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Posts Tagged ‘discernment’

Hebrews says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled…” In the United States, our legal system calls things “marriage” that the Bible most certainly would not. But if we only looked at that one verse from Hebrews, we could believe that the thing called marriage that isn’t, is “honorable”. We could pull in other teachings about marriage and how great it is and what it means spiritually, and encourage people to accomplish those great things and represent those great truths by practicing the thing falsely called marriage. If this stood for a few generations, most people would forget that it is a perversion of what the Bible calls marriage.

What if there are other Christian practices that this has happened to, in the forgotten past? How do we trust that what we understand to be the biblical and Christian practices of Church gatherings, pastoring, church leadership and decision-making, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, speaking in tongues, laying on of hands, ordination, etc. are the things the Bible is discussing?

Like we can with marriage, we can compare other Scriptures to our practices, right? We can ask, “Did God say anything else about these practices? Did God address what we are doing, regardless of what it is called, in positive or negative ways?”

I believe it is possible for God to reveal corrections to us* if we are humbly seeking Him, and if He wants to at the moment. It seems like sometimes He doesn’t want to, and I’m not quite clear why.

I want to have respect for generations of believers who have been inviting God’s discernment, and to value their conclusions. I don’t see any honest way to do this without acknowledging that there have been stretches of time where Christianity (the public institution, anyway) has promoted false understandings of things, and it has taken a long time to straighten some of them out. I have to acknowledge that different parts of the Church, distanced by geography (at least) have for long periods of time held different beliefs from one another.

How much weight should we put on our own experiences? If our experiences seem to line up with a teaching, and be fruitful for the Kingdom of God, does that indicate that these understandings and practices are the things God intends?

*Who ought “us” to be, though? Is it my job, without holding a position of authority in the Church, to discern these things? For myself? For the Church? For society? Is it my job to say anything to others if I believe I have discerned that our conventional practice is wrong?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I resigned my job.  This happened over a month ago now.  For the first three weeks or so I decided not to work on discerning God’s will for my future.  I focused on God – lots and lots of praying needed to happen and partly motivated my choice to stop working two days a week.  And I focused on people. 

 

For three weeks now I’ve been living in November, the first month of the rest of my life when I’m supposed to be figuring out what else to do.  I’ve made some discoveries, like the need for about $90 in gas money each month or to dramatically cut back.  Friends have been in town and many will come and go from now through early January.  It is convenient to bend my schedule around others, and also to feel, by being at home, that I have time to accomplish things like dishes and laundry and cooking and other little projects here and there.  There are stacks of books waiting in my room for me to read.  Some of them are, I sense, rather important to whatever life God will call me to

Any

Day

Now.

 

Some friends are talking with me about what it means to LIVE in hope.  We see God working and we hope for what He will do next.  I try to keep myself open to the changes I pray for.  And we still want to live as God’s instruments right now.  We want eyes that are wide open to the work He is doing all around us, and the part He calls us to play.  How do we live content with the path God leads us on, the way God loves us, even though sometimes it feels incredibly slow or like being left behind (by everyone but God)? 

 

With these eyes opened to the God who grows people in His garden, I start to notice people who are un-miss-able.  They protrude into my life and I wonder what God wants me to do with them since I have no clue.  So I beg God for insight into the spiritual strengths and weaknesses of these people.  I cry out to be filled with God’s love for them.  My friends help me to understand what I see and hear and where I am failing to esteem others.

I keep on realizing so many things I have no clue about.  The times when God clearly leads me I rejoice, and I cling to those revelations with as much sightless faith as I can muster.  He faithfully provides all the assurance and help I really need to trust Him.  And I wait.  God hasn’t made everyone’s life a parable of waiting, but He keeps on blasting this theme through mine. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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“Have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness.”

