Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

An Open Letter to Mormon Missionaries

This is a letter I wrote several years ago after conversations with Mormon missionaries at the Moscow Farmers' Market.

Thank you for the three booklets you gave me at the farmers’ market. I have read them with interest. They are The Gospel of Jesus Christ, The Plan of Salvation, and The Family, a Proclamation to the World.

Who Jesus is:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5, 14)

“Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.” (Colossians 1:13-23)

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:21-22)

“I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30)

Here is the Gospel as we find it in the New Testament KJV:

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve. After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-6)

This gospel was preached by Peter in Acts 2:22-36:

“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know. Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain, whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope, because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.”

Three thousand souls were added to them that day: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).

This gospel was preached again in Acts 3:12-19:

“And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? Or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”

“Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4)

Peter again preached the Gospel in Acts 10:34-47:

“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all). That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly, not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”

“Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:14-18)

In all of these the deity, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was the minimum of truth which constituted the Gospel. Notice also that the baptism with water occurred after they had received the Holy Ghost.

Paul the Apostle preached the same at Antioch in Acts 13:23-32:

“Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus, when John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose. Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead: and he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers.”

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Timothy 2:3-6)

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 2:20-3:2)

The passages above are a few of many such verses which describe the Gospel.

The Gospel is something that God alone does. The plan of salvation:

“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

“And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48)

“Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” (Acts 26:17-18)

The plan includes preaching the Gospel and man’s response to the Gospel. The following are a few descriptive responses to the Gospel.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name, which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13). Subject: as many. Verb: received. Object: Him. Result: sons of God.

“That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:15-16). Subject: whosoever. Verb: believeth. Object: in Him. Result: not perish, eternal life, everlasting life.

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). Subject: whosoever. Verb: drinketh. Object: water that I give him. Result: never thirst, everlasting life.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). Subject: he. Verb: heareth, believeth. Object: my word, on Him. Result: no condemnation, everlasting life, from death to life.

“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Subject: he. Verb: that cometh, that believeth. Object: to me, on me. Result: never hunger, never thirst.

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Subject: he, any man. Verb: eat. Object: this bread. Result: everlasting life, live forever.

“He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). Subject: He. Verb: believeth. Object: on me. Result: rivers of living water.

“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Subject: He. Verb: followeth. Object: me. Result: light of life.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (John 8:51). Subject: a man. Verb: keep. Object: my saying. Result: never see death.

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind” (John 9:35-39). Subject: thou. Verb: believe. Object: Son of God. Result: might see.

“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). Subject: any man. Verb: enter. Object: the door. Result: saved.

“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26). Subject: he (though dead), whosoever (liveth). Verb: believeth. Object: me. Result: live, never die.

“I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). Subject: whosoever. Verb: believeth. Object: me. Result: not abide in darkness.

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Subject: no man. Verb: cometh. Object: Father (by me). Result: Father.

“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21). Subject: ye. Verb: believe. Object: Jesus is the Christ. Result: life.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Subject: all ye that labor. Verb: come, take, learn. Object: me, my yoke, of me. Result: rest.

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). Subject: thou. Verb: confess, believe, believeth, confession. Object: Lord Jesus, that God hath raised him. Result: saved, righteousness, salvation.

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). Subject: whosoever. Verb: calls. Object: upon the name of the Lord. Result: saved.

“For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.” (Titus 3:3-8)

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

“To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” (Acts 26:18)

“Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21)

As you read these scriptures, you have probably noticed that there are different verbs used in response to the Gospel. They are believe, receive, hear, come, drink, eat, follow, keep, enter, take, learn, confess, and repent. The subject is “whosoever” or “anyone” or “ye” or “he.” The object of these verbs is always the Father or the Son and the result is different words for salvation. This salvation takes place at the moment of belief.

I recognize that you believe that the Bible is the Word of God as long as it is correctly translated. Pay no attention to those Scriptures which are not correctly translated. It is also possible that I may have taken a verse out of context. If so, it was not intentional. To correct that, just read the whole chapter or book.

Baptism of the Holy Ghost:

“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3)

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

“For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence… But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:5, 8)

“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4)

“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.” (Acts 10:44)

“Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost…When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:16, 18)

Baptism with the Holy Ghost is the evidence of repentance unto life.

