The Desire for More and More

‘Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).”’

At this time of year we find ourselves discarding rubbish that accumulated on Christmas day. I’m not talking about unwanted and useless presents, but about all that comes as a result of the usual worldly celebrations: torn wrapping paper, fragments of pulled crackers and their contents, food packagings, cartons, cans, bottles, etc., not to mention uneaten food. We sort it into recyclable and non-recyclable bins for our local council to take away.

If we are concerned about *global warming, pollution of the air and of our oceans, and the rapid demise of animal species, all on account of our overconsumption, we might find ourselves with a tinge of guilt. But taking action on that count is a hard proposition. The practical enormity of the problem is overwhelming, because of our insatiable desire for MORE: more possessions, more travel, more profit, more fun, more pleasure, more power, more kudos – the list goes on and on!

Why are we like this? Why can’t we just say no? How is it that we are caught in this inescapable desire for more and more?

We humans have this inbuilt lust. We are never satisfied with what we have, despite the fact that many of us have far more than we need. As I say this I’m mindful that the vast majority of people do not have enough. Many are without food, adequate clothing and a roof over their heads, which in itself is an inditement against us who selfishly want more.

This desire for more is a serious **flaw of character, and yet God promises He will give abundantly more to those who already have!

Jesus said, ‘“For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him (Matthew 13:12).”

Paradoxically He tells us that those with precious little – even that which they have – it will be taken away!

Relevant Scriptures

Let’s look into this by considering two of Jesus’s parables.

The golden rule for understanding portions of Scripture is to examine them within their contexts. Let’s take for example, ‘The Parable of the Sower’ which tells of ***seeds being scattered on various grounds. We discover that seed falling on ‘good ground’ produces a crop, sometimes as much as a hundredfold (Matthew 13: 8, 23). Seed that is scattered on any other ground is unproductive, and eventually dies. The seed is good, but it is of no use unless the ground nourishes it. God multiplies where He wills.

Another parable in Matthew’s gospel speaks of multiplication: ‘“So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents beside them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord (Matthew 25:20, 21).’

Considering this in its context, we discover that the parable is about the stewardship of talents that are given to the servants of Jesus. Each servant has the responsibility of using what is given to good effect. Enterprising faithful servants who have proven themselves to be responsible (V. 23) and productive are rewarded more by being given more (V. 29). The steward who had been given least had it taken away (V. 28) because he failed to use his talent in service to his master.

Jesus indirectly elucidates His parables of ‘more abundance’ by telling His disciples that if they make sacrifices in His service He will do abundantly more for them:

‘So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come everlasting life (Luke 18:29, 30).”’

Being Satisfied with Less

We have these encouragements, warnings and promises; and hopefully we act in accordance with them. As we do, we can take heart and guidance from Paul’s words:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need (Philippians 4:11, 12).

He also said, ‘But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content (1 Timothy 6:6-8).’

So let’s not be forever striving for more possessions and the things of this world; instead let us be contented with the abundance of the Lord’s provision (John 10:10).

Amen.

*Climate Change Emergency

https://thebiblicalway.blog/2019/09/29/climate-change-emergency/

**Sin and It’s Consequences

https://thebiblicalway.blog/2019/03/05/sin-and-its-consequences/

***Christ the Seed

https://thebiblicalway.blog/2019/02/09/christ-the-seed/

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The Social Gospel

‘But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18).’

In these times ‘social justice’ has become a slogan of the leftwing. There’s a desire to bring about more equality and fairness in society. As I thought about this, another set of words drifted into my mind – ‘the social gospel’. I must have heard it somewhere, but what it meant I hadn’t a clue. So I’ve done some superficial scratchings to discover the basic facts for sharing with you.

As I continue looking into the subject I want to examine its doctrines and practices to see if they are in accord with the Word of God, i.e., the Bible which says we should, ‘Test all things: hold fast what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).’ This could take quite a while; so I ask myself will this exercise distract me from my main purpose which is to preach the gospel of salvation and dispense practical love to my neighbour? Having grasped what is entailed in practising the social gospel will I be attracted to it and become a proponent?

