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For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts more than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from the heavens, and does not return there, but waters the earth and makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater: So shall my Word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall be prospered in that for which I sent it. (Isa 55:9-11)
Naaman the Syrian consulted the prophet of God as to how he could be cured of a nasty disease, leprosy. He was told to go and bathe in Jordan seven times. (2 Kings 5:10).
So, why did Naaman not immediately follow the directions of Elisha, the prophet of God? In his mortification and disappointment Naman became very passionate, and in an almost blind rage refused to follow the humble course marked out by the messenger sent by the prophet of God, Elisha. But why would Naaman do such a thing?
But Naaman was angry and went away, saying,
“Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. (2Kings 5:11)
Now, we may concede, how that Naaman did come up with some clever excuses, in the form of questions here. Naaman began to do something that we can still see being done by churches, and individual Christians today. Naaman began to feed on the worldly maxims of an alternative integrity with seemingly very good points he made concerning why he did not think he needed to do things God’s way, as revealed to him by a messenger of the prophet Elisha:
Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean? So he [Naaman] turned and went away in a rage.” (2 Kings 5:12)
The response of Naaman’s servants here on this point is nothing short of amazing:
His servants said:
“My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash [merely], and be clean?” (2 Kings 5:13)
Now we can recall how that it was following the specific directions of the prophet which would humble Naaman’s proud and lofty spirit. It was willing obedience that would bring the desired result. When Naaman washed, as instructed, then he was made whole.
Apparently, scripture here shows that this great, important man considered it far beneath his dignity to go to the humble river Jordan, and to wash, as God had instructed through the prophet. Evidently, those rivers he mentioned and desired were much nicer looking than the rubby, plain looking old Jordan River; being beautified by surrounding trees and groves, and idols were placed in these groves. (2 Kings 5:12). Many flocked to these rivers to worship their idol gods; therefore it would have cost Naaman no humility, because then he would have just been doing ‘what everybody else was doing. it was a very convenient way for him to practice his religion without drawing too much attention or appearing too conspicuous:
But his servants came near and said to him,
“My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored to being like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (2 Kings 5:13,14).
And so we see how Scripture bears with this idea here of “blending in” to “be like everybody else,” and isn’t that what we see in virtually all modernity’s advertising, as they trumpet to the masses: “everybody is doing it?” and “everybody needs this?”and it is certainly a very big thing still being practiced by the churches at large today. The ecclesial discernments of our churches, since even before those days of old with Naaman, has flourished as a new, instant, and ready-made form of theology, quickly becoming one with the evolving practices of things like Sociology, archeology, and documentary analyses. And the theological forms and manifestations here, while complex, do tend to represent one of the more common, one of the greatest “in common” transformations of how to do church, since the reformation days of the early church.
This leaves many of today’s churches very neatly tucked into the folds of quantifiable signs that are defined by whatever municipality that church is in. For example:
“is Western Canada Church better attended by young people, than Eastern Canada?” “Are conservative churches growing slower than liberal churches?” “Do Gen-Xers respond better to things like candles or drums, better than videos?” And one does not have to look very far to see such examples in both Catholic and Protestant churches, in their area. Sociological data points or markers, (quite devoid of scripture) have become the new normal for the churches of modernity. (*1). It can be observed today, for one example, that people in many churches are opting/advocating for ‘everyone to get the shot,” to “be forced, physically to get the shot,” and I won’t comment too much on that narrative in this article, but suffice it to say, the churches are dividing now on this issue. And it serves as a good example of non-biblical data points that churches grow and/or divide upon.
But there is something else that has become ‘the new normal’ for the church today. Its called The Shrinking Church. I would imagine that this is partly why Jesus has given such a stinging rebuke to the Laodicean Church; a church that today is shrinking exponentially due to this blending in of the ways of the world to be “more relevant.” And it DOES stand to reason that Jesus, The True Witness, would carry a lot of authority by His searing statement to “Laodicea:”
But I have this [charge] against you, that you have left your first love [you have lost the depth of love that you first had for Me]. So remember the heights from which you have fallen, and repent [change your inner self–your old way of thinking, your sinful behaviour–seek God’s will] and do the works you did at first [when you first knew Me]; otherwise, I will visit you and remove your lamp stand (the church, its impact) from its place–unless you repent.” (Rev 2:4,5).
