Saturday, April 30, 2016

Are You in the Driver's Seat, or a Car Seat?

No, I haven't completely forgotten what it was like to be a kid. For example, I remember quite well I loved pretending in miniature. Just about any prop worked to enhance the experience: G.I. Joe, Lionel Trains, and Matchbox Cars, were my brand-name favorites.

Did you ever have one of those mini single seat cars, with the pedals that go back and forth for awesome power, and it actually steered? I might be showing my age, but mine was almost entirely metal. The only plastic was the little red hub cap covering the nut and bolt on the ends of each axle.

Pretend play was fun, even if it merely mimicked real life scenarios. A journey to my neighbors, three houses down the block, in a suburb where houses were about 50 feet from each other, was a trip worth repeating four to six times in this mini-car.

Gliding along the sidewalk was even better if someone pushed fast! I'm positive the pedals had a built-in speed control that would jam if you tried to pedal too quickly, like opposing keys on a manual typewriter from the 70's.

But, tell me to get in a real car because we're going on a real journey, and I'd run to hide in the closet quicker than a parent can ask, "Anybody have to 'go' before we go?"

Yes, I understand sometimes we have to get in the passenger seat of life, willingly or carried. But, if I have the option, I'll drive. I like to be in control of the vehicle, the chosen route, and my destiny, as much as I am motivated and able.

Today, (many) years later, I'm reminded of this childhood example, car rides, in regard to my spiritual walk. I have a heart to diligently seek God, know Christ, understand grace, truth, faith, and His eternal plan for His church, the body of Christ.

I don't wish to simply hand the reigns over to someone with worldly credentials who purports to be a spiritual authority, declaring, "I'm an excellent driver."

To me, it ultimately doesn't matter if they have a masters or doctorate degree in divinity, if they're in a denomination well established by solid church history, if they're intelligent scholars, best-selling Christian authors, charismatic crowd-pleasing orators, outspoken evangelists (dead or alive), if they have a heart-wrenching ministry, are well-dressed and highly moral, live in an exclusive secret society, or if they just love everybody all the time.

No, I'm convinced there is a higher purpose for God's word, the revelation of His eternal plan, and that we can and should know His will (Romans 12:2~). Only then will I know what "good works" are that He "prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10, following Ephesians 2:8-9~~).

No, I'm not going to simply hand over the reigns with something as precious as my soul. I believe God exists and rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6~~~). I believe this pleases Him as much as it delights me (Psalm 37:4*).

Definitely, there are eternal rewards. But, there are also rewards for here and now, such as rest for my soul, peace in my bones, contentment in my mind, joy in my heart, and (let the reader really get this point ...) growing into the fullness of Him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16**).

Those rewards, both eternal and present, are compromised, big time, when I let someone do the seeking for me. As a result, my "good works" may even be burned to a crisp (1 Corinthians 3:10b-15***).

Yes, I found an excellent pastor/teacher who teaches from Scripture. But I show up, listen carefully and thoughtfully, follow up with private study and prayer, and carefully test his teachings against the Scriptures (Acts 17:11****).

The idea is that learning from Scripture is so much better than learning from Religion. In the days Jesus walked the earth, religious leaders were constantly trying to trap Him in His words and even kill Him.

In fact, many religious leaders today, and throughout history, are trying to do the same thing by twisting Scripture and suppressing the truth. So, I assert Religion is the antithesis to understanding God's thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8-9*****).

But instead of running away from the Bible, I went deeper, essentially ignoring what religion had to say. Now, I'm getting, and have been getting for a few years, a lot of spiritual growth and enjoyment out of the study of Scripture.

And even that's saying it lightly; I frankly didn't know it was possible at first. I merely hung on to the hope the Scriptures were all true, and what religions were saying about it was false. That humble attitude was eventually rewarded.

How great are the rewards from God!

Previously, in attending a few mainstream religious churches, I was preoccupied with behavior modification, often having to wonder about and even maintain my salvation instead of using my freedom in Christ to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.

I got involved in humanitarian efforts in one place, which felt good to my soul, and religious tradition at another, which satisfied my self-righteous mind.

Neither shed much light, if any, on what God "decreed before the ages for our glory" (1 Corinthians 2:7+).

Now, although I'm in North Carolina and "attend" by conference call, I study with a small home-church based in New Jersey, where we are "serious students of God's word, the Bible."

Are we arrogant making a claim like that? Am I arrogant for bringing it up? You would think so, especially when I don't follow the norm of studying famous theologians, charismatic evangelists, seminary professors, best selling devotionals, common commentaries, larger and shorter catechisms, published confessions of faith, popular and wealthy congregations, or prioritizing involvement in just any local church family.

