Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 3/4/07.
"Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O LORD" (Ps. 130:1).
Last Sunday, a tiny old lady was wheeled by the charge nurse into the Parlor where we have our Medicalodge service. I welcomed her as I was passing out hymn books, and asked if she'd like one. She seemed confused about what it was, so I told her again and asked if she wanted one. She mumbled something I didn't get and then added, "I'm looking for church." I told her she had found it, and invited her to sing with us. As we were singing, she turned her chair around and around and finally wheeled herself out of the room. I smiled at the rest of the group and said, "We didn't look like church to her." One of the regulars told me that the woman's "mind had been bad for a few days." It was a great introduction to discuss the religious "boxes" we all know, called denominations. My take on that is that people and families gravitate to groups where they feel most comfortable. Intellectuals who desire mental stimulation probably will end up in the Presbyterian, Methodist or Episcopalian churches. Emotional, intuitive types usually opt for the Baptist, Pentecostal, or Charismatic churches, where they can feel their feelings, and worship in an unrestrained manner which would horrify the "chosen frozen" members in the liturgical churches.
In his book, Your God is Too Small, J. B. Phillips first drew my attention to how different denominations had God in their particular doctrinal box. When I was thinking about this subject, a good friend sent me an e-mail with an excerpt from Phillip's book which I want to share:
"There are doubtless many reasons for the degeneration of Christianity into churchiness, and the narrowing of the Gospel for all mankind into a set of approved beliefs; but the chief cause must be the worship of an inadequate god: a cramped and regulated god who is a 'good churchman' according to the formulas of the worshipper. For actual behavior infallibly betrays the real object of the man's worship. All Christians, whatever their Church, would of course instantly repudiate the idea that their god was a super-example of their own denomination. Nevertheless, beneath the conscious critical level of the mind it is perfectly possible for the Anglo-Catholic, for example, to conceive God as particularly pleased with Anglo-Catholicism, doubtful about Evangelicalism, and frankly displeased by all forms of Non-conformity... The ultra-low Churchman on the other hand must admit, if he is honest, that the God whom he worships disapproves most strongly of vestments, incense, and candles on the altar. The tragedy of these examples, is not difference of opinion, which will probably be with us till the Day of Judgment, but the outrageous folly and damnable sin of trying to regard God as the Party Leader of a particular point of view." (End Quote).
All of us have been guilty of this kind of categorizing, judging, or pigeonholing each other and by extension, of God Himself. The Fundamentalists, for instance, take Paul's admonition to the Corinthians, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (I Cor. 14:40), to mean "no rowdy stuff, like speaking in tongues in church." The Corinthians themselves, however, experienced all the Spiritual gifts in their worship services, and the same folks who want orderly services forget that Paul also said, "So, my brethren, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues" (I Cor. 14:39). I have a friend who received the Baptism in the Spirit accompanied by the gift of tongues. She was a member of a Fundamentalist church which did not believe the gifts survived after the last Apostle died. She told me that the Spirit flooded her during the Sunday morning service one day and she burst out in tongues. Needless to say, she did not remain a member in good standing with that church and was asked to leave.
Many of us grew up in Christian homes, for which I'm very grateful, but the downside of it, is that we had no knowledge or exposure to any doctrinal concepts other than the ones espoused by the church our family attended. If our church of choice taught that they were right and everyone else was wrong, it set us up to be prejudiced, judgmental and condescending toward others who didn't believe what we did. We were in a box, though we didn't know it, and of course, we believed God was only in our box, not in any of the many other boxes.
If God called us out of that church box, Phillips said, into a little bigger one, we knew God was in that bigger box as well, without realizing that it was still a box. There's no freedom in a box, after all, which is very much like a grave, keeping us in and others out. Freedom is as wonderful as the air we breathe, but as the poster says, "Freedom isn't free." It will cost us dearly, but the "light affliction" works a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
For example, I was a member in good standing of a church, which taught that the gifts of the Spirit are no longer available to us, because we have the Bible now and don't need them, but when God Baptized me in the Spirit, suddenly confronting me with the gifts of the Spirit in full force, I was immediately thrust into a quagmire, a very uncomfortable situation in which I had to choose: a deeper relationship with God, or the approval of my peers. Since I cannot have both, I chose to follow the Spirit and I'm still paying the price.
Granted, the little old lady who came Sunday, was probably suffering from some sort of dementia, but to her, we in that parlor at Medicalodge didn't look like church. I don't look or sound like a preacher, and our service didn't meet her expectations of "church." After she left, we had a lively discussion about what church is and is not. One woman shared that she grew up in a church where she couldn't wear pants, short hair, or make up. She grinned impishly and told us she wore make up to school, but she had wiped it all off before coming home.
Another woman said she attended a church which wouldn't allow instrumental music, but the song leader got his pitch from a mouth organ. "What was that?" she demanded. "Instrumental music," I replied. "What do you want, consistency?" Some of these doctrinal taboos make no sense, are illogical and divisive, but if everything is up to us, as most churches claim, then we had best get it right; and we had better back up what we say with scripture. That's all well and good, of course, except when groups use the same Bible to prove diametrically opposed points of view. Who is right? That depends on which side you're on.
Trying to please everyone is categorically impossible. One size does NOT fit all. Phillips referred to "boxes" as the place where we confine God. T. Austin Sparks, called these receptacles "prisons." In his essay entitled "Tradition," Sparks wrote: "From the latter days of the Apostles till now, the history of Christianity is a history of prisons. This history is not of literal or material prisons, though there have been not a few of these. It is a history of prisons, which are the result of man's long established habit of bringing the Spirit into bondage."
