READY, AIM…

It seems as though the pastor is always the last to know. I’m not talking about current events, or the latest technology. I’m talking about problems in the church. Several years ago a church member apparently had a bone to pick with me. The trouble is, she never came to me to talk about it. Three months from the time of the alleged incident passed before I found out I had been put in the doghouse. Rather than talk to me about the incident, she told someone else who told someone else who told someone else who finally came to me and asked if I knew of the offense. By the time I found out and talked to the person, too much water had passed under the bridge for the relationship to be healed.

Now if I were standing near you and I accidentally began stepping on your foot, what would you do? You would probably wait a split second, and then you would say, “Uh, Brother Mike, excuse me; you’re standing on my toe.” I would remove my foot and apologize profusely for that incident. It would be over. No hard feelings.

However, when a preacher figuratively steps on someone’s toes and offends that person, it seems as though that person tells everybody in the church except the pastor. He or she calls everybody and says, “Do you know what the pastor said, did, or didn’t do, etc.?” Before you know it, the story has gotten all over the community, and usually way out of proportion to the actual occurrence. The Greek word for that is . . . gossip.

The NIV calls it “malicious talk.” (1 Tim 3:11). King James calls it slander. In the New Testament it comes from the word “diabolos,” which means “false accuser, devil.” When you gossip about your preacher, or anyone else for that matter, you are playing the role of the devil is his or her life.

Read carefully Paul’s admonition in 1 Tim 5:19 “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” If someone comes to you with a “concern” about the pastor, ask them if they have gone to the pastor first to try to resolve the issue according to Mat 5:23 and Mat 18:15-17. If they have not, offer to go with them and talk to that pastor or staff member. If they will not follow scriptural procedure, then you are obligated NOT to listen to them. In fact if you do, you are “entertaining an accusation” against that person.

Church members hide behind the guise of not wanting to cause conflict in the church, so rather than confronting the pastor directly and openly, they take pot shots at him. They feel that it is better than being out in the open. They snipe at him from the protection of hiding in the bushes and behind the rocks. The pastor knows someone is shooting at him, but he does not know who is doing the shooting or where it is coming from. Probably least of all does he know why they are shooting at him.

Suddenly the bullet hits home. The damage is done. Another pastor or staff member falls. A reputation is ruined; a life is destroyed all due to gossip. All of this could have been avoided by following the scriptural mandate. The next time someone brings you a “concern” about your pastor or staff, ask yourself whose side you are on, God’s or the devil’s?

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LDS Apostles and Prophets: What Did The New Testament Apostles Say?

Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Manager, Apologetics & Interfaith Evangelism
North American Mission Board

A basic premise for the existence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is that the lack of apostles and prophets in the Christian denominations is evidence that they are apostate. Mormons believe that Christ needed to “restore” the true church to the earth by reinstituting an earthly hierarchical system led by apostles and prophets (beginning with Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church). If they were right and the true church could not function properly or adequately without living apostles and prophets, we would need to take seriously their claim that such ministries were restored through Joseph Smith. On the other hand, if we have good reason to deny that the church is supposed to be run from the top down led by apostles and prophets, we should dismiss its claim to be the true church, since that claim rests on a false premise.

The New Testament speaks of the apostles as a first-generation, foundational ministry only (Eph. 2:20; 3:5; Heb. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:2; Jude 17). The danger that the church was going to face after the apostles died was not a lack of apostles or prophets, but the teachings of false apostles and prophets. For that reason, both Jesus and his apostles warned repeatedly about false apostles and prophets (Matt. 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 4:1-6; Rev. 2:2; 16:13; 19:20; 20:10), but never once expressed concern about the church losing its way with a lack of apostles or prophets. Nor does the New Testament make any provision for a top-down worldwide church polity after the departure of the apostles.

Therefore, the New Testament does not teach that the church was to be run from the top down after the departure of the first-century apostles. Rather, the principle for the “changing of the guard” after their departure is found (for example) in 2 Timothy 2:2, which says that faithful men were to teach others to serve faithfully as they had done. This description of how the faith is to be perpetuated does not present a top-down, vertical, authoritarian model of church government. Instead, the model is “horizontal,” of older Christians teaching younger ones who would then go on to teach the next generation of Christian leaders.

