"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned" (Isa. 9:2; Matt. 4:16).
"The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him" (John 1:9 -10).
Each of us comes to the Lord from a uniquely different background. Like Abram, we were wandering around in a "far country," be it Ur of the Chaldees (Gen. 11:31-32), or some other place, engaged in idol worship, when God tapped us on the shoulder and said, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee" (Gen. 12:1). So, we packed up our saddle bags, mounted our camels, and set out for the grand adventure, following God into the Promised Land. This journal represents a part of my journey which may be different from yours in some details, but surprisingly the same in others. God called me out of the churches of Christ, not because He loves them less, but because He had other plans for me which would not have come to fruition had I stayed there in the land of my fathers. I offer this writing not as a road map for anyone else's journey, but merely as a testimony to the sovereign authority of God and the Spirit's ability and faithfulness to lead each of us into all truth. God's elect are all over the planet, in the pews and out of the pews, and seemingly no two of us agree totally on any given topic. Our agreement on the facts is not very important to God obviously, or there would not be over 30,000 "flavors" of Christianity. What is important to God is conforming us to the image of His son, the first born of many brethren (Rom. 8:29). How he accomplishes that is as individual as a finger print and as collective as our need for air and water.
Isaiah promised that God would send the light to those living in the land of the shadow of death, and the Apostle John tells us that Christ was the fulfillment of that prophecy as He came to bring light to every man coming into the world. In the next verse, he says that though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. We all know that. We've known it since we first recognized the Lord's hand in our lives, but what saddens me is that the Beloved Apostle could just as well have said that "He was in the church, and though the church was made through him, the church did not recognize him." [I am not speaking here of The Church Jesus founded on the Day of Pentecost, which He said the gates of Hell would not prevail against (Matt. 16:18), nor The Church universal and triumphant that Paul describes in Eph. 2:17-23; 3:10-11. I am referring rather to the visible church on Main St., USA, which like the Tabernacle of old, is merely a type and shadow (Col. 2:17) of what Paul says "is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:23). Like so many things in the Christian life, the Church described in the New Testament is spiritual, not natural. As I said in another writing, it has no "snail mail" or e-mail address, no P.O. Box, no phone number, no fax number, and no listing in the yellow pages].
I'm indebted to Leonard Allen, former Professor of Bible at Abilene Christian University, a Church of Christ school, who has spent the past twenty years studying the origins and evolution of this group of believers for my title, "The Elephant in My Living Room." More about that in a moment. This gifted man has compiled the findings of his exhaustive study in a soon to be published book entitled, Things Unseen, Churches of Christ after the Modern Age. Long time friends in Christ, sent me the book on tape version. It brought up such pain in me to hear him describe how the churches of Christ started, the premises upon which it was founded, and what has happened as a result, that I couldn't decide whether to have a crying fit, or run screaming into the night, tearing out my hair in the process. In his writing, Allen uses the word picture of "an elephant in the living room," to aptly describe the religious creeds and dogmas hidden in our soul, and the self deception with which members of the "true church" have been operating all these years. I have been very hesitant to write about this topic because. 1) I don't want to further alienate my extended family, who were saddened and appalled when I left the Church of Christ, which they truly believe is "the true church," and 2) at first, I didn't see the universal application of what I was getting about this subject, thinking it had only to do with me or other members of the churches of Christ.