I’m a discernment person.  Heresies are a big deal to me.  I tend to notice when teachers or authors or pastors are preaching a different gospel.  But there are other issues, too.  Focusing on tolerance and friendliness with the world – the “seeker-sensitive” movement, for example – is dangerous.  Christians are a light set on a hill, not light camouflaged to look like darkness.  Or another popular… what should I call it?  Not a heresy in the traditional sense, but a dangerous and unchristian worldview or spiritual practice?  Anyway, another one is the borderline gnosticism.  This encompasses mysticism and individualism, focusing on poetic ideas of light versus darkness, denial (or even mistreatment) of the physical, and meditation.  I see connections between seeker-sensitivity and the postmodern mysticism.  Primary in these connections are the exaltation of human effort and experience.  They are ancient perversions of the Christian life, not new, but addressed in the New Testament.

Lately it has become popular to cite “church fathers” in theological debates.  This even if the quote or position contradicts the New Testament.  Though I’m not persuaded of the “sola scriptura” of the Reformation, it did rescue us from centuries of heretical tradition enforced as the authority of the fathers.  (Jesus rebuked the same sin in the Pharisees.)  Many of those historical theologians flirted with or embraced the para-Christian spirituality mentioned above, emphasizing either their personal wisdom or their own mystical experiences as sources of truth superior to the revelation of Scripture.  They practiced this outside of the protective peer-regulation of a Spirit-led Church.  Somehow the doctrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit got exchanged for a belief in inner divinity belonging to an individual.  All of which was much more compatible with the pagan religions encountered as the ancient “Christianity” spread.

And isn’t that something to be concerned about?  Rather than being excited that the enemies of God, the spiritually dead men of planet earth, have portions of truth preserved in their religions, shouldn’t we be devastated at the subtlety of the deceits of the Evil One that has kept men captive to their sin?  (“What fellowship has light with darkness?”)  Instead of finding commonality in spiritual practices of meditation and monasticism and sacrificing to appease the gods – shouldn’t we question those practices?  If the pagans do those things, and if those things are not prescribed by our Lord in the early letters to the churches affirmed by the apostles, why not rather fear a resurgence of paganism within our faith – that the spiritual forces of wickedness have been also distracting us and leading us astray?

In our modern times we tend to disdain the primitive superstitions of pre-Christian peoples.  We think they should have been able to see through the cheap tricks of the medicine men, to rise up against the oppressive shaman and assert reason, the intelligence and ability of individuals.  But a Christian worldview suggests a different interpretation.  It teaches that the devil and demons are real, powerful, able to produce counterfeit signs and wonders to deceive men.  Demon possession is real.  And maybe those pitiable people, observing that reality, live with rituals and talismans approved by their devils – for a time – as a tax on the slaves of the Devil before they are consumed.

For us who have known only the relatively Christian Western world, it is difficult to remember the spiritual battle that is engaged even here.  We are not trained to recognize the spiritual activities of our enemy.  This may be because we have adopted it,  or excused and tolerated it…  False teaching, we believe, has been perpetrated by confused but well-meaning people.  Cultists are mostly nice people whose theology is just a little different from ours.  We wouldn’t want our children converting, but no big deal if our neighbors and coworkers believe in Jesus and good works for their salvation, God and their own divinity.  Many who identify themselves as evangelical Christians see no cause for concern when their church services begin to incorporate incense, or a ladies’ conference suggests repetitive chanting of a spiritual word or phrase as a means of getting closer to God.  Millions of us read and identify with a book that includes a manifestation of Sophia, the Gnostic “goddess” as the incarnation of wisdom.  These ideas and practices are more attractive to the unsaved world, after all (and to many inside the church).  And why shouldn’t they be; they’re familiar whispers, that we are like God, that we come to God on our own terms.

The word profanity is known as a synonym for cussing.  But who knows the word profane?  Who believes that there is a way God wants to be worshiped, a way He has set for people to come to Him – and any other way is so offensive to Him as to bring His righteous wrath?  What is fallen man to tell God why He should accept him?  Who is the liar and deceived to believe he has a hold of truth and wisdom apart from the deliverance and revelation of God?  How dare we think our filthy rags – our own righteousnesses – are acceptable sacrifices to pay for our trespasses against the ways of God?