Let’s look more closely and fully at the latest New Testament writings, beginning with Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus (in the last inspired letters that he wrote). The false teachers in Ephesus were to be rebuked because they were teaching nonsense (1 Tim. 1:3-7), not because they lacked the proper recognition from the top down. Both overseers (“bishops” in the KJV) and deacons were to be generally above reproach ethically and spiritually (1 Tim. 3:1-13). The focus here is on getting mature Christians into these positions, and nothing is said whatsoever about their being credentialed by a hierarchical religious organization. Likewise, Paul tells Titus to appoint men above reproach as elders (Tit. 1:5-9). Paul says nothing about Titus acting as the agent of an authoritarian religious hierarchy. The focus is entirely on establishing the church in Crete with leadership that is godly and sound of faith, in contrast with Judaizers whose teachings were leading people astray (Tit. 1:10-16).

Neither Paul nor the other apostles make any provision here or anywhere else in the New Testament for a succession of apostles or prophets to lead the church from the top down. The apostasy that was coming would not be a complete apostasy because of a lack of supposedly essential prophets, but would instead be a partial apostasy, a falling away of some (as Paul says explicitly) because they paid attention to prophets inspired by “deceitful spirits” or “demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). When difficult times came and many people professed faith but did not have its reality, the solution would not be to have the church start over with new apostles and prophets, but for truly godly people to continue basing their teaching and life on the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:1-17).

If we look at the other apostolic writings issued as the period of the apostles was passing and some of them were already dying, we find the same pattern. In Peter’s last instructions to the church, he warned that just as false prophets arose among the people in the past, false teachers would arise among the believers (2 Pet. 2:1). Peter says nothing about the church languishing into a general apostasy because of a lack of apostles or prophets. Nor does he suggest that the church will cease to exist. Instead, after speaking at length about the divine judgment awaiting false prophets and teachers (2 Pet. 2:1-22), Peter encourages his Christian readers to remember what the true prophets taught in what we call the Old Testament and what Christ taught through his apostles, which we have preserved for us now in the New Testament (2 Pet. 3:1-2). Notice here that Peter does not say anything about Christians needing the guidance of living prophets and apostles; no, what he says they will need is to remember what the prophets and apostles said.

Peter goes on to alert Christians that they will hear skeptics who mock the Christian faith because the return of Christ and the Day of Judgment about which they warn has not taken place (2 Pet. 3:3-10). Peter’s comments here presuppose that true Christians would continue faithfully well after the apostles were gone (and therefore could benefit from Peter’s teaching). He encourages them to live in a godly way until Christ’s return (2 Pet. 3:11-14), again presupposing that godly believers will continue following the apostolic teaching until Christ’s return. They are to be diligent in following the teachings of the Scriptures, including those of the apostle Paul (2 Pet. 3:15-16a). Admittedly, some of what Paul wrote is hard to understand, but they are to beware of the untaught and unstable who distort his teachings and those of the rest of the Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16b). Christians are to keep themselves from being carried away by these false teachers, not by looking to some authoritarian religious organization or restored apostolic hierarchy to guide them, but by “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:17-18).

The apostle Jude’s teaching in his short epistle closely parallels that of the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 2-3. Jude encourages his Christian readers to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). They are to contend against false teachers who distort the gospel, people whose judgment is as sure as that brought on Egypt, Sodom and Gomorrah, Cain, and Korah (Jude 4-16). To avoid falling into such error, Jude tells us, “remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 17). Here again, the church is to maintain its integrity by remembering what the apostles said, not by waiting for apostles yet to come. While they await Christ’s return, they are to build themselves up in the faith and be agents of God’s mercy to others (Jude 18-23).

Both Peter and Jude, then, are quite clear: the day of the apostles is passing; the church will be rocked by false prophets and false teachers, but will continue existing until Christ’s return; the church is to ward off false teaching by adhering to what the Scriptures teach, as they are the preserved revelations given through the prophets and apostles. Nothing is said to suggest that the church needs apostles and prophets to function properly, or that the church will be reconstituted with such offices in the future. No provisions are made or mentioned for a top-down, hierarchical administration of the postapostolic church. Instead, Christians are warned about false prophets and false teachers, encouraged to adhere to the Scriptures and to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ, and promised that if they do so they will make it intact to the end of the age and the return of Christ to consummate their salvation.

