(July 16, 2017) Stuart Reynolds challenges some ‘Alice’ type notions…
‘Let’s consider your age to begin with — how old are you?’
‘I’m seven and a half, exactly.’
‘You needn’t say “exactly”’, the queen remarked. ‘I can believe it without that. Now I’ll give you something to believe. I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.’
‘I can’t believe that!’ said Alice.
‘Can’t you?’ the queen said in a pitying tone. ‘Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.’
Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’
‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’
What strange mis-realities declarations indeed … ‘Wonderland jam’ notions by the queen to Alice, in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. And aren’t they just ridiculous notions?
Ridiculous ‘Gospel According to Alice’ notions in today’s church
Yet how often in some churches today have many encountered ridiculous notions… mis-realities of a gospel misrepresented?
Such is The Gospel According To Alice, where suggestions are accepted and accommodated without question and nothing is rejected because, like the queen’s ‘wonderland jam,’ what was true yesterday and may still be tomorrow, somehow isn’t today!
In The Gospel According To Alice …
1. ‘Crisis decision’ is renamed ‘My Journey’!
There is much vagueness and fuzziness in the church of today – we have lost the ‘art’ of the compelling personal testimony, where salvation is conscious, clear, convicting and thus confident.
Time without number over the last 20 years, when I could get somebody to testify, as a pastor my heart has sank as I heard about coming to church, serving in the church, appreciating the fellowship of the church, an almost slipping and sliding into faith and so on – all about that person’s ‘my journey!’
There was no mention of a crisis decision point, conviction of sin, brokenness over sin leading to sincere repentance and a cleansed heart, renewed mind and new spiritual appetite in a changed life … one where Christ has not just been casually ‘accepted’ and adopted – but acknowledged and followed as Saviour and Lord forever from that point/moment of genuine conversion.
We have thus ditched assurance and been left with assumption. We are on this ‘journey’ so we tell ourselves and everybody else – and it’s ‘my journey’! So not only do we go in the direction of our own choosing but we also set the pace and tone of it all.
But Jesus said, ‘I am the way…’ (John 14:6). When Jesus invites us to come to him and we do, it’s we who do the following and he who does the leading in terms of direction, pace, tone and whatever else: When we come to Jesus Christ ‘our journey’ is at an end in favour of ‘his way’!
Many of us will remember where we were when Kennedy was assassinated, when Neil Armstrong stepped on to the moon. When we hear ‘9/11’ we know what that means, remembering where we were. Yet many who call themselves Christian cannot point to a moment of conscious decision where they encountered Jesus and full salvation and their lives was never the same again!
As I write these words it’s July 4, 2017, and I can vividly recall another July 4 … way back in 1978! I came to Christ that day at a Sunday school camp in Dunblane, Scotland… my own ‘Independence Day!’
In the words of G T Speer…
‘I never shall forget the day
When all the burdens from my soul were rolled away
It made me happy, glad and free
I’ll sing and shout it
For he’s everything to me.’
2. ‘Favour of God’ is relegated in favour of ‘The favour of man’
Jesus, in John 12:31, made it clear that Satan is in control of this secular world. But in John 17:14 he declared of his followers: ‘…they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.’
In 1 John 5:19NLT the apostle affirms that Satan is indeed in charge … but he had already boldly stated that Christians are overcomers because of Jesus within (1 John 4:4).
This being so does it not raise concern when many of the buzz words and phrases of the modern church we now hear and speak are no longer drawn from scripture, but from the secular business world, where the talk is of ‘paradigms’ and moving on to the ‘next level’?
The lyrics and dynamics of what we accept as worship songs, on closer investigation and deeper reflection, are not all that far removed in substance and character from the secular ‘love song.’
Is it not a troubling trend that many of the local churches of established denominations no longer present themselves as Christian centres? Baptist, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, Anglican – the appellation is either completely discarded or so reduced in size on the church signage. The result we have numerous buildings that once proudly proclaimed they were a Christian church no longer doing so.
‘Getting the people in’ has become king! Striving for the ‘right sound and look’ – much of it no different to the world without God but we have convinced ourselves is how we are going to ‘win the world …
- Don’t offend – affirm!
- Don’t preach and press – talk and amuse!
- Don’t condemn anyone – accept everything!
- Don’t teach and declare – suggest and discuss!
Such can never be reconciled with God or his word! Doctrine and declaration do matter. Jude said, ‘contend for the faith’ (Jude 3) – but many don’t know what ‘the faith’ is!