But it is hard to reject these things, hard to point at those profanities and warn that they are part of the wide path to hell.  I don’t want to believe that my church leader is a false teacher.  I like to believe that my friends are going to heaven.  But how does that honor God?  Is my allegiance to Him or to men?  And how is that compassionate, to ignore the condition of my friends?  Making excuses is easy.  If a man says he believes in Jesus, is it such a big deal if he tolerates sin, if he keeps company with the world?  Also far too simple is reassuring myself that even though a person has not trusted in Jesus, he still seems to be a good influence, telling people to pray and read their Bibles and love their families and be wary of governments and religions out to destroy us.

Yet more and more I believe that those excuses and those subversive people are the biggest threats.  By them people are led from the power and truth of God, or worse – away from the gospel of the grace of God.  People are soothed into ignoring their spiritual neediness.  Those people, those false prophets, are the enemies of God.  And if they are enemies of God, they are enemies of His people.  They are not in your fellowship to encourage you or point you to God.  Though they may feign friendship, it is for diabolical purposes, and they can turn on you at any moment.

So what can we do?  Monasticism and individualism belong to the false religions.  We cannot run away from these dangerous people.  Tolerance and acceptance also correspond to the faith that exalts man over God.  So we cannot be silent or friendly.  Truth and God’s glory invite us to discern the lies and cast them down.  Holiness insists that we take our cues from God, supported by those men and women who exhibit the fruits of being His.  Love demands that we warn people of destruction.  Faith in God teaches us to hope for revival and redemption.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Biblically, married couples should not use birth control. The Bible does say that children are a blessing, and commands us to be fruitful and multiply.  Barrenness is in a list of curses that will come on a people or a country that disobeys God.  God controls the womb.  Do we also forbid attempts to get pregnant (in vitro fertilization, for example)?  What about Natural Family Planning – no chemicals, surgeries, or other medical devices?  Is the issue taking control?  Avoiding blessings?  Or not valuing children?  Do we make exceptions for certain couples, for those with dangerous health  problems associated with pregnancy?  Yes, children are a blessing, but God describes many things as blessings, and we do not pursue them all.  Singleness is a blessing.  That blessing excludes parenthood in most cases.  Can you really choose and the blessing still be a blessing?  Who gives blessings?  Wasn’t the command to be fruitful only given to Adam and Eve and repeated to Noah?  It may be our right to pursue blessings, but as Christians, aren’t we supposed to lay down our rights in deference to God?  The Bible describes children as arrows in the hand of a warrior; if Christian couples are declining to have kids, are they shirking their responsibility to further the kingdom of God as best they can?  Our worldview has shifted, even in the last century, to see large families as abnormal or even undesirable.  Before this century it was the common teaching of Catholics and Protestants that birth control was wrong, that God wanted them to accept as many children as He granted.  We have biblical examples, if not mandates, of people regarding blessings.  Did anyone good ever refuse something that was a blessing?  What about the story of Onan where he acted the kinsman-redeemer but specifically avoided the possibility of conception in the union?  He was condemned.  But maybe he was condemned for the motives and implications of the act?

Christians become more like the world as they withdraw from the world. In what way would you describe those prime examples of religious seclusion: Amish and monks in a monastery, as being more like the world?  Worldly is defined as self-centered, reluctant to share our faith.  Though that is not particularly world-like, as they are eager to share their beliefs.  Perhaps it could be argued that Christians withdrawing from interaction with the world are growing less godly or less obedient (are we not called to be salt and light?) rather than more worldly.  There are many monasteries that, while pursuing a life apart, still engage in ministry to the community, to the “world.”  They do teaching ministries and nursing, for example.  Has not the US church become a club, withdrawing from the world in their exclusivity, because we are neglecting the command to reach out?  What made it become a club?  Maybe that itself was a consequence of becoming like the world, and inviting the world in on its terms.  If the world wants to come to church, shouldn’t they want to come for the truth?  Christians are commanded to be somewhat separate: more hospitable to other Christians than to nonbelievers; also to know who is “in” and who is “out” in order that outreach might be a definite, stand-out activity.  We as Christians are known by our love to one another.  Being so separate that the difference is obvious is a witness.  The Bible teaches Christians to engage in BOTH discipleship AND evangelism.  1 John instructs us NOT to love the world or anything in the world.  Those Christian leaders most recognized for being engaged in the world and having a large impact or effect on the world – are they having an impact for the Kingdom of God?  Billy [Graham], Joel [Osteen], and Rick [Warren] are “ruining the kingdom of God.”  Our interaction with the world should be one of confrontation.  And perhaps “Christians” in the US aren’t real Christians, so withdrawing from responsibilities to love their neighbors is a natural reaction.

