We Desire to Know God…and to Make Him Known!
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:14-16
Good morning and welcome to our “Bring Your Neighbor Day” Service! In obedience to the above Scriptures, our goal as a congregation is to be led by the Spirit of God to build a church in New York City that will be a light to the world! In order to glorify God’s purposes and not our own, we must first be inspired to know and love our God with all of our hearts so we can all make the decision to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40) One of the books that have inspired me in my walk with God is “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer. The preface alone was inspiring; his conviction behind the book is that our society’s ignorance of God – ignorance both of His ways and the steps to build a relationship with Him – is the root of much the weakness in denominational Christianity today. Over the past decade of my Christian life, I have also noticed how easily religious people can follow God out of “ritual” instead of a true “relationship”; employ “tradition” instead of “truth”; and rely on their “emotions” instead of “examining” the Word of God! Two unfortunate trends have helped to produce the presently lukewarm state of Christendom worldwide, and understanding these issues will protect us from turning away from the truth and accepting religious myths! (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
The first trend that Packer discusses is the fact that Christians have been conformed to the thinking of the world. He asserts that Christians have stopped thinking spiritually and started to think in a worldlier manner – something that is very easy to do if we are not looking at the world with spiritual eyes. As Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Worldliness leads to great thoughts and concern for ourselves, which leaves room for only small thoughts of God. The worldly way to think about God is to set Him at a distance, if not deny him altogether; and that the irony is that “worldly Christians” have become more preoccupied in maintaining their religious practices for themselves than being part of a movement to impact the world. Sadly, instead of living the life of Jesus, many worldly Christians have replaced biblical discipleship with book knowledge and worldly philosophy. (Colossians 2:8) Instead of the church raising its voice to remind the world of what is being forgotten, the church has formed a habit of playing down some fundamental issues:
a) Being part of a unified movement of God (1 Corinthians 4:17);
b) Being part of a fellowship where everyone is a sold-out and committed member (Acts 2:42-47);
c) Loving each other in order to present everyone perfect in Christ through discipling / accountability relationships (Colossians 1:28);
d) Obeying the biblical principle and command of dating and marrying only disciples of Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:14-16); and
e) Being committed to Jesus’ dream of evangelizing the world in our generation (Matthew 28:18-20).
Sadly, most churches are completely “autonomous” – self-governing and subject to their own standard of regulations, traditions and beliefs, instead of working together as an interdependent movement of believers who obey the Biblical and universal standard of righteousness with the mission to win the world! (Acts 16:4-5) As a result, there is no “universal standard” of Christianity in denominational churches today, but only numerous divisions that do little more than meet their own worldly and selfish desires. This lack of conviction on foundational issues of the Christian faith inevitably results in backsliding and ultimately spiritual suicide for those who walk the Christian life. As 1 Timothy 4:16 states, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
The second trend that Packer discusses is the fact that Christians have been confused by worldly arguments. Foundational facts of the faith have been called into question by those who lack the knowledge and conviction to obey true doctrine. (2 Timothy 4:3-4) Sadly, religious “myths” like the “Sinner’s Prayer” – also known as “Praying Jesus into your heart” through a emotional prayer of contrition – became a standard religious practice in the early 1800s in America, and “Infant Baptism” (which began approximately in the third century A.D.) have grown like poisonous weeds in a religious culture that is not only biblically ignorant but also historically naive. In order to suit their sentimental desires for acceptance and approval that lack a Biblical foundation, these confused souls have come together in “unity” in denominational churches that are based on disobedience to God’s Word! The Biblical standard of salvation in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” has been replaced with false doctrine that has no biblical foundation! As a result, the religious world has a unity of “fellowship” without a unity of “discipleship and doctrine”. Obviously, this concept of unity is not unity at all.
Should we just accept religious myths because they are popular? As the Apostle Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” How well do we know God and His Word? Our level of knowledge of God will determine the convictions behind what we do. Are we imitating the life of Jesus (1 John 2:6)? Being aware of correct doctrine is just the beginning. Our maturity of our spiritual walk with God is just as important to maintaining our salvation as well (1 Timothy 4:16)!
A true knowledge of God should humble our pride, expand our intellect and comfort our worries. I agree with Packer that the uncertainty and confusion about God, his ways, and the practice of discipleship with Him present in our day are worse than anything since Gnostic theosophy tried to swallow Christianity in the second century. Church history reminds me of the fact that church revival is a constant. Many Christians suffer from historical amnesia. The time between the apostles of the Bible and their own lives is one giant blank. As a consequence of our ignorance concerning Christian history, we find disciples vulnerable to the appeals of “freedom in Christ”, and respond by accepting a distortion of discipleship as the real thing. Without the call of revival to an obedience of the Scriptures, the church will become weak and clumsy in its basic task of holding the church to the realities of the gospel (John 8:31-32).
It is my prayer that by examining and applying the Scriptures, we can grow in our desire to know God, and to make Him known! As Bruce L Shelley, a professor of church history has stated, “Church historians often ask, ‘Is the church a movement or an institution?…The church’s mission in time calls for institutions: special rules, special leaders, special places. But when institutions themselves obstruct the spread of the gospel rather than advancing it, then movements of renewal arise to return to the church’s basic mission to the world.” I pray that in our day of conformity and confusion, God will use our Sold-Out Movement to restore the true unity and discipleship of Biblical Christianity! Please pray for us as we hold out the Word of truth and shine a light on the darkness of this world!
In His Service,
Andrew Smellie | Evangelist, NYCICC