Baptism with water:

“Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.” (Acts 10:47-58)

Notice that they were baptized with water after they were baptized with the Holy Ghost.

“I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius, lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” (1 Corinthians 1:15-17)

Baptism is not part of the Gospel. The Gospel is something that God does. Baptism with water is something that man does.

New Covenant:

“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 2Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

This is quoted in Hebrews 10:16-17.

The Old Covenant was a two-way covenant. This covenant is a one-way covenant. Man cannot break it. God is faithful even if we are not faithful.

The family:

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” (Matthew 22:29-30)

“The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” (Matthew 19:3-12)

“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 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. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” (Ephesians 5:21-33)

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1-4)

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives, while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands, even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” (1 Peter 3:1-7)

Read all of 1 Corinthians 7.

I encourage you to read the New Testament like a little child reads a story book, with sincere interest, not with a critical, defensive mood. If it is true, then there is nothing to be defensive about or to be afraid of.

With love and respect,

Jim Wilson

Friday, October 28, 2016

From the Editor

Letter from the Editor (Nancy Wilson), Hammer Magazine, Vol. 2 No. 4, 1983

"I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side." (Psalm 3:5-6)

Today we can buy sleeping pills to help us get “rest” at night and pep-up pills to get us going during the day. But drug-induced sleep can never be a substitute for the peaceful sleep of a soul resting in God.

Just as a child can cast off his cares in his parents’ arms and sleep, so we see David sleeping amidst “tens of thousands” against him. What was his secret? It was a knowledge of the character of God and a responsive trust in Him. C.H. Spurgeon describes David in this Psalm as reclining “his head on the bosom of his God.”

As Christians, we should recognize that restless sleep is a symptom of a soul burdened with cares that belong on the shoulders of the One who alone can carry them. David had many life-threatening concerns, yet he says, “The Lord sustains me.” Through all the stresses of this life, we too must be sustained by His grace which will indeed enable us to “lie down and sleep.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Mouth Speaks

This is another article written by my wife Bessie.

“For out of the overflow of his heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. This statement meets with stiff resistance from children and adults alike. We do not want to be held responsible for what comes from our mouths.

“I was tired, so I said what I said. I didn’t mean it.”
“I was angry…”
“I was hurt…”
“I was only kidding…”

These are all excuses and inadmissible in the light of what Jesus said. When we look at the context, it is even more devastating. Jesus said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45).

We would like to think that two streams of words can proceed from a single source. James, in his letter, denies this by a rhetorical question. “Out of the same mouth came praise and cursing. My brother, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (James 3:10-11).

We expend much useless energy trying by self-control to put a lid on our words, or we try to camouflage our words to protect our spiritual image. If these two efforts fail and the words escape, then we try to deny what we said.

What is the solution? I have found that I must first admit to God my responsibility for what I have said and recognize the polluted source. I have His promise in 1 John 1:9 that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

“But,” you may say, “I can control what I say with everybody but my husband (wife or children), and do you mean that my heart is judged evil with one person when I get along so well with others?”

Don’t you see that these are the people with whom we have an emotional attachment, a closeness, an intimacy where politeness cannot control us? These are the people who know us best, who know us as we really are.

This is the area most under attack by our enemy, for if we are defeated at home, we are not victorious anywhere. We are relaxed at home, unaware that the spiritual warfare is there as well, and we should not give up our spiritual armor as we enter our homes. Armor is only useful when we are “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).

Let our prayer be, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Relaxing the Law

"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:17-20 RSV)

Jesus taught that there are three eternal destinies:

1) Least in the kingdom
2) Great in the kingdom
3) Never in the kingdom

In the rest of Matthew 5, Jesus taught how He fulfilled the law. He fulfilled it by going back to the motives of the hearthatred, lust, and love. This has to do with the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is never less than the letter; it is always more. The Pharisees were living the letter only and would not make it into the kingdom. Others who objected to the letter of the law and relaxed it would be least in the kingdom.

Christians today think that there are only two choices: keeping the letter and relaxing the letter. The United States abounds with legalist doers and teachers. It also abounds with those who react to legalism, i.e. relaxed doers and teachers. The choice between “not in the kingdom” and “least in the kingdom” seems a poor one to me.