(First Ever 2 Minute Debate!)  The Sun will go out before Jesus comes back, so we should colonize other solar systems. Jesus said He was coming back soon.  At that point the world had only existed for 4,000 or so years, so the absolute maximum that could have meant would be A.D. 4,000.  There is no way the Sun is burning out in 2,000 years.  If we’re still around then, though, and He hasn’t come back, maybe then we’ll look into colonizing other solar systems.  Plus we have better things to do than worrying about the survival of humanity after the earth.

Confessing sins to fellow disciples is essential for healthy community. Don’t we already confess sins to each other?  It just starts out with, “It was SO cool…”  Seriously, isn’t there a danger of confession turning into bragging?  If I tell you my sins, doesn’t that encourage you to gossip about me?  Disciple is defined as one who is pursuing godliness, trying to grow spiritually.  So the discretion used in confessing to disciples can guard against some dangers.  Another danger is the power of suggestion introducing a type of temptation to others.  But confession could – and should – be made without details.  The benefit of hearing sins confessed is to realize that other Christians are struggling with sin – maybe even the same sin – too.  That gives assurance that the temptation and failure is not a sign of being unregenerate.  Should confession be private (accountability partner) or communal?  History has recorded many times where revival followed public confession.  Pastors often set the example of public confession, apologizing for faults during sermons.  It is probably more important for leaders to confess publicly.  So what?  Now everyone knows that everyone else is a mess just like them.  How does that build healthy community?  Congregations can pray for each other when they know the need, support each other, and rejoice in the victories.  But people don’t have to wait until they’ve conquered sins to start confessing.  And a meeting could involve some confession and some victory reports.  Confession invites intimacy.  Public confession facilitates repentance, whereas not having to tell anyone about it lets a person “get over it” without being truly sorry.  Isn’t God sufficient pressure to invite true repentance?  Being one with God is tied to being one with others.  The Christian response to confession is forgiveness, especially if you were wronged by the sin.  But the Bible does record times when men confessed their sins and received judgment.  Take Achan, whose whole family was stoned with him even after he confessed.  Still, a case can be made that the stoning of Achan’s household was good for the community, which is the wording of the resolution.  Reality has Christians experiencing consequences even though we’re forgiven.

The way Protestants teach salvation by grace alone/faith alone/Christ alone leads people to faith in intellectual assent, not to faith in the Spirit of Christ (true salvation). So we shouldn’t teach that gospel?  Or we need to be very careful how it’s explained?  Christians tend to use terms with people who don’t know what we mean, like faith; in our culture it is understood as intellectual assent.  So if that isn’t what we mean, we need to define our terms or use words that anyone can understand.  Sometimes there aren’t words for concepts (some tribes have been discovered with no word for mercy or forgiveness): in such cases, longer explanations and even demonstrations may be necessary.  Part of the cause of false conversions in America today is that salvation is sold as a ticket out of hell…  But if it is true that we are saved by faith alone, why does it matter how an evangelist explains the gospel?  The gospel of intellectual assent is a Holy Spirit-less gospel; it doesn’t lead them to God.  Isn’t the Holy Spirit capable of using weak words to nonetheless convert hearts?  It is the Christian’s responsibility to be as clear as he can.  When we talk about salvation, we rarely mention that the choice brings a cost: lordship of Christ, sacrificing, how much easier it is to live without morals.  We say “God has a wonderful plan for your life” but look at Paul’s life.  Are we being dishonest?  What about using a word like “mistake” instead of sin?  Doesn’t that give the impression that your rebellion against God was an accident?  But that could be an attempt at using an understandable word when no one knows what sin is anymore.  Are there better words, though, like “wrong”?  Originally it was understood that converting to a certain religion, with its doctrines, had consequences.  It meant a conversion to that lifestyle as well.  How do we know when people are understanding us?  If our lives back up our message, we become our own visual aid.  Even the word saved can be misleading.  Most people don’t experience a feeling of danger because they were born spiritually dead.  They are not presently in Hell, so they don’t realize the importance of being saved from it.  But if you use the word “changed,” that implies that something happens to you but also that you are different.  And you are not only changed, but also changing.  Some people do get saved out of fear of Hell.  But the Great Commission was to make disciples.  To make changed people.  Aren’t Justification and Regeneration equal and indivisible parts of salvation?  Hearing the message of salvation from Hell gives people an appreciation for God’s grace, because they have a concept of His wrath.