First and foremost, I am a believer and follower of Jesus. My purpose and desire is to be His effective servant and to demonstrate my love for Him by obedience to Him. I am also a member of His body here on earth. I am a citizen of His kingdom (John 18:36), and He is my King. I recognise that everything that is achieved towards glorifying Him is through His grace which He supplies in abundance (1 Timothy 1:14). He is the One who *energises and motivates me; He is the One who sustains me through all the vicissitudes of life.

It’s important to rehearse these facts; for I must look to Him at all times, because He supplies all His benefits, and because it is His desire that I should focus on Him (Matthew 6:33).

So What is the Social Gospel?

As far as I can gather, there are different interpretations as to nature and purpose of the movement which was active in the United States between about 1870 and 1920. It was a time of change brought about through industrialisation. Exploitation of the poor in the building of fortunes for those in positions of power and influence was rife. A number of Protestant ministers according to their interpretation of the Scriptures believed they could make a difference by spearheading reforms in things like abolishing child labour, reducing the length of the working week, providing a living wage and establishing factory regulations for the safety and benefit of workers.

High on their agenda was the concept of ‘building’ the Kingdom of God on earth (Luke 11:2). The primary goal and purpose of the gospel of salvation would appear to have been sublimated by their desire to bring about better living conditions, which they believed in turn would lead to more people being in a position to carry out good works. They argued that people should emulate the life of Jesus by carrying out good works.

There is no doubt that many good works were done, including the building of settlement houses for the less fortunate, and by giving better access to education, plus free or low-cost health care and other benefits.

**Walter Rauschenbusch, a New York City pastor, believed the church had a bigger agenda than just that of preaching the gospel for sowing seeds in the hearts of men and women for the regeneration of their souls by the Holy Spirit. He and other pastors believed social problems were moral problems on a large scale. They thought that by actively engaging in ‘practical Christianity’ by meeting the needs of the poor, and the disenfranchised, they would be transformed spiritually and morally, and thus their lives would be improved.

The quality of their material lives may well have been improved, but the primary task of preaching the gospel and of making disciples was supplanted by the pastors’ desire to build God’s kingdom on earth. It appears they overlooked the fact that God builds His church (Matthew 16:18) and He builds His kingdom (cf. Luke 22:28, 29). Theses things are not done by human hands. The role that Christians play is in their obedience to their Saviour (John 15:14). God places each one in Christ’s body, i.e., the local church, where each member has a role to play (1 Corinthians 12:14-31): That may happen to be in serving the local community along with the church, perhaps by giving shelter overnight to rough sleepers, as is done by ***churches in my local community. They open their buildings overnight during the cold winter months.

While these homeless people are under their temporary care, Christian helpers will take any opportunities that may arise for preaching the gospel. They will also help with social matters, such as involving local town or city councils who by ****law should provide accommodation for rough sleepers. If the homeless seek help with other problems such as alcohol and drug addiction they can be put in touch with organisations who can address their needs.

There’s so much more to ‘the social gospel’ that I want to explore, but as  I said at the beginning, I must not let my research distract me from my prime calling which is to preach the gospel, love God and my neighbour as myself.

*God’s Energy

https://thebiblicalway.blog/2018/10/21/gods-energy/

**Walter Rauschenbusch

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Rauschenbusch

***Winter Night Shelter, Southend

https://en-gb.facebook.com/SouthendChurchesWinterNightShelter/

****Homeless Code of Guidance for Local Authorities

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/homelessness-code-of-guidance-for-local-authorities/overview-of-the-homelessness-legislation

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Civil Disobedience

‘If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18).’

We live in an age of much unrest and civil disobedience. In many countries around the world people are making mass protests and some of them have been accompanied by acts of civil disobedience, even violent acts, such as in *Hong Kong.

**Extinction Rebellion is an organisation with a manifesto that supports “non-violent, disruptive civil disobedience” for achieving their aims of drawing attention to the issue of ***climate change on account of global warming, the consequences of which they claim will lead to the extinction of human life. They demand we take action now to reduce our carbon footprints before it is too late to prevent the catastrophe.

Is Civil Disobedience OK for Christians?

“Should Christians engage in acts of civil disobedience for achieving their aims?”  And, “What can we Christians learn from the Bible that will help us with the answer?