Lenny has "seen" that an organism becomes codified into an organization when the disciples of a person who has had a genuine revelation from God, turn his insights into a formula for success, attempting to emulate what the master taught. For instance, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, and fed the five thousand. He said "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father" (John 14:12). That verse has been used as the proof text that we also have the power to do all the works Jesus did, and yet, as a friend wrote today, though he would love to be able to tell a lame man to get up and walk, it doesn't work for him. Why? To find the answer, we're brought back full circle to the topic of discussion the past three weeks: the SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD! That's the bottom line for all the failure and the success that Christians have experienced since Christ physically walked the earth.
As Lenny also points out, Jesus did not exercise His own free will, but only the Father's will. Christ said to His disciples, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise" (John 5:19). He also said, "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works" (John 14:10). Jesus was totally submitted to the Father's will, only doing what He saw the Father doing and only saying what He heard the Father saying. If we do otherwise and fall back on religiously devised formulas, we might as well use the formula for computing the radius of a circle as any other formula to get someone healed. Neither will work because only God heals.
What came to me when I first realized that God alone calls the shots, is that His power flows out of love, and He would no sooner share that power with those not fully matured by grace than we would hand an AK-47 rifle with the safety off to a four year old child playing cops and robbers. It would lead to disaster.
T. Austin Sparks wrote, "What was, at its beginning, a spiritual energy-producing living organism, expressing something that God really wanted and to which He gave birth has too often become something which the next generation has to sustain and struggle hard at to keep going. The thing has developed a self-interest, and it will go hard with anyone or anything interfering or seeming to interfere with it. The Spirit has become the prisoner of the institution or system, and as a result the people become limited spiritually."
Please remember that Phillips' "boxes" and Sparks' "prisons" are merely symbols used to illustrate the point that man has always tried to capture and hold God. Because He is absolutely sovereign, no man can contain, deter, define or hinder God's purpose. He is unstoppable. That being the case, it helps me to remember that He made churches the way they are today, allowing all the confusing doctrine and chaos that seemingly exists. Why? I do not speak for our Father, but it has always come to me that this is part of the "spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day," which Paul said GOD SENT (Rom. 11:8). Again, we ask "Why?" The answer is found through the pages of scripture. God has always used "boxes" or containers that people built to show His power to deliver. Here are a few examples:
Moses was delivered from a "box" in the River Nile by Pharaoh's daughter, because God planned for him to be the instrument of deliverance for the children of Israel. Later, under divine orders, Moses supervised the building of the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant, which was a type of "box" to house God Himself. The Hebrew children were delivered from the fiery furnace box and Daniel was delivered from the lion's den box, to show God's glory. The ultimate deliverance from a "box" was Jesus' resurrection from the grave, at which point, the veil in the temple was rent in twain, the perfect visual symbol that God could no longer be kept in a container as they had been led to believe He was since Moses' day. Oh, and since God is in the business of breaking people out of boxes, don't get too comfortable in whatever religious receptacle you find yourself in. "Out of the box," He now lives in the hearts of people everywhere, yet, there was a veil over men's eyes, Paul said, when the old covenant was read.
Since so many are still living by Law (adding something to the finished work of Christ, who in reality, as John Gavazzoni has noted, IS God's finished work), Paul said the veil is still there "because only in Christ is it taken away" (II Cor. 3:14). However, when we turn to the Lord, "the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (II Cor. 3:16-17). The end result of having the veil taken away, is that, "we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (Vs. 18). In reality then, the Spirit can never be contained exclusively in a church, a doctrine, a denomination, a book or a person.
Lest we forget, Jesus did the mighty works of God because He had the Spirit "without measure": "For the one whom God sent speaks the authentic words of God, and there can be no measuring of the Spirit given to him!" (John 3:34, Phillips). By contrast, we have what Paul calls the "earnest (guarantee) of the Spirit in our hearts" (II Cor. 1:22). And yes, we've already said that John prophesied that we who believe will do greater works than these, but not until the fulness of His time, which isn't yet. There are those who say they have all His power now, but their lives do not reflect it. The power of God flows from His unconditional love. It is not a parlor trick or a way to raise money for a ministry. Jesus gave away God's gifts; He did not charge for them, the way some so-called ministers today "fleece the flock" for their own personal gain. A friend recently mused on this subject, about what some of these guys in their expensive, designer suits and perfectly styled hair would do if Jesus showed up in person and bid them follow Him, leaving all their worldly goods behind. The thought makes me smile.
God is sovereign. He is not upset, worried, depressed, or angry at the religious chaos we see everywhere around us. He knew it would happen and He knows what He will do about it. Until then, we can rest in knowing that all we have to do is listen to His voice, do what we see the Father doing and say or write what we hear the Father saying, leaving the rest to Him.
Father, we bless Your holy Name that You do all things well, even when we can't see it with our natural eyes. Use us as living springs of Your peace and unconditional love flowing out to a thirsty world. Reveal Your glory, Father, that all flesh may see it together and praise You! Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Back to Basics: The Sovereignty of God
Back to Basics, II: Sovereignty and Reconciliation
Back to Basics, III: A Practicum on Sovereignty
Back to Basics, V: The Codependency Factor
Back to Basics, VI: The Tomb Is Still Empty
Back to Basics, VII: Where Is Hell?
Back to Basics, VIII: God Is Love
Back to Basics, IX: By Man Came Also
Back to Basics, X: Victory Over Death
Back to Basics , XI: Provision
The Glory Road
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This page was uploaded to the web on 03/01/07
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/02/08.