Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Examine then embrace

This past Sunday evening much of America tuned in to what became one of the highest viewed showing of the Academy Awards. Oscar after Oscar was handed out over the night for the variety of categories. The Hollywood elite lined up in outfits more expensive than two years of my salary to show just how in touch they are with the common man (sarcasm intended).  They smiled and thank a list of people who helped them achieve such an accomplishment.

Every year in one award show or another someone mentions God or the name of Christ in their acceptance speech.  Since “Jesus”, “Christ”, or “Lord” is more specific, the general thanking of God is more readily accepted by the masses.  This year was no exception with Matthew McConaughey thanking God during his own speech.  Here is the clip:

At 1:30, Matthew (and yes, I am only using his first name because that last name is a beast to spell) says “Now, first off, I want to thank God. ‘Cause that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, “When you’ve got God, you got a friend. And that friend is you”. 

Aside from the karma-laced statement that “gratitude reciprocates”, who was Matthew referring to in this expression of appreciation? I have capitalized "God" in my writing but that is only because I am referencing the one, true and living God.  Is this who Matthew is referring to? Is he speaking of the Triune God of the Bible, the Creator, the Redeemer, and only God? Honestly...I don't know. He could be. He could have actually been converted to Christ moments before his speech by the working of the Holy Spirit and the regeneration of his heart to repentance and faith. But how would I know that simply by his speech? I wouldn't and I can't.  Neither can anyone else.

Yet there are many Christians who are suddenly praising him for thanking God and his supposed boldness for doing so. Apparently most of us professing Christians forget the error of quickly hoisting anyone who could possibly, perchance, maybe, hopefully be a believer in God on our shoulders. How many friends do you know who follow Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, TD Jakes, Joel Olsteen, or Oprah because they claim to believe in God or even use the name of Jesus? What about the praises of young parents towards Miley Cyrus only a few years ago for professing to be a Christian? That didn't exactly end up well did it?  Which Christians are still holding her high as an example of one who is born-again by the blood of Christ?  (Insert chirping cricket sound here!)

Have we not learned our lesson yet? Apparently not!  Does Scripture warn us again such knee-jerk accolades?

In 1 Timothy 5:22 Paul advises young Timothy:

"Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure".

The immediate context speaks of the ordaining of men into church offices. Timothy was to carefully examine these men prior to allowing them to serve into positions of leadership. The caution was to protect the body from false converts and heretical teaching. Note also that the verse also warms him to not take part in the sins of others and stay pure. If Timothy did not heed this command then he would entangle himself with a false convert if he was later made known to others.

Matthew Henry says in his commentary on this passage:

"Some understand it of absolution: "Be not too hasty in laying hands on any; remit not the censure of the church to any, till time be first taken for the proof of their sincerity in their repentance, neither be partakers of other men's sins, implying that those who are too easy in remitting the censures of the church encourage others in the sins which are thus connived at, and make themselves thereby guilty." Observe, We have great need to watch over ourselves at all times, that we do not make ourselves partakers of other men's sins. "Keep thyself pure, not only from doing the like thyself, but from countenancing it, or being any way accessory to it, in others."

Matthew Henry asserts that this is not just whether the person is able and ready to serve in leadership but whether their lives have shown the fruit of repentance.  Elders, leaders, and teachers of the Word are held to a higher standard of judgment (James 3:1) because of their responsibility to carefully handle the Scriptures. But when does this kind of examination of these men begin? Does it begin when they express their desire to serve in such a position? No. It should begin upon their profession of faith. Every preacher, Elder, teacher, Deacon, or other church leader began their service to Christ in the pews and their homes.  Their testimony to salvation is the starting point of their examination. 

Some local churches today apply this in regards to membership by only allowing someone to join after a period of examination.  When the person expresses the desire to become a part of that fellowship, the Elders spend time answering questions the person may have and inquiring of their testimony and life in Christ.  For new converts, this testimony is rather shorter than for one who has been in the faith for many more years but it nevertheless should be one that is focused on the saving grace of Christ.  Only after the Elders are assured that the person understands the doctrines of the church, has had all their questions answered, and has been observed to show fruit of salvation are they then permitted to request membership in the local body.  This is the point where some churches differ though.  Depending upon one’s denomination, either the Elders vote to allow the person to join or their request is brought before the congregation as a whole for a vote accompanied by the assurance from the Elders of appropriate examination of the individual.  The period of time for examination will vary depending upon both the church and the person in question.

