I'm sure you are familiar with Jesus's Biblical warning in Matthew 7:15 which says, Beware of the false prophets, [teachers] who come to you dressed as sheep [appearing gentle and innocent], but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Implicit in this warning is that wolves of deceit have snuck into the Church and are ready to devour any true Christian sheep who are gullible enough [or unwise enough] to fall for their wrong teachings.
And, boy, has the institutional Church used this alarming admonition to squelch any new revelations from God that are outside the established doctrine of any particular denomination. First of all, those who are quick to attack a fellow Christian's attempt at edifying the Body regarding something God or the Holy Spirit has revealed to them, don't bother to read Matthew 7:15 in context. Jesus says in the very next verse, You can identify them by the fruit [of their character], that is, by the way they act. Scripture goes on to say that it's pretty obvious that you don't pick sweet grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from a tumbleweed. In other words, if you hear a different interpretation of Scripture, or a different teaching of a Biblical concept, the character of the "bringer" should be taken into account and easily discernible. If their testimony or word is plainly against Scripture, and if they don't possess a reputation of the fruits of the spirit (joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and they are not displaying the Lordship of the Spirit in their life), then you can rightly discern they are intent on damaging the Church. But if this fellow Christian is of good character, and his heart displays a visible love of the Lord, and his actions bear good fruit, then perhaps he or she should not be so quickly castigated.
Yet, I have found far too often that the Church members will react in indignation and self-appointed authority in deciding that any new proposed understanding of Scripture that differs from the orthodox teachings is unacceptable, and it borders on either blasphemy or heresy. And that really saddens me, because this is a picture of the Church that is far different from how it began in the aftermath of Christ's resurrection and ascension.
From the moment that the Disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and Peter preaches the first sermon at Pentecost, the idea of "church" meant "a fellowship of believers". The Bible clearly teaches that these believers were faithful to follow the teachings of these first apostles or "sent ones". (Re-read yesterday's post on my view of what makes an apostle}. They regularly met in devoted believers' homes, with the express purpose of sharing the Lord's Supper as a sign of their unity. They prayed, studied Scripture, sang songs, and the focus was always on edifying the body of believers who were present. I think it is important to note the Apostle Paul's exhortation to these "home churches", as stated in 1 Corinthians 14:26: Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s
summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach,
another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak
in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that
is done must strengthen all of you. Do you see that in the modern Church?
Can you see how different this is from what the modern Church has evolved into? First of all, I would like to reiterate and re-evaluate Jesus's statements in Matthew 7 ... He isn't even talking to a group of Christians gathering in a Church building or denomination as we know it today. He is talking to disciples who are following Him around the countryside, and learning from His teachings. Shouldn't that describe each of us, regardless of which denomination we claim allegiance to? And doesn't He make it clear that we should look at both the character and the actions of our fellow believer before condemning their teaching/interpretation as deceptive? There are at least 34 verses in the New Testament that speak of the importance of fruit in the life of a believer, yet we seem too eager to judge based on shared theology.
And, yes, Scripture is sufficient for us ... it contains all there is to know about our God, but as I have quoted from Scripture over and over, God conceals the revelation of His word in the hiding place of His glory. But the honor of kings is revealed by how they thoroughly search out the deeper meaning of all that God says (Proverbs 25:2). He reveals Himself through Nature; through our spirits who testify to His existence; through His Son Jesus as presented in the Bible; and finally through His written Word -- and through all these ways He gives us knowledge of Himself through our experiences with Him! It is not merely through our denominational doctrines and head knowledge! That is why the Greek translation of the New Testament talks so much about experiential knowledge -- knowledge that comes from experience.
Have we, as the institutional Church, forgotten that God is a rewarder to those who diligently seek Him? Why is it so difficult for our fellow Christians to discern that God could reveal Himself to an individual believer today through the Holy Spirit? Why are we so quick to judge a fellow believer's testimony, just because it expands on accepted doctrinal beliefs? Why can't we think God might want us to know more about Him? Do we really think our doctrine is all there is to know about God? And for mercy's sake, why are we ignoring the character and actions of our fellow believers? Do we no longer believe that the Holy Spirit leads and directs us? Before condemning someone for what they are bringing to the Church Body, can we stop for a moment and spiritually assess the heart of the person, and look to see if they have borne fruit for the Kingdom of God?
In fact, I often wonder just how Church members assess the fruits of their fellow believers. Is it based on the number of times they have been in the pews on Sunday morning, or the number of the Church activities they are involved in? Do they ever stop to think that perhaps there is fruit they don't see -- that this believer's fruit comes from being obedient to Jesus's commands when they invite Him to be present as they lay hands on someone who is in need of healing? What about the fruit that comes from the power of the Holy Spirit to defeat the spirit of unworthiness in a lonely and abandoned young girl, as this believer partners with the Spirit and Jesus to set her free from this torment. All these experiences are revelations of the Presence of God in a believer's life and evidence that seeds are being sown and fruit is being produced.
So, I ask you, how is it that Christians within the Church think they are qualified to decide how the Spirit is leading or directing a fellow believer [who exemplifies good character; whose actions portray a heart diligently seeking after God, and whose deeds bear fruit for the Kingdom]? Could it be that the Church barely resembles those early gatherings of Spirit-filled believers who encouraged each other to share and edify the body with what the Holy Spirit was showing them?
I am in no way negating the warning to be on guard against the wolves who bring false teachings. They are real, and I'm pretty sure the Enemy has been infiltrating them into the Church for hundreds of years. I don't see those early "home churches" being overly concerned with real estate, building programs, staff salaries, utilities, mortgages, pulpits, pews, sermons, elaborate worship programs, or how much money they had in the bank. When did the focus change from "going out" to "protecting our turf"?
We all agree that wolves are definitely a danger to innocent sheep. And what I'm about to say may offend some, but I have personally witnessed a pack of wolves within the church driving innocent sheep out of the building where their Good Shepherd is waiting to feed them and lead them to springs of living water. It is not my attention to offend, but rather to give us all pause when meeting with our fellow believers, and before judging them.
So, yes, we need to be persistent in keeping the wolves at bay and safeguarding the purity of Scripture. Lord knows, they are vicious and ravenous and waiting to destroy the Body of Christ. But let's not limit our oversight to one man's [or one denomination's] conditional and designated understanding. Let us give the Holy Spirit the freedom to reveal to a person's spirit what God would have them know about Himself. And then let us offer love and kindness and a heart that is willing to receive more of God. It just might bring more joy and peace to your spirit and to the entire Body. And that would be pleasing to God.
1 Corinthians 8:1-3 Knowledge [alone] makes [people self-righteously] arrogant, but love [that unselfishly seeks the best for others] builds up and encourages others to grow [in wisdom]. If anyone imagines that he knows and understands anything [of divine matters, without love], he has not yet known as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God
[with awe-filled reverence, obedience and gratitude], he is known by Him
[as His very own and is greatly loved].