First of all we have to be clear as to the nature of our aims:

Clearly we are here for the purpose of glorifying (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31; Revelation 4:11) and enjoying God forever (Luke 2:10; Philippians 4:4; Revelation 21:3-4). Our desire is to do His will (Luke 11:2).

Having rehearsed our aims it is crucial for us to act in accordance with God’s laws for achieving them.

So is it OK for Christians to engage in civil disobedience?

Some Relevant Scriptures

As far as I can tell from the New Testament there is no record of any Christian who engaged in civil disobedience. On the contrary, Paul told the Roman church to ‘Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1), and, ‘whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God (V. 2).’ He went to say, ‘Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake (V.5).

Our Example – Jesus

Jesus said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21).” From this statement if would appear He accepted that the Jews should pay taxes to the Romans. We know He paid His temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27).

Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin and the high priest for claiming He was the Christ. On this count they accused Him of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65) and declared He was ‘deserving of death (V. 66).’

The chief priest asked Him “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus replied, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:61, 62).” ‘Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be worthy of death (V.V. 63, 64).’

Jesus made no complaint. He did not resist and He did not disobey.

The same can be said of Him at the time of His arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. The only resistance was that of Peter when he cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant (John 18:10). Jesus told him to put his sword into the sheath (V. 11), and He healed the servant’s ear (Luke 22:51).

When Jesus stood accused before Pilate he asked Him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against You (Matthew 27:13, 14) ?”’ And he asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He replied, “It is as you say (Mark 15:2),” but to the accusations of ‘the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing (Matthew 27:12).’ Likewise before Herod ‘He answered him nothing (Luke 23:9).’

Once again, we find Jesus accepted all that was done to Him without complaint and without resistance.

Both Pilate and Herod found no fault in Jesus (Luke 23:4,13-15; John 19:6). Pilate ‘found no reason’ for Him to be put to death (Luke 23:22), and he wanted to release Him, but the chief priest, rulers and the people (Luke 23:13) prevailed (V.V. 23, 24; Matthew 27:24; Mark 15:14, 15).

It’s interesting to note that Pilate never directly accused or charged Jesus of treason for claiming He was the ‘King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2),’ but wanting to pacify the crowd (Mark 15:15) he asked, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews (V. 12)?”

They cried, “Crucify Him (V. 13)!”

But Pilate found Him not guilty and not worthy of death. He washed his hands of the whole affair, and declared, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it (Matthew 27:24).”

Jesus died between two criminals: ‘one on the right hand and the other on the left (Luke 23:32, 33). Thus He was ‘numbered with the transgressors.’

He never once participated in acts of civil disobedience, but in the temple He ‘overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves (Matthew 21:12).’ He had every right to do what He did, since ‘One greater than the temple’ was there (12:6). He even made a whip, and justifiably could have used it (John 2:15); for the money changers had made His Father’s house of prayer (V. 16) into a ‘den of thieves’ (Luke 19:46).

Before going to the garden of Gethsemane He warned His disciples that He ‘was numbered with the transgressors,’ just as was prophesied by Isaiah (53:12) and it would be fulfilled (Luke 22:37). The disciples responded by saying, “Lord, look, here are two swords,” to which Jesus replied, “It is enough (V. 38).”

At the time of His arrest, Peter impetuously ‘drew his sword’ and cut off the ear of the chief priest’s servant (Matthew 26:51; John 18:26), but Jesus immediately healed it (Luke 22:51). Jesus had not sanctioned Peter’s violent resistance; instead He permitted Himself to be associated with it (John 18:4-8). By so doing He was yet again ‘numbered with the transgressors,’  but at the same time He Himself never transgressed.

On the contrary, Jesus preached peace (Acts 10:36) and love (Matthew 22:39) to ‘every nation, tribe, tongue, and people (Revelation 14:6).’ In response to aggression and violence He tells us we are to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). He Himself was punished for the sins of the world (John 3:16) and by dying on the cross He demonstrated His love for us who believe in Him (Romans 5:8).

Jesus confronted evil and the devil (1 John 3:8) and overcame them by peaceful means (Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 20:1-3, 10). He suffered (Luke 24:26; Hebrews 5:8; 1 Peter 4:1) in order that many may rise from the dead and live forever (John 6:51; 1 Peter 1:23).

