is to convince non-Christians to get their own ticket.|
|‘real-time’, active covenant relationship with YHWH, the One True Living God||belief system and theological formulas|
|the original Jewish context (language, culture, time period) is the basis for Scriptural interpretation||‘best-guess’ approach using reasoning, literary analysis, and/or earlier Christian tradition inherited from Greek philosophy/pagan culture rather than the Jewish context|
|Torah is God’s standard of holiness worked into us by the indwelling Holy Spirit||Torah is abolished as a loathsome burden, to be replaced by arbitrary standard based on whatever pricks the conscience|
|Shabbat shalom||Sunday event|
|God’s appointed times and practices||‘Christianized’ Gentile holidays and rituals|
|seeks to find out how God revealed Himself through the Jewish people during the Biblical period and apply that to daily life in a way that is relevant to our own culture and time period||seeks to figure out what the culture is looking for in order to make God appealing to them|
4. Family/Nation Structure vs. Business/Institutional Structure. God originally revealed Himself through the family-nation of Israel; after the Great Divorce from Judaism, the Church institutionalized itself, becoming a professional organization. As Christianity traveled across the ocean and adapted itself to the Industrial Revolution, it retailored itself to use the concepts and language of American business rather than shaping the culture. Our current way of thinking is alien to God’s strategy for the redemption of mankind, primarily because it lends itself to devaluing God’s love as the force behind our worship. We must reclaim the original family/‘shared identity’ model in order to be a true expression of God’s heart to the world.
|Family/Nation Structure||Business/Institutional Structure|
|people and relationship-oriented||system, method, or program-oriented|
|discipleship takes place via mentoring by ‘fathers’||instruction by hired teachers or workers|
|covenant relationship||elected membership and political leadership|
|character oriented||ability oriented|
|generational emphasis: mantle is passed onto ‘heirs’||emphasis on immediate success: sustainability only achieved through satisfied customers|
|micro to macro focus (concerned first with reaching family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors)||primarily concerned with ‘big vision casting’|
|elders are honored for their time-earned wisdom, personal investment, and sacrifice||self-styled leaders work for respect based on position or charisma|
|every person has a vitally important role||only the gifted or politically savvy rise to the top|
|growth is achieved by producing ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’||growth is achieved by attracting customers through clever marketing|
5. Holiness-centric vs. Happiness-centric. In today's Western Christianity, holiness is not just spurned as lifeless, dull, and unnecessary—it is actively hated as a harbinger of guilt, condemnation, judgment, and destruction. In some circles, even a slight expectation of holiness is treated as evil. Instead, we live under the illusion that our lives are our own, and that God will simply be there to help us along in our journey of self-actualization. We are told that God accepts us just as we are, that we do not need to clean ourselves up, because God has given us grace through the cross, and that God wants to bless us by making us happy, healthy, wealthy, and whole. But these are smidgens of truth packed into a great big self-worshipping lie. Why do I say this? These are all teachings that can be attested to throughout the Bible! They are lies when taken in our context, because our expectations are one-sided—we redefine God's love as complete tolerance of behavior that is contrary to His Word.
God's promises to His people are conditional: When giving the covenant to Israel, He said, "If you are faithful to keep my covenant, then I will bless you…" (Those that do not believe this is true of the New Covenant need to read Hebrews 6:1-12 and Hebrews 10:26-31.) We need to regain the understanding that God's instructions to us are not the opposite of happiness; rather, they are the cause of happiness—because we live in the power of His presence and the freedom of the consequential blessings resulting from our obedience to Him. This is not legalistic; it is mature thinking. Currently, we cannot understand such Scriptures as, "Be holy, because I am holy," (Leviticus 11:45, 1 Peter 1:16) or, "I delight in Your Law." (Psalm 119:70)
|values truth||values feelings|
|the Gospel is restorative in nature||my salvation experience was a static event; I have ‘checked that box’ and moved on with my own life|
|God is interested in my character||God is interested in my personal blessings|
|God’s moral standards are for our benefit, producing freedom||God’s commands are a stifling burden that require me to make sacrifices of daily drudgery and death|
|lives with a tenderness toward God’s values||always asks the question, “What is this going to cost me?”|
6. Real vs. Sensational. Judeo-Christianity is real life. It is not just theory, or a nice story we tell our children to appease questions about subjects that we don't truly understand. God meets us where we live in the person of Jesus Christ. We live our lives in concert with the real, active, living presence of God in the Holy Spirit as He guides us and moves us according to His purpose. If we are true God-worshipers, we yearn for this type of real relationship with God—we want what He wants, we want to emulate His character, we want to be where He is, and do what He's doing. Furthermore, we also know that God is God—He does what He wants, and He works everything out for our good, even if we don't understand it at the time.
