Holidays (Other), Top 10

Top 10 4th of July Twisted Scriptures

It’s Independence Day week here in the U.S., so this week (except for tomorrow’s lesson in Ezekiel) we’ll be taking a look at the biblical perspective on patriotism.


Originally published July 7, 2017

Independence day is my favorite of the non-major holidays. Fireworks, picnics, barbecues, and what other holiday has such grand music that nearly the whole country can enjoy and sing together? It’s the one day of the year when we, as Americans, can set aside our political differences and bickering and celebrate our God-given freedom to have political differences and bickering.

It is good to thank God for the blessing of liberty. It is right to be patriotic and celebrate our nation’s founding. It is evangelistic to use Independence Day as a springboard for explaining to people how they can find real freedom in Christ.

And with that freedom – our freedom in Christ and our freedom as American citizens – comes great responsibility. Namely, the responsibility not to throw all of those things into the Cuisinart at once and turn them into an Americhristian smoothie with red, white, and blue sprinkles.

There is a vast difference between American political freedom and the spiritual freedom found only in Christ. But when we lift Bible verses out of their context and stick a flag behind them in celebration of Independence Day, we conflate the two. Weaker brothers and sisters in the faith who already muddle American citizenship with heavenly citizenship are further confirmed in their confusion. We should be making these distinctions clearer, not encouraging their commingling.

Yet this is exactly what happens on Christian web sites, social media, and even in our churches as the 4th of July draws near. Sisters, this should not be so.

None of the verses in the Bible which contain words like “freedom” and “liberty” are referring to American political freedom. None. The verses containing these words are usually speaking of freedom from sin in Christ, freedom from Mosaic Covenant law, or freedom from literal slavery. We must use and understand them in context, or we are doing violence to the text and treating God’s holy Word with apathetic irreverence.

Here are the top 10 Scriptures I observed being twisted on the 4th of July.

1. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17

Most of the memes using this verse omit the first phrase, because even including those six extra words tends to give too much context to the verse for the person trying to make it about American freedom. If you read all of chapter three, or even just verses 12-18, you can see that this verse is about being set free in Christ from the demands of the Mosaic Covenant. Although 2 Corinthians 3:17 was misused by many, the first place I saw it was was from Lysa TerKeurst’s Proverbs 31 Facebook page – emblematic of why Christian women should not receive Bible teaching from anyone associated with this organization.

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

Most incorrect citations of this verse include only its first phrase. Indeed, Christ has set us free for freedom, but freedom from what? English tyranny? Political oppression? No, as the rest of the verse goes on to say, Christ has set us free from the yoke of slavery to the Law. In Christ, we are free to stop striving to be good enough to earn right standing with Him, and to rest in His finished work on the cross to clothe us in His righteousness. That’s way better than American constitutional freedoms because that kind of freedom is available to anyone, in any country, at any time in history who repents and places her faith in Christ for salvation.

3. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13

This is a great verse that Christians can live out in service to our families, our church families, and even our fellow Americans. But we need to understand that when this verse says we were “called to freedom” it’s not talking about the rallying cry of the American Revolution. The freedom we were called to – as with Galatians 5:1 – is the freedom from striving to obey the Law to obtain righteousness. But just because we’re no longer under the constraints of the Law doesn’t mean we can go out and sin at will, or indulge the flesh by doing whatever we feel like doing. That’s antinomianism. Instead we’re to use our freedom from the Law as an opportunity to deny self and serve others.

4. if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

I’ve written at length on this verse in my article Is 2 Chronicles 7:14 God’s Promise to American Christians Today? The short answer is “no,” it is not about America. Although there’s plenty that Christians can learn from this verse, it is a promise to Israel, as the surrounding context clearly indicates.

5. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36

Even adding just two verses (34-35) to this one gives us enough context to help us understand that Jesus is talking about being freed from slavery to sin through the salvation only He can provide – the salvation that is about to cost Him the agony of scourging and death on a cross. It is appalling that this verse – spoken by our Lord Himself, about the earth-shattering, awe-provoking amazingness that is the forgiveness of sins by the grace of God in Christ – should be so lowered and sullied as to try to make it refer to American freedom.

6. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16

The context of this verse is similar to Galatians 5:13 (#3 above), but it adds a couple of extra facets. If you read verses 9-17 of 1 Peter 2, you’ll notice the same instruction to live as people who have been set free in Christ and to use that freedom in Christ to serve others. Why? “…So that when [the Gentiles] speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God… For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” (12,15) When we use our freedom in Christ to serve and do good, it is a testimony of the gospel to the lost. This passage also exhorts us to be subject to our government and our political leaders. And if you know anything about the first century Roman Empire, you know its Christian citizens (Peter’s audience) knew nothing of the political freedoms American Christians experience.

7. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lordthe people whom he has chosen as his heritage! Psalm 33:12

In the immediate context and application of this verse, “nation” and “the people” is referring to Israel. Examining verses 10, 16, and 17 alongside verse 12, it’s a safe assumption that the psalmist had observed some part of Israel’s history that included war against neighboring nations. And, certainly, any Old Testament Scripture referring to the people God “has chosen as His heritage” could only be speaking of Israel. America didn’t even exist at that time, nor has God, at any point in Scripture, said that America is His chosen people or His heritage. If you want to think of a New Testament “nation” or “people” God has blessed and chosen as His “heritage,” that would be the church- the worldwide body of born again believers. While, ostensibly, any nation whose God is the Lord would be blessed, we have only to look back at Old Testament history to see how unlikely it would be for America’s God to be the Lord. Israel was God’s chosen people and heritage. They were “the nation whose God is the Lord”- literally. They were a theocracy – under the direct rule of God Himself – yet they rejected Him in favor of earthly kings and repeated cycles of idol worship. And we think America is capable of becoming “one nation under God”?

8. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. Leviticus 25:10

It’s pretty easy to see why only the phrase “proclaim liberty through the land to all its inhabitants” is lifted out of this verse. It is obviously talking about Israel’s Year of Jubilee which has never been practiced in America because we are not, and never have been, under the Mosaic Covenant. Even Israel doesn’t observe the Year of Jubilee any more. The use of this verse is simply a case of someone looking for a Scripture to attach to a patriotic meme, doing a concordance search for the word “liberty,” and whittling away everything in the verse that is obviously un-American.

9. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, Luke 4:18

Except for the fact that this verse includes the word “liberty” or “free,” depending on your translation, it’s incomprehensible to me that anyone would see this as a verse to use in the celebration of Independence Day. This verse doesn’t even make any sense when applied to America. It’s not about a country, it’s about a person: Jesus. Jesus spoke these words. He’s quoting Isaiah 61:1-2, which is a prophecy of the Messiah to come. If you read a mere three more verses of Luke 4, you’ll see in verse 21 that Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Meaning what? Jesus is saying, “You know that Messiah you’ve been waiting on for centuries, Israel? I’m it. I’m here.” And the liberty or freedom He’s talking about? Once again, it’s freedom from sin and freedom from the Law. Because that’s what Jesus came to give us.

10. Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. Psalm 118:5 

Nope, this one isn’t about American political freedom either. A couple of things to notice: first, this is clearly set in the context of Israel’s Old Testament history, as verses 2-3, with their references to “Israel” and “Aaron”, indicate. Next, look at the personal pronouns, not only in verse 5, but also in verses 6-7: “I,” “me,” “my.” This verse is not about America being set free from England, or even about Israel being set free from one of its enemies. This is a descriptive passage about an individual – the psalmist – being in some sort of distressing situation, and God answering his prayer for deliverance. Have you ever prayed that God would deliver you from a difficult time in your life? If He did, do you think that unique situation is applicable to anyone else, much less an entire country? This passage is kind of the same thing. The psalmist is sharing something God did for him, not commenting on politics or even assuring other individuals that God will do the same for them.