His life was a perfect example (John 13:15) as to how Christians should live in obedience to His Father.

In His new world (Revelation 20:1) there will be no civil disobedience – only love, harmony and peace.

Conclusion

Jesus never condoned or engaged in civil disobedience. In fact He taught the multitudes (Matthew 5:1) ‘not to resist an evil person (V. 39),’ and ‘“If anyone compels you to go one mile, go with him two (V. 41).”’

Jesus didn’t rebel against civil authority. He lived an exemplary life and preached the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), and He gave his life (John 3:16) to bring His chosen people into His kingdom (John 18:36).

He has commanded us [believers] to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).’

So what profit is there in engaging in civil disobedience? As far as it is possible (cf. Romans 12:18) it is better to preach and practise the Word of God.

*Hong Kong Protests

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-49317695

**Extinction Rebellion

https://rebellion.earth

***Climate Change Emergency

https://thebiblicalway.blog/2019/09/29/climate-change-emergency/

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In Defence of the Gospel

‘let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone. ‘ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:11, 12).”’

What exactly is the gospel? And why should we [believers] defend it?

The gospel is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ; just as the text above says, ‘for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’

OK, so if we are saved – from what are we saved? The wrath of God to come!

Paul warns readers of his Epistle to the Romans, ‘But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteousness judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honour, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness – indignation and wrath (Romans 2:5-8).’

The Good News Received by Some, Rejected by Others

So knowing of the wrath to come we are compelled (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:13-15) to warn everyone of God’s judgment, but more than that to tell of His love and compassion. He loves us so much that He sent His Son to die on a cross for our eternal salvation (John 3:16). This is love (1 John 4:10) that he first loved us (V. 19). We have by His grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) been saved, and this is the message of hope for all who put their trust in Jesus (Ephesians 1:13). God will not refuse anyone (Matthew 11:28, 29) who repents and believes (Mark 1:15) in His Son. This is the good news of the gospel.

Addressing the Jews Paul quoted Isaiah 6:9, 10: ‘“For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them (Acts 28:26, 27).’”

Poignantly he went on to say, “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it (V. 28)!”’

Paul continued for the next two years at his home in Rome to preach the good news ‘to all who came to him (V.V. 30, 31).’

Opposition and the Challenge of Gospel Compromise

As we take this message of hope to the world, we meet opposition from those who do not want to hear it, i.e., those who are ‘hard of hearing’ and have closed their eyes, but there are those who open their hearts and want to hear and understand (Matthew 13:23).

This is the message that must never be diluted, never compromised. We must stand firm (Ephesians 6:13-19) and live by God’s Word. We must follow the example of Jesus when he rebuked the devil saying, ‘“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).”’

Irrespective of pressure from the world and the demands of the societies in which we live, we must not compromise the Word of God. God does not change (cf. Hebrews 13:8), neither does His Word change (1 Peter 1:25) and nor does His good news of salvation. His gospel of love and hope is for all who will hear and understand. No one is too vile or too depraved (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) that they cannot receive the Holy Spirit who transforms (2 Corinthians 5:17) and gives eternal life (Galatians 6:8) to those with open hearts – those who acknowledge their sin and repent (cf. Luke 24:46, 47).

Our Defence

‘But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed (1 Peter 3:15, 16).’

We can take heart and know that God is with us (cf. Genesis 28:15; Hebrews 13:5) just as He was with Saul: ‘But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ (Acts 9:22).’

God’s Word will accomplish what He pleases: ‘“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:11).”’

Amen.

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Exclusion from the Church

‘“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”’

“‘He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).”’

Exclusion

Exclusion is generally a negative experience for the person or persons being excluded. On 9th December, 2019 I heard the news that *Russian athletes will be excluded from representing their country in all major sporting events for the next four years. It’s because the World Anti-doping Agency found evidence that Russia’s Anti-doping Agency manipulated laboratory data about the taking of illegal performance-enhancing drugs by their athletes.