John warned and insisted: ‘Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son’ (2 John 9-11) – yet we seem consumed to obtain ‘the favour of man’ more than we do the approval of God.
Paul was so concerned that he wrote the same thing twice in as many verses: ‘But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned’ (Galatians 1:8-9) – yet how many are preaching a different gospel and thus a different Christ?
It is not enough to be sincere because we can be sincerely wrong. The Bible doesn’t talk about a mere ‘building’ where self and people are at the centre, but of a dynamic, living ‘body’ where Christ is the head – a ‘kingdom’ where Christ rules…a ‘church’ where Christ is pre-eminent (see Colossians 1:15-20).
3.‘Accountable discipleship’ is rubbished in favour of ‘anarchy’!
And so the hard questions go unasked… the tests and measures and disciplines of faith unheeded and not implemented…the gospel of Christ and the church he loves are brought into almost continual disrepute because of what is consequently harboured there.
Pastors who do dare to preach scripturally and confront sin are ritually fired and ousted, while the rebels are allowed to remain. God’s holy book has been edited beyond recognition as a result of ‘clever’ house groups where the starting point on an exegetically unexplained scripture is, ‘What does this mean to you?’
As a pastor, to me those are perhaps the most frightening and dangerous words one could ever hear – not a ‘Wonderland’ but a ‘Westworld’! A personal faith in Christ has become a private faith in Christ – yet the truth is that while true faith is personal, it can never be private!
The result of all this is a golden calf of anarchy, akin to Exodus 32, where no matter how loud the noise of celebration and positive the claims made, and the fervency of emotion behind such, it is no less a faith/gospel of our own making, even our ‘dreams and visions.’
Turning from the gospel according to Alice to the true Gospel According to Jesus
To meet the need of the hour, the gospel of Christ remains steadfast in its truth, clarity, power and relevance.
In the midst of his confinement in prison, the apostle Paul boldly declared: ‘God’s word is not chained’ (2 Timothy 2:9).
We must let God’s word speak for itself and mean what he says.
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ is …
1. A sufficient gospel!
‘(God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life 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, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires’ (2 Peter 1:3-4).
2. An evident gospel!
‘For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins’ (2 Peter 1:5-9).
3. A confident gospel!
‘Therefore, my brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:10-11).
Geoffrey King’s pragmatic statement has been often quoted by church leaders (such as John Piper in Piper on Technological Distraction): ‘We must never talk about the failure of Christianity. It is impossible for Christianity to fail. What fails is the shabby counterfeit of the real thing that we are willing to put up with.’
God answers by fire, not ‘worldly feelings’
Vance Havner contended: ‘There’s a famine of the hearing the word of the Lord. Ahab and Jezebel sit in high places. Idolatry abounds. And yet God has ‘is faithful remnant. We need an Elijah who can face Ahab and call convocation on Carmel, a confrontation with Baal, and a showdown with forces of evil… We’re afraid to face old Goliath today with sling and stone. We want to wear the latest equipment, and Saul’s armoury is working overtime… ‘
He went on to state: ‘You can’t run a church as you would a business corporation. You can’t work up mere human enthusiasm to put over the work of the Lord. We all give lip service, of course, to the Holy Spirit… But actually we’re so wired up to our own devices that if the fire doesn’t fall from heaven, we can turn on a switch and produce some false fire of our own. And if there’s no sound of a mighty rushing wind, we’ve got the bellows all set to blow hot air instead. But God answers by fire, not by feelings, not by fame, not by finances.’
Such was Elijah’s God… let him rule today! And let us honour his Son, the Christian’s Saviour and head of the church!
Stuart Reynolds, Ears 2 Hear Ministries, is UK based ministering as an itinerant preacher, teacher in evangelism and revivalism in the UK and USA. Links: firstname.lastname@example.org / mobile +44 (0) 7816 853 551 / http://sdhareynolds.wixsite.com/earstohearministries.
A caring pastor speaks candidly to the ear of the church regarding the reality that many pastors are hurting, even on the edge of quitting due to feeling like a failure having had the last embers of self-worth kicked out of them. Stuart Reynolds writes from the heart and pastoral experience encouraging broken pastors that they are not useless, that they can move on and still benefit the kingdom despite the reality of foolish congregational censure and non-appreciative boards that don’t understand the challenges pastors face.