Memorial Day Bonus:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Memorial Day is a solemn and precious day to honor those who have laid down their lives for our freedom as Americans. Every male member of my immediate family has served or is serving in the military, and I know just how blessed I am that they have all returned safe and sound. It takes a special kind of person to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and I certainly don’t want to take anything away from that. But as meaningful as that is, it can’t – and shouldn’t – compare to Christ laying down His life to make sinners His friends. And that’s what this verse is about. For twelve verses, Jesus has talked to His disciples about abiding in Him because He loves them so much. In verse 13, He talks about the proof of His love for them: He’s about to give His life as the atoning sacrifice for their sin. He wants them to love each other the same way – that for Christ’s sake, in Christ’s name – they would be willing to die for the sake of the gospel. Eleven of the twelve of them would go on to do so. When we use this verse in reference to Memorial Day – as deeply consequential as that day is – it tarnishes the infinitely more important sacrifice of Christ by comparing a mere man’s offering of his life for temporal, earthly freedom, to God’s offering of His sinless Son to purchase for eternity the redemption of sinful rebels.

I’m proud and grateful to be an American. I’m thankful for this nation and the freedoms we have as citizens. But for everyone who’s a citizen of the Kingdom of God, our loyalty and reverence must lie with Him first and must surpass all other loyalties – to family, to friends, and even to country. That means we reverence God’s holy Word by being good students of it and handling it correctly, by preserving and standing up for its meaning and intentions, and by refusing to manipulate it for our own lesser purposes- even such a noble purpose as patriotism.


Photo Credits
The references below are for the purpose of photo credits only. I have not examined most of these sites and do not endorse any which contradict my beliefs as cited in the Statement of Faith and Welcome tabs at the top of this page.

1. https://www.facebook.com/Prov31Ministries/photos/a.390955286960.162138.99550061960/10154692176801961/?type=1&theater
2. https://stjosephslanc.com/july-5-2015-the-fourteenth-sunday-in-ordinary-time/
3. https://www.facebook.com/ConcernedWomenforAmerica/photos/a.119423980992.123545.77903485992/10155305900670993/?type=3&theater
5. https://twitter.com/robertjeffress/status/746696996208074752
6. http://dailybiblememe.com/tag/1-peter-216/
7. http://simplylkj.blogspot.com/2016/07/happy-4th-of-july.html
8. https://thepatriotstrumpet.com/
9. http://www.klove.com/
10. http://heavy.com/news/2016/07/patriotic-bible-verses-quotes-scripture-independence-day-4th-fourth-of-july/
Memorial Day Bonus: http://unitetheusa.org/id165.html

Holidays (Other), Mailbag

The Mailbag: Patriotism in Church

It’s Independence Day week here in the U.S., so this week (except for Wednesday’s lesson in Ezekiel) we’ll be taking a look at the biblical perspective on patriotism.


Originally published July 2, 2018

 

Every year on the Sunday closest to the 4th of July, our worship service turns very patriotic. All of the hymns and worship songs are replaced with patriotic songs like God Bless America, America the Beautiful, and the National Anthem. The choir and whoever is singing a solo that day sings a patriotic song. A color guard marches in with the American flag and we say the Pledge of Allegiance. Sometimes the sermon is even on a patriotic topic. It makes me uncomfortable because I think the worship service should focus on God, not America. What do you think?

Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. I love the fireworks and picnics, the bands, and watching my favorite musical, Yankee Doodle Dandy.

I’m as red, white, and blue, rah rah America as the next guy, but there’s a time and a place for all that, and the Sunday morning worship hour isn’t it. You’re correct. The worship service is exactly that: worship and service. And who are Christians supposed to worship and serve when we go to church? God.

We are to sing to, and about, God. The pastor is to preach the Word of God. We pledge our allegiance in prayer, worship, and confession to God. Our thoughts are to be focused on God. Every element of the worship service – songs, symbols, readings, offerings, prayer, praise, everything – is to draw our attention to God. He is the only One worthy of our worship.

Patriotic songs, the Pledge, and all of those other things can take the focus off God and put it on something lesser. Sometimes God gets pushed aside in favor of what we want to focus on. That’s a very man-centered attitude in the very place and time when everything is supposed to be centered on God.