Sadly, for those athletes who did not resort to taking illegal drugs it is a great disappointment; since they will not be able to compete under the Russian flag. Through no fault of their own they have been banned from representing their country. They can however compete, under a flag of neutrality, if they can prove they have not taken performance-enhancing drugs. That at least may be a consolation to them.

Rules are rules, and if they are broken, in all fairness it is right for offenders to be excluded from competing.

There are other current examples of exclusion – take the case of at least **one member of the Labour Party who was expelled from the Party for anti-semitism. Similarly, members of the Conservative Party have been ***suspended while being investigated for accusations that they have expressed views consistent with them being Islamophobic. If found guilty, Boris Johnson is adamant they will be expelled from the Party.

Exclusion from Church Membership

How about exclusion from the church of Jesus Christ?

Is it possible for members to be expelled? And is it possible that some people will be excluded from gaining entry into Christ’s church?

To answer these questions we must first acquaint ourselves with the common characteristics of members of the church. We must also have a knowledge of the rules and regulations regarding membership. If we know these things we will be in a position to discover if there are justifiable reasons for the exclusion of certain people, and if so, who is responsible for enforcing the exclusions, and by what authority.

If the church was a club, which it most definitely is not, it would have a procedure for expelling members who break the rules. A specified person or a particular group of people would be authorised to undertake the task. There might even be a rule that gives expelled persons the right of appeal.

Characteristics of Church Members

Members are those who believe and trust Jesus, and they have faith (Ephesians 2:8) in Him. They have been born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8) and they have repented of their sins (Mark 1:15) and they are disciples [followers] of Jesus. They obey Him; they love Him and they serve Him. He is everything to them. He comes before family, before job, before possessions and before all selfish desires, and before all else. Their very life is in Him, and He is in them (John 17:21-23). Each one carries His own cross (Luke 14:27), and he is prepared to sacrifice his life rather than deny Christ (cf. John 13:38).

These are some of the characteristics of mature Christians.

New Christians have much to learn, but at the time of their new birth through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit they immediately become members of Christ’s church.

All Christians can and do act alone, but by their very nature as ‘brothers’ in Christ (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6) they cooperate with one another. They worship together and they undertake joint ventures, such as organising and carrying out missions for presenting the gospel. Their desire is to make Christ known and to be channels of His love.

Rules of the Church

The fundamental rule for all members is to love God and their neighbours as themselves (Mark 12:30, 31). They uphold the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), which is to ‘bear one another’s burdens,’ and they respect and honour the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16). For them the Bible is God’s complete rule book. Jesus is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 2:20; 4:15, 16); and, first and foremost, members are answerable to Him (Romans 14:10).

The practice of the early church was to appoint elders ‘in every church (Acts 14:23) for holding fast ‘the faithful word’ and ‘sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict (Titus 1:9).

So not all members are obedient, and for the sake of the integrity of the church and its witness to the world, elders have the authority to expel those who do not repent of their sinful ways. Thus they can be excluded from the local church for their transgressions against God and the church (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13).

Exclusion from the Church

God justifies (Romans 3:24) His elect (Romans 8:33; 11:7) and by virtue of this, all others are excluded from membership of the church of Jesus. That may seem harsh and unjust (cf. Romans 9:18-24), but people exclude themselves on account of their stubborn rebellion against God (Romans 1:18-32). They know full-well of God’s righteousness (V.V. 17, 18) and that He is the sovereign King of the Universe (cf. Psalm 47:2). He is the Creator who made all things (John 1:1-3), but they refuse to acknowledge Him, and they transgress against His law of love (cf. 1 John 4:8); which is to love Him with all their heart and their neighbour as themselves (Matthew 22:37-39). They refuse to obey the command of His Son to ‘Repent, and believe (Mark 1:15).’ They refuse to take His yoke upon them and to ‘learn from’ Him, and consequently they have no rest for their souls (Matthew 11:29).

People who will not accept the rules must expect they will be excluded from membership. That is right and fair (cf. Genesis 18:25).

Members Forever

Having become a member of the church of Jesus by virtue of new birth through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8) a Christian can never lose his salvation. He is a child of God forever (Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:2).

But you might ask what about people who leave the church voluntarily and forsake their faith?

