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 have sought the LORD, and I believe He is calling us to step forward in the following areas:
- Biblical Faith vs. Traditional Faith. The overarching goal and direction in which God is taking us is to move from the traditional faith we have experienced back to the type of relationship with God we see in the Bible. We must recognize that the Bible, interpreted by the life, death, resurrection, and priesthood of Jesus Christ, is the only source of truth there is. 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 shine like a star in the darkness of space.
- God-worship vs. Self-worship. The entire Judeo-Christian life can be boiled down to this contrast alone. It is selflessness instead of selfishness; it is other-centered love versus self-gratifying desire. It is the description of the very heart and image of God that we emulate, and this theme runs through the entire picture of Biblical Faith. It is the axle on which all the other aspects of God's current instructions to us turn. See the diagram below for an expanded definition.
- 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); and all Gentiles who believe are grafted into this nation like wild olive branches into the 'tree' of God's holy people (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. We worship the Jewish God through the Jewish Messiah to be grafted into the Jewish people.
- 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. We must reclaim the original family/"shared identity" model in order to be a true expression of God's heart to the world.
- 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)
- 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 rabbinic Judaism, 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.
I have encapsulated these values on the diagram below as a comparison-contrast to what we currently experience. Hopefully, this is helpful:
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.
Biblical faith is the overarching goal; as you read the Bible, look for these values being expressed. This website, always a work in progress, can also be a resource for you to explore these values further.