As Leonard Allen explores the roots of the churches of Christ, he explains that this organization was initiated by Alexander and Thomas Campbell, in the early-1800's, whose goal was to start over with a new church, which would be based on "back to the Bible" teachings. Accordingly, they discarded many things that the existing theological community held dear, like original sin, the trinity, and the unction of the Holy Ghost in present circumstances. They were not reformers, but rather restorationists who believed they could organize a church around the concept that if the members would read and study the Bible only, and do exactly what it taught, they could duplicate the early church exactly the way it was in the beginning. "We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent," was his motto, and dare I say, has become the creed of the churches of Christ ever since. (Though they would rise up and severely chastise me or anyone else who would presume to say that they have a creed). There was one tiny problem with this virtuous sounding blueprint for church success. He left out the manifestations of the Holy Spirit entirely from his formula, because he believed that the Bible, the written word, was "the perfect" which Paul said would come in I Cor. 13:10, after which, Campbell and others concluded that these manifestations would cease. Needless to say, that leaves out tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, prophesy, discerning of spirits, and everything else Paul said was given to the church for its growth and maturation. (See I Cor. 12 for a full description of the working of the Holy Spirit in church life.) This includes all the functions of the "parakletos," which is the Greek word describing the unctions of the Holy Spirit as He serves the body of Christ as intercessor, consoler, comforter, counselor, helper, teacher, advocate, strengthener, and standby. Campbell and his associates believed and taught their followers that if every man would come to the Bible for the New Testament blueprint, they would then have a New Testament Church as a result, if they were faithful to the pattern.
Apparently no one saw the folly of claiming to have a New Testament church without the manifestations and the power of the Spirit. "The Way," (Acts 9:2; 19:9,23;24:14,22) as it was referred to in the beginning, was birthed in the fires of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit of God, the "parakletos," manifested Himself as flames of fire on the Disciples' heads, and the Apostle Peter was transformed from a rough, uneducated fisherman to God's mighty spokesman of the hour. Three thousand souls came forward at the end of that first Gospel sermon, which probably didn't even have an invitation hymn. Why? Because the Holy Spirit moved on them to do so. It was a divine action from start to finish, "And the Lord added to the church, daily such as should be saved" (Acts. 3:47). The early church grew primarily because God's word, uttered by the Apostles, was confirmed by signs and wonders following (Acts 14:3; 15:12; II Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:4), as the Apostles and others filled with the Spirit, stretched out their hands to heal and perform miracles, signs and wonders through the mighty name of Christ Jesus (Acts 4:30; 5:12; 6:8). Jesus Himself gave the reason this was necessary, "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe" (John 4:48). Now the churches of Christ say that since we have the Bible, we don't need these miraculous outpourings of the Holy Spirit today, but you know, it occurs to me that in the first Century, the religious leaders did have the writings of the prophets, which foretold the coming of the Messiah exactly the way He appeared, and yet even though they were very familiar with them, no one believed the writings themselves, but chose rather to believe the traditions of the fathers. So why would we think that people today would accept the written word alone without the power behind it, if the Jews in Jesus' day didn't accept Him when He was performing miracles right in front of them? What happens when you use only the written word is that you have "a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof," to which Paul added, "from such turn away" (II Tim. 3:5). For example, is an unbeliever who is dying of terminal cancer, really comforted by someone laying a Bible on his chest and saying, "Well brother, God doesn't heal today, but you'll feel better if you read this." The illogical conclusions of this type of thinking led to some pretty silly prayer requests. All through my childhood, I heard this prayer, "Lord, bless the hands that minister to the sick," but never "Lord, heal the sick." Now is this splitting hairs, or did the health care provider have something wrong with his hands that needed healing? A rash perhaps? A cut or sore? AND, if God directly blessed the hands caring for the sick, how is that different from blessing the sick aby healing them? On the day of Pentecost, Peter declared, "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know" (Acts 2:22). If there ever was a generation of people who would benefit from experiencing the raw power of God, it is this one we live in now!
But as I already pointed out, Alexander Campbell had concluded that the age of miracles had ceased and "the perfect" had come (I Cor. 13:10) in the form of the New Testament. Thanks to the printing press, people had access to the written word, which Campbell believed was all one needed to form the perfect church according to the New Testament pattern. His commitment to following scripture exactly was a little shortsighted, as he apparently didn't read or didn't understand Paul's admonition to the Corinthians: "..but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life" (II Cor. 3:5-6, and I would encourage you to read verses 7-18 as well for his full development of this theme). Campbell's thinking that man could read the Bible and then agree on what the church was supposed to be like, look like, and how it would function, merely as part and parcel of an intellectual exercise, was typical of the modern, rational mindset of his day. These were the same people who believed that science would reform the world. A cure would be found for all diseases. Labor saving devices would end the ceaseless toil of men and women, and intellectual enlightenment would change the crass and sin sick world population into morally good men and women with excellent character and good values.