Hebrew 6:4-6 provides the answer. They were never truly Christians in the first place. Like some associates of a church they may have had head knowledge of the gospel, but they lacked genuine faith, and they never really trusted Jesus. They were never born again of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8). They just went through the motions. Thus they reject God, and are guilty of the unpardonable sin of unbelief (cf. Mark 3:28, 29).

‘“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).”’

‘Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God (Psalm 146:5).’

*Russia banned for four years to include 2020 Olympics and 2022 World Cup

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/olympics/50710598

**Labour under fresh pressure over anti-semitism as leaked dossier appears to show complaints backlog

https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/labour-party/news/108437/labour-under-fresh-pressure-over-anti-semitism

***Islamophobia: Conservative Party members suspended over posts

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-49763550

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Individualism Within the Church?

‘He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works (Psalm 33:15).’

Psalm 33 is a beautiful song of hope (V. 18) for those who trust (V. 21) in the LORD. It speaks of God’s sovereignty and of His majesty. He surveys the world from heaven (V. 13) and from where He controls the affairs of men, but what is fascinating, ‘He fashions their hearts individually (V. 15).’ He knows all about them; furthermore He delivers their souls from death if they fear Him (V.V. 18, 19).

In the UK at the moment we are in the last week of campaigning before a general election; therefore we may ponder the following words from the aforementioned Psalm: ‘The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, and the people whom He has chosen as His own inheritance (V.V. 10-12).’

The intricacies of God’s workings are beyond fathoming; they leave us in awe of Him. Every single individual is fashioned by Him (Job 10:8; Psalm 119:73), and He places him or her in particular situations – perhaps in a family, in a town, in a principality within a nation. But what is more significant, He adopts His loved ones into His family (Galatians  4:5-7; Ephesians 1:5) – that is the one true church of Jesus Christ.

This morning while trawling through Twitter, I found a tweet from a lady who said she didn’t know what denomination she belonged to, as she had associated herself with several. She was perplexed, and I can understand why, but if she is a believer, then she is a child of God (John 1:12), and she is a member of the church of Jesus. However, as yet, she has not found a local church of which she is a missing, but necessary member (1 Corinthian 12:12-27). When she does find the church, it will be confirmed to her by the Holy Spirit that she belongs there and that she has a part to play. I pray that the Spirit might lead her to that church.

From within the nations God’s people are called by Him (1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:14) to join with Him in local churches. They are composed of individuals in Christ, collectively joined together as His identifiable living body on earth, and His Holy Spirit dwells within them (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Every member has his or her part to play, and ‘the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all (1 Corinthians 12:7).’ They are all gifted with talents they can use to God’s glory as they serve Him, and love one another and their neighbours as themselves.

Paul sums it up in Romans:

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another (Romans 12:4, 5).’

‘For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:7, 8).’

‘Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5, 6).’

Conclusion: There is no Place for Individualism

Each one of us is accountable for everything we do (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:12), and although God has given us hearts, minds and bodies, He has made us [believers] to be integral members of Christ’s body, i.e., the church; therefore we must act in unison with Him and be submissive to Him and to one another (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5).

We are individuals, but we only have one character, because our identity is in Christ. We are His and He is ours. Christ is all in all (Colossians 3:11). Wherever we go, whatever we do (Galatians 3:23), whatever we think and say – along with our prayers, all of them are for honouring Him and for giving Him the glory.

Let is remember that He has placed us where we are for His purposes, i.e., to do those good works that He has preordained from before time (Ephesians 2:10). We are His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) and lanterns of His light; we are the salt that doesn’t lose its saltiness (cf. Mark 9:50). None of these things are possible in our own strength and power, but by His enabling through the Holy Spirit.

So although we are individuals with our own unique characters, we act in obedience to Jesus (Galatians 6:2), recognising He is abundantly worthy of our love and adoration because He died to give us everlasting life (John 3:16). He first loved us (1 John 4:19), and because of this we love Him. Most importantly our identity is in Him, and expressions of our individualism that conflict with our unity in Him are no longer of any significance, as they no longer have any place in our hearts.

‘Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called (1 Corinthians 7:20).’

