PART 3 YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN. NOW WHAT?
PART 3 YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN. NOW WHAT?
This next section, simply put, indicates that if the leadership offices of the church are misunderstood, then in all likelihood the teachings that are disseminated will express confusion in regards to the believers’ walk with God.
C. The offices of leadership
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; (Ephesians 4:11)
The names of the offices of the leadership should be clearly delineated as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. Some churches believe that the offices of apostle and prophet are no more. In these churches, there is usually one pastor who is considered as the head pastor. On another note, there are a number of churches that believe in a plurality of elders. This means that there is no distinct head pastor.
The functions of the leadership offices are as follows.
- Apostles: They obtained a special commission from Christ: being a witness of his resurrection; having received special inspiration (by means of the agency of the Holy Spirit they were taught how and what they should speak or write); being accredited by signs, miracles, and wonders; and are those who founded churches.
- Prophets: They foretold certain events; discerned as to whether what a man of God said was of the Holy Spirit; were preachers and expounders under the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit.
- Evangelists: They traveled from place to place preaching the gospel, and at times brought about the need to establish a church in the vicinity that was visited.
- Pastors and Teachers: They are to feed and lead the church, utilizing the teaching and expository preaching of the word of God with special assistance from the Holy Spirit.
For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:15)
Hopefully, those who are called by God to an office gift can be thought of like the apostle Paul as being a spiritual father. What does it mean to be a spiritual father?
Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. (1 Corinthians 4:16)
A spiritual father is a believer who has preached the gospel to unbelievers who consequently responded to it and were converted (spiritual generation). However, I don’t think this is the sole definition of the word. Paul goes on to say that someone who is a father should be followed. Followed in what way?
The word followers means to be an imitator of another person. How? The only way to answer this would be to look at what was Paul’s desire or hope for those who had become born again.
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.(Ephesians 4:22-24)
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; (Ephesians 5:18)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)
His hope would be that they would be conformed to the image of God’s Son. His hope was that they would put off the old man and put on the new man. His hope was that they would be filled with the Spirit. His hope was that they would evidence the fruit of the Spirit. His hope was that they would appear as new persons with new thoughts and new habits that were based on the word of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that some of the many instructors of the Corinthians were either not born again or if they were born again their teachings were based on human wisdom. It appears that very few who are called to the office of apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor-teacher are spiritual fathers. A spiritual father is not an office gift, but a believer who is born again and whose life has been transformed.
This brings us to the next consideration to which the new believer should be aware.
D. The content of the teachings
If you have found in the church you are attending that the Gospel is being preached, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are being evidenced, and the names of the office gifts are confirmed, then God is truly in that place. The next thing to consider is what is being taught to the assembly from those in leadership.
In my early years in the ministry, I was involved with a church that preached the Gospel and evidenced the gifts of the Spirit, even though there were some teachings which indicated that the gifts of the Spirit were no more. The idea that was being conveyed was that God could work through whosoever by manifesting an expression of the gifts of the Spirit according to his sovereignty. However, the receiving of at least one gift by each member was considered to have ceased.
This church had a worldwide ministry. Affiliate branch ministries would co-labor with one another. Unbelievers were being saved. Classes were made available for those who wanted to obtain a degree in Christian education, leadership, or pastoral studies. There was a radio ministry, a softball league, musical concerts, week-long retreats, etc.
However, there was one issue that seemed to continually create problems in the lives of those Christians who were involved with this ministry, and that had to do with the doctrinal teachings of the church. Some of the messages that were presented suggested the selling of one’s property (e.g. lands and houses) for the furtherance of the Kingdom. Old Testament verses were used to provide a distinct perspective on various New Testament doctrinal teachings.
Certain sins that were committed by those in leadership were presented as being only accountable to God and God alone. They were considered acceptable as long as in the end they promoted God’s kingdom. This is not to say that all of the messages were like this. Believers were encouraged to think about themselves from a divine perspective. Solid teachings on eternal security, redemption, sanctification, the blood, justification, predestination, election, the rapture of the church, the seven-year tribulation period, etc. were delivered. However, a little teaching-leaven leavens the whole lump.
Not surprisingly, a court case involving a large sum of money came to the forefront. The church lost the case and subsequently filed bankruptcy, losing ownership of the entire complex. Many of those in leadership who had been with the ministry almost from its inception had resigned.
As for myself, at this same time, I was co-laboring in an affiliate branch ministry that was located in a different state. I had graduated from the affiliated Bible college a few years earlier, magna cum laude. Around this time, the head pastor of this branch ministry resigned. The person who took over eventually decided that the branch ministry would operate on its own and be unaffiliated with the main church headquarters. Besides all of this, the facility that the branch ministry owned was placed on the real estate market for sale due to unfulfilled financial obligations.