Is there a third option? Yes: “whoever keeps them and teaches others to do so.” Here is one of Jesus’ examples: “You have heard that it was said: ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ I, however, say to you that anyone who looks at a woman with an impure intention has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28 RSV). Being great in the kingdom means following seriously, from the heart, the fulfilled law as taught by Jesus in Matthew 5-7 and the rest of the Gospels.

It is very easy to become a “relaxer” of the law. The majority of Christians do it. First we look at the letter of the law, “You shall not commit adultery,” and say, “To observe that would be Old Testament legalism.”

Then we look at the fulfilled law: “Anyone who looks at a woman with an impure intention has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” and say, “That is nice, but it is idealism. If I tried to obey that I would be riddled with guilt constantly.”

By relaxing both the letter of the law and the higher motive, we leave the door wide open for violating the moral law in both thoughts and action. This is why an increasing number of Christians find themselves in serious sexual sin. The person who has been redeemed by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus should have no difficulty believing His teaching and getting power from Him to obey that teaching.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Heart

This is an article written by my wife Bessie for The Hammer magazine.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Prov. 4:23)

Whether we know it or not, all of us have had heart trouble. Whatever part of the spiritual anatomy the heart represents, the Scripture is clear that it is the seat of the emotions, one’s very being, from which thoughts, words, and actions proceed. Jesus said, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean” (Mark 7:20-23).

The prophet Jeremiah gave God’s diagnosis: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind” (Jer. 17:9-10a).

Therefore, the heart must be changed. He who did the diagnosis provides the remedy. This is God’s promise in Ezekiel 11:19: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them. I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees.” This is the Old Testament equivalent of Jesus’ words in John 3 that we need to be born again to enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ is the heart specialist of all time. He told us in Mark 7 what evil can proceed from the heart of man. Humanism says the heart and mind of man can be relied upon from progress, morality and social reform. In reading Jesus’ diagnosis of the heart of man we see all the social problems of our day and the crime resulting from the illness within man.

The gospel of Jesus Christ, His death for our sins and His resurrection for our justification (Rom. 4:25), provides the only remedy for the heart of man. This is the only cure for our heart trouble, a new heart given by a gracious God as we bring that deceitful heart to Him. Then we can sing with Charles Wesley,

Oh, for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free;
A heart that’s sprinkled with the blood,
So freely shed for me.

A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
My dear Redeemer’s throne;
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Husbands: Nourish and Cherish

"So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church." (Eph. 5:28-29 KJV)

"And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4 KJV)

Notice the difference between a husband-wife relationship and a father-son relationship: “nourish” and “nurture” are synonyms. “Cherish” and “admonish” are not, but they are both gentle. Cherishing is feeling and showing affection in a tender way. Admonishing is correcting in a gentle way.

We are to nurture our wives and our children, both spiritually and physically. We are also to cherish our wives and admonish our children. We are not told to admonish our wives.

"Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered." (1 Pet. 3:7 KJV)

There is much in this verse, so please dwell on it. I spend a great deal of time with husbands who do not feel respected and with wives who do not respect. This is a great problem, but it is not as great as the one Peter mentions here—“giving honor to the wife.” Many Christian men do not honor their wives. Pay attention!

"And he answered and said unto them, 'Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.'” (Matt. 19:4-6 KJV)

When a child is born into our family, our object is to rear him so that he will leave us and establish his own family. We are not to train our wives to leave us. The phrase to remember is “leave and cleave.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Husbands: Authority & Responsibility

What is the authority and responsibility of a Christian husband?

One of the good things I learned in the Navy was that authority and responsibility must go together in equal proportions. A person with authority but no responsibility will exercise that authority arbitrarily. He will order people around with no objective other than establishing his own authority. Conversely, a person with responsibility for a task but no authority to help him accomplish it will only be frustrated.

Before I apply this concept to Christian husbands, I want to discuss and hopefully dissolve a common misconception. Because the Scripture tells wives, children, and servants to obey, some Christians have inferred that it is the job of husbands, fathers, and masters to command. This is an inference only and is, therefore, invalid. The Bible contains no direct teaching nor implication that husbands, fathers, and masters are to be commanders. The Bible does not teach a chain of command. It teaches a chain of obedience and submission.