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The Church Calendar

My wife recently bought me a calendar for next year. I find a calendar is essential, because without it I would forget appointments and the dates and times of future events involving me. A calendar is especially useful when it comes to arranging meetings and family get-togethers. Of course, today, all of these things can be programmed into the ubiquitous mobile phone. If you’ve got one of those speaking gizmos that are linked to your phone via Bluetooth it can page you in advance, advising when your next engagement is due.

Now when it comes to the times and dates of church meetings, events, etc., a church will usually publish it’s own calendar. The church of which I am a member produces a monthly calendar that can be downloaded from the church website. That’s really useful, because it informs members as to what’s going on. Hardcopies are also available for those who do not have access to the Internet.

The Legacy of Constantine

Over a period of five hundred years after the Christian church came into being at Pentecost (Acts 2) pagan influences brought about a remarkable change in how it worshipped and assembled.

Constantine, as early as 327 AD, constructed a building on the lines of a Roman basilica as a place of worship for the assembly, and many more were built for his state-sponsored church. This was a travesty, because it changed the nature of the church; instead of independently worshipping as separate churches in people’s homes, Christians were forced to assemble en masse. Typically, under his pagan leadership, Constantine adorned the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople with monuments to the twelve apostles, and he placed them in a tomb that was reserved for himself. This was blatant, pompous glorification of self.

By the late fourth century things had worsened, and more and more pagan customs were absorbed into their religious practices, along with liturgies, sermons, clerical vestments and a hierarchical leadership structure.

Churches today still suffer from Constantine’s legacy, not least by honouring *liturgical calendars.

Liturgical Calendars

The earliest of these calendars was a compilation of feast days, fasts and saints’ days. Today similar cyclical calendars are adhered to throughout Christendom. They lay down schedules of worship that must be observed through the liturgical year. Calendars of denominations vary, but in the main their substance is the same.

The Church of England’s liturgical calendar is similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church. It is divided into seasons – the first being Advent, followed by Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter.

The ‘feast of Christ’s nativity’ was first observed by the Roman church in 336 AD, but it must be pointed out that there is no biblical evidence supporting the view that New Testament Christians observed the same feast. They did not make the 25th December a day of celebration or of remembrance. Indeed, even now, biblical scholars are divided as to the actual date of the birth of our Saviour.

Why Follow a Calendar?

Since the early church did not commemorate the birth of Jesus, why do Christians celebrate it today?

The same question could be asked of the observances of Epiphany, Lent and Easter. Likewise is there a biblical statute that obliges a church to meet on a **Sunday for worship? Some point to the assumed fact that NT Christians regularly met on a Sunday for the breaking of bread, but there is no specific biblical text stating they regularly assembled (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2) on a Sunday.

Scholars might reason that because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, the early church chose to worship and remember Him on the first day of the week. They could further ague that as Jews kept the Sabbath on a Saturday, by worshipping on a Sunday, Christians would witness to the fact that they were no longer bound under the Law of Moses. They were freed from the Old Covenant through the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood (Luke 22:20).

This freedom in Christ was taught by Paul the Apostle, although he along with other Christians, referred to the Jewish calendar (Acts 16:13). In that context he wrote in Romans 14:5-6 that: ‘One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.’

It’s obvious that the Jewish converts were struggling with their new identity. In that respect Paul implored the church at Colosse: ‘Therefore let no one judge you in food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16, 17).’

So I ask again, why do so many churches today subscribe to liturgical calendars like those of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church?

There is only One ‘Memorial’ Ordinance

Jesus only instituted one memorial ordinance, and that was the breaking of bread ‘in remembrance of’ Him:

At the Passover supper before His death on the cross He ‘…. .. took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you (Luke 22:19, 20; cf. Matthew 26:26-29).”’

Concerning this same ordinance of our Lord, Paul had a direct revelation from Jesus specifying that the memorial should be commemorated for ‘as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).”’

Conclusion

Those who subscribe to liturgies are into ‘works’ that do not bring salvation to them or to anyone; for salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

If a church is to honour Him, the members should consider the matter of observing particular days, remembering what Paul said to the Roman church, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5).’”

*The Liturgical Year

https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/liturgical-year

**Special Days

https://thebiblicalway.blog/2019/06/29/special-days/

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