On the other hand, perhaps you see what I mean when you read that list and compare them to your own experiences. Rather, as I've studied His eternal word and His eternal plan, I've come to realize what He really means by "good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17++) and how to get there (2 Timothy 2:15+++).

Maybe you get my point, and maybe you don't.

This isn't private interpretation in isolation where we make the word mean whatever we want; we take His word for it. We clearly see in the world that our sort of study and reliance on God's word is very uncommon. We also see the common mistakes, hypocrisy, and arrogance that result from following the world's ways of religion. I wouldn't trade this intense focus on the word of God for anything in the world, especially man's religion.

Whose word are you following? Are you driving your own relationship with God? Or is someone else strapping you in the car seat of religion? (Galatians 5:1++++)

~  ~  ~
Scripture References:

~ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

~~ For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-9, 10)

~~~ And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who [diligently, KJV] seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

* Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

** And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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 4:11-16)

*** Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10b-15)

**** For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

***** Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

+ But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7)

++ All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

+++ Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 MKJV)

++++ For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)


ahoak said...

There's so much in here, it's hard to know where to begin; so here a few thoughts:

1. It depends on what you mean by "religion", but Christianity is designed to be lived in community, fellowship, and interdependence (1 Cor. 12:12-31; Rom. 12:3-16). The self-sufficient isolationism you propose here is unbiblical, dangerous, and proud. Proverbs 18:1 "Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment." Christ loved and gave himself for the CHURCH (Eph. 5:25). We isolate ourselves from the church to our peril. You speak negatively of "prioritizing involvement in a local church family", yet that is exactly what we see all over the NT - people are saved and added to local churches; Paul's letters are largely written to local churches! The Bible makes a priority of the church - so must we. Hebrews 10:24-25 "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."(Do you see how the very good works that are so important to you ["Rather, as I've studied His eternal word and His eternal plan, I've come to realize what He really means by "good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17++) and how to get there (2 Timothy 2:15+++)."] are not arrived at in isolation, but are something that are stirred up by others in the church?)

2. Of course we should examine the teaching we hear to see if it is in line with Scripture. Of course we should carefully study the scriptures ourselves. But also, of course we should submit ourselves to the local church and receive her teaching! God has given gifts to his church including those who teach (1 Cor. 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-12). If we reject and ignore those gifts, we are fools! Hebrews 13:7 "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." 1 Thes. 5:12-13 "We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves."

3. You speak negatively of seminary professors, theologians, confessions, commentaries, etc., but then you claim to be one who has studied scripture, found truth and offer on your website to teach others. To claim to be wiser than all the collective wisdom of the church (past and present) that Christ loves is not only dangerous, it is arrogant. I'm not saying I have all the answers - that's why I need the church to help guide me in my study of God's Word!

The "me and my Bible" isolationism that many embrace today is not what the Bible teaches.

I hope I write and you receive this with love.

Dwight said...

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. They are, of course, received with love. I appreciate your leaving a comment. Thank you for your motivation.

By "religion," I mean man's religion. Man's futile attempts at self-righteousness through works, rituals, self-loathing, self-aggrandizement, moral behavior, emotional experiences, etc. Even the best humanitarian efforts of the unbeliever are like filthy, polluted rags to God. Why? Because the righteousness of God comes by grace through faith, not by works (Eph 2:8-9; Rom 3:20-21, 28; believe first, works follow). Likewise, tradition that is not in accord with grace and truth is empty and meaningless, even grieving to His Spirit among believers (Matt 15:7-9; John 4:22-24).

I hold these things --man's religion, a righteousness apart from God, empty human tradition-- should be avoided, even if they are labeled "church" and/or "Christian" but are not.

Dwight said...

My intention in this post was to express a theme with a means. The theme is diligently seeking God (Hebrews 11:6). The means is taking responsibility for that pursuit as much as one is able (2 Tim 2:15), as opposed to leaving it to just anybody who claims to be of God, even if they are local.

1. I am not proposing self-sufficient isolationism, I don't see where you got that; I have an excellent pastor/teacher and a church. "This isn't private interpretation in isolation where we make the word mean whatever we want; we take His word for it." He and the church are just not local.

Surely, God has given gifts so that His church may grow and even flourish. But not every assembly that calls itself a church is properly exercising those gifts. In fact, they may not even have those gifts and are just arrogantly presuming they did. (For example, do apostles of Christ exist now?) Should I attend a church merely because it's local without considering it's effectiveness in using the gifts?