Look at the passages addressed to husbands:

"Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them." (Col. 3:19)

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Eph. 5:25-27)

There is no commanding here—only sacrifice. Husbands are responsible to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the church, and for the same reason—to make her beautiful.

"Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." (1 Pet. 3:7)

Husbands are to be considerate and respectful of their wives. We are to love our wives in order to make them lovely, not because they are lovely. A woman needs love the most when she is unlovely. It is the husband’s responsibility to give that love.

The Bible teaches fathers and masters to follow the same pattern of respect, consideration, and sacrifice.

The Bible’s emphasis is on responsibility rather than authority, but husbands are given the authority to fulfill their responsibilities. In Numbers 30, God gave them the authority to confirm or nullify vows or rash promises made by their wives, even if the vows were made before marriage. The chapter ends with these words:

"These are the regulations the LORD gave Moses concerning relationships between a man and his wife, and between a father and his young daughter still living in his house." (Numbers 30:16)

Husbands are responsible to protect and care for their wives, and they have the authority to carry out that responsibility.

You can read more on this subject in Being Christian, available here.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Husband's Responsibility

This article is reprinted with permission from Perspective, a bi-weekly devotional letter published by Concern Ministries, Inc. of McLean, VA.

Dear Friend,

Sixty-five years, forty-five of them as a student of the Bible and thirty-eight years of marriage, have brought a deep, settled conviction. In the economy of God, 100% of the responsibility for sustaining a marriage belongs to the husband. No failure or sin on the part of the wife is his justification to forsake her.

St. Paul is explicit:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her…that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25-28)

This instruction admits of no condition whereby a husband may leave his wife. Christ will not forsake His church, no matter how she fails. God, speaking through His prophet Malachi, puts the blame for divorce strictly on the husband:
And this again you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. You ask, “Why does He not?” Because the Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does He desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord the God of Israel, “and covering one’s garment with violence,” says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless. (Mal. 2:13-16)

To illustrate His love for His spouse, the people of God, He commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute—and when she left him, to go after her.

A husband cannot force his wife to receive his love, or reciprocate it—not even God can do that. But he must love her, cleave to her! He is bound by covenant!
Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Gen. 2:24)

(See Matthew 19:5 and Ephesians 5:31.)

Blessings,

Richard C. Halverson

Friday, October 14, 2016

Obedience & Provision

Written by Jim Howard

A rugged-looking man of sun-bronzed skin, clothed in a rough leather garment, stands alone by the little mountain brook. He shields his eyes from the lowering sun to see a flock of large black birds swooping toward him. He reaches eagerly to take from the leading raven’s beak a part of the evening’s supper, then dips some clear water from the brook.

Elijah, the prophet of Israel (1 Kings 17:1-7), has been sent by God to a wilderness brook far from the burning vengeance of wicked King Ahab. Coming upon him in this scene, we can look briefly at two principles operating in his life: 1) his obedience and 2) his provision from the Lord.

We first see Elijah in the royal court of Samaria. Elijah has confronted Ahab, perhaps has warned him of his need for repentance, and now has told him of the ensuing drought as punishment form the Lord (v. 1). Immediately upon giving this message to the king, Elijah received a command. Notice Elijah’s obedience: “And the word of the Lord came unto him saying, ‘Get thee hence…’ So he went…” (v. 2, 5).

Elijah must have been attuned to the Lord’s speaking, or the word of the Lord could not have come to him. And when it did come, he obeyed instantly. The key to the Christian’s guidance is having a heart in tune with the Lord, ready, as Samuel the prophet was, to say, “Speak; for thy servant heareth” (1 Sam. 3:10). When the word of the Lord is clear to us, are we prepared to act upon it in obedience?

It is to the brook in the wilderness that God commands Elijah to go. But God has already been there ahead of him. He has commanded the ravens to bring Elijah food both morning and evening and has planned for the fresh water of the brook to sustain him. Notice how God works at both ends of the situation. Elijah’s provision is there waiting for him, as he obeys. So it is for the Christian who seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and consequently finds that all the necessities are added to him (Matt. 6:33).

When the brook dries up, it could well appear to Elijah that God has left him. But at the eleventh hour, “the word of the Lord came unto him” (v. 8) again, to move him on to a new place of provision. So God often meets the believer at the eleventh hour. He has not promised grace for anticipation, but rather He assures us, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Cor. 12:9, italics mine), right now.