Are you tired of being buffeted by your fan?  (Did you even know you were being buffeted?)  Try the new and fantastic Dyson* Air Foil Fan.  It works like a jet engine.  Some people have noted that wind is naturally, uh, well, buffeting, so that style of air propellant might be preferred by some people.  But when is the last time someone invented a new fan?  Start saving now!  *Dyson, the inventor, is now “Sir Dyson.”  He was knighted by the Queen.  That’s how cool his fan is.  (The preceding paragraph should not be taken as an endorsement of Dyson or any of its products or ideas.)

Christians, for efficiency, should focus on saving kids dying of natural causes than the much more difficult task of keeping other people (parents) from killing them, as in pro-life work. Both victims want to be saved.  There is less resistance from authorities and parents to saving people who are starving or without clean drinking water.  Aren’t both causes of death the result of hardened hearts and sinful people?  Maybe even the result of our sin?  So the task involves overcoming hard hearts either way.  But the resolution was about saving lives, not changing hearts.  It is easier to save people – physically – from natural threats.  But the reason to save either children is to give them a chance to hear the spiritual message of salvation by grace in the future.  Don’t pit two good things against each other.  Doing something here in your spare time is easier than packing up the family and moving to Africa to dig wells for drinking water, and corresponds better to a lot of peoples’ callings.  The Bible talks about blood guilt for a nation that commits the shedding of innocent blood; doesn’t that put some priority on us addressing the deaths in our OWN nation?  But our influence isn’t just national anymore; it is global.  And blood guilt is a global phenomenon.  Shouldn’t we start at home?  Don’t do something just because it is easier.  But we weren’t talking about easy; we were talking about efficient.  And efficiency implies limited resources; our God who is sending us to care for the weak and needy is not limited.  Unless you consider that He is limited by human willingness (our willingness to obey or others’ willingness to receive).  Are we going for results?  The biggest number of people helped?  Shouldn’t we just be trying to glorify God in whatever we do?  Is it wrong to use wisdom, taking efficiency into consideration, to make that choice?  Jesus said that thousands were starving but Elijah was sent to only one widow.  So one needs to take into account personal conviction and direction from God.  Have God’s values.  Whatever you do, do it heartily.  Efficiency is a worthy consideration, but not the sole motivator.  We need God’s direction.  And what if those we save by using our energies efficiently end up transforming the world and saving people from other kinds of death as well?  Are we not furthering the kingdom of God by saving multitudes from starvation and disease – thus ingratiating the world to us and our message?