As the 21st Century dawns, this fantasy is gasping its last. Labor saving devices saved us from some tasks, like chopping wood for the stove or washing our clothes on rocks in the streams, but it opened new avenues for work that we never dreamed existed as the industrial age came into full swing. Computers, those great helpers of modern commerce, have created much more work than they eliminated because they allow us to do so much more and because we can do more, we're expected to do more, produce more and accomplish more, all at a faster and faster pace. Freedom from back breaking labor gave man more time to sin, if you want to know the truth. He made more money, had more time, or at least was not as tired from working at a computer as he may have been plowing the fields, baling hay, or other onerous tasks, and now, he could afford to indulge his vices, his addictions, and in general, follow his baser instincts. Remember that the same printing press that gave us the Bible also gave us "Playboy Magazine." It is true that Campbell's dream organization produced a dedicated group of sin conscious, Bible believing, hell fearing, good, if somewhat frustrated folks, who got an "A" in the course about fearing God, but who failed miserably the one about learning to trust Him simply because He is sovereign and worthy of trust. They also failed the course on depending on Him for guidance in our individual lives. That's not surprising, because after all, they believed that we have the Bible and that's all we need. (It's a little hard to trust in or depend on a god who holds every sin against you and promises to burn you in hell for eternity if you forget to repent of one of them before you die).
As I was growing up, I mastered Campbell's points about why the Holy Spirit cannot do a miracle today. You have to be industrious to follow the line of thinking but suffice it to say, I was a diligent scholar. I wore out one Bible entirely with my cross referencing and underlining, in order to get my "Book, Chapter and Verse," down pat on our doctrine (even though we would have spit up rather than admit that we had any doctrine other than the New Testament); and yes, the church I grew up in billed itself as the one and only "TRUE CHURCH." Everyone else was going to hell, according to them. Now, you would think that this would have had them out beating on every door calling for sinners to repent to save themselves from the endless agony of the damned, but I never saw any of that going on either. It was just our little elitist deal that we were the only ones who had the truth and too bad for everyone else.
I will say that I have visited in my mother's congregation many times since returning to Neosho, and I have never once heard a sermon on hell fire and damnation there; they have also recanted their position about the Holy Spirit having gone back to heaven, but the trouble is they did such a good job indoctrinating the flock with that heresy, that many older people still believe in the traditional ways and look on in horror when anything else is preached. The times, they are a changing as God quietly and slowly infiltrates the churches of Christ with the truth. On the negative side, I have never heard it said among the rank and file that fellowshipping with Christians in other denominations would be a good thing to do either (other than attending funerals there, of course). Allen addresses this in his book, pointing out that there is virtually no fellowship between members of the churches of Christ and other Christians, because in most member's minds, the other denominations are not Christians at all unless they have had the proper form of baptism (immersion for the remission of sins) and worship God in the proper way (without an instrument). He says that this lack of dialogue with others means that this denomination remains isolated from what God is doing in other churches, assuming they would even admit that He frequents them at all.