Is our life characterized by the same unquestioning obedience as Elijah’s? Are we trusting in the same kind of faithfulness on God’s part to meet our need in His own time?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Word of Authority

To what or whom does the Christian look as his ultimate authority?

First, authority never resides in a “what.” It always resides in someone, not something. The highest law of our land is the Constitution of the United States. We mistakenly speak of it as the final authority, but it is actually only an expression of the authority of the people.

Similarly, God, not the Bible, is the final authority for the Christian. The Bible is the primary expression of that authority, but is not the only expression. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Heb. 1:1-2). Jesus Christ’s time on earth was the other main expression of God’s authority. However, since Christ is a person, He is more than just an expression—He Himself possesses God’s authority. How do we know this? He made the worlds, and they are sustained by Him alone (John 1:1-5; Col. 1:15-20).

Unlike the Constitution, the Bible does not need amendments. God’s later revelation never contradicts His earlier revelation. God is not imperfect like people, and He does not change like people. Man’s laws can contradict themselves, but God’s revelation does not need correction.

Because God is not static, impersonal, or limited, there is nothing to prevent Him from expressing His authority to us in the future. If He does, we can be confident of several things:

• The new expression would not contradict or change God’s previous expression.
• It would not be pointless or futile.
• It would not need to be corrected later.

Even in recent history, books have surfaced which purport to be an expression from God—the Book of Mormon, for example. However, this book contradicts the Bible and has been changed many times since its first appearance two centuries ago. This contradiction and change demonstrate that the Book of Mormon is not a revelation authorized by God. Other books like God Calling and Angels on Assignment, which supposedly contain revelation from God, are also found to be false by this same test.

Christians believe that the Bible is an inerrant expression of God’s authority. We must never transfer this faith in His revelation to the writings of mere men. God is our final authority. Thus far, He has only chosen to communicate His perfect revelation in two expressions: His Word, the Bible, and His Word, the Son.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Right and Wrong & How to Know the Difference

I would like to start by looking at two sentences in the Bible that are not very well known. They were written about 1,500 years apart.

"If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible." (Lev. 5:17)

"My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me." (1 Cor. 4:4)

Not knowing about a sin does not keep you from being guilty, and having a clean conscience does not make you innocent. There is a reason for this. My knowledge and my conscience do not necessarily correctly reflect God’s absolute value system. To bring my conscience and absolute “right and wrong” together, there are a few basic truths to follow:

1. I must be a Christian. At the time of my conversion, my conscience is made clean and sensitive to God’s moral law.
2. I must know the Scriptures well. The Scriptures give absolute (Exodus 20) and relative (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8) standards. There is no excuse for not knowing the requirements.
3. I must choose to obey them.

"In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." (Heb. 5:12-14)

Knowing the teaching does not train us. Knowing and doing is what trains us to distinguish good from evil.

"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing." (James 1:22-25)

4. I must walk in the light. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Continuous cleansing keeps the conscience clean and working right.
When Paul wishes to communicate something more certain, he says it this way:

"I speak the truth in Christ— I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit." (Rom. 9:1)

"Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God." (2 Cor. 4:2)

Paul points to his own conscience, to every man’s conscience, and to God. His own conscience is confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

These are strong unequivocal statements. God is the source of truth, of right and wrong. Relativism does not enter the picture.

"On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts." (1 Thess. 2:4)

"You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed." (1 Thess. 2:10)

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Senior/Subordinate Relationships outside the Church

In the Scriptures, we find teaching on senior-subordinate relationships outside the church: government-citizens, masters-slaves, husbands-wives, and parents-children. These relationships are not chains of command as some might think, but rather chains of submission. The senior is not given the authority to command obedience, but rather the subordinate is told to submit. You can see this chain of submission in Ephesians 5 and 6, Colossians 3 and 4, 1 Peter 2 and 3, Titus 3:1, 1 Timothy 6:1, and Romans 13. Here are some examples:

"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22).

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Eph. 6:1).

"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ" (Eph. 6:5).

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established" (Rom. 13:1).