Everything that we have happening to us today IS a clue, and yet many of us have no clue when it comes to church, or Christianity. We mostly like to style ourselves as prophetic or prophets, carelessly dangling our doctrinal carrots before the masses, almost as if we were competing with each other to promise the clearest path to the open windows and hidden worlds of Bible prophecy. (or who has the best, the most orange “carrot”). I listened to a testimony recently by Justin Beiber, who says he has become a Christian, in the video I watched. And one of the things he said about His life before becoming a Christian, about why he had waited so long to become a Christian was very conspicuously pointed out:
“I didn’t take it very seriously because I didn’t have any really good examples. Jesus was no fly by night religious guy, and Jesus was in my dirt, and Jesus pulled me out of my dirt.”
We can all well imagine what that kind of testimony would sound like in many churches today. It reflects how Jesus has helped and changed a soul for His kingdom. Jesus fed the hunger of his soul. “They that do hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled.”
“Blessed [joyful, nourished by God’s goodness] are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [those who actively seek right standing with God], for they will be [completely] satisfied. [Isa 55:1-2] (Mat 5:6, AMP)
Why then, are many churches, from most denominations shrinking today? I decided that for purposes of this week’s article I should just ask some people to tell me how they would answer some questions about their church experiences, and I asked two friends to tell me their thoughts. And I told them not to hold back just because we are friends. One of the questions I asked went something like this:
“now…thinking back to when you first started attending your church that you go to now, do you remember a time when someone at church first said something meaningful to you? Something that made a real difference in your Christian walk? How long did you attend that church before that happened?” “Or did you have the misfortune to not have that happen? Was something said to you that really messed you up or discouraged you during those first days at your Church?”
Now, the answers I got were very interesting. Two opposites. Or, at least they seemed opposite. (more on that next week). The first person answered like this:
Answer/Person 1: I don’t think anyone ever said something meaningful. They mostly said things that made me cry. Other than maybe my Mom. She told me not to believe everything that someone tells me regarding anything Biblical. She always told me to read the Bible for myself, to test whatever they say to me so that I could know for sure if it is the truth, and the answers I need.
“All they ever said to me at Church was that ‘I will pray for you.’ And that if my life wasnt going good, then its because I don’t attend church enough, and that I ‘don’t have enough faith.’ Just so much about Sabbath and all the rules! And my 10% offerings. Seems like that’s the only thing I ever did that made them smile.”
“I don’t even feel that I really need church that much. If I can find good people to know. People that don’t judge or critisise me. Just people who are kind and who accept me as is, for me. And that don’t try to change me.”
And I want to add that the person who said this to me is likely the friendliest person in the church. But they do attend a shrinking Church. There are just 2 or 3 families that control it like a battle-ship and it seems that no one else can get into that very tight circle.
Here is the second answer that I got from the same question:
Answer/Person #2: I am grateful for the many many grace encounters with people in our church (there were some not-so-gracious as well, but by far the positive outweigh the negative.) I’d like to share 2 pivotal memories:
1. I was born into a home with Jesus-loving parents and through their influence was baptized at the age of 11. However, promptly following my baptism I entered into a rebellious and tumultuous time which lasted until my pregnancy at the age of 16. When I was 12 or 13 I accompanied my parents to my dads small church (Kerameus, BC – sp??) one Sabbath. To my dismay when we got to church I realized it was communion. I struggled with a lot of guilt and shame at that time and didn’t want to participate in communion. My parents respected my wishes to not participate and I sat alone at the back of the church (there were no other youth my age in the church) as the foot washing ceremony began. A kind lady named Kathy approached me and asked me if I was ok. For some reason the Holy Spirit must have been working on my heart because her kind ‘ask’ caused me to open up about my feelings of unworthiness. Kathy listened and kindly expressed that Jesus’s grace covered my shame and guilt and encouraged me to participate. She reassured me that nobody is worthy – and our unworthiness is what qualifies us for communion. Kathy and I washed each others feet and I participated in the rest of the service. I never forgot her gracious engagement. It gave me a picture of what Jesus would have been like – in that little church.