While Allen made his points brilliantly, he also used a great deal of restraint, probably trying to sweeten the castor oil with honey. It did no good. He has been already been disfellowshipped by the many churches of Christ for his efforts to perfect the Gospel and reveal the truth as he perceives it. The same thing happened to me on a local scale about 30 years ago now. I'll give you the short version of the story. While in California, my sister and I were filled with the Spirit and on high with the love of the lord, the power of God, and the joy of Jesus. On a trip back home to Neosho, we called the elders and the preacher together and said, "You know how we always believed that the Holy Spirit went back to heaven after the last Apostle died? Well, we're here to tell you that it's not true. He's alive and well and still doing miracles and working in our lives today." What in the universe was I thinking? That they would rejoice and fall on their knees and ask for filling of the Holy Spirit in their lives as well? Brother Floyd said, "Jan, you were the best Bible student we ever had, and now you come up with this? You know better." Brother Jimmy remarked, "Have you become a holy roller now?" Brother Don observed, "You came to this because you left the King James Version and started reading one of those modern translations." This encounter wounded me deeply and caused me hurt for many years, but their censure didn't end there. The elders paid a visit to my dear Mother, who had taught Sunday School classes since she was 15 years old, and warned her, "We don't want to hear about you teaching this in any of your classes." She told them, "Don't worry. I will resign immediately." I still feel bad about that because she had nothing whatsoever to do with what they thought was our "apostate doctrine." This was and is a typical "knee jerk" response by fundamentalist leaders when they perceive their control and authority to be challenged. They respond to such real and imagined threats with, "Get in line, or get out." I got out, realizing that I could no longer deny what God had shown me to be true, and at the same time, I was deeply afraid for them because they were, in my opinion, blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Only God knows how many prayers I cast heavenward on their behalf over these 30 years, and I have seen Him answer them in a large measure.
Still, this episode effectively ended my membership in the churches of Christ, and I did become a "holy roller" for awhile, but God showed me that though they had different rules, the game was exactly the same. We were to follow after the church leaders' teaching and the institutional creeds and dogmas, rather than the Holy Spirit's leading. Since I had been burned to the bone with man's indoctrination, this need for total control by the church officials didn't set well with me. The Charismatic fellowships affirmed the Holy Spirit's work in our lives, which was an improvement over what I'd left, but yet, they didn't trust Him to lead the flock into all truth if it deviated from "party line." So, again, I had fallen in with Christians who wanted to carve up the New Testament according to their specifications, editing out this part, embellishing that part, and in general, reading only the chapters and verses that proved what they already thought. Part of my deliverance from the church system, came when I bought a new Bible, not the King James version, and prayed that God would show me the truth. It was quite an eye opener for me, as the Spirit knocked down one wall after another, and delivered me from worship of so many "sacred cows" that I had learned to hold dear.
One thing I did learn from the Church of Christ experience is that God speaks the truth in the Bible, and as I continued to read and study, He opened my eyes to see that He truly is sovereign in all things (Is. 45:10; 55:11; Eph. 1:11) I'm a very logical person, and it came to me that if He is sovereign, then He is able to guide me into all truth, and I didn't need man to teach me, just like the Apostle John said. (I Jn. 2:27). This kind of thinking does not set well with church leaders. By this time, I was single, and if there is anything that church leaders despise, it's an assertive single woman. Like the churches of Christ, the Charismatics want the little woman to be in submission to her husband. I didn't have one by this time, and the one I'd left got his information from his drinking buddies. The spirit he was closest to in those days was Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. Did this matter? Apparently not. So, in His mercy and grace, God called me out of church, except for one brief sojourn in 1980 during which I met Lenny. He had been called out of church as well, years before, except for this one "assignment" in which he was instructed by the Lord to remodel a building for this group of believers in Thousand Oaks, CA. God had told me He was sending me a husband, and that's exactly what He did. That's another story for another time, but we remained out of church on any regular basis until the Father called us here to Neosho, MO, where Lenny's present "assignment" is to be a witness to God's power, light, and love to a group of men in a Baptist Church here. This, of course, added more fuel to the fire with the branch of my family who are still in the Church of Christ, because surely, they must wonder, "What good thing can come from the Baptist Church?"
Lenny has been interceding for this group of men for the past 5 years, and we've been here physically since May of 1998. During that time, God has given him one affirmation after another that He is going to begin with the Baptist Church and sweep through all the churches in this town, drawing people into His kingdom in huge numbers, and then go beyond the town in a mighty move of the Spirit. Of course, we're still in the waiting mode, and right now, our situation reminds me of Noah's, who spent 100 years building the ark because God said it would rain and rain and rain some more. He must have gotten some curious stares and snide remarks from people who had never seen rain in their entire lives because there had never been any before. The Holy Spirit has never moved around here in a mighty way, and some have confessed that they are afraid of what might happen if He does. In my mind, that's the fun part. Waiting on God is the hard part, but in the meantime, He flows through us to cleanse us and purify us for the work that lies ahead.
