Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 7/31/05.
"Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does" (John 5:19).
A friend recently e-mailed us a piece entitled "How can you be right and the whole church wrong?" by Bob Evely. He points out that "orthodoxy' is not truth as compared with falsehood...it is simply the majority opinion, and it can be wrong." There are many admonitions and examples in the Bible regarding the need to test the spirits (I John 4:1), ask the Holy Spirit (I John 2:27), and study the scriptures: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15, KJV). This was the Prime Directive of the church I grew up in, for they claimed to "speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent." It has a nice ring to it, and sounds oh, so spiritual, but after being baptized in the Holy Spirit, I quickly realized that they didn't follow everything in the Bible, just the parts which fit into their tradition, which by the way, rejected the active participation of the Spirit in a believer's life in favor of Bible study. Mr. Evely makes the point that the majority is often wrong, and unwilling to entertain a conflicting viewpoint, making it difficult for individuals to express their disagreements. His example is Martin Luther, who single handedly took on the Catholic Church doctrines of his day and exposed some of the more lurid traditions they held dear, such as the selling of indulgences to raise money for church projects. Unlike Luther, who stood against orthodox teachings when the punishment for doing so was being burned at the stake, most of us don't face physical death when we break ranks and speak against "party line." Still, the consequences can be severe, especially when we are cast out of a group of people we hold dear, until and unless we repent and agree with them.
This was true in Jesus' life as well as ours. Had He kept His mouth shut and been the meek and mild "nice Christian," that so many think He was, He would have lived to a ripe old age, but as it was, He boldly faced down the religious leadership of His day in the synagogues, and during their holy feasts, and told them the truth about themselves and their religion. They were furious, of course, because as Evely points out, all religious groups are formed around a common set of beliefs, which members must either adhere to or leave. It doesn't pay to rock the boat, as many of us have found. If everyone understood that the dogma in question is just a tradition we find personally comfortable, suited to our personality and upbringing, then leaving the group isn't the end of the world, but most of the time, the cherished tradition, now become dogma, is touted as "the way" to right standing with God. All other ideas are NOT scriptural.
Staying with a religious group often involves making a choice between fellowship or personal conviction. Many people suffer the slings and arrows of church regulations in order to have fellowship with those they have come to love. Some of us have difficulty in keeping quiet, and believe me, that usually involves an invitation to leave the group, taking our ideas with us. I've come to see that God has ordained this arrangement to protect those whose eyes He has not opened YET. Jesus said, "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces" (Matt. 7:6). It's a warning I understood early on, having experienced it, but later, came to see that God loves people more than doctrine! He has a calling for each of our lives, which MAY involve being in a church whose statement of faith reflects the traditions of men, not the glory of God.
We have friends in California who attend a large church in Van Nuys. Her spiritual understanding is FAR advanced from what is taught from the pulpit, and so I asked her one day how she could stand to hear first grade theology when she was now in graduate school spiritually. Her answer tells it all: "God sent us there. Some people in that church still do not know Jesus." God has witnesses everywhere, those who by word or deed, reflect His glory and sovereignty.
Evely concludes, "Reformation is needed within the church today." While I understand the circumstances which caused him to feel this way, nevertheless, I can't agree with him. The Church which Christ purchased with His life's blood, the one He said the gates of hell would not prevail against (Matt. 16:18), does NOT need to be reformed. This Church is perfect, holy, and sanctified, a living organism of which Christ is the head and we all are the body. The organization we see on Main St., Any Town, USA, does look like it could use some help at times, but it is NOT the church Paul described. It is merely a reflection of what we see through a glass darkly. It is a projection of the will of men, but this too is ordained by God. Do you really believe that God could still be God, all powerful, all knowing, sovereign over all things if the churches we see today are a mistake? Impossible. It's an interesting principle that before we can accept what is, we often must run the gauntlet through that which is not. If we didn't have darkness, we would not appreciate the light; it takes sunshine AND rain to grow a garden; and a dear friend smiled when she told us that when she was thinking about the people in her denomination, the Lord said, "It takes all kinds of clowns to make a circus."
Christians get all tangled up in church dogma, which usually means building a life based on keeping a set of rules and regulations they claim they got from reading the Bible. While that sounds good, the trouble is that you really can make the Bible say anything, as is evidenced by the diametrically opposed views of various religious groups, all claiming to be absolutely correct, because they read it in "the good book." When someone expresses a differing opinion, the faithful quickly debunk the idea with the retort, "It isn't scriptural." Depending on your religious convictions, this can be a huge indictment of your life style, or your honesty, or your willingness to serve God, or worse yet, it may mean you might not make it to heaven. If God was so hung up on "correct doctrine," don't you think He could have made it plain enough so that we all knew what "it" was? Over thirty thousand denominations, each claiming to have the truth, tell me all I need to know about God's view of "correct doctrine."
In my youth, I wore out a Bible, the King James Version, of course, with proof texts as to why the Holy Spirit went back to heaven when the last Apostle died, i.e., the reason we have no miracles today. This denomination taught that we don't need the Holy Spirit today because we have the Bible. In my youth and zeal, I didn't question this, as I underlined passages, and wrote supporting scriptures in the margins of the pages. Much later, I saw the folly of thinking that we could get everything we need from the Bible, and I wondered why they even prayed about anything if God no longer does anything directly? I pictured a man dying of heart failure, lets say, who had a visit from the elders of this church. In my musing, they laid a Bible on his chest and said, "God no longer heals today, brother, but we brought you this book to read which should make you feel better."