The claim that the church can only exist or be properly constituted or administered if it is structured as a hierarchy with apostles and prophets at the top is false. Not only is this claim not taught in the New Testament, the epistles written toward the end of the apostolic era make it clear that the apostles did not expect their office to be perpetuated and did not envision a religious hierarchy as the structure of the postapostolic church. Their focus in choosing leaders after the passing of the apostles was not to be on ecclesiastical power structures but on ethical, spiritual, and doctrinal fidelity to the teachings of the (Old and New Testament) Scriptures. It is on the basis of this standard that orthodox Christians reject the LDS Church’s claim to be the one true church.

http://www.4truth.net/site/c.hiKXLbPNLrF/b.2950575/k.9879/LDS_Apostles_and_Prophets_What_Did_the_New_Testament_Apostles_Say.htm

PRAYER AND OBEDIENCE

“Christians who pray must obey…Prayer puts a spirit of obedience into those who sincerely pray, for the spirit of disobedience is not of God…Holy living promotes holy praying” (E. M. Bounds, “The Necessity of Prayer” p. 63).

Luke 6:46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

1 John 3:21-22, “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.”

ON EAGLE’S WINGS

Isaiah 40: 31 “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

The eagle makes its nest along the craggy slopes of a cliff. It steps to the edge of the nest and spreads its wings. It leaps. Catching the current in its wings, the eagle rises effortlessly. It simply depends on the rising air currents to carry it aloft. As it commits itself to the sustaining power of the wind the eagle flies without effort.

God asks the same of us. He simply asks us to spread our wings and trust completely in Him. “Waiting with steadfast endurance is a great expression of faith. It means enduring patiently in confident hope that God will decisively act for the salvation of his people. Waiting involves the very essence of a person’s being, his soul…There will come a time when all that God has promised will be realized. In the meantime the believer survives by means of his integrity and uprightness as he trusts in God’s grace and power.” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2, page 791).

As you pass through difficult times in your life, remember, child of God, that he has promised to sustain you. His promises are the winds that sustain you and hold you up. His Spirit lifts you up as you wait patiently on him.

2 Peter 1: 3-4, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rRea9qnjK4

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN

The Tom Hanks Movie, Saving Private Ryan, was hailed as a masterpiece showing the reality, savagery, and tragedy of World War II. You may remember the plot of a team of American rangers being sent to find the sole surviving son of the Ryan family.

 The story begins with the aged Ryan returning to Normandy desperately trying to find a headstone in one of the vast American graveyards in France. Then the story fades back to the day when the American team made their way ashore on Utah beach. It takes heart-wrenching turns as, one by one, members of the team are killed in action.

Finally the team finds Ryan, but due to a German offensive, they cannot take him directly back to safety. They are forced to stay with Ryan’s group to repel the offensive. In the ensuing battle, Hanks’ character tries to keep Ryan out of harm’s way. It would be a failure and the waste of several men’s lives if Ryan were killed in the battle.

At the end of the battle, Hanks’ character is mortally wounded. He is sitting on a bridge as his life ebbs away. Ryan squats down beside him as Hanks reaches up to grab Ryan’s uniform. “Earn this,” Hanks whispers. “Earn it.” With that, Hanks” character dies and Ryan stands up. As his face gradually morphs back into the present, and as an aged man he stands before the tomb of Captain John Miller. He falls and begins to weep. His wife and family rush to his side. His wife wipes a tear away. The aged Ryan whispers to the headstone “Everyday I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.” Then he turns to his wife “Tell me I have led a good life.” “What?” she asks. “Tell me I’m a good man.” “You are,” she consoles him.

Not only is that the American view of a good war movie of brotherhood and sacrifice for others; it is also the American view of salvation. We can identify with Miller laying down his life in sacrifice so that Ryan can return home and carry on the family name. Many would attribute Christ-like character to the sacrifice of one man dying in the place of another. Too many Americans however can hear Christ speaking these final words from the Cross. Instead of Jesus saying, “It is finished!” many hear Him say, “Earn this!”