And really, if you think about the main reason America was founded – freedom of worship – what better way is there to honor our forefathers and celebrate the gift of freedom God has given us than to exercise our First Amendment right to worship God? Certainly, we could use the 4th of July as a reminder to take some time in corporate prayer to express gratitude to God for our country and our liberties and to pray for our country. Scripture tells us to present our requests to God with thanksgiving. We could also dedicate some time to praying for our governmental officials as 1 Timothy 2:1-4 instructs us to do. There’s a biblical, worshipful way to be thankful for the freedoms God has blessed us with and intercede for our country and our governing authorities. And it shouldn’t be limited to one Sunday a year.

But when it comes to patriotic hoopla, we can set aside another time for that and still celebrate with our brothers and sisters in Christ. If your church family wants to celebrate America’s birthday together, that’s great! Have a church-wide cookout on the 4th. Schedule an Independence Day patriotic sing-along or choir pageant. Meet up and head out to the county fireworks show together. Fellowship! Have fun!

But when it’s time to worship, let’s make sure we’re reserving that time for worship of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It’s fine to love America, but let’s demonstrate that we love Christ more by not letting anything take His place in His church.

photo source

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Discernment

6 Ways Your Credibility is Crushed When You Defend a False Teacher

We had a huge storm come through yesterday that knocked out our power for almost seven hours, so I wasn’t able to finish up the new article I had planned for today, but I hope you’ll enjoy this article from the archives.


Originally published January 11, 2019

It’s so predictable it would be almost comical if it weren’t so wearisome and worrisome. Every time I write an article about a false teacher or mention on social media that someone is a false teacher, her disciples come out of the woodwork to defend her.

And every time, their arguments and defenses are formulaic. In fact, I wrote my article Answering the Opposition- Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections primarily because I was getting the same comments again and again and it was getting cumbersome to keep repeating the same answers again and again.

Not only are the same arguments raised repeatedly, but they’re raised in the same ways, ways which leave the person who’s making the argument without a shred of credibility. And if you want your argument to be believed, the first thing you’ve got to be is credible.

Lawyers know this. That’s why, when they select witnesses to testify in their cases, they prefer to choose people who are morally credible and/or factually credible. A morally credible witness is someone who’s likely to be believed based mainly on her reputation as an honest, upstanding person. A nun. A judge. A sweet little church-going grandma. A factually credible witness’ personal reputation might not even be at issue. She’s someone who’s believable because of the airtight factual information she’s able to present. Maybe she’s an expert in the field in question, or she’s in possession of receipts or videos or some other form of tangible irrefutable evidence.

When it comes to biblical doctrine and apologetics, there is only one witness who is morally and factually credible: God. You and I don’t have a moral leg to stand on because we’re sinners, so we can’t expect others to take our word for it in doctrinal debates simply because we’re such swell gals. And as far as the facts and truths of Christianity go, God is the ultimate expert witness, because He is the Author of those facts and truths.

So when we’re engaged in a discussion about what is Christian and what is not, our only feasible and credible position is to put God’s written Word – His testimony – center stage, stand off to the side, point a finger at it, and declare, “Thus saith the Lord.” It’s an open and shut case.

But people who defend false teachers can’t do that because if they did, they would be agreeing with God that the person they’re defending is a false teacher. So they offer their own testimony in other ways. And that’s where the wheels fall off – of their arguments and their credibility. Here are six ways your credibility can be crushed when you’re defending a false teacher.

1.
Rejecting the Authority of Scripture

This is a very real, serious, and pervasive problem among many professing Christians today. You’re fine with obeying Scripture – right up to the point where it disagrees with you or interferes with something you want to do. That’s not obedience, and that’s not Christianity. That’s the religion of you: you being your supreme authority, the lord of your life, the arbiter of what’s right and wrong.

Christianity is about surrendering everything about yourself to Christ and doing what He says to do in every circumstance. If He says, “Go,” you go. If He says, “Don’t,” you don’t. If He says, “Jump,” you say, “How high?”, and then you jump. You don’t call the shots. He does. You don’t get to have opinions and preferences that differ from His.