Institutional Church is fundamentally neither worse nor less biblical than any other form of church. Institutional Church is defined as that typical of the United States, including an order of worship, a building, pastors and elders.  Though theoretically the models may have equal ground, consistent tendencies suggest a flaw in the institutional model.  Are home churches any better?  Institutional Churches have the record for longevity.  House churches don’t usually last hundreds of years.  But maybe that isn’t the goal of a house church.  Where size is concerned, Institutional Churches tend to be larger, which guards against false doctrine and gives greater accountability.  Is that true?  Doesn’t the larger congregation provide anonymity, and so hinder accountability?  In denominations, a characteristic of Institutional Church, individual congregations are accountable to the denomination, particularly for their doctrine.  Jim Elliot said the Church is God’s, and it is important to Him, so if He has a way He wants the Church to meet and worship Him, we should do it that way.  [and this is my blog, so I can edit history and give the quote for real: “The pivot point hangs on whether or not God has revealed a universal pattern for the church in the New Testament. If He has not, then anything will do so long as it works. But I am convinced that nothing so dear to the heart of Christ as His Bride should be left without explicit instructions as to her corporate conduct. I am further convinced that the 20th century has in no way simulated this pattern in its method of ‘churching’ a community . . . it is incumbent upon me, if God has a pattern for the church, to find and establish that pattern, at all costs” (Shadow of The Almighty: Life and Testimony of Jim Elliot)  See also my website: www.ChurchMoot.wordpress.com]  The Bible describes a model of church that the Institutional Church does not match.  That is what makes it inferior.  For example, 1 Corinthians 14 says that when the Church gathers, every one has a teaching, psalm, prophecy, tongue – not just a pre-scheduled pastor.  But the Bible also teaches that there should be order, that everyone should not be talking over each other.  Isn’t that an “order of worship”?  The Bible does talk about pastors, though!  What is the role of a pastor?  When the New Testament talks about pastors and apostles and evangelists giving attention to teaching and preaching, doesn’t that suggest the sermon?  Preaching is primarily for evangelism.  Christians are to honor those elders especially who minister in the Word.  Shouldn’t a Christian convicted about these matters try to reform the Institutional Church?  How can he, when the means at his disposal are the very thing he wants to change?  You could keep the same people, the same congregation, but you would have to tear the whole structure down and start over.  The issue isn’t problems in individual congregations or even necessarily those “tendencies” to which Institutional Church is prone; it is the description of the Church meetings given in the New Testament.  Where did the New Testament Church meet?  How did they facilitate the Church in Jerusalem at thousands of members if it met in houses?  They didn’t all have to meet at once in one place.  Is it wrong to meet in buildings?  Buildings cost money to maintain.  The Early Church and House Churches can use that money for other things, not needing to budget for light-bulbs and parking lots.  And the money was administered not by a church fund, but entrusted to the apostles.  Would it be best to return to an Apostolic Model, then, or even recognize Apostolic Succession as in the Catholic Church?

What Americans call consumerism isn’t consumerism; it’s collecting and hoarding, so we should stop maligning consumerism. Why do we think of consuming as bad?  Everyone consumes.  But isn’t that the threat behind “carbon footprints” of every organism?  Hoarding is entrapping; it’s worse than cigarettes.  We store all this stuff in our houses and then we lose it by the time we “need” it.  But people find security in having backups for things they use a lot.  And the reason we need a backup is because our society has manufactured (or demanded the manufacture of) consumable products, things that break or wear out.  When something breaks, we have easy access to stores, which store replacements for you.  We don’t just throw out broken things, though; we get rid of things to make way for the “new” thing, the upgrade.  What should you do with things you’re not using?  You shouldn’t keep it unless you are highly efficient at your storage and make your supplies work for you, your neighbors, and friends (hospitality: see Pigfest February 2010).  Isn’t this hoarding just the “building bigger barns” as in Jesus’ parable?  Then again, maybe it is the responsible thing to do, to work hard now and save up (not just money) for later, like the fabled ants in The Ant and the Grasshopper.  But is consuming really bad?  If you’re really using something up, and people are able to keep producing it, go ahead and consume.  Stores aren’t always as accessible as efficiency would require.  Consumption doesn’t just cost money; it costs lives and freedom.  There are some economies purposefully enslaved, where the people are kept dependent and forced to manufacture that which we consume.  Consumption is not acceptable, then, at every cost.  Isn’t the hoarding we’re talking about a sign of a lack of trust that God will take care of us in the future?

The End.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Apparently one of my favorite pet hobbies is worse than unpopular.  It’s irrelevant to the world around me.  I love to study words.  Their roots and history, and how they got from start to present, are fascinating to me.  When I find the etymology of a word, I feel like that word is full of color and life and intense meaning that before was cloudy and uncertain.  When I write I want the best word not only to say exactly what I mean, but with the tone and connotations I intend.  Etymology helps me do that (I hope). 

In any case, being a linguist helped JRR Tolkien.  Jane Austen and Charles Dickens also employed word selection to aid their plots and descriptions.  The more I improve my vocabulary, the more I appreciate classic authors and their works.  I marvel at the subconscious effect their word choice had on me before I understood.  Their literature comes alive when I really know what their language indicates. 