In each instance the subordinate is to obey, submit, and respect the senior, not because he is respectable, but because he is the king, the master, the husband, or the father. In fact, the Scriptures are explicit about obeying even if the senior is a bad man, that is, a bad king, a bad master, a bad husband, or a bad father. The king, master, husband, or father is to be respected because he is the king, master, husband, or father.

If a Christian is the master, husband, or father, he is not given authority to command obedience from the slaves, wives, or children. You might think that that authority is a “given.” However, there were several opportunities for the Holy Spirit to speak of such authority, but he did not. He said things like this:

"Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven" (Col. 4:1).

"Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them" (Col. 3:19).

"Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged" (Col. 3:21).

Many Christians in authority think that the Bible gives them authority to command because their subordinates are told to be submissive. That is an inference that cannot be borne out from Scripture. There is neither an explicit declaration or an implicit hint of it. However, we do find this teaching: “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:42-45).

In each of the Scriptures dealing with senior-subordinate relationships outside the church, the elder-Christian relationship is not mentioned. That is, Scriptures referring to the elder-Christian relationship are always mentioned in places separate from those referring to masters, husbands, and fathers. Why? Because an elder must be worthy of respect. This is not so with senior-subordinate relationships outside the church. That is a very important difference.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Qualifications of Elders

The qualifications of elders in the church are clearly defined in the Scriptures. These qualities include doctrinal and moral integrity, the nature of the elder’s relationships within the church and within his family, and his reputation outside the church. I encourage you to read the following Scriptures, giving attention to every word, using several translations: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Hebrews 13:7, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Timothy 3:1-10, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1-4, John 13:12-17, Mark 10:42-45, Acts 20:27-31, Romans 12:7- 8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Timothy 5:17. You should expect your present elders and your future elders to adhere to the Scriptures.

My remarks will be about relationships within the church. However, the Bible also teaches Christians about their relationships outside the church government. There are similarities, but they are not the same. I will describe those relationships in my next post.

The following three verses in the New Testament teach or command Christians directly concerning elders in the church.

• Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work... (1 Thess. 5:12-13)
• Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Heb. 13:7)
• Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb. 13:17)

There are seven commands in these verses. They are “respect,” “hold them in highest regard,” “remember,” “consider,” “imitate,” “obey,” and “submit.” Two of these are “remember” and “consider.” After this consideration, we see that “respect” and “highest regard” go together, and “submit” and “obey” go together. “Imitate” stands by itself.

The key words to the saints, then, are 1) remember, 2) respect, 3) imitate, and 4) obey. We would expect to find orders to elders which correspond to these key words. There is no corresponding word to “remember.” There is a complement to “respect.” “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach… Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain” (1 Tim. 3:2, 8). We are to respect elders for two reasons that go together. 1) He is a qualified elder. 2) We, as Christians, are to be respecting people.

There is also a corresponding word to “imitate.” We are told to imitate an elder who is an example to imitate. That is, the elder is to be a good example since he is to be imitated.

• …not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Pet. 5:3)
• Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity. (1 Tim. 4:12)
• Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Cor. 11:1)
• Therefore, I urge you to imitate me. (1 Cor. 4:16)

As we imitate our elders, we should become more like Jesus Christ. If by imitating them we do not become more like Jesus Christ, we should not imitate them.

With “obey,” we run into a blank. The complement of “obey” is “command.” Although we are to obey elders, we do not find anywhere in the Scripture that they are to command us. The word “command” seems to be limited to orders from God. Elders are to teach obedience to what Jesus has commanded, but not to what they themselves have commanded. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matt. 28:18-19). We see then that elders are to be worthy of respect and examples that can be imitated, but that they have no authority to command, other than the commands that have already been given by God.

However, we should assume that they were appointed as elders because of their lives. So the position of elder should get respect. If, while he is an elder, a man is found to be not respectable, he is still to be respected because of his position, but he should be corrected. “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning” (1 Tim. 5:19-20). The elder may be required to step down because he no longer fits the qualifications of elder.

There are church elders who have taken authority over the saints beyond their teaching and their example. They have become lords over the flock. This is forbidden.

"To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers— not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (1 Pet. 5:1-3).

In any church, there may be good elders and bad elders. We see this in Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders.

"For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood. I know that “after” I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:27-30).