It’s clear that you’re not submitting to the authority of Scripture when you’re presented with, for example, 1 Timothy 2:12, and video evidence of your favorite teacher violating that Scripture, and your retort is, “But that’s the only place the Bible says that!”. (It’s not, but even if it were, how many times do you demand that God must say something before you’ll believe or obey it? Two? Seventeen? Ninety-three?) Or you attempt brush that Scripture aside as, “That was only an instruction for that particular time and culture,” when verses 13-14 make clear that it’s not.

Once again, you are in the driver’s seat, not God and His Word. You have no moral or factual credibility of your own. Why should someone believe you over God?

2.
Failing to Argue from Scripture

When someone says to you, “Scripture says X. Your favorite teacher says Y on page 252 of her book,” you can’t defend her by saying, “You’re just a mean old doody head!” or “But she’s so nice and she’s had such a positive influence on my life!”. It would be just as effective to say, “But she’s from Montana!” or “She flosses her teeth so nicely!” So what?

Maybe I am a mean old doody head. Maybe I’m not. Maybe she has had some positive influence on your life, or maybe you only think she has because your definition of “positive influence” is your definition, not God’s. That’s not the issue. The only issue is whether or not she is walking blamelessly and teaching what accords with sound doctrine as measured by rightly handled, in context Scripture. And to argue that she is, you have to get into your Bible, study it, and present your case from God’s written Word. In other words, the fact that you like her or she’s nice doesn’t prove that what she’s teaching is biblical. And arguing those things as though they do shows that you either don’t know or don’t care what the issue is; what you care most about is your personal feelings and preferences – not a strong argument for believing anything you have to say about her being a good teacher.

3.
Mishandling Scripture

I appreciate it when people at least try to defend a teacher or doctrine by using Scripture. I really do. If nothing else, it shows you know that teachers and doctrine are supposed to be in alignment with Scripture and that Scripture is our authority as Christians. And those are two very important biblical concepts.

But when you attempt to defend a teacher with Scripture and it’s obvious you don’t understand the passage, have taken it out of context, or are twisting it, you’re making my argument for me that you should not be sitting under that teacher. Because if she were as great of a Bible teacher as you say, and you’ve learned so much from her, you wouldn’t be mangling God’s Word. She would have taught you how to handle it properly.

It’s hard for me to believe your argument when you’re making mine for me.

4.
Lying, or Denying Reality

I’m not sure which one is worse when it comes to defending false teachers. Increasingly, I will mention that, for example, Priscilla Shirer is a false teacher, and one of her followers will pipe up and demand that I provide evidence to back up this assertion. I provide this article, which contains copious amounts of both Scripture and video, audio, and text evidence of how Priscilla violates these Scriptures. The person then comes back and brazenly says I have provided no evidence and no Scripture. Not that she disagrees with the Scripture and the evidence I’ve presented, but that it isn’t there.

I guess I shouldn’t be so dumbfounded that this keeps happening, but I am. Because when you make a statement like that, there are only two possibilities: a) you’re lying – saying you’ve read the article when you haven’t, or b) you are denying the existence of something that’s in black and white in front of your own eyes. I’m not really sure how to handle that in Christian apologetics. If you’re clearly lying, you’re not believable, and there’s no common ground for reasoning and discussion. And if you’re denying reality – well, when I was getting my degree in psychology, we were taught that you needed to be medicated. All I can say is that neither speaks in favor of your credibility.

5.
Displaying the Fruit of the Flesh

We all know what the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. But frequently, people (who profess to be Christians) do not present their defense of a false teacher with an accompanying display of that fruit. Quite the opposite, in fact. Their argument is presented in hatred, anger, bitterness, fear, unkindness, impatience, harshness, and with wanton abandon. We’re not talking a polite disagreement, here. We’re talking name-calling, profanity, threats, and verbal evisceration. From people who claim to be Christians. In defense of someone they don’t even know personally.

When you act that way, I’m hard put to even believe you’re a Christian, much less that you have a valid, biblical argument, or that this teacher is doing a bang up job of teaching you the Bible so you can be conformed to the image of Christ.

6.
The Bible Doesn’t Back You Up

This is the most significant reason people who claim to be Christians yet defend false teachers lack credibility. The Bible doesn’t find them credible either.