But today, in an increasingly post-modern, non-absolutist, highly individual world, adhering to one definition for a word is less feasible than adhering to one faith in one truth about one reality.  And this makes debate completely useless.  This makes computerized discernment and classification impossible.  In other words, we can no longer test someone’s words to see what they believe.  Either they sound heretical, but were really just trying to use hip lingo and got sloppy, or they sound orthodox and mean something mystical.  In both cases knowledge of what the words inherently mean, and are supposed to still mean, is no help at all.  In fact, it’s confusing. 

So what we need instead of the computerized classification or test such as evangelicals gave to presidential candidates last century (asking them whether they were born-again; how long do you think it took for the candidates to catch on and learn to say the right thing?  They’re politicians!), is real discernment.  People who have studied truth need to test all things, but not with clichés.  They need to pray for God to guide them with His eyes.  They need to be Samuel, who so leaned on God’s insight, who yielded to God’s vision of man’s heart instead of human sight of the outward appearance. 

There is a spiritual gift, like teaching, like giving, like service, and like compassion.  Through the supernatural empowering of the Holy Spirit, those who have called on the name of the Lord and are therefore indwelt by the Holy Spirit and led by Him into all truth need to examine the words of men and discern spirits.  After studying the gift of discernment, I think there are several reasons Paul calls it “discerning of spirits.”  This analysis provides another reason: in a postmodern culture that defies definitions, discerning words is basically useless.  We need to discern (discover, classify, penetrate, understand, identify as true or false) where a speaker is coming from, and what they really mean. 

The other reasons I have considered are: 1.  Discernment is spiritual.  It has to do with the spirit-world, and can often involve identifying demonic activity or influence.  2.  Discernment of a spirit can be of a message, due to the Greek word (pneuma)’s double meaning of breath and spirit.  3.  Discernment might have to do with insight into the spiritual needs of an individual.  Beyond whether an individual is right or wrong, where are they weak and where are they strong?  What is the spiritual reality going on in their life, behind the service and the teaching or the sin and the doubt? 

I believe God gifts members of His body as needed to see all these things, and I believe there is an incredible need in the Church today for those who can identify the spiritual truth of a situation, message, or person.  These people, using their gifts, are an incredible contribution to the community and cooperation of believers.  They are indispensable in edification.  And in a world where there are many books, many teachers, and much mesmerizing media, the Church needs to seek God’s direction and discretion as they choose their courses of ministry and belief. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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From Shaping of Things to Come page 73: “These partnerships would demonstrate that Jesus is pleased with the good works of not-yet-Christians…”

Here is where I the discernment alarms began flashing. The next several looks at this book will deal with subjects in which I was in clear opposition to the authors.

What happened to works being like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)? What about abiding in the vine? No! Good works don’t please Jesus when they’re not for Him. Motives matter. How did He reward the Pharisees, experts at good works who rejected his salvation? He rebuked them, strongly and loudly. He didn’t stand at their side and tell His disciples “These men are doing good work here; help them out.”

Matthew 3:7-8, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:”

Romans 4:4, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.”

Galatians 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”

Ephesians 2:3, “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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In case you haven’t determined from my other posts, especially those about “Changing Church,” I have some serious concerns about the evangelical Christian Church in America. A year ago I led a Bible study. And it is a symptom of the problems with evangelicalism that I must clarify: that means we took passages of the Bible and studied them. We figured out what the words meant, how the passages were connected with other parts of Scripture, and how to apply them. The topic was spiritual gifts. One of the primary passages on spiritual gifts in the Bible is 1 Corinthians. Typically a theologian would point you to select verses in chapter 12. However, spiritual gifts are the topic throughout 12, 13, and 14. This information fits because, in context, we saw that spiritual gifts are (this is so obvious) part of Church structure and purpose. Our group ended up discussing and discovering a lot about how the Church was intended to “run.”

from Whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:16

Ephesians 4, also a defining passage for the Church, is another chapter describing spiritual gifts. There are also passages in Romans and 1 Peter. In none of these do we see church buildings. The four-point sermon is not described, nor the “invitation.” Come to think of it, a weekly offering wasn’t part of the instructions. There is no gift for “treasury,” though there is one for “giving.”