This brings me back to Leonard Allen's book. It was truly a purging fire that raged through my soul and psyche for a couple of weeks there, and caused me to cry out to God for ultimate deliverance. I saw clearly, that the teachings of the churches of Christ have been the elephant in my living room my entire life. Along about the time this awareness came to me, the Spirit urged me to read Genesis and Exodus again. I never know in advance why I get these urges, but I always look forward to whatever it is that is to be revealed. As I read the amazing encounters the Patriarchs had with the Lord God Almighty, and thrilled again to His deliverance of His children from Egypt, it came to me that many Christians have an elephant in their living room. The elephant is the religious "scripts" that we've inherited from our birth family, the ones which say that God is angry with us and we've got to really try hard to avoid the flames of hell, among other religious doctrines that we've got tucked away in our psyches.
This came to me loud and clear as I was reading Exodus 19 and 20. The scene is the desert at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where the children of Israel were camped. "Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites" (Ex. 19:3-6). Accordingly, Moses called the elders of the people together and told them what the Lord had said. He received an enthusiastic, if short lived response. They said, "We will do everything the LORD has said. So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD" (Ex. 19:8). (As an aside, this reminds me of Campbell's assumption that if we just know what the Bible says, we can do it, keep it and fulfill it.) In response to this rash declaration, God told Moses to tell the people to wash their clothes and consecrate themselves because on the third day, He was going to come to them in a dense cloud and speak to them. He further instructed Moses, "Put limits for the people around the mountain (build a fence, in other words) and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.' Only when the ram's horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain" (Ex. 19:12-13). What happened next was pretty spectacular: "On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him" (Ex. 19:16-19).
With this frighteningly awesome display of power, one would think there would have been no danger of the people disobeying, but again God said to Moses, "'Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them." Moses said to the LORD, 'The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, 'Put limits (a fence) around the mountain and set it apart as holy.'" The LORD replied, 'Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them.' So Moses went down to the people and told them" (Ex. 19:21-25). This is an amazing story which I have read many, many times in my life, and I didn't think too much about this part until the Lord woke me up in the middle of the next night after I read it, and said, "Religion is the fence." I thought, "Religion is the fence? What does that mean?" Then it hit me full force as I remembered the limits, the fence, God had told Moses to put around the mountain. Growing up in the churches of Christ, which is really not that much different from any other fundamentalist church, I was taught to fear God exceedingly and excessively. I cannot remember one sermon in which we were told that God loves us unconditionally. It was always, "He'll love you and save you if you obey Him. If you don't, you'll burn in hell forever and ever." Fear and conditional love was always the fence between me and God.
As I began to ponder this truth, I saw that this fence between me and God is and always has been the elephant in my living room, and this was when I realized why the Lord wanted me to write this journal. So far, you may have been reading this and saying, "I hear you, but what has this to do with me?" Well, I've got a news flash for you. The Church of Christ is not the only group who thinks they are the "true church," nor do they have a corner on the market of legalism. To illustrate this point, I have included a few questions here for you to ponder, a sort of theological reality check. Answer truthfully because only God will hear you.
When you think of God, do you sort of purr and coo in your heart and can't wait to be alone with Him, or are you terrified that you'll do something to make Him notice you at all? Do you long for the time when you can sit on His lap and watch while He makes the rest of the world, the universe, the creation go away so He can devote Himself entirely to you and your concerns, or do you secretly hope He overlooks you in order to tend to the mess in Kosovo or Grozny? Is He the first place you run when there's trouble in your life, or the last resort after you've tried everything else? When something really good happens to you, is He the last place you go to rejoice after you've told all your friends? Do you worry about your sins, and whether or not people think you are a "good Christian?" Do you suffer gut wrenching guilt when you don't do what you perceive is your duty? Who gave you your duty roster in the first place? Was it the Lord, or your mother or your church? Do you have a list of things you must do and another one of things you must not do in order to be pleasing to him? If you don't do these things, are you afraid that He will break forth and kill you or punish you? Do you think some sins are worse than others, and therefore more difficult for God to forgive? Do you obsessively worry about every facet of your life, because something very bad may happen to you if you're not constantly vigilant and on guard? Do you sing, "Guide Me Oh, Thou Great Jehovah," but feel you have to poll your Christian friends, your pastor, elder or prophet for directions in your life? Do you consider yourself a better Christian than someone else because of your good deeds, your church attendance, your giving? Does your Christian life fill you with joy unspeakable and full of glory, or do you approach it with dread, duty and guilt? Do you secretly think that your church is "the true church?" and every one else is a little off? Who sits on the throne of your life?
