Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Persecution is complex 3

The second front in the Christian challenge to our society’s ethos is the public ministry of the Word (whether presented individually, in open-air meetings, or recorded through social networking media). While we all have a responsibility to testify to the power of Jesus' resurrection, the Holy Spirit has bestowed the gift of evangelism and pastoral care on specific individuals. The key scripture for this post is taken from 2 Tim. 4:2. ‘Preach the word; be prepared, whether the time is favourable or not; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction’ Paul was fully aware of the many prophecies that foretold of massive deception and heresy that would attack the church. In his earlier letter he claimed, ‘Now the Spirit speaks clearly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils’ (1 Tim 4:1) The Greek word for seducing is planois from which the word, planet is derived. The root word means ‘to wander’. To the ancients, planets didn’t appear to follow consistent paths. They appeared erratic, sometimes even moving backwards. The equivalent Latin word is errare, meaning to wander or go astray. The deception is a wandering from truth by accepting inconsistent inspiration. A preacher may indeed be inspired, but if it is by the Holy Spirit, his words and actions will point in the same direction and will not contradict any part of scripture.

It is this inconsistent application of scripture that characterises modern church opinion. The selective use of scripture is used to justify actions that the Bible condemns elsewhere. Unfortunately, even the average churchgoer has remarkably little grasp of scripture and many are intimidated into leaving false doctrine unchallenged. Peter said of Paul’s writings: ‘His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.’ (2 Pet. 3:16)

Christ insisted ‘scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35), i.e. that God’s Word is entirely consistent and must be applied consistently. It is this  scriptural consistency that is held forth as the counter to the current decline from biblical and apostolic Christianity.

Paul also introduces a high level of urgency based on the prospect of a wholesale rejection of the faith: ‘For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear’ (2 Tim. 4:3)

Isaiah’s words challenge modern self-centred ethics in this way: ‘They say to the seers, "See no more visions!" and to the prophets, "Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.’ (Isaiah 30:10) If you just want to win a religious following, tell people what they want to hear. Affirm their innate goodness, dispense with Christ as the only cure for human guilt and declare a bright future and they’ll be in church every Sunday.

So as people persist in rejecting Christ, many ministers are learning to dilute the biblical standards of remorse over sin, turning from idols and thinking against heathen behaviour. Instead, these churches happily allow their leadership to indulge in serious, unconfessed sin, thereby reducing the lay churchgoers to complete moral apathy.

In spite of this true ministers of the gospel will continue to warn against lax morality and present Christ as the only enduring cure: ‘And the LORD hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising early and sending them; but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear.’ (Jer. 25:4)

It will soon cost us dearly to maintain this gospel witness. As it causes ‘alarm, or distress’ to the consciences of influential citizens, society will resort to exploiting the organs of state to silence Christian opposition to immorality.

It is for true ministers of the gospel to say: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’ (Acts 5:29)

We will not be intimidated, but follow Him who said to His deadly critics: ‘Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth’ (Matt. 23:34, 35). Such is the nature of genuine Christian ministry.

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