God or Man?
The Christian experience begins with an initial decision by an individual involving two choices: remain in your sins or repent and accept Christ for the forgiveness of sins. There is no such thing as a neutral position. By default we are in our sins and a choice only arises when an opportunity for salvation is presented in some form.
The nature of this position regarding this choice can be summed up with the scene on the Hill of Golgotha where Christ was crucified. On one side of Christ was a thief who accepted His salvation, and on the other side of Christ there was another thief who rejected Him. That is it–acceptance or rejection, any contrived “neutral” position is a de facto rejection of Christ.
For the Christian other kinds of decisions emerge after acceptance of Christ. There is a continual interplay between following Christ, on the one hand, which involves living a spiritually disciplined life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23, which must be practiced, and these fruit are love, joy peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance and on the other hand, avoiding a life lived according to the “works of the flesh” Galatians 5:19-21, which are those actions that God prohibits and, which happens to be the actions we do by nature, having been born sinners.
The decisional realm in a Christian’s daily life is extensive. These decisions involve actions which have a right or wrong outcome as far as God is concerned. The Christian position is that the Holy Spirit indwells the individual and helps that individual make the right choices. Thankfully many of these decisions don’t involve a lot of “angst”, or represent great “temptations”, but some will! It is those tough decisions which become the turning points in a person’s life (and a denomination’s life) and which can represent the truest tests!
The Bible, meditation, prayer, fellowship among believers, all these things help a Christian make the right decisions to live a Godly life and so minimize the shortcomings which we have as imperfect people. Truth is the only guide and the Bible is the primary source of Truth for Christians. When the Bible is minimized, or demoted to a “second-place” status, then the decisions that a Christian makes between right and wrong can be severely compromised and really without effective guidance. This is a major problem for the Church today!
Which brings us to the many social issues which society is experiencing and which involve Christians in an intimate way. Christianity is undergoing a severe test as it is being redefined according to other criteria apart from the Bible. We are seeing decisions being made, not just by individuals, but even by whole denominations, which show a strong rejection of Biblical Truth, even though claims to the contrary are maintained. Clearly the Church and its message is being rewritten! There doesn’t seem to be much of a concern that many of these decisions clearly are opposite to what has been accepted as Truth down through the centuries. The rejection of past dogma instead represents some kind of advancement in theological thinking. Now this could be looked at as new revelations correcting wrong positions caused by misinterpretation of the Bible, or it could be the result of listening and being guided by the wrong things with the resulting decisions taking society and individuals farther from God instead of closer to Him.
The latter is my position! Many changes have taken place in our society which has cast doubt on the Bible’s relevance in the 20-21st century, and more modern type thinking has created an illusion that certain behaviors condemned by the Bible are actually positive things. The Bible’s view of those things are considered outdated ideas by writers who didn’t have access to the knowledge of today. This could be amplified quite a bit but the end result is that society thinks it has a better idea on what is “good” and what is “evil” and many parts of the Church has bought into that.
The side effect of this for the Church is that the whole Bible will eventually be relegated to an “outdated” status and hence our moorings to God’s Truth will be completely sundered.
And we may think that accepting some of these things will put us in a better position but instead this will only end up creating a kind of domino affect which will topple many other Christian teachings as well. The ruling authority of our lives will end up being those things which sinful human nature will contrive to be appropriate. Not a good thing!
So what is wrong with the Church practices of today which is causing so much confusion? There are many things but one of the primary things that has occurred, which creates some difficulty in discussing some of these issues, is that while the Bible has been emphasized in certain matters, it is done in such a way as to be isolated from the complete context of the rest of the Bible. The Bible ends up competing against itself! An example is when the Gospels are emphasized over the Epistles of Paul, somehow the Gospels have precedence since Christ’s actual words are within the Gospels. What we lose by this is context and amplification. Christ really said very little about many topics but He also knew those same topics would be addressed more fully through his leaders, which was accomplished with the writings of the rest of the New Testament. To break apart the Bible in a hierarchical manner like this destroys the unity of the message.
Another thing is that Christians have fallen into the same trap as some Jews in the New Testament, who had a hard time accepting the new role they would have with Christ’s arrival. In John 6:44 Christ castigates the Jews who listened to his Bread of Life sermon because of their unbelief: “How can you believe, which receive honour of one another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?”. They wanted the honor from man and not God! We act like that as well! The worse kind of peer pressure!
Also in Luke 6:26, there is a relevant verse which Christ addressed to his disciples: “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets”. I personally think this is the most alluring, who doesn’t want to be accepted! Along with this is the idea that the Church could be left behind from all the “progress” that is being achieved. Again, the opinion of “man” is what counts!