I think if you answer these questions honestly, you'll understand as I did the Lord's comment to me that "religion is the fence." It is the barrier put at the foot of Mt. Sinai to keep man from God and sure death, and paradoxically, it also is the golden calf that he has created to have something tangible to worship. Do you realize that the ten commandments were a concession to man's fallen mind? In other words, before he ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam walked with God. He enjoyed intimate fellowship with His creator. Satan, under God's watchful eye, and according to the plan written before the foundations of the world, tempted Eve by saying that if she ate of the fruit, she would become like God, knowing good from evil. This is the fence, dear friends, the elephant in our living rooms. Knowing good from evil (the law) can no more save us than the golden calf Aaron made for the children of Israel to worship saved them. In fact, that idol was the instrument of death for thousands of them who were slain by the sword or by the plague (Ex. 32:27,35). Don't you find this conclusion astonishing in light of the fact that churches and seminar leaders the world over are preaching that you must be good, be righteous; exhibit good moral character, and have good values in order to be pleasing to God? Fresh from reading Genesis and Exodus, I'm going to tell you that none of the Patriarchs had good moral character! Abraham and Isaac were cowardly liars who put their wives' virtue at risk to save their own miserable skins, (Gen. 12:13-20; 20:2-18; 26:7-11) and Jacob was all of that and a cheat (Gen. 27: 6-38) as well. Only Joseph was someone that most church members would seek to emulate, and/or recruit for membership in their congregation, but clearly, God's promise to Abraham had nothing to do with the man himself, with his works or his virtue. The promise to Israel was based solely on God's Holy name (Ezek. 36: 22-23) and God's faithfulness. "When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself." (Heb. 6:13). Our dear friend John Gavazzoni said it so well: "If anything about my salvation or right standing with God depends on my faithfulness, I'm toast, damned to hell."
And this brings me to one of the saddest misconceptions among fundamentalists. If you ask them if they live under law or grace, they give the approved answer: "Oh, we live under grace. Law belongs to the Old Testament." But does it? Hardly. If you believe that anything about your salvation or right standing with God depends on your faithfulness, your good deeds, or your attitudes, then you are living by law! If you believe that God blesses you when you obey Him and curses you because you fail to do what's right, then you are living by law. Many churches have this verse as part of their creed: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (II Chr. 7:14). This was the essence of the old covenant. "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse, the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses" (Deut. 11:26-29; See also Deut. 28:2-68). I think it is so interesting that they were to proclaim the blessings on Mount Gerizim and the curses on Mount Ebal (Deut. 11:29). This is an indication that they were living by the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, another way to describe the law, which involved self effort.
In describing why the New Covenant is vastly superior to the Old one, the Hebrew writer proclaims, "You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.'" (Heb. 12:18-20). He's telling them that they need no longer cower behind the fence around Mt. Sinai as their forefathers did while Moses went up into the Mountain to speak to God. Under the New Covenant, we have come to a more blessed place than Mount Gerizim. The writer of Hebrews continues, "But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Heb. 12:22-24).