For many, our view of salvation is “doing the best we can” and hoping that at least in God’s eyes, it is good enough to “earn” the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross. We live our lives doing religious acts to pay God back for Christ’s sacrifice. After all, we must make ourselves good enough. Many of us today do what we do at church trying to earn what Christ has already paid for us. We mount up a bunch of works, activities and projects and we turn figuratively to those sitting on the pew with us and say, “Tell me I’m a good man!” And too often the reply comes back, “You are.”

The gospel as preached in many churches today is one built on self-esteem. We tell ourselves that we are so wonderful and worthy that Jesus had to come die for us. Our slogan is like the old L’Oreal hair color commercial: “Because I’m worth it.” Paul would disagree. To the Romans he wrote: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

The whole point of Jesus’ death was that we are not worthy; we are not good people; we are not capable of saving ourselves. There is nothing we can do to pay him back. Any such attempt is an insult to him. Christ died for us before we could clean our lives up, before we could become worthy. He died for us, not because we are loveable, but because God is love. He did not die because of who we are but in spite of who we are.

ONLY TWO RELIGIONS

Many times since I first became acquainted with Share Jesus Without Fear I have used Bill Fay’s concept of only two religions. I always give credit where it is due.

In his book he states that basically there are only two religions in the world, and they consistently make two claims: 1) Jesus Christ is not God, and 2) some kind of works must be done on our part to be saved. I would like to add a third characteristic to almost all other religions as well.

Since I have worked with several different cults, other world religions, and apologetics for two decades, I have discovered another basic claim. All of them claim that the Bible alone is insufficient for salvation.

First of all, evolutionists reject the Bible right away. They claim that it is not scientific to begin with. I usually point out that evolution is not real science, but a philosophical belief system with no basis in facts. The proof for evolution and abiogenesis is non-existent.

Every cult has its own “authoritative scripture.” Mormons have the famed Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and The Doctrine and Covenants. They accept only the King James Version of the Bible “so far as it is interpreted correctly” which means as long as it can be twisted to mean what their organization says it means.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have The New World Translation, which they accept as the only valid translation because they have inserted Jehovah’s name in many places. It, too, has been twisted to support their unique beliefs.

All cults have their “prophets” and their inspired “aids” to understanding the Bible. They can usually be traced to one person who is seen as the authoritative one. Their aids are simply meant to say that they help one understand God’s word, they are absolutely essential if one is to understand it at all.

Islam, of course, has the Quran. It is the only pure word of Allah. According to their beliefs, the Bible has been corrupted. As in the case of Joseph Smith, God had to send another prophet to straighten out the mess caused by man’s “tampering” with the Scripture. If God could not keep the New Testament uncorrupted for 100 years, how can he keep the Quran pure for 1300 years and the Book of Mormon pure for more than 150 years?

What about Catholicism? Although they claim to accept the Bible as the word of God, they also have additional uninspired books. That is not the biggest problem however. The real problem lies in the fact that they ascribe to tradition an equal or even greater authority than Scripture.

Other denominations are equally at fault. While no Southern Baptist would claim to believe in a higher authority than the Scripture, often an individual congregation’s tradition outweighs the influence of the Bible. Now even the Southern Baptists have their own version of the Bible.

I am not a “KJV Only” person, however, we must all be careful of not underestimating the power of the scriptures, “which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). The Bible is sufficient!

“BY THEIR FRUITS YOU SHALL KNOW THEM”

 

People often erroneously apply these words of Jesus to Christians who do not “toe the line.” We call ourselves fruit inspectors saying that we are evaluating others to see if they are giving evidence of the Christian life. Then we use our list to discern whether or not one is, or ever was, a true believer in Christ. The problem is that each denomination has its own standard of what is the accepted fruit.

 That was not the context of this passage. In context Jesus was speaking of false prophets. Jesus said in Matthew 7: “15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” What is the fruit of a prophet? A prophecy. What is the fruit of a false prophet? A false prophecy.

 Jesus warned “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” (Matthew 24: 11) Further he said, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (verse 24). In the latter days he warned us to be on the look out for false prophets. Knowing that they are coming, we should be prepared. How do we recognize false prophets?