This is what I caution against, and some folks I know have turned away from church altogether because of such experiences. The church was either asking them to participate in rituals or traditions that did not have their foundations in Scripture, or they were becoming busy-bodies of self-righteousness. They were hardly scratching beyond the surface of a few verses.

Some folks I know are still in these congregations and love them, and are fully convinced God's plan for us is to make this world a better place to live. Just because a church is local and has a lot of programs (outreach, men's, women's marriage, divorce support, etc.) doesn't necessarily mean it's biblical.

Some car seats have plush cushions, warm fabric, and high-tech safety manufacturing. But it would be dangerous, possibly misleading for a lifetime, if one gave over the wheel driving their sanctification to someone besides Jesus in order to sit back and enjoy someone else driving.

Dwight said...

2. We have two separate things going on here in your comment: 1) examining Scripture to see if the teaching we hear is in line with it, and 2) submitting ourselves to a local church and receiving her teaching. All is wonderful if the two are in agreement, as it was with the Bereans in Acts 17. We greatly hope things will harmonize beautifully, and realistically expect that they may not always. We won't find perfection in this world.

But what if examining Scripture reveals that the teaching is significantly out of line with it? Should we still submit to that local church and receive her teaching? If so, what do we do with these major differences if the church leaders/elders refuse to consider them?

This is probably the biggest reason for denomination splits. Yet, the Spirit is about unity in the bond of peace. Let us be eager to seek and maintain it, with all gentleness and humility! Instead, church denominations are making me choose among these differences instead of all coming together because we all understand Scripture the same way? No wonder the unbelieving world thinks Christianity is messed up.

This is what I caution against, for the same reason as stated in item 1. Likewise, I know folks who have turned their backs on the church entirely because the leadership was condescending to them, some even had main leaders/teachers present themselves as infallible in matters of the Bible, stating they were above speaking to a common congregant and someone less than another of their peers. After all, they had important credentials and had fully invested their lives in reaching their current level.

I would suggest not giving up on God or Scripture because of such an ill-experience in a so-called church. Don't just hop in the car seat and let someone else do the driving, without expecting them to explain where they're driving and why.

Dwight said...

3. Am I wiser than all the collective wisdom of the church? Wow. Interesting you say I claimed that because I don't see where I did. Rather, the key thought in listing things like studying famous theologians, following charismatic evangelists, etc, was I'm "not following the norm." Why not? Because in terms of this world, Christ was not the norm.

I'm certain most church leaders (past and present) pick and choose the tools of their denomination, weighing other resources against them in order to maximize the accuracy of what they perceive and to minimize the effectiveness of opponents to it. To me, that's the norm I witness. People get very defensive about their denominations. That's not the route I take. I'm not impressed with man's achievements, but with God's.

I propose the Scriptures, the thoughts and words of God, are not about what man teaches, no matter how much history is behind them. It is not church history that teaches us about God's word. Rather, it is God's word by the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to distinguish what is truly of God and what is not.

Things that are spiritual can only be discerned by the Spirit. How are we to rightly handle the word of truth? What information is actually His Spirit testifying with our spirit that these things are true? Just because someone calls a thing holy, doesn't mean it is.

Is every denomination of equal worth in God's eyes? Is every church that calls itself a church to be considered equally competent at expressing the wisdom of God from His word, or revealing the treasures hidden in Christ?

Again I would suggest exercising great care and caution in regard to things that have been long established by sinful man. In this world, there are many churches that are not the body of Christ. I suggest seeking the wisdom of God in order to discern the things that are truly of God. Don't assume godly wisdom flows from human effort and repetition throughout history.

I know folks who gave up on church before even starting simply because having too many choices of church denominations didn't seem right if they all taught that "God is One." Instead, they've drifted over to new age, the law of attraction, name it and claim it prosperity gospels, because theirs dreams were valued instead of their hopes smashed.

If one has a choice, I'd encourage them to take part in answering the call of God by steering one's life toward Him. Does that happen in just any local church? Probably not. Is it necessarily in a local church that has a long, colorful history? Don't guess. Go in with eyes wide open and don't be afraid to leave if what they're teaching is not biblical.

I end with my opening thought. My intention in this post was to express a theme with a means. The theme is diligently seeking God (Hebrews 11:6). The means is taking responsibility for that pursuit as much as one is able (2 Tim 2:15), as opposed to leaving it to just anybody who claims to be of God, even if they are local.


Dwight said...

PS - Likewise, please take this reply to your comment with a spirit of love and care.

ahoak said...

Thanks for replying. As I don't have the time or inclination to carry on a long online discussion, this will be my last comment here. I'm sure we could go back and forth for days!