Hopefully, by now, you are realizing that elephants come in many "flavors," and "denominations," i.e., Methodist, Baptist (which Lenny encounters every Sunday morning), Catholic, Assemblies of God, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Charismatic fellowships, and any other religious group you care to name. So what do we do with the elephant(s) in our living room, the fence between us and God? For me, I have come to realize that since God is sovereign, He meant every experience in my life, good and bad, glorious and uncomfortable, for my good and His glory. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). When I grieve for those who are still in bondage to law, as I do often when I see people I love struggling with law, badly in need of the awareness of God's grace, I remember that God's timing is perfect. Paul tells us that "in Christ shall all be made alive, but each in his own turn" (I Cor. 15:22-23). In my own life, when God turned on the light for me, I saw plainly what He wanted me to see. When He turns on the light for the legalists, the fundamentalists, the reformers, the restorationists, the liberals, and the sinners alike, they will come rejoicing into the kingdom of God as they reap the benefit of the new birth experience (Jn. 3:3,6). How do I know this? It's in the book, my friends. It's in the book: "For he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6). On the Day of Pentecost, Peter said "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call," (Acts 2:39). Salvation, repentance, sonship, our calling in God was all ordained from before the foundation of the world. Paul wrote to Timothy about Christ's work in our lives, "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (II Tim. 1:9-10). I see the truth of this in my own life. He calls us to the life we live for His own purposes, which sometimes remain hidden to us until He is ready to reveal them, but "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18. See also Is. 54:16). God is doing the work and we but do what we see Him doing.
One day, the crowd around Jesus asked Him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent" (John 6:28-29). There's always going to be one person who says, "Ah Ha! So there is something we must do. We must believe." Well, that's true, except Paul bursts our bubble of pride by saying, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:8-10). Since God is the potter and we are the clay (Is. 29:16; 45:9; 64:8; Jer. 18:6; Rom. 9:21), He is the one molding us and shaping us into His own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26; Eph. 5:25-27; I Jn. 3:2). Once God opens your eyes to see this, it is everywhere in Scripture. Verses begin to leap out at you and you say, "Why didn't I see this before. How could I have been so blind?" The answer is because God Himself closed your eyes until it was time for you to see the truth. (I encourage you to look up these verses. They are an eye opener! Is. 6:9; Jer. 5:21; Matt. 13:14; Lk. 8:10; 24:16,45; Jn. 12:40; Rom. 11:8). For example, in Ephesians, Chapter 5, Paul is talking about the body of Christ which is the church. He says "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that HE might present it TO HIMSELF a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). Do you see who is the subject of the sentence? Do you see who is the one doing the sanctifying and cleansing? It is not the church leaders, not the pastor, not the deacons nor elders and it is not the members who have the responsibility for whipping the church into shape; in fact, this function is not accomplished by any human agency at all, but is performed to perfection by Christ Himself! The Zeal of the Lord of Hosts shall bring it to pass! (II Kngs. 19:31; Is. 9:7; 37:32). Doesn't that cause you to heave a sigh of relief? Doesn't that make you shout for joy and praise the God. Jude said it this way, "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty and dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen" (Jude 24).
This journal relates a part of my journey, which I offer not as your truth, but as my reality. The more I see of how God works in my life and differently in other's lives, the more I am delivered from judgment of where anyone else is. We're all where God placed us in the body of Christ, and we will be there until He either gives us the light and the courage to move on or the grace to stay put and minister where He left us. There are many things about the visible church that I have longed to change, but I have come to realize that if it were important to God, it would be changed, and in fact, I have rejoiced to see many changes in the churches of Christ in the past 30 years. We're all in God's processing mode, and like the rest of creation, we groan for "the manifestation of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:20-22). All will be accomplished in His perfect timing.
Back to my central theme, if you say that you do not have an elephant in your living room, my response is, "Good for you. A Christian who is free from law. How wonderful and how rare!" If you tell me that you do have one hanging around your house and you are tired of shoveling up droppings from the pachyderm in your parlor, I say, "Rejoice. God wouldn't have shown it to you if He weren't going to remove it for you, but don't despair. These things take time, and as one of our friends always says, 'Just because it's not done by Tuesday Midnight does not mean it won't get done.'" God is faithful to perform His word. "For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does" (Ps. 33:4). As it is written, so let it be done. Amen.
Jan & Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
Uploaded to the web on 7/9/00,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister
and last edited 11/5/08.