Help Ben Find a Church

whichchurch

“He looks just like one of us,” says the President, staring at the stranded space alien. It was wearing a pair of blue jeans, a red T-shirt, and a Yankees cap. “Can it talk?”

The alien answers for itself. “No problem, chief. You know us aliens—telepathy.” It taps the side of its head.

“Of course.”

“It needs to blend in,” says the Secretary of State. “We’ve decided it’s going to be a he. His name will be Ben. He’ll be from New York, a democrat, a stamp collector, a softy for 80’s movies, and a Christian.”

“What’s a Christian?” asks Ben.

The Secretary of State gestures for Ben to follow, leading him to a room filled with hundreds of colorful booths and mostly-smiling people. “Pick one,” says the Secretary. “You’re a democrat, so you may want to avoid the people in suits.”

“Got it.”  

Ben starts at one especially large booth in the corner—the Catholics. They quickly assure him that they are not only the oldest and most established Christians in the room, they are the only legitimate option.

They pull out a large, leather-bound Bible, and show him where Jesus chooses some very specific people to do a very specific job, giving them his authority—the keys to the kingdom. Today, only their leader, the Pope, holds those keys, not the protesting laypeople at the other booths.

Ben wanders over to a similar-looking table on the adjacent side of the room. These believers call themselves Orthodox, claiming to have broken from the Catholic Church over a thousand years before. They are not united by some infallible Pope, but by an infallible faith, maintained and understood through Holy Tradition under the operation of the Holy Spirit.

Ben nods, curious, but moving on.

The Orthodox believers were not the only people in the room that took issue with the Catholics. A whole set of booths had been set up with their backs to the Catholic table. These were the Reformers—the Lutherans, Calvinists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and so on.

These also resisted the leadership of the Pope, insisting that Christ was the true leader of his Church. He was the Head of his Body. And he didn’t need a neck. It was through Christ’s finished work on the cross that all men were saved, not by human works or indulgences. Salvation was God’s department.

Ben understood pretty quickly why they were called Protestants. Not only did they push back against the Catholics, they also pointed at some of the other booths, telling Ben that he shouldn’t waste his time with people that elevated human freedom over divine sovereignty.

But Ben went there anyway. He started poking around in the Arminian booths, stopping to talk to the Wesleyans, Methodists and Nazarenes. These people opened the Bible to whole different passages than the Reformers, emphasizing things like personal and social change.

After that, Ben explored the booths at the back of the room, booths that were practically new. These people seemed full of energy, which was challenging for a textbook introvert like Ben. They kept putting their hands on him, asking if he needed healing, asking if he could feel their power. They sang a lot. They spoke in languages that Ben’s telepathic powers couldn’t tap. When they opened their Bibles, it was usually to the book of Acts.

These were the Charismatics—the Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, Church of God, and so on—believers that wanted to get the church back to its roots, back to the Spirit-filled, loving community that Christ sent out to change the world.

Mentally and emotionally drained, Ben finally returned to his room in the White House, wondering what he was going to tell the Secretary of State. After listening to so many different arguments, each supported by the same book, he could hardly tell what a Christian was, much less choose which faction to join.

Ben wanted to read the entire Bible for himself, hoping he could find a theme that would combine all of the different emphases into one, but he didn’t have time. He was tempted to ask the Secretary for a different option, some religion that was less convoluted and controversial, but before he looked for something else, he decided to browse the internet.

Church History explained a lot.

He discovered right away that a room full of booths was never the plan. Christ prayed that his Church would be one [John 17:22]. Paul told believers to stop dividing over their teachers [I Cor. 1:12-13], but to find unity in love by the Spirit [I Cor. 12-13]. Well, that didn’t work out.

The Catholic Church didn’t set up their system of authority, an official canon, unifying creeds, and a list of sacred holidays, disciplines and sacraments because they were desperate for power. They inherited a sprawling mess after three hundred years of persecution, and had to work together to put things in order.

But almost seven hundred years of absolute, unaccountable power did not have a positive effect on their leaders. Things like greed, holy wars, papal murders and political corruption led the Greeks in the east to break from their Latin brothers in the west. The Church was no longer one, but two. Then the two popes excommunicated each other.