Take a moment and read John 9:1-10:31 (I know it’s long, but you need the context.) This passage is about knowing and following Christ (not, as so many false teachers like to claim, that if you’re a Christian you’ll be able to hear God speaking to you audibly). “Thieves”, “robbers” (10:1), “strangers” (10:5), and “wolves” (10:12) are all false teachers who do not enter the sheepfold by the door (Jesus – 10:1,7) but sneak in some other way. Jesus is very clear in this passage that if you’re truly His sheep, you will follow only Him, not a false teacher:

A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. (10:5) … All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. (10:8) … I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, (10:14) … but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (10:26-27)

First Corinthians 2:14 says that if you’re not saved, you won’t be able to understand the true, biblical things of God. The will seem like foolishness to you and you will reject them:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

In other words, Jesus says that following and defending false teachers doesn’t match your claim to be one of His sheep (a Christian). And rejecting incontrovertible biblical truth because you consider it to be foolishness is a symptom of someone who isn’t saved. Either you’re a genuinely born again Christian who embraces biblical teaching and rejects false teachers or you embrace false teachers and reject biblical teaching because you’ve never truly been born again. The Bible says you can’t do both at the same time.

 

God has made things pretty simple for us. He has given us His written Word as the standard for our beliefs and practices. All we have to do is hold it up, like a yardstick, next to every doctrine and teacher who comes our way and throw out anyone and anything that doesn’t measure up. It’s when professing Christians try to use another standard or fudge the measurements that problems arise. Credibility lies with those who believe and hold high the standard of God’s written Word – not because of anything within themselves, but because they stand behind and glorify the Author of truth.

Basic Training, Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

It’s a disturbing trend that’s spreading like the plague, especially among women who claim to be believers:

“I’m a Christian but I refuse to attend church.”

These aren’t women who can’t attend church due to health reasons, caring for an ill or disabled loved one, who have no other choice but to work on Sundays, or who live in an area with no reasonably doctrinally sound church to attend. They’re women who could get plugged in to a decent local church, but intentionally shun the body of Christ.

Usually, the decision to opt out of church boils down to one of two scenarios: a) a believer who was hurt by a previous church and yet isn’t ready to risk being hurt again or b) someone (often a false convert) who doesn’t grasp the concept that being joyfully joined to a local body of believers is part of what defines someone as a Christian.

I can tell some of y’all have already fired up your e-mail programs or mentally formulated a corrective comment. Hang on, and please read what I’m about to say so we’re all on the same page here. I am not saying, have never said, and will never say that attending church, joining a church, serving at a church, or being baptized into a church is what saves a person, even in part. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. Everybody with me? Scripture is clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that good works, such as church attendance, play zero part in a person’s salvation.

What I am saying is that one of the signs, or fruits, that someone is already saved is that she has a heartfelt love and affection for the things of God, which includes the gathering of the saints for fellowship, worship, encouragement, and edification. For a believer, love for the bride of Christ is a natural extension of loving Christ, Himself. She doesn’t have to be talked into attending church; there’s no place on earth she’d rather be.

We’ve all been in difficult situations with difficult people at church that can hurt, sometimes deeply – believe me, I’ve been there – and can leave us in need of taking a few Sundays off to recover, or possibly the need to change to a healthier church. But if you’ve harbored antipathy toward the church, as a whole, for years, have never taken joy in fellowshipping and worshiping with fellow believers, don’t see any particular need for gathering with the Body, or are generally apathetic in your attitude toward church, you’re in a very dangerous place, spiritually, and you need to question your salvation. Those are symptoms of being lost, not fruit of being saved.

For Christians, being joined to a local church is not optional and non-negotiable. Why?

1. God Says So

Just in case the entirety of the Bible isn’t clear enough that God wants His people meeting together for fellowship, worship, and the Word, He says so very bluntly in 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.

The HCSB puts it this way: “not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do,” and NASB says: “not forsaking our own assembling together.” God says we are not to neglect, stay away from, or forsake, the meeting of the church body. For anyone who claims to be a Christian, that reason alone ought to be good enough. When God tells us to do something, we do it. Period.

