04 Aug, 2012 Asking the hard question
(The below is a ‘article’ drafted for something else, but which I may or may not include, as it is quite direct. Be warned that it asks some hard questions that most avoid, or maybe do not even allow themselves to consider for whatever reason).
Will you allow me to make you uncomfortable for a moment? Can I share with you what is possibly my greatest fear?
Jesus said, ‘Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’
Why are so few believers, and so few churches, focused on ‘fishing for men’? Who is it that we have turned to really? Could it be that we have turned to some half-idea of who we think Jesus is, or maybe to our own ideal of who we want Jesus to be?
You can decide, but consider what we claim to believe: God loved us enough to give Jesus to die in our place. The forgiveness of sins is a real issue. Coming to a knowledge of God as revealed in Christ is necessary for salvation. There is a problem here on planet earth – people are already lost to an eternity separated from God. However for as long as they have breath they could still be rescued from this fate because Jesus has provided the solution. Seeing people ‘rescued’ is God’s desire. He longs for relationship with them. His heart breaks for them!
If we love Him and love others, why does the need to ‘fish for men’ even need explanation?
Why is this book needed, when all these matters are well discussed in books written a few decades ago – but which were not then considered or applied by many. This has left the old ‘methods’ to continue to rule the roost, and most churches to thus do nothing because they are sceptical of those old methods?
Could it be that we are more easily inclined toward ‘religion’ than we think we are? Could it be that our hearts are actually quite hard?
Look at us standing in our churches! Our words sound good, and we seem fully convinced that we are alright while standing here within these walls of belief that we have built which justify our form of Christianity. So well-built are these walls that we feel little to no guilt whatsoever when challenged with the fact that the vast majority of us – and the vast majority of our Churches – are not sharing Christ! Doesn’t that scare you?
Consider those who were convinced of the predominant Jewish belief-system in Jesus’ day, who followed God diligently, studying, knowing and obeying all His laws – and yet who could not see and recognise who Jesus was? Can you see what was wrong? Had they not created an idea of God that was different to the true God, having allowed the living Word of God to become the basis of what was, in reality, their own religion, with the heart of God’s Word having been lost in the process?
Could it be that we are deceived? Is it not evident that we have lost our connection with the message that is at the heart of God’s Word (God’s love and its response of offering salvation through Jesus)? Some may react at this point and say, ‘but I am concerned for the lost!’ But what do our actions say? Could it be that, as Biblically diligent as we consider ourselves to be, we have built our own form of Christianity and our own idea of God, based on things that are true, but without the full picture that is necessary – giving merely intellectual ascent to things that are supposed to be applied?
The word ‘necessary’ in that last sentence is, of course, where the real rubber hits the road for us (and the last part of that sentence the point with regard to evangelism) – and I am convinced of the grace of God within this picture. I am likewise convinced that we have many things right in the Christianity of our day. The abolition of slavery, the respectful treatment of women, a much clearer understanding of certain forms of legalism that have plagued the Church in history, a well-balanced and growing understanding of the difference between gospel and culture… are examples of things that modern Christianity may have more right than at any other time in history! Global culture has led to a general maturing in the Christian Church in many areas. But what does our failure to put the contents of a book like this (‘Because we care’) into practice, say about our hearts?
I confess that, as a pastor and discipler (disciple-maker), these things concerned me deeply – as well as the general apathy of many ‘believers.’ From a Biblical perspective I could not (and still cannot) say for sure if many really are believers, because salvation comes with repentance, not just with a prayer. Only God’ knows. I would look at the teachings of Jesus and feel deep, deep concern, aware of the temptation and subtle pressure even upon me as a pastor and preacher to avoid talk of hell and judgement, or of people going to hell because they didn’t use their ‘talents’ or show proper concern for the poor (Matthew 25), or of where Jesus said, ‘Unless you give up everything you cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:33), etc. There is a subtle expectation to avoid hard questions such as whether we could be deceived, because it might upset the desire many have for security. But it sometimes negatively affects interpretation. I have watched such passages as above being taught and studied without so much as a flicker of concern by preachers or members. We are somehow convinced that none of the criticisms or judgements could ever apply to us. Why is this? Even the Calvanists among us [at its extreme meaning God chooses who is saved, in effect making our ‘free will’ like an illusion] recognise that we can be deceived, and apostate, and agree that a faith without works is dead (such a person is not actually saved).
TOWARD A CONCLUSION:
With regard to faith, the only conclusion I have come to thus far is this: Security is known in the continuing sincerity of our attempts to love, know and serve God. It is not that we are in any way saved by our works – for they are as filthy rags. But we are called to a relationship with God, and our repentance – turning from our ways to God’s ways, is a necessary part of that relationship. This is what conversion is supposed to be about, and a part of what our water baptism symbolises.
With regard to evangelism, my best conclusion is that our sincerity is shown in one thing – that we always do something. While these efforts might feel inadequate, and we might fail many times, the evidence of our love for God and others is shown through our perseverance to still keep trying. We are undying in our commitment to do something – despite our weaknesses and failures – because we care, and because we correctly recognise that this is our mission!
…and where such sincerity does not seem to exist, I don’t know what to think, but do feel concern when considering how Jesus responded to various would-be followers who on the one hand often lacked humility, but on the other were not really willing to give their all.
God’s Church has a Mission. How have we got to this place where the mission of most local churches has little to nothing to do with the actual Mission of God’s Church? We act as if this is alright – but is it from God’s perspective?
What He might think is, I think, my greatest fear, because it is the nature of deceit to be convinced you are not deceived, and there are plenty of Scriptures in the New Testament that call us to fully surrender – and to witness.
For sure – our efforts will always be inadequate in this life – but our sincere efforts, from a motivation of love, are my best conclusion for how ‘acceptable’ might be measured.
In summary: We must do something!