Five hundred years after that, thanks to the printing press and some radical young thinkers like Tyndale, Luther and Calvin, people started to believe that Christ was the true head of the Church, not the Pope. So they started protesting, breaking the Church into smaller pieces.

About three hundred years later, some people started to preach about holy living and cultural change. Naturally, these Puritans and Pietsists were all about personal discipline, making good choices, reaching out to others. Sometimes this drew them into conflict with the Christ alone mentality of their Reformed brothers, leading to further theological conflict.

In more recent times, progressive thinking led many believers to abandon the long-standing traditions and rituals of the churches, looking for new approaches. People started meeting in more unorthodox places, even taking Church back into homes. Many were more eager for personal, spiritual experiences rather than just singing songs, affirming creeds and participating in the sacraments.

Ben didn’t grow up in any church, so he had no sentimental attachment to any of them.

On the one hand, it was pretty obvious that each denomination was confident in their beliefs and traditions, using Scripture to support them. But it was also pretty obvious that their foundations were based in reaction as much as revelation.

On the other hand, it was possible that the Holy Spirit was working within the Church throughout the ages, using the Catholics to bring order to chaos, using the Orthodox to restore a sense of mystery and wonder, using the Reformers to draw people to the centrality of Christ, using the Wesleyans to emphasize holy living and social change, and moving in the Charismatics to keep the spiritual relationship alive.

So Ben emails Barnts, asking him to post in the Belfry.

What church should he choose, and why? Or should he just skip the labels, doing his best to follow Christ by the Spirit without a denomination? Or should he just try to start his own church, breaking it up even more?

7 thoughts on “Help Ben Find a Church

  1. Ben should pray and ask God to guide him (through a specific sign and/or generally). And then he should attend a variety of churches and wait for God to answer him.

    God knew that Ben would be in this predicament, needing a church but not knowing which one to go to. Even if the searching takes a long while, He will not let him down.

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    • I deeply resonate with this answer. Thank you, Nancy.

      I agree that walking in relationship with God, while continuing to work and live in the organized church according to his guidance, is CRITICAL to this conversation.

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  2. I find it interesting that you blog this at the same time I encountered a concept called “theological diversity”. Who’s in charge here? There is a plethora of men, but only one God. Come Holy Instructor, as we walk with you, show us how to walk your path and recover from the man made detours. But, most important, let us continue to WALK, doing what He leads us to. If you sit in a church and hide, God’s world will pass you by, and He will say “I knew you not”. You can’t make progress without ‘walkin’ , “Pilgrim” Love you guys, see you soon! jim

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  3. I don’t know which church Ben should choose, but this does evoke a thought that I’ve had recently. I know a lot of believers who worship entirely different from my traditions and practices. While I lean more toward Pentecostal beliefs and practices, I’ve decided to be very hard to offend. What I mean is, I decided to stop judging other’s day-to-day, church and lifestyle simply because it was not my own. It’s hard.

    I realized that in a church full of the “Frozen Chosen” (this is a joke) who worship in pews and sing hymns, they might be offended at the thought of someone speaking in tongues, praying for healing or openly prophesying. Meanwhile, you can go to a church full of tongue speaking, snake-grabbing pentecostals (this is mostly a joke) who would all be offended by the thought of sitting in quiet reverie before the Lord as a form of worship. Let’s not even touch how some Calvinists think some Arminians are insane for having a simple alter call, or how some Arminians think Calvinists are insane for believing God still has any providence at all. Add that to the millions of different cultures that accept Christ and how they “tweak” the church and it’s downright sloppy!

    My thought is this: as believers, we can find ourselves offended, freaked out, uneasy, questioning, afraid, angry and downright disgusted with the practices of other Christians. I have merely begun to believe that these feelings that arise in us point out our flaws much more than those of the church. Those feelings draw a precise boundary in our hearts where we have put God in a box. The areas where we will be afraid to let him move or speak. What if a Pentecostal could go to a Catholic Mass and experience the Holy Spirit deeply and profoundly? What if a Calvinist could go to a “seeker friendly” new-age church and be completely enthralled with the way God is moving there?