On my end, I had already made up my mind to leave the branch ministry for personal reasons. Soon, the housing which the branch ministry provided for my family would be unavailable due to the eventual sale of the facility. The church headquarters, where I had gone to Bible school, was in the process of liquidating all of its assets and starting over in a different state. I called some of the head pastors that I had become acquainted with over the years to see if there was employment available along with housing provision. Nothing was available which met both criteria. I started to apply for jobs in my area of certification (Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics) that were listed in the local newspaper, along with sending out resumes to just about every public high school in the state. Eventually, I secured a job in a public high school teaching mathematics.
I cried when we packed up and left the church facility. None of it made sense. I thought I would never leave, and here I was leaving. No church is perfect. Wherever you decide to attend ask yourself, “Does God the Holy Spirit show up? Is sin being condoned under certain circumstances?”
You are not always going to agree with every message that you hear from the pulpit. Sometimes a couple of the protocols that the Jews followed when they were under the Mosaic Law will be the same protocols that you are asked to observe. There might be teachings on certain doctrinal topics where you will find much contention in Christian circles such as (e.g. Can believers lose their salvation? Is tithing for today? Should the seventh day Sabbath still be observed? Are there apostles in the church today? Is a believer obligated to obey the Ten Commandments? Are the offices of the New Testament church gender specific? Are we commanded to abstain from drinking alcohol?).
You might be thinking are there any guidelines in respect to the content of the teachings that will help me in finding a church where I can grow spiritually? If I were in your shoes, I would be asking the following questions regarding the content of the teachings.
Do the teachings by those in leadership help me to recognize and address areas of weakness in my walk with God so that the spiritual qualities (e.g. love, joy, peace) of the Holy Spirit can be realized in my life and be evidenced to others?
Do the teachings by the leadership of the church condone sin (e.g. adultery, fornication, slander, lesbianism, homosexuality, lying, cheating, stealing, drug addiction, drunkenness, etc.)?
Are the egregious sins committed by persons in leadership or by those in the assembly being addressed by the ones in the assembly in charge of dealing with such matters?
Are the traditions inspired that are being taught? In regard to the last question, you might ask, what do you mean? Teachings on church tradition are important, but they should be teachings that are based on inspired traditions.
What is the difference between tradition and inspired tradition?
A tradition is defined as being the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice; a story that has come down to us by popular tradition.12
However, inspired traditions are divine instructions delivered orally or in writing that are contained in the written word.
Some of these are:
The Agape Feast (a weekly gathering of the saints when a common meal was partaken, followed by the observance of the Lord’s Supper).
The anointing with oil (the anointing with virgin oil in the sign of the cross on the forehead of a believer who was physically sick; this was done by the elders (pastors) of the church while having their hands extended over the believer and accompanied with prayer for restoration to bodily health).
The laying on of hands (on the head of a believer which signified commissioning and granting of authority).
The faith that once and for all was delivered to the saints.
Teachings delivered by inspired men, and teachings that come from God to guide our lives.
There are many more traditions that are inspired; however, unfortunately something happened to them which caused them to become uninspired such as: something was added based on a decision made by a church council; information was taken from writings that were not considered canonical such as those from a book called the Apocrypha; the interpretation of scripture brought about the doing of something or the partaking of something that would hopefully bring about a spiritual reality in the life of the believer, which was not supported by the comparing pf scripture with scripture. And by the way there are also traditions, which seemingly have no scriptural basis at all.
The best way to illustrate this is to present some inspired traditions with their meanings and the scriptures which support them, to be followed by the uninspired versions and the reasons that support them.
The initial one has to do with a long standing tradition.
Are those who are called to a leadership office in the church allowed to marry?
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; (1 Timothy 3:1-2)
Both in the Old and New Testaments, those who were called of God to leadership positions were allowed to be married. One example of this is found in the book of Timothy regarding the qualifications of those who desired the office of bishop (pastor). One qualification was that, if married, they were required to be the husband of one wife. There is more to say as to the meaning of these words, but we’ll just say that scripture indicated church leaders could marry.
Anyone who is in leadership positions of the church is not allowed to marry. It appears there might be many reasons why those in leadership could not marry, but one reason, in particular, stands out.
In the 4th Century A.D., there was a tendency to choose an ascetic way of life (of denying oneself) as a means to express one’s devotion to God. This could involve injuring one’s physical body, wearing worn out clothes, abstaining from sex, removing oneself from living in society, etc. It could be that this mindset permeated the thoughts of those who were in the position of determining what was considered acceptable decrees for the church.
At the Council of Elvira, it was decided that a priest couldn’t have sex the night before he conducted Mass. If somehow it was found out that he did, he would be removed from his position. The next Council of Nicea concluded that a priest could not marry.