But the self-worship nature is attracted to what gives us pleasure or to what elevates the self; it looks for the sensational and the extraordinary as a means of validating our own experiences, knowledge, or spiritual state as superior. In Pentecostal and contemporary Evangelical streams of Western Christianity, this tends to flesh itself out in flashy worship music, 'culturally relevant' teaching, or a hunger for 'God to show up' in emotional or supernatural ways. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things—and God may use these things as tools in what He's accomplishing: the gifts of the Holy Spirit are real, Biblical, and active today; but if our focus is on seeing the next miracle or hearing the latest prophecy instead of on the God who provides both, it is a form of self-worship—we're chasing an experience for ourselves rather than seeking God (and often, ministries have been guilty of manufacturing such experiences because God is no longer doing them in their midst—so like King Saul of old, they pretend to carry God's anointing rather than repent of their idolatry).
In Talmudic Judaism as well as the 'high' Christian (Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran) and mainline Protestant denominations, religious rituals and/or a strict, somber, legalistic approach to God is often adhered to for the sake of looking pious. Rituals in the assembly of believers for the sake of observation and remembrance—to remind us of God's goodness—are perfectly acceptable; and certainly, obedience to God's instructions is part of our life in God. But when we use these things as a tool to claim an elevated spiritual state—a position from which we look down on others, we are glorifying ourselves rather than honoring God in obedience.
If our religious activities do not cooperate with the Holy Spirit to fundamentally transform the human experience from self-worship to God-worship, at best we are wasting our time, having no impact for the kingdom of God. At worst, if we have never recognized our need to be reconciled to the Father through Jesus and transformed by His Spirit, we may be deceiving ourselves into believing we are worshipers of YHWH when we are not.
|desires life change||desires exciting experiences|
|partners in God’s impact on people||chases powerful personal moments|
|finds life in God’s Word applied to daily living||jockeys for a ‘good seat’ in the grandiose|
|God’s presence is defined by the fruit of the Spirit, revealing a transformed life||God’s presence is defined by supernatural activity or emotional highs from exotic, cultural, or spiritual rituals|
7. Missional vs. Preservational. After Constantinian Christianity was embedded into the culture, the Western Church operated on autopilot–because it was assumed that everyone in the society at least held to a nominal form of Christianity (if you didn’t, you’d be in danger of losing your life!) So while the Church only maintained a fraction of Biblical faith, it didn’t worry about making an impact, because it relied on the state to strong-arm the populous to conformity with Christian doctrine.
This all changed with beginning with the Protestant Reformation, escalating through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment Era, and culminating with the foundation of the United States of America. With the implementation of the Constitution in 1789, freedom of religion became a reality—and though America was blessed with a Judeo-Christian foundation, the Church now had the responsibility to perpetuate that legacy forward to future generations in the absence of an artificial support system. Despite there being a mixture of messages (Deism and Freemasonry among others), God allowed His message to be spread across the world from America as the main base of operations for over 100 years (with Great Britain being a close second). But slowly, compromise crept into the American Church, building to the point where in the late 1960’s, the countercultural revolution detonated, shattering what was left of our moral heritage. The American Church has been on the defensive ever since, cowering in the corner, too afraid to confront the spiritual giants that are trampling over our nation. We have lost the majority of two generations of people as a result, creating a swell of opposition to America’s position as a Judeo-Christian nation.
It is often said that a lie sprints half way around the world before the truth puts on its shoes. It seems that the contemporary Church is about two decades behind its secular counterparts in their response to issues in the culture (with regard to anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, the Church worldwide is responding 1700 years late); but the rapid decline of our culture is serving as a clarion call to remind us of our responsibility, and I believe prophetically that the Church will begin to move.
Of course, the temptation in the face of societal opposition is to react from a defensive posture like a cornered animal, alternately scurrying for cover or lashing out at the unbelievers in our society from a position of anger or fear. But God is calling us to engage the culture–not in a combative way toward people, but like Private Doss in the movie Hacksaw Ridge–where we are mounting a rescue mission to snatch the wounded and captive from the spirits that have made war against YHWH and the people He created.
Unfortunately, most of us remain comfortable living in a world where God exists to take care of us and help us to live our self-ordered lives–we hold onto the pagan idea that God is one of these little ‘gods’ we run to when we need something. He is calling us to step forward to confront the ‘gods’ of this age, not just to show that we have a better belief system, but that YHWH alone is God, and that Yeshua (Jesus) alone is the way to reach Him.
|seeks to bring the kingdom of God into every situation||seeks to isolate oneself from the world’s corrupting influence|
|lives in boldness from a position of faith in who God is||lives in a defensive posture from fear of how big the enemy is|
|lives in a ‘rescue’ paradigm||lives constantly in a state of justifying the truth|
|primarily action-oriented (doer of the Word)||primarily theory-oriented (hearer of the Word only)|
Look for these values being expressed as you study the Bible. I fully believe that a reformation to the Christian Church is on the horizon; unfortunately, this always means a shockwave and a split between those on opposite sides of the divide. If God is speaking to you through this diagram, you may be asking, "What do we do now?" I am not asking you to leave your current church, denomination, or faith tradition—that decision must be made carefully between you and God. This reformation is 'from the bottom up'. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you integrate these values into your life and simply live them and explain them to others. In time, He will show you whatever else you must do. This website, always a work in progress, can also be a resource for you to explore these values further.