This is an important and vital aspect of guarding the local fellowship from sin.  The Elders are accountable to God not only who they allow to preach from the pulpit but how careful they are in allowing for others to actively participate in the work of that local church.  One of the benefits of membership is the access one has to other functions within that local church.

Immediately, I know the objections that some reading this may have.

“That sounds legalistic.” 

“The church in the New Testament didn’t have such stringent requirements.”

“Don’t you trust their verbal testimony?”

And the list could go on.  Is it legalistic?  No, it is cautious and loving.  Does it exceed the requirements in the New Testament?  Not when we examine the whole of how the church was forming through Acts and the epistles.  Don’t you trust their verbal testimony?  When has someone’s word been sufficient for not examining them? 

Let’s frame it this way:

I come to your church and talk to your Elder (Pastor) before the service.  I say I believe in God and thank Him for everything He has graced me with (sound familiar?).  Then I tell him that I want to join the fellowship this morning and would like to be brought before the congregation to be welcomed into their membership.  Maybe a few parishioners know a little about me.  Maybe others know nothing of me.  Should I be allowed to join and given full access to everything membership affords me?  Should I be allowed to teach a class, oversee the church budget, have access to the building, or work in the nursery?  If you toss out one of the objections against examination and answer no to these questions then you are being inconsistent in your position.

No one in their right mind would allow a stranger to sit in the nursery with kids without first examining him.  No Elder worth his salt would allow someone to step up and teach the congregation without examining him.  No church would allow a previously unknown man access to the building and the church funds without first examining him.  So why then would it be kosher to throw our arms around everyone to “thanks God” in a public forum?  Whether it is joining a church or linking arms with a public figure, caution and care must be demonstrated so as to not cause harm to the name of Christ.

The greatest objection to such careful examination is probably the most pitiful of them all:  “At least it gets people talking”.   But talking about who?  With such a vague reference to deity even a Hindu could clap his hands at such an expression as Matthew’s.  Moses did not venture down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments in hand and see the golden calf erected by the Israelites saying “Well, at least it gets them talking about religion”.  Now read that last part again and think about how ridiculous of a statement that is…then apply it to Matthew’s statement at the award ceremony and realize that he could have very well been talking about his own self-constructed golden calf, a god of his own making.

I believe the major motivation for wanting to cheer to Matthew is rather simple:  many are looking for that one big “star” to represent Christianity in the spotlight.  For some reason this is thought to validate faith in Christ.  The hope is that this shows the world that we’re not a bunch of ignorant, back woods, hell fire and brimstone, maniacs who walk around blindly without any evidence of our beliefs.  But doing so shifts the focus and faith from Christ to the new representative of the Christian faith.  The person is quickly adopted as the spokesperson for our faith with the dreams of validating the claims of Scripture rest on their shoulders. 

When will we learn that our hope is not dependent on worldly validation or mountains of evidence?  When will we stop embracing every person who mentions some belief in a higher being as though we have the ability to adopt them into the faith ourselves?  Let us instead examine the fruit of those who profess Christ before we jump to wrap our arms around them.  This type of examination, as with all things, can be taken to the extreme if left up to the devices of men.  But if we instead lovingly walk alongside that person we will soon come to know if their profession is genuine or temporarily fueled by some fleeting emotion.

There will always be those who seem to walk with Christ for years only to be revealed as apostates, but if we take care initially I believe we will end up with fewer issues than we have in recent past.  Not everyone who mentions Christ, God, or belief in Heaven gets a free pass…no matter who they are.  Check the fruit before you bite into it too deeply, lest you end up with a handful of rotten evidence contrary to your initial inclinations.

Thanks for stopping by!

In Christ,

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