To some extent, I am still trying to figure out what the Bible teaches about the design for the Church. What did Paul tell Timothy the Church should look like? How should the assemblies go? Who should assemble; when; where; how often? Is it like a network of small groups that interact and overlap? How do elders fit in? What does an elder do? How many elders did God plan for churches? Do they need to be formally ordained? Does a teacher have to be an elder? Does an elder have to teach? If they do, is it every week?

*Deep breath* I have a lot of questions. And I have some ideas I’m exploring. Some might ask how relevant my search is to real life. Occasionally God reminds me He is more important than a completely worked-out theology. He’ll teach me what I need to know. Mostly I need to know I should trust Him.

So I read up on these things. And I try to have an application-oriented study. But I’m not pragmatic. Truth is more important to me than success. I won’t take a group that “does it right” without believing the right thing. I’d rather not be part of a church that is high on creeds and low on follow-through. For one thing, that is my tendency, and I need influences to counter my laziness.

I’m not alone in my dissatisfaction with the Church. A lot of people my age leave, and I can’t entirely blame them. For one thing, my friends and I want challenged. We want examples. We need interaction across generations that is generally unavailable to us at traditional churches. Some who leave their childhood churches gather with others craving spiritual experiences though they were raised outside of church. An overall term for these gatherings is the “emergent church.”

This church and its leaders tend to have embraced a unique philosophy/theology. It is unitarian, communal, experiential: meaning respectively that there could be many roads to salvation and a relationship with God, evangelism and the Christian life should be more about serving the poor and building real there-for-you relationships, and worship must be a multi-sensory encounter.

One of the most frequent things I hear is an emphasis, almost a demand, for “alternative worship.” There is also contemplative prayer. The idea that conversion is a process can be found. In a book I am currently reading, a missionary is encouraging Muslim converts to keep the Koran, keep the the mosques, and be “Messianic Muslims.”

Here’s the thing. Most of these emergent believers and former evangelicals (and some others: family-integrated church members, some house churches, other conservative “fundamentalist” movements) are identifying real problems in the Church. The difference is the source of their solution.

I am searching for a back-to-the-Bible approach such as advocated by the New Testament Reformation Fellowship. The other options would be slight reform (as explained in the Purpose Driven Church and other such books) or theological abdication for what works. These alternatives are man-centered, offering either that which appeals and entertains men, or that which men think will work, borrowing “truth” from “wherever it can be found,” including pagan religions, popular psychology, New Age spirituality, Hollywood, and ancient mysticism.

Back to the topic of spiritual gifts, one oft-overlooked and even supressed gift is that of discernment. “Discerning of spirits,” can mean telling whether a spirit (message or soul) is from God or not. John MacArthur has compiled an entire book on the subject for contemporary issues, entitled Fool’s Gold. There are websites like Let Us Reason, Apprising Ministries, and the Christian Research Net. I believe this is one of my gifts as well as a topic I believe to be vital to the Church.

So I feel obligated to warn you about reliance on The Message paraphrase of the Bible, Brennan Manning’s writings, Rick Warren’s writings, anything Emergent Church or “Christian mysticism.” The argument that one must have read a book to denounce it, or have met a person to know that they are false teachers is invalid. The spiritual gift of discernment comes from God, and is primarily a testing of spirits against the pure, absolutely true Word of God. For specifics of why these people, books, movements, and ideas are unbiblical, please consult the links above. I have personally had exposure to each of these, but not immersion. However, the links provided do go into detail, with quotes and point-by-point refutations.

To summarize: the Church has problems. The solution to these problems can be found in the Bible, and the cause in how we have sold out to our culture and human philosophies rather than believing the instructions God gave. Some people who recognize these same problems and are very insightful in how they are related to each other and to statistics coming out about the Church have resorted to unbiblical “solutions,” which will cause more harm than good. Christians must be on their guard against these philosophies and practices. This is done by being solidly grounded in the Bible, and testing every movement against it.

Colossians 2:6-8, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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