1. I agree that we should diligently seek God through his Word in dependence on the his Spirit. However, to do so in isolation from the church of which Christ is the head and which he loves and gave himself for is dangerously arrogant. To think that/assume that/act like I am the only one (or one of the few) to whom the Spirit has given grace to understand the Word of God would be absurd. So we receive God's good gift of preachers and teachers and examine the scriptures daily. I have so much arrogance in my heart that I know it's dangerous for me to isolate myself from God's ordained institution he calls us to be part of - the church. (I've got so much pride, I'm proud of how humble I am for admitting my in the world can I be safe in my solo interpretation of God's word?!)

2. Marriages fail all the time. Husbands and wives do terrible things to each other. But we haven't abandoned the institution of marriage, nor should we ever, because God ordained it. So too with the church. Of course there have been failures of the church and her leaders. As long as we live in a fallen world that will be the case. The scriptures don't call us to be part of the church as long as it's good enough for our taste; as long as it is ideal; etc. There is no ideal church! There may well be a time to leave a church that is unhealthy, has abusive leaders, or is not doctrinally sound. But we don't leave the church altogether. We go in search of another where we can be bound together with the body of Christ. As you read through the New Testament it's important to remember that everything said about the church on earth is said about flawed, imperfect churches full of flawed imperfect sinners.

3. The NT knows nothing of Christians not attached to a local church. The only exception I can think of is the Ethiopian eunuch and that's because there was no local church in Ethiopia that we know of for him to join when he got home. If you lived in Ephesus, you couldn't go to church in Rome. Our advances in technology do not undo the notion and importance of what the Scriptures teach us regarding the local church.

Again, this is my last word here. May God grant us grace to love him, his Word, and his church!

Dwight said...

You said, "As I don't have the time or inclination to carry on a long online discussion, this will be my last comment here. I'm sure we could go back and forth for days!"

I understand. Thank you very much for your comments! "May God grant us grace to love him, his Word, and his church!" Amen!

I, on the other hand, will take advantage of this opportunity to blog some more, Lord willing. If you have a chance to at least read this, please accept it in the spirit of love in which it was written.

You said, "1. I agree that we should diligently seek God through his Word in dependence on the his Spirit. However, to do so in isolation from the church of which Christ is the head and which he loves and gave himself for is dangerously arrogant."

I agree almost 100%.

Why almost? Because not every church that calls itself a church is Christian, and I don't think it's a good idea to go to a church just because it's local. We should be on our guard (in the driver's seat versus the car seat). Eventually, we'll be fitted to wear the armor of God.

Again, I am not "in isolation from the church," as you put it. It's just that the church I happen to attend, one to which I believe God led me, is not local.

Why not find a local church? Two reasons:

1) I have looked, but just haven't found one that is in line with Scripture as I "diligently seek God through His Word in dependence on His Spirit" (quoting you).

2) Technologies, just like vehicles, enable us to attend churches that would otherwise be unreachable. The point is not how close or far it is, or how you get there.

There are hundreds of local churches, but not all teach Scripture faithfully and that matters, to me and to God. God desires worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth.

For example, if I believe Scripture teaches the assurance of salvation by grace through faith, why should I attend a church that teaches salvation by works? Is it being faithful to the Word of God?

That's a legitimate concern of mine, just as it was a concern of the Apostles that wolves in sheep's clothing would sneak into local churches and undermine their doctrines of faith. Many churches have already been undermined, some obviously so.

Thanks again & God bless!

Unknown said...

Excellent! Very thought-provoking. We need to have discernment about how God's Word is preached to us. Perhaps a few principles about how to know God's Word is taught correctly will be helpful. Perhaps you have some other articles talking about that. We are in a very confusing world with many voices and many false teachers who are hard to discern.

Dwight said...

Thank you for the comment, Haiyan! You said, "Perhaps a few principles about how to know God's Word is taught correctly will be helpful. Perhaps you have some other articles talking about that."

Yes, I have a few articles here and I plan to write more. It's been a challenge for me to make time to get this done. Your reply is a strong encouragement. Thank you!

Maybe these links will work...
Why Scripture?
Scripture Q&A

If not, go to any page on my blog where you see the right-hand column, starting with 'About Me'. Scroll down a little until you see 'Blog Posts by Label'. Click on 'Why Scripture? (7)'. The '7' is for the number of articles with that label. Also check out 'Scripture Q&A (5)' for 5 more articles.

Above all, remember that the information God wants to communicate to us is spiritual information, not carnal. It requires the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. The Holy Spirit is the only true teacher in this regard. Focus and pray.

Don't be afraid to throw out lessons you've grown up with, assumed, dismissed as a mystery not to be known, or heard from any human authority for that matter, if God, through Scripture, is teaching you something new.

God rewards those who diligently seek Him. He will make sure you have access to the spiritual information you seek. Increase your capacity through humility. Always be teachable by His word through His Spirit. Let the Scriptures become your guide to understanding. (Romans 12:2)

At the same time, be careful not to go beyond what is written. God's word is not somehow lacking so that we can judge His plan, motivation, or intentions by personal revelation or experience. His word is sufficient for us just as His grace is sufficient for us.