*Reference: Council of Elvira and the Council of Nicea.
Is there an interim place where believers will go to suffer for sins that they didn’t confess on earth?
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5:11)
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)
All sin was paid for by Christ on the cross for all mankind. It’s not the type of sin or the habitual committing of sin that determines a person’s eternal destiny. What determines the eternal destiny of unbelievers is whether they responded favorably to the declaration of the Gospel. In other words, did they repent of their sins to God the Father and believe in his Son? If they did, then they will receive the Holy Spirit along with a bundle of benefits, one of which is eternal life. When believers die, immediately they will go directly to heaven.
Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. (1 Corinthians 3:13-14)
There will be a judgment for both believers and unbelievers. Believers will be judged not for their sins, but for their works as to their spiritual quality (character). Works that were done in the filling of the Spirit will receive a reward.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelation 20:12-13)
Unbelievers, likewise, will be judged not according to their sins, but by their works. However, this will not be with respect to rewards, but as evidence that there was no response to the Gospel and as such no indwelling Spirit, which renders each work void of spiritual quality (character).
Purgatory is a place where the souls of those who are destined to heaven must reside until they have suffered for their venial sins that were not confessed to a priest while on earth. A venial sin is a sin that does not bring about eternal damnation.
*References: This view came from the Church Council of Trent.
There are many more traditions that we should be aware of. As you grow in the Lord, these should become evident to you and you will decide as to whether you should continue to observe them or not.
So, there you have it. Quite interesting! With this in mind, now that you are born again, you have become aware as to what should you be looking for when attending a church assembly and making the decision to remain in it.
Here is a summary of what was just presented.
- Is the Gospel being preached to foster an understanding that to receive the Holy Spirit unbelievers must repent of their sins to God the Father and believe in Christ, who is not only a prophet, teacher, and the Son of God, but also God come in the flesh? He is one of the members of the Trinity; the other two being God the Father and God the Holy Spirit--one God in three persons. Beware of those that say he is an angel, a perfect (sinless) man but not deity, not the Messiah, etc.
- Are the gifts of the Holy Spirit operational? The gifts of the Spirit are evidence that the Holy Spirit is a unique participant in the exercise of each of them. As such, He provides a supernatural utterance, a peculiar impulse that provides assurance that His power will assist in the performing of some matter, divine energy, and the unveiling of truth for the past, present, or future. The names of these gifts are prophecy, divers kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues, faith, healing, miracles, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, discerning of spirits, teaching, exhorting, giving with simplicity, ruling with diligence/governments, and showing mercy with cheerfulness.
- Are the names of the offices of the leadership called apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers? If they are not but are designated in a different way, you should investigate further. Usually, but not always a different designation means you are attending either an assembly different from the Christian faith or one that is focused on ritual and ceremony.
- Does the content of the teachings not only talk about such topics as eternal security, redemption, the blood, justification, predestination, election, the rapture of the church, the seven-year tribulation period, etc. but also emphasize personal sanctification? In other words, do they assist believers in being able to recognize and address areas of human weakness or strengths in their walk with God so that the spiritual qualities (e.g. love, joy, peace) of the Holy Spirit can be realized in their lives and be evidenced to others?
I would also consider the following questions regarding the content of the teachings.
~ Do the teachings by the leadership of the church address sin (e.g. adultery, fornication, slander, lesbianism, homosexuality, lying, cheating, stealing, drug addiction, drunkenness, extortion, etc.), or do they condone it?
~ Are the egregious sins committed by those in leadership or by those in the assembly so public that they cannot be concealed? Are these sins so certain that they cannot be denied, being addressed by those in the assembly who are in charge of dealing with such matters? If the leadership says they are only answerable to God regarding committing egregious publicly known sins run out of there as fast as you can!
- Are the traditions that are being taught inspired?
Traditions that are inspired means whether they were transmitted orally or in writing they are contained in the written word. That would include such Biblical topics as…
~ Water baptism
~ The Lord’s Supper
~ The Agape Feast
~ The anointing with oil
~ The laying on of hands
~ The gospel
~ The allowance of those in leadership to marry
~ The believer’s immediate entrance to heaven upon physical death
~ The faith that once for all was delivered to the saints
~ Teachings given by inspired men
~ Teachings that come from God to guide our lives
This should help you know what to look for when attending a church assembly. Now that you are born again and are beginning to understand what your gift or gifts are, which you have received from the Holy Spirit, and have started to be aware of those kinds of teachings that will promote your spiritual growth, there will also be some roadblocks along the way that you will encounter. These might cause you either to advance or regress in your walk with God. What these roadblocks are and how to address them will be the focus over the course of the next few chapters.
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
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