In our society as Christian influence has waned, becoming relevant has become a strategy to somehow “appeal” more widely to society, but the cost of that has been the sacrifice of true and proper Biblical teachings. Christ knew that his teachings often would be troublesome in some ways as stated in Matthew 10:34 “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”. One of the major issues testing the Church has been homosexuality (I think this may be the make or break issue of true Christian influence today) and the related lifestyles summarized by the initials LGBTQ (some groups even have more letters). These letters stand for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning).
As the sexual revolution has created major successes among these groups, especially in light of the Supreme Court announcement that gay marriage should be legal in all 50 states, the Church has found itself on the outside looking in. Some denominations and parts of denominations had already made doctrinal decisions regarding homosexuality and its acceptance. These decisions have been problematic and has initiated much turmoil within those denominations. Other denominations have stayed true to the Biblical teaching which treats homosexuality as sin. Still others are in the process of making a decision regarding these matters.
But the Supreme Court decision of June 2015 has ushered in the next stage in these changes because it gives a veneer of legality to homosexuality and which will and has created a pressure to those Christian groups who have resisted acceptance of homosexuality. Some churches before the Court’s decision had already made their decision about it, with some accepting homosexuality, others were still contemplating up to that decision and has since accepted homosexuality as being legitimate after the Court’s decision, while others have said an emphatic “no!” following the decision, as far as that group is concerned nothing has changed Biblically just because the Court ruled. This last group will feel the most pressure as time continues.
I fear those churches who have already accepted homosexuality are lost and probably can’t be changed. They have started on a path which can only lead to more rejection of God’s “true” Truth. Romans 1 illustrates the nature of the lifestyle when rejection of God occurs. Unfortunately, those churches who have utilized the Supreme Court decision to finally embolden them to finally come out in favor of homosexuality may have time to change but I have my doubts towards those as well. Two groups which fall into this situation involve the Mennonite Church USA.
Two of their schools, Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College had been contemplating changes that involved the acceptance of committed homosexual couples on their faculty. This issue had been in discussion for a number of years and on July 16th it was decided by them to finally accept those couples in committed same-sex relationships as members of their faculty. Did the supreme Court decision embolden them? The timing suggests that it did!
It remains to be seen if the wider denomination will punish them somehow, but this is a critical and major decision time for that denomination regarding their future spiritual effectiveness. In contrast the Church of God in Cleveland counseled their pastors to hold true to the Biblical view of marriage, which is between one man and woman, and also encouraged them to not allow their facilities to be used for anything associated with homosexual marriage ceremonies. That is the correct stand. They understand that any acceptance, albeit “innocent”, such as even offering places for receptions, can draw one away from the Truth and make sinful lifestyles seem somewhat more “palatable”. I applaud the Church of God for their statement!
The stand one makes, or in the context of this article, the decision one makes, is important because a trial is coming to true believers. There is a spiritual darkness hovering over this land and things can only get worse for those Christians who accept the Bible in its totality. With this Court decision other pressures will eventually be brought to bear with the endpoint being aimed at making Christian groups conform to acceptance of the gay lifestyle. The use of federal funds by schools and churches is one method which can now be used by the government to apply pressure. Also, the tax-exempt status of religious institutions can be threatened with removal if conformity to homosexuality is not assured. Court cases can be brought aginst religious institutions regarding hiring practices. What then, is the importance of this? It is decision time! All these things will involve decisions about God and His truth to be made, tough decisions, not only by individuals but by denominations. Will we stand for God and accept what comes or will we strive to receive the “honor” from man? If we make the wrong one we run the risk of becoming “salt which has lost its savor”, and become irrelevant as far as God is concerned!
Now the Bible has many references to decisions, it is not a new thing. There is a “valley of decison” where multitudes stand on the Day of the Lord. There is a “broad” and “narrow” way, Matthew 7:13-14, whose course is determined by the choice made for God. The “broad” way is broad because it is the easier course to follow and many follow that course. That helps explain why it is so easy for churches to reject the truths of God but makes it so hard to repent! Wrong decisions never solves problems when decisions involve sin. The “narrow” way is narrow because it takes effort for this path. Following God’s Truth completely is difficult, that is why it is the narrow path. Many groups have left the “narrow way”.
Consider the Boy Scouts, they have left the “narrow way”. They also thought that by changing their philosophy to allow openly homosexual boys to be scouts, that this would vent the pressure being applied to them. Wrong! While it did make them receive some “honor from man”, it wasn’t enough . Now they are on the verge of allowing openly gay scout adult leaders and this has occurred because of more pressure applied to them from outside groups. They will eventually conform and receive even more “honor from “man”, but they will be irrelevant as far as true Christian influence is concerned. My only hope for them is that they dissolve as a group and become part of history!
The Church should heed these events when faced with upcoming trials about homosexuality and other issues. The dismantling of the Church is occurring, the Church which stands for the real truth, that is! We need to be like Joshua who assembled the Israelites before dispersing into the Promise Land and encouraged them 24:15 thus:
“choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
That same decision process remains today, who are we going to serve, man or God? Very simple choice!