Likewise, the church of my youth taught that you cannot use instrumental music and make it to heaven. The proof text is flimsy in the extreme, but being born into a church which doesn't believe in instrumental music, I didn't question it for some time. What I did question, however, from an early age, was how could a loving God send people in darkest Africa to hell for all eternity because they didn't obey the gospel. Hello, they had never had the opportunity to hear it, so how could they be responsible for obeying it? I'm old. In my youth there was no TV, and not many missionaries traveled to the "dark continent," so it was perfectly obvious to my young inquiring mind that the Africans were getting a bum rap out of this deal, no matter how scriptural it was supposed to be. What if I had been born in Africa instead of into a Christian home? The thought terrified me, but when I brought up the subject to the elder who was my Sunday School teacher, he just shrugged and said, "We don't understand such things, Jani."
When I was baptized into the Holy Spirit, I instantly felt the love of God which put Jesus on the cross for me. It brought me to my knees in tears of repentance and joy and gratitude for the sacrifice and such unconditional love that put Him to death for my sins. Shortly afterward, God brought Harry Fox into my life to share the gospel with me, that God was on that cross, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men's sins against them (II Cor. 5:19). What satisfied my heart's longing was relationship with God, not intellectual probing into correct doctrine, which turned out to be fatally flawed. This leads me to change the question from "Is it scriptural" to "Is it Christ?" I love Him because He first loved me. I serve Him by watching Him do the Father's will through me. If Jesus can do nothing by Himself, why do we think we can do anything on our own? Jesus did what He saw the Father doing and said what He heard the Father saying. This is why He spoke as One with authority. This why the Pharisees had to kill Him. A person who rebels against orthodox religious authority, i.e., what the majority believes, is too dangerous to let live.
The Pharisees considered Christ's teachings unscriptural, even though they studied the Torah more than most study the Bible today. Yet because their eyes were blinded, they did not see the truth which God sent Jesus to live. Going by the letter always kills, for only Spirit brings life. Thus, all who live only by the book have failed to keep the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faith (Mt. 23:23), because those can only be accomplished by "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). Christians are still majoring in minors. Judging others who do things that we don't consider scriptural puts us in the same pew as the Pharisees. No matter what our church friends or family think of us, we need to remember that the only One whose opinion counts is God Himself.
I've undergone two major shifts in doctrine during my walk with God, and there may be more to come. I've studied the Bible from my childhood, seeking what is scriptural, but I've come to realize why Jesus told His disciples that it was the Holy Spirit who would lead them into all truth (John 16:13). If truth only came from the Bible, all those who lived between the first and 16th centuries would have been lost, because there were no Bibles available to the common man then! Though believers probably own half a dozen Bibles today, nevertheless, we just can't figure it out in our own minds, or get there by listening to our church friends, who, by definition, must speak the same thing. I've come to the place of saying, "Lord I know what the church says, the family expects, and the world assumes, but what do YOU think? Let me see what You see in this matter."
Life is a maturation from infancy to old age, and that's true of our spiritual journey as well. When I was a child, I read the Psalms, rejoicing that the Lord is my shepherd who takes good care of me. When I was a teenager, I memorized the lineage from Adam to Moses and diligently studied all of Paul's missionary journeys. When I grew up, I dug into the book of Romans, for it is the delineation of the gospel entrusted to Paul and now my treasure as well.
Early on, I railed against what I saw as the failure of the extant church, which has so often disappointed me. Now that God has parted the veil for me to see His plan of the ages, I realize that each of us must come to Him in the way He has ordained, in His time, by His grace and His faith. We cannot sit in judgment of each other, for each one of us walks by the light we have been given. To try to do more than we have been given is as futile as trying to hurry a tender bud into becoming a full blown rose, or attempting to pry a chrysalis open to set the butterfly free before its time. We can only be who He called us to be before the foundation of the world. When we realize that His hand is on the wheel in our lives, we can relax, stop our people pleasing behaviors, and enjoy Him.
The meaning of scripture is often in the eye of the beholder, based upon personal experience. This means that the question, "Is it scriptural?" gets answered differently at various stages of our journey. At one time I would have said that both instrumental music and women preachers are not scriptural; God does not do miracles today; and much as I hated it, sinners would burn in an eternal hell, for this is what I THOUGHT the Bible said. By His grace, He opened my eyes to see Him as He is, and now, when the Holy Spirit shines His spotlight on it, God's salvation of all is written everywhere in scripture for those whose eyes have been opened to see it. This is why He is our guide, not men, and not even the Bible itself, for on our own, we're incapable of finding God there. However, He will reward those who diligently seek Him and that's a promise upon which we can stand (Heb. 11:6). What He has done for us, He will do for our children as well. They have their own path to follow, which may not look like ours, but we're all heading to and will eventually arrive at the same place: the Father's glorious presence.
Father, we thank You that it is relationship not doctrine which brings us to You. You are the Word, the Way, the very essence of Truth, and the Father of Light in whom is no shadow of turning. We love You because You first loved us and showed us how to love. Flow through us in love, mercy and kindness to Your entire creation, and haste the day when all will know You, the day when Your glory covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
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This page was uploaded to the web on 7/28/05
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/14/08.