This was written to elders, instructing them to “watch out” for other elders. Verse 31 says, “So be on your guard!” Here are some things about which you should be on your guard:

If you are in a church where the elders have exercised more authority over the saints than the Scripture allows; if you imitate the elders, and you are more selfish, profane, etc.; if you object to their overuse of authority, and you find yourself under church discipline as a result; if you attempt to leave the church, and you find unkind pressure, threats, intimidation, and extra-biblical hurdles in your way; if you see all of the members (not just a few) as Xerox copies of the elders and obeying their extra-biblical suggestions, orders, and commands; if you have been taught that the elders should have absolute authority over the saints; if there is ongoing teaching on a distinct doctrine that is emphasized more than the Scripture emphasizes it; if the elders teach how other evangelical churches are wrong, less right, or less spiritual and forbid the saints to be under the influence of other elders or other Christians; if the elders “distort the word of truth in order to draw disciples after them”; or if you have conformed to the requirements of the church and have less and less joy, then either the church is not Christian, or the elders are not qualified to be elders. You may have to leave the church.

Several years ago, at different times, I received two phone calls from out of state. Each person told me of an inordinate demand placed upon him by a Christian elder. In each case, when asked my opinion, I responded by asking this question, “When you grow up (although they were both adults) do you want to be like him?”

In both cases, the answer was a loud “NO!”

“Then the answer is simple; you must not imitate or obey. You have considered the outcome of his way of life, and you do not want to be like him. You have three choices: 1) you can stay there and imitate him; 2) you can stay there and disagree; 3) you can pack your gear and leave.”

You may not do #1. You may do #2 if you do it correctly. Do not become bitter. Your disagreement should be expressed graciously with a biblical basis for the disagreement. You should also have two or three witnesses before you bring a charge against an elder.

If this does not correct the situation, you may have to leave the church. Here’s how: If you are young and unmarried, call your father, even if he is not a Christian. (Or if you are a married woman, tell your husband, even if he is not a Christian.) Tell him the situation. He will very likely tell you to leave. Then explain to him that it is not that simple. Ask your father to call or write to the church pastor and tell the pastor that he wants you to leave the church, and that he does not want you talked to or written to or hassled in any way during the departure.

If you have no such legitimate authority to help you, call another pastor in your town for help.

Here are few Scriptures that are less direct but have to do with relationships with elders.

“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word’” (Acts 6:2-4). There are two kinds of service to the saints: serving tables and serving the Word of God. Both are serving. Both take godly men.

“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Tim. 5:17-18). In light of verse 18, “double honor” refers to financial remuneration. It is in consideration of “ruling,” “preaching,” and “teaching.” This consideration is a judgment call, but one that we are expected to make.

"If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is mercy, let him do it cheerfully" (Rom. 12:7-8).

"And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues" (1 Cor. 12:28).

“...if it is leadership, let him govern diligently...” “...those with gifts of administration...” This is speaking of men with special gifts and how they fit into the church. These are still gifts of service, not of lordship over the saints. The authority these men have is in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which they are to exercise for the good of the church.

Elders are instructed to “command and teach these things” (1 Tim. 4:11) and, “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority” (Tit. 2:15). Timothy and Titus are given authority to “command” and “encourage and rebuke.” “These things” refers to the Scriptures immediately adjacent in both cases.

In a sense, every denomination, sub-denomination, and para-church is guilty of divisiveness, or there would not be so many of them. However, many of the Christians in these churches have warm fellowship with each other. This minimizes the sin of divisiveness.

When we come across a church that has super-authoritarian elders, we find that in many cases they prohibit fellowship with Christians in other Christian churches. This could be for several reasons:

• The elders are afraid the Christians will find something more helpful in another church.
• They are possessive of their members.
• They think that the Christians will hear false doctrine and fall away.

If the elders in different churches are making disciples of Jesus Christ, then the closer the disciples get to Jesus, the closer they will get to each other. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21).

If, however, they are not getting closer to each other, then we can assume that they are not getting closer to Jesus. If only one church is getting their members closer to Jesus, because of their character, they will also be getting closer to other Christians in other churches. This fellowship should be encouraged. It is commendable. However, we should take note of these warnings:

"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people" (Rom. 16:17-18).

"Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30).