    It’s the individual “cells” of the “body” that must accept each other, celebrating the differences found instead of highlighting them. The goal is not and could never be One Church to Rule them All. Unity comes not from sameness, but from foundational acceptance and celebration of differences.

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    • Great points!

      I think the root causes of all forms of discrimination are found in the church, but Paul makes it clear that love (which comes from God) and a unity of Spirit (which also comes from God) should make us distinct, helping us to overcome our natural tendencies.

      Unity in diversity is something that humans TRY to celebrate, but the Church should be the place where this is demonstrated to the world. We have God. And God is a community of loving, divine persons. He is the prototype.

      Sadly, the way we generally think, feel and act in the church shows that we are more “human” than we are supposed to be. Which is why the Holy Spirit is the solution, not tighter control, better teaching, bigger smiles or theological compromising.

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  4. (Disclaimer: Super-Duper, Giant, Mega Reply!)

    Hi John,
    Really great post! Also, I think taking a look at Modern Christianity from this sort of third person perspective is very revealing of the issues we face. While I honestly, do not know what Ben should do, the topic in general does relate with some ideas that I have been really wrestling and praying about for a while now, and perhaps can just share some thoughts.

    Definitely, agree with you, John, that there is a balance between Unity and Compromise. Obviously, theological debate should be spurred by a healthy zeal to seek the “narrow way”, but at the same time the manner in which the discussion is carried should not be out of frustration, anger, aggression, defensiveness, or offense.

    I believe that Ephesians 4:1-16 is probably the verses you have ought alluded, to in your post:

    “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

    But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

    Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

    (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”

    Ultimately, I believe that verses 13-15 sum up the point perfectly:

    “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things…”

    In other words, yes there are certain differences that do not really matter, so until the truth is revealed we should be patient and do all things in love, but at the same time a compromise of the truth is unacceptable because if we live in falsehood, it is the evidence that we love not the truth and are not saved. So point being that some core matters are not just opinion based or “your way of worshipping versus my way and we are all right.” Nevertheless, we should not argue over these things but be diligent in searching scripture together asking for the insight of the Holy Spirit.

    I think the main issue, that that faces modern Christianity is there needs to be a clarification of the singular truth of Christ. Jesus, Himself, mentioned that He was “the gate/narrow way”. Meaning many of us (myself included) can believe we are walking the narrow way when we actually were on the broad way the entire time.

    Matthew 7:12-27 clearly shows us that:

    “…Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

    Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

    Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

    Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

    Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”

    Reminds me of the words of John the Baptist and Isaiah.

    (Matthew 3:7-12)
    “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, ‘Oh generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruit worthy of repentance. And think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham as our father: for I say unto you, God is able of these stones to raise up children of Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

    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 Spirit and with fire:

    Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather in His wheat into the garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.'”

    (Isaiah 40:1-5)
    “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

    Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.

    The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

    Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

    And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”

    So I guess for Ben, a searching for the truth, and then aligning one self to the truth is the ideal. As the truth is only in Christ. Hence, aligning our lives (thoughts, desires, and actions) to God’s will. Now I realize everyone who identifies as “Christian” would agree with that, but what does it really mean to be in the truth?

    It would seem to me that the proliferation of denominations came from an over-time loss of understanding what it meant to walk the “narrow path”.

    Hence the whole: “…That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine…”

    The reformation seems to be a re-seeking of said narrow way, but seeing as no consensus was met, there is still much to be cleared up.

    It seems the words of Christ are very poignant:

    “…And His disicples asked Him saying, ‘Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?’ And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Elias truely shall first come and restore all things…'” (Matthew 17:10-11).

    I believe the Lord was actually referring to the words of the prophets:

    (Malachi 4:1-6):
    “For behold, the day commeth, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear My Name, shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet, in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of Hosts.

    Remember ye the Law of Moses, my servant, which I commanded unto Him in Horeb, for all Israel with the statutes and judgements.

    Behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the coming of the Great and dreadful day of the Lord. And He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the Earth with a curse”

    (Jeremiah 6:13-16):
    “For from the least of them even unto the greatest, everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest everyone dealeth falsely.

    They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, Peace’; when there is no peace.