2. The Church is God’s Plan for Christians

God doesn’t need or want your help devising the best methodology for your life and growth as a Christian. He already has a plan. He already established that plan. That plan is the church. There’s no plan B or any cafeteria-style options. If you’re a Christian, God’s plan for you is to be a faithful part of a local body of believers. The Bible never suggests that it’s OK for you to be a “Lone Ranger Christian.” There are no explicit statements to this effect, nor even one example of a New Testament Christian who lived life apart from the church. The New Testament assumes Christians will be part of a church. If not, the majority of Matthew through Revelation would be moot. If you reject the church, you’re rejecting God’s word and His way in favor of your own way.

3. Jesus Values the Church

You claim to love and follow Jesus, right? Well, Jesus founded the church. Jesus is the head of the church. Jesus loves the church. Jesus died for the church. Jesus is the Savior of the church. Jesus nourishes, cherishes, and sanctifies the church. How could anyone claim to love and follow Jesus and yet cavalierly toss aside something He values so much that He laid His life down for it? If you really love Jesus, you’ll value the things He values, and, clearly, He values the church.

4. Being Joined to the Church Is an Indicator of Salvation

First John 2:18-19 makes no bones about it. Forsaking the church is an indicator that you’re not saved:

…now many antichrists have come…They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

Want to make it plain that you’re not of Christ? Step one is to leave the church.

5. The Church is the Dispensary for the Word and the Ordinances

The preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In order to preserve their purity and sanctity, God established a hierarchical structure of ecclesiastical authority and placed the responsibility for administering Scripture and the ordinances with the church, not isolated individuals. Do we have women’s Bible studies and Sunday School classes? Of course. But only under the oversight of our pastors and elders, as an outflow of, and in keeping with, the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. Do we share the gospel with the lost we encounter during the week? You bet! Our churches enable us to do so by training us in the Word, and we bring new believers back to our churches so that they may be discipled.

6. The “One Anothers”

Love one another. Comfort one another. Forgive one another. Serve one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. Have you ever stopped to think which people “one another” is referring to? It’s easy to see when you look at these verses in context. It’s our brothers and sisters in Christ. All of the New Testament “one anothers” are written to the church. You need brothers and sisters to minister the “one anothers” to you, and your brothers and sisters need you to minister the “one anothers” to them. We cannot properly carry out the “one anothers” outside the church because they were meant to be practiced first and foremost within the church.

7. Sheep Need Shepherds

The Bible often uses sheep as a metaphor for God’s people. And since we know that God is the author of Scripture, we know God handpicked that metaphor to describe us. Ever notice that God never describes a sheep wandering off on its own as though that were a good thing?

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
Isaiah 53:6a

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
Psalm 119:176a

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 9:36

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?
Matthew 18:12

Sheep who leave the flock to make their own way in the world are in danger from wolves, the pitfalls of sin, and any number of other perils, especially the trials and tragedies of life. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received from distraught Christian women in dire personal circumstances who desperately need pastoral counsel. Sadly, when I tell them I’m not equipped to help them with such a complicated problem from so far away and that they need to make an appointment with their pastor for one on one, face to face counseling, the response is often, “I haven’t been going to church. I don’t have a pastor.”

We need the protection of the sheep pen, the brotherhood of the flock, and the leadership of our shepherds, our pastors, to help guide us. God knew we needed those things. That is one reason He established the church and created the position of pastor. Christ is our Good Shepherd, but until He returns, He has appointed godly men to watch over and protect the flock in His absence:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
John 21:15-17

And he gave…the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Ephesians 4:11-12

So I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
1 Peter 5:1-4

You can’t shepherd yourself. That internet pastor you listen to – even the most doctrinally sound one – can’t shepherd you. You need to be part of a flock led by a shepherd who knows you and cares for your soul.

Do you take joy in gathering regularly with your brothers and sisters in Christ for worship, the Word, the ordinances, building one another up, and serving one another? If not, the solution is not to leave the church altogether. The solution is to examine your heart against Scripture to discover whether or not you’re truly saved, and then to find a healthy church you can pour yourself into. Christ has given believers the local church as a blessing and a benefit, not a burden and a bore. Love and embrace this precious gift He has lavished on you.