2. The second memory was of returning home at the age of 16 (I had left home, quit school and moved out of province to live with my boyfriend). (The biggest spiritual influence in my life occurred when my parents welcomed me home with open arms and not once even hinted about any of my rebellion or the hell I had put them through for 5 years.) My father was pastor of a large church in Kelowna. The ladies in the church got together and lovingly raised money to purchase items for my baby. Donna Rose is the name of the lady who coordinated. I’ll never forget her love and acceptance. She hand-made a little cloth book with the creation story – and the felts to go along with it – a special book just for church on Sabbath!
I feel incredibly grateful for not only the love and influence of my parents – in helping me know Jesus as my Saviour at a young age – but also for many many loving church members who were used by the Holy Spirit to shape my picture of God.
Now, this second person who answered my question is also one of the friendliest people in their church. But I think some of the churches the second person went to were/are very small also.
God’s Church on Earth
You also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 2:5).
The church on earth belongs to God, and it is to assume divine proportions before the world. People need to see Jesus in the people of The Church, not just a pile of polished doctrines, that sit around gathering dust, or sometimes used as clubs to wack people into shape. The Church, (people, not the building) is to be the light of the world. It is to be composed of living stones laid close together, stone fitting to stone, making a solid building. All these stones are not of the same shape or dimension. Some are large and some are small, but each one has its own place to fill.Including The Chief Cornerstone which is Jesus. In the whole building there is not to be one misshapen stone. Each one is perfect. And each stone is a living stone, a stone that emits light. The value of the stones are determined by the light they reflect to the world.
Now is the time for the stones to be taken from the quarry of the world and brought into God’s workshop, to be hewed, squared, and polished, that they may shine. This is God’s plan, and He desires all who profess to believe the truth to fill their respective places in the great, grand work for this time. The angelic architect has brought his golden measuring rod from heaven, that every stone may be hewed and squared by the divine measurement, and polished to shine as an emblem of heaven, radiating in all directions the bright, clear beams of the Sun of Righteousness.
In this world we are to shine in good works. The Lord requires His people to reflect the light of God’s character, God’s love, as Christ reflected it. As we look unto Jesus, all our lives will be aglow with that wondrous light. Every part of us is to be light; then whichever way we turn, light will be reflected from us to others. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6). In Him is no darkness at all; therefore, if we are in Christ, there will be no darkness in us.
The church on earth is not just in a building. The Bible says there are some churches in people’s houses. Christian fellowship does not just happen with “church people.” But it is one of the ways by which character is formed. In next week’s email we will look a little closer at The Church and how the prayer of Christ is answered that His followers may be one as He is one with the Father. (for a preview, see John 17). Many people have asked “do I really need to go to a Church to be saved,” and so we will be examining how people get saved, and what the church’s role in our salvation is, according to the Bible. We will also look at Answer #1 and Answer #2 a little closer. Some people have suggested that perhaps the #1 Answer that did not have a positive experience at church “might not be saved.” But nothing could be further from the truth: remember, both people who answered the question had at times attended very small churches, its not just being a small church that means its dying.
What is happening in our churches? How can a Church be dying, if Jesus is The Head of that church? What makes some of us happy at church and some of us not?
Next Week: we will look at what the Bible says about “church” and its role in the salvation of the individuals attending. Is “salvation” the same for those who attend, and those who do not?
In the meantime, please, be encouraged, whether you attend a church or not that God has a thousand ways to provide for us of which we know nothing. But we can know this one thing: instead of literally “washing in the Jordan” as Naaman was told to do by the prophet, we are told today to “wash in the blood of The Lamb,” (Rev 7:14) and that is why:
Jesus is also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them (Heb 7:25)
Jesus has given us a special gift to fight the good fight with, and to have a healthy church or non-church experience with Him:
1 Pet 1:19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:Rev 7:14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.Ephesians 2:13 “Anyone who was once very far off is made near by the blood of Christ.”
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, Confirm Your Calling and Election as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,
by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through wrongful desire. (2 Peter 1:2-4)
(*1) Radner, Hope Among The Fragments, pg 8)
(*2) Stark, Rodney. Reformation Myths: Five Centuries Of Misconceptions And (Some) Misfortunes (Kindle Locations 118-122). SPCK. Kindle Edition.