What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”’ another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”: still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:12-13)

There is no evidence in the text that Paul, Cephas, or Apollos encouraged this kind of partisanship by the believers in Corinth.

1 Corinthians 3, Paul writes, “Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:3b-4). Paul says that the believers are acting like ordinary men, not Christians. If this is wrong for believers, how much more wrong for the elders to encourage this loyalty to themselves! Loyalty to certain teachers is so normal today that it does not seem to hurt the conscience either of the elders who encourage it or of the believers who practice it.

If an elder is not encouraging loyalty to himself, yet it is still happening, he must take the responsibility for this wrong as Paul did and endeavor to correct it. The people an elder teaches should end up more obedient to God, more holy, more like Jesus. When people show excessive admiration for their teacher, it is evidence that he is effective in making disciples of himself, not of Jesus Christ. He may have the crowd and reputation, but it may be a reputation like the one God said Ezekiel had.

"As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD. My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice" (Ezek. 33:30-32).

The elder is to teach the flock to obey everything that Jesus commanded His disciples.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Leadership in the Church

God, in his goodness and grace, called me to be an evangelist, pastor, and teacher. These different responsibilities have been mine for over sixty years, both in and outside churches. During these years, I have been aware of unpleasantness in some churches. Here are a few general examples:

• The pastor is an autocrat.
• The pastor has been called to a “pastor-eating church.”
• The church is “owned” by one or two families who hire and fire pastors, who “chew them up and spit them out.”
• The church finds it easy to choose up sides within itself.

People condone, allow, and tolerate all sorts of irregularities in a church until they are in excess. Then the Christians get angry and endeavor to correct the situation with bitterness, anger, and clamor. The correction is not done in a Christian way. (If you are in such a church, please read How to be Free from Bitterness here.)

Correction must be done gently, spiritually, and with all planks removed. “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Notice that the text says “you who are spiritual,” not “you who are right.” If you are not spiritual, you are not qualified to do the restoring. If you are not gentle, you are not qualified, nor will you be effective in restoring your brother. “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5).

My next two posts will not address all church problems. They will be limited to the subject of the authority of elders. According to 1 Peter 5:1-5, all elders are pastors and overseers. If you are an elder, please consider this teaching prayerfully and be open to correction. If you are under authority, please do not have a critical spirit.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The House Church

House churches still exist. They exist because of:

• Persecution and the consequent necessity to be secretive
• Financial necessity. There is not enough money to rent, build, or buy.
• The size of the church. There may be enough money, but there are not enough people to warrant a dedicated building.
• On principle. It is better to have forty house churches of twenty-five people each than to have one building for one thousand people. Many house churches will reach a city faster than one big church. They can double in size, divide, and multiply. The big church can add to itself, but will not multiply.

House churches are not dependent on a gifted, high-powered pastor, nor on a large professional staff. In fact, they may not have a staff at all. They minister to each other. They are by nature family-oriented.

If a house church does require a pastor who is supported by the congregation full-time, it need not be a financial burden. If the church is made up of ten families, each of which has an income of $20,000, based upon tithing, the pastor would also receive $20,000. If each family’s income was $30,000, the pastor would receive $30,000. In other words, a pastor can easily be paid the average salary of his congregation.

There are other expenses! Yes, but not the kind that are used in buying or constructing buildings. There are many examples of house churches in the Bible (see 1 Corinthians 16:9, Romans 16:3-5, Philemon 1:1-2, Acts 2:46-47, and Acts 8:3).

The Church in Germany had to go underground in WWII. Most of the churches in Turkey, China, and other closed lands are house churches. That is where the Church is growing. Throughout history, the Church has not grown when it desired to be respectable. It has become more liberal and/or dead in direct proportion to its respectability.

In 1971 in Moscow, we opened a church in our home, starting with our family. It grew rapidly. In 1972, I started to substitute preach at a little church that met in a Grange hall near Pullman, Washington. It also grew rapidly. In 1975, that church planted a mission church in Moscow. About a year later, we discontinued our home church to support the new church. The church in Pullman divided two more times in the next few years. Later, a Korean church and a Chinese church were started. Two home churches in Moscow merged and met in two different homes. Those eight churches were all in rented or free buildings.

Bigger is not necessarily better, and biggest is definitely not best.