 Israel faced a similar dilemma when God told them through Moses that he would send another prophet like Moses. In Deuteronomy 18:18-20 God said, “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.”

 Notice the penalty for being a false prophet: “that prophet shall die.” God is serious when it comes to prophecy, when someone claims to speak for him. So how do we recognize the fruit of a prophet? The Israelites asked the same question. Verses 21, 22 “And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” The answer is that if a prophet makes even one false prophecy, he or she was to be put to death! If it does not happen, it was not from God.

 How many times does it take for a person to lose his or her virginity? Just once. How many false prophecies does one have to make to be a false prophet? Just one!

 A while back a man I work with asked me what I thought about the LDS church’s new prophet. “Did he pass the prophet’s test?” I asked. “He must have,” he said, “He got past the Twelve Apostles.” “No, I mean the biblical prophet’s test,” I said, “Even Joseph Smith didn’t pass that one!” –Silence.

 After a moment he said, “That’s the trouble with you Baptists; you always bring that up.” A legitimate point, one that was never answered.

In August 2000 two young men in white shirts and black ties sat in my living room trying to convince me that they represented the one true church. The restored church of the New Testament that had been lost until their prophet came along. I took the Bible they had given me and asked if they accepted it as authoritative. So far as it is “properly interpreted,” they said. I turned to the Deuteronomy passage quoted above and read it to them. Then I turned to the Doctrine and Covenants and showed them two prophecies that Smith had made in the name of the Lord, prophecies which have long since been proven invalid. Their response was, “We still believe Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God!” He failed the biblical test.

 In 1 John 4:1 we have the additional warning: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The biblical way to be wary of false prophets is to try them against the standard of Scripture. We dare not trust every person who claims to be a prophet or has a vision from God or has a word of wisdom. People who make such claims need to be made aware of how dangerous such statements are.

 Many years ago when I was a pastor in south Texas, a young woman came by the church and “prophesied.” People then asked the same questions. “What if she is a real prophet?” Then what she prophesied must come to pass without fail.

One Sunday I awoke with severe stomach pain. I tried my best to go to church. I made it to the office and lay on my couch during Sunday School. When church time rolled around, I could not stand without aid. I told the Chairman of Deacons, “Well it’s up to you today. I am too sick to preach.” With that I went home. (That is the only time I have ever been too sick to preach on a Sunday!) During that service, I later found out, that young woman came and sat on the front pew. (That right there should tell you she was not Baptist ; )  The college students told me that she rocked back and forth during the service and muttered under her breath. (An apt description of Old Testament False Prophets: Isaiah 8: 19 “And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?”)

 This young woman prophesied in the name of the Lord that I would be back in the pulpit that evening for church to preach the word of God. That is an easy enough prophecy to interpret clearly, without ambiguity. That evening at church time instead of being in the pulpit I was in the bathroom. That proved to be a false prophecy.

 When she showed up on the Saturday before Easter Sunday with a message from God that he wanted me to preach, I politely took the paper she gave me and put it in the trash. She had proved to be a false prophetess. What is the penalty for false prophets? Read Deuteronomy 18:20 again.

 Years later I was leading a Bible study at a mobile home park in Laredo, Texas. A woman had been seen wandering around the city going into churches telling everyone that she was Jesus Christ come back in the flesh. One day she wandered into the mobile home park. She told the manager, who was Jewish, that she was Jesus Christ. While discussing this with the manager, she asked me honestly, “How do you know that she is not Jesus Christ come back to earth?” I took the New Testament from my shirt pocket and turned to Matthew 24:4, 5, “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” And verse 11: “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” Then I went on to verses 26, 27, “Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

 “When Jesus comes back, no one will be in doubt,” I reassured her. “That’s how I know she is not Jesus. She is a false Messiah. Jesus warned us beforehand.”

So if someone claiming to be Christ, an Apostle or Prophet comes along with a “word of wisdom” or a “new revelation” or “vision” that does not agree with the Bible, remember Isaiah 8:20, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” False prophets and false teachers walk in darkness because they have no light in them. They are the “blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14). If you follow a false prophet, you will wind up in the same ditch.

 If a person claims to be a prophet, check his or her credentials. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 2:21).