Additional Resources

Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly 

7 reasons worshipers need the church at The Cripplegate

Mailbag #49: Home Groups Over Church at 9Marks

My Jesus, I Love You; Your Bride I Despise! at Reformation21

Why You May Be Tempted To Neglect Your Church by Tim Challies

Five Essential Reasons for Christians to Gather in Public Worship at Ligonier

Prioritize Your Church by Tim Challies

Is a “Churchless Christian” an Oxymoron? at Ligonier

The Plight of Churchless Christians at The Cripplegate

40 reasons to be part of a local church at The Cripplegate

Ezekiel Bible Study

Ezekiel ~ Lesson 2

Welcome, ladies! I’m so glad you’re here! I have received a lot of questions about the study that were answered in last week’s introductory lesson. Please do not skip Lesson 1 (link below). Not only will it answer any questions you may have about the study itself, but if you want to study Ezekiel properly, you must do the background work contained in Lesson 1.

 

Previous Lessons: 1

Read Ezekiel 1:1-3:15

Questions to Consider

1. Review your notes from last week’s introductory lesson. What are some things to keep in mind as you begin to study the text of Ezekiel today? Drawing from your notes and 1:1-3, imagine you’re a playwright and write the setting for the “script” of Ezekiel. Which phrases in verses 1 and 3 connect us to 2 Timothy 3:16?

2. Read 1:4-28. Does this passage remind you of any other biblical passages? Which ones, and why? Read through all of the cross-references and footnotes in this passage as well as any study Bible notes or commentaries you like on this passage in order to gain as good an understanding of it as you can. Why do prophetic visions of Heaven and the spiritual realm (apocalyptic passages) always seem so hard to understand? Is it OK if we read these passages and, despite our best efforts, don’t completely grasp all of the symbolism? Do you think Ezekiel understood everything he was shown?

What does 1:28b say that the main idea of 1:4-28a is? What was Ezekiel’s response to seeing the glory of God? (1:28b) How did being overwhelmed by God’s glory put Ezekiel in the right frame of mind and heart to receive and proclaim the message God subsequently gave him? (1:28b-2:2)

3. Read chapters 2-3.

Using your concordance, search the term “son of man“. Ignoring false results (ex: “son of Manasseh”), what are the main ways this term is used? How many times is Ezekiel called “son of man”? What other major Bible character is called the Son of Man? What is the difference between the reference to Ezekiel as “son of man” and Christ’s title “the Son of Man“?

To whom is God sending Ezekiel (2:3, 3:11), and why (2:4,7, 3:4,11)? How will Israel respond?(3:7) How would the pagans have responded if God had sent Ezekiel to them instead? (3:4-7) Explain the shame it should bring to God’s people – in Ezekiel’s day and today – when lost people respond to the preaching of God’s Word in repentance and faith, and those who claim to be His people do not.

Compare God’s charge to Ezekiel to speak His word to His people “whether they hear or refuse to hear” to God’s charge to pastors to preach the Word to His people “in season and out of season” in 2 Timothy 4:1-2.

Explain the metaphor of Ezekiel eating the scroll in 2:8-3:3. How does this apply to us as Christians today?

Why was it bad for Israel to be “hard headed” but good for Ezekiel to be “hard headed”? (3:7-9) Explain why a pastor, or any Christian, needs to be “hard headed” (yet soft-hearted) when dealing with Believers (or false converts) who are disobedient to God’s Word.


Homework

•If you’re artistic, illustrate part or all of the scene in 1:4-28.

•Are you familiar with the “heavenly tourism” books like Heaven Is for Real or 90 Minutes in Heaven that were popular a few years back? Read some of the descriptions of “Heaven” found in these books and compare them with Ezekiel’s, Daniel’s, and Revelation’s descriptions of heavenly scenes. How do they compare?

•From what I can tell, this church has horribly unbiblical theology, so don’t follow them or their beliefs, but I loved their choir’s rendition of Ezekiel Saw the Wheel. Listen carefully to the lyrics (or Google them). How closely do they match up to Ezekiel 1:4-28 and/or other passages of Scripture?


Suggested Memory Verse