    Were they ashamed when they committed abominations? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore, they shall fall among them that fall: at that time that I visit them, they shall be cast down saith the Lord of Hosts.

    Thus saith the Lord, ‘Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths. Where is the good way? And walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We shall not walk therein!'”

    (Jeremiah 18:15)
    “Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up…”

    (Hosea 8:11-14)
    Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin.

    I have written to him the great things of My Law, but they were counted as a strange thing.

    They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices of mine offerings, and eat it; but the LORD accepteth them not; now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins: they shall return to Egypt.

    For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.”

    (Zephaniah 2:1-3)
    “Gather yourselves together, yea gather together, Oh nation not desired.

    Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you, before the day of the Lord’s anger come upon you.

    Seek ye the Lord all the meek of the Earth who have executed His ordinances, seek righteousness, seek humbleness: it may be, ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s great anger.”

    Now I have oft debated in my mind because does not Paul seem to note that every one has different gifts and and Christ Himself even noted to “judge not”. But I think the way the way God has been helping me understand this is via a sports team: like the SF giants or I suppose the Mississipi braves as per your and Mrs. Barnts’ past posts. (^_^)~

    Everyone on the team whether pitcher, catcher, LF, SS, 1B has different responsibilities and duties, yes. But, ultimately the core of how those duties are performed is the same for all positions: got be able to through the ball with accuracy/speed, and field well enough to prevent runs while being able to swing a bat to score runs for the team.

    A player can’t go up to the plate with a golf club in hand and stand on top of home plate itself. Then, when the ump and his team says otherwise, the player exclaims, “This is how I with my unique talents play the game. If you guys don’t, that’s fine. Just don’t judge me!”

    And while hitting a 94mph fastball with a golf club while avoiding getting hit atop home plate would be quite a unique sight, it is not a matter of judging, so much as not playing by the rules which are designed to bring a united focus to the team, so with a single motivation and backbone of core skill sets everyone can function well together (team chemistry) and have fun.

    I suppose in that way we can tie it back to the concept of walking the narrow way. It would seem to be appropriate to note that, based on the points above, that living in God’s narrow way and worshipping Him are the same thing. Or essentially how our heart and resultant conduct is; the path we walk in our daily lives. That yes, God has given everyone individual talents and gifts, but these are expressed within the context of the commandments He has given us. So if we keep His commandments, then we are “one” because we all have the same focus and core understanding/skills, yet the specific details one is called to live whether it be as a teacher, prophet, evangelist, or even just a plumber, garbageman, or lumberman is indeed unique. I think this what the Psalmist were getting at:

    (Psalm 119:1-8)
    Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.

    Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.

    They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.

    Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.

    Oh that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!

    Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.

    I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.

    I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly.”

    (Psalm 119:105)
    Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

    (Psalm 37:23-24)
    The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.

    Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.

    And I believe that Jesus also was keying on the same point:

    (John 4:19-24)
    “The woman saith unto Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’ Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.'”

    I personally think one area of concern, with the ecumenical movement, today, is it seems to me that this principal of the “narrow way” is being pushed aside, and being replaced with an idea of “everything is right” when logically a set of doctrines that contradict each other cannot both be true. And I am beginning to better understand that while our discussions should be love driven and civil, a compromising of truth for the sake of superficially getting along when there is no real change of the heart and we continue living lives of hatred, lust, envy, etc., despite appearing to have it all together is not really peace or the oneness Christ was talking about. I think this is exactly what God was talking about via His prophets:

    (Isaiah 30:8-18)
    “…Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever:

    That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD:

    Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:

    Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.

    Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon:

    Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.

    And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters’ vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit.

    For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.

    But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift.

    One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hill.

    And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him…”

    (Joel 2:12-19)
    “Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:

    And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.

    Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?

    Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly:

    Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.

    Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, ‘Where is their God?’

    Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people.

    Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen…”

    (Isaiah 1:10-17)
    “Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

    To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

    When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

    Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

    Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

    And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

    Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

    (Isaiah 58:1-14)
    Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.

    Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.

    (Note: verse 2 always confused me because it sounds like God is upset about His people seeking after Him and His righteousness which would not make sense, but given surrounding context of versus, I think this would be a translation a bit easier to understand in modern American English:

    “Yet they seek me daily, and say they delight to know my ways, as a if they were a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; saying they take delight in approaching to God.”)

    Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.

    Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

    Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

    Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

    Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

    Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.

    Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;

    And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:

    And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

    And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

    If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:

    Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”

    (Micah 6:6-8)
    Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?

    Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

    He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

    (Amos 5:7-27)
    “Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth,

    Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name:

    That strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress.

    They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.

    Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them.

    For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.

    Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.

    Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.

    Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.

    Therefore the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; Wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, Alas! alas! and they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing.

    And in all vineyards shall be wailing: for I will pass through thee, saith the LORD.

    Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light.

    As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.

    Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?

    I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.

    Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.

    Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.

    But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.

    Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the LORD, whose name is The God of hosts.”

    (Psalm 51:1-17)
    “{To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.}

    Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

    Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

    For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

    Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

    Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

    Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

    Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

    Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

    Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

    Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

    Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

    Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

    Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

    Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

    O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

    For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

    The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

    (Matthew 23:13-39)
    “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

    Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

    Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.

    O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

    (Isaiah 29:13)
    “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and in vain do they worship Me,
    teaching as doctrines, the precepts of men…”

    The reason my opinion in this matter is quite worrisome is because of the words of Christ:

    (John 16:1-4)
    “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.”

    Verse 2 is of note: that the people who, in the last days, will persecute the Church will firmly believe they are the Church. And I am not saying this as if I am the perfect Christian and pointing a finger at others. I am wrestling with this myself as well because if I am not on God’s path I will be someone who believes they are saved and ends up persecuted the truly saved.

    I think Paul was mentioning this very thing:

    (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)
    “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”

    Note verse 3: “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”

    So when everyone starts to come together and people believe that true peace has arrived without the foundation of Christ’s Narrow Way (a.k.a the rock) then the end will come.

    I am worried that the “great falling away” may not be so much people stepping away from the religious institution of modern “Christianity”, but rather a uniting of modern “Christianity” under a completely compromised set of standards and everyone thinking that really is the truth. It seems to me that is exactly what happened to the Israelites of old. And even when God sent countless prophets/watchmen in the end they were all ignored and killed until it was too late.

    I guess this is why the final word in Revelation are as follows:

    (Revelation 23:12-22)
    “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

    Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

    I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

    And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

    For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

    He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

    Even Matthew 24:36-51:
    “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

    Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

    Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

    So in the end I suppose for Ben the issue, just in my opinion, is not so much a matter of picking a denominational church but rather finding the narrow way and looking for fellow believers who are also seeking for the same truth – aka Church. Not trying to point a finger at any denomination, as I myself have messed up more than I can count, but hopefully, this will act as a sifting of the falsehood and truth.

    Perhaps words that, by some, are attributed to Peter might make the best summary:

    “If He (Jesus) said His Word would never pass away, and that He came not to destroy His law but fulfill it, why then was He destroying the very law He came to fulfill? Was this not the very reason they crucified Him? Would it not be logical to conclude then, that He was not the Messiah, seeing as His own prophecy of His word being eternal, failed: since He, Himself, caused to pass away the very law that He claimed was His eternal word, not only contradicting Himself, but making a most heinous sin before God the Father? Or rather, is not the more logical conclusion that since as the Messiah and the Son of the True God, His Word and Law are eternal and will never fade, so those aspects of the law He made pass away, were never actually part of the original covenant in the first place, as the Lord, Himself, noted: ‘were precepts of men taught as if they were the doctrines of God?'”

    Thanks again John for another insightful and great post. Really helped to put into perspective for me some of the struggles I myself am having. Hope all is well.

    God Bless

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    • Woah! That was a lot of Scripture, but well chosen and sobering. I think you’re right on about the narrow path, and I think American Christianity is slipping further and further from it.

      It was refreshing to see so much Scripture because I have been recently frustrated by so many of my Christians friends, students and youth group members that struggle to even open the book, though they are adamant about what they think Jesus was all about, what their salvation is all about, and what Christians should do and be.

      No one seems to be seeking the Lord as a person. No one seems to be studying his book with diligence and humility. Which I think contributes not only to our weakness, laziness, compromises and paltry understanding, but also to a disjointed, dysfunctional church.

      Thanks for the reminder.

      Like

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