By David B. Smith
A nearby church has an awesome web site. The pastor’s sermons are insightful, with sparkling illustrations. The potluck lunches are delicious. People are friendly.
Is this how a new Christian should select a church?
In a popular Doonesbury cartoon, a couple is church-shopping, trying out one congregation after another. “Scottie,” the chaplain at Little Church of Walden, makes the mistake of mentioning words like sin and redemption to the new recruits. “Wait a minute!” one protests. “Are you getting into the idea of guilt?” The pastor gulps and admits that, yes, guilt and repentance are part of the program. The couple is about to walk away in indignation but hesitate because the church does have a nice racquetball court.
There is no denying that a gracious, professional approach is important for a growing church. Strong, Bible-themed sermons are vital. A friendly, embracing, forgiving spirit is absolutely essential; Jesus was clear in observing: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). But on top of these important matters, it is paramount for a church to be devoted to following and obeying all Bible truth as it is revealed in Scripture. Rev. Jim Jones led the People’s Temple into one macabre false doctrine after another; the movement culminated in a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. A church in Topeka, Kansas has made itself infamous around the world for picketing funerals of fallen American soldiers and shrieking that God hates America and is punishing society for a variety of sinful crimes.
Several key realities remind the faithful Christian today that we must be discerning souls, prayerful but with eyes wide open to see dangers.
Lucifer has always despised both Christ and His pure church. Revelation typically uses the imagery of a dragon to represent Satan in his blind hatred: His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child [Jesus] the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter (12:4, 5). King Herod, of course, was rabidly eager to kill the infant Jesus; all through the years of the Lord’s ministry, Satan schemed to thwart and kill Him.
The same Revelation passage continues to detail the dragon’s enmity against the woman, prophetically a representative of the pure Christian church of the early centuries. Interestingly, the last book of the Bible has both a pure woman, which would typify a noble church loyal to the original gospel . . . and a fallen or harlot-like woman, as found in chapter 17. But here in chapter 12, the pure woman (church) is forced to flee into the wilderness where, for long centuries of the Dark Ages, she is essentially in hiding.
Why did God lead bold men to champion the Protestant Reformation? If truth is not crucial, and if teaching error isn’t a serious danger, the Holy Spirit would never have led men like John Wycliffe and Martin Luther to lead the wrenching but necessary move away from the growing apostasies of the Middle Ages.
We shouldn’t be surprised that error and confusion would hit the infant church full-force; Jesus Himself predicted this. “False Christs and false prophets will appear,” He warned, “and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible.” And the medieval Christian Church in the A.D. era — which is the common home of our spiritual ancestors – tragically fell into one deadly deception after another. Pagan festivals crept into the Church; the veneration and worship of Mary as a co-redemptrix and mediatrix (intercessor with Christ) took on idolatrous proportions. It seemed plain that Jesus’ warning undercuts the human idea that the official teaching role of papal infallibility would be safeguarded by the Holy Spirit. The recent book Catholics and Protestants: Do They Now Agree? graciously outlines the continuing 21st-century divide between these two great faith systems.
Most grievous was the corrupt teaching that good deeds carried salvation merit with them, earning a believer heavenly credits and a reduced sentence in purgatory — another nonbiblical pillar. Thankfully, through the direct leading of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of righteousness by faith in Christ alone was recovered through Luther’s bold scholarship; Wycliffe translated the Bible into English, leading to a rebirth of primitive Christianity that has swept the globe.
How, then, do we understand the Remnant Church concept in these last days? Revelation 14 is a fascinating proclamation coming from three mighty angels flying above our world as events shudder to a climactic and victorious conclusion. The first continues to shout the pure gospel of the cross: salvation through faith in Jesus alone, with no human substitutes. Then this invitation: Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.
The second and third angels follow immediately with a warning about the fall of “Babylon,” a power-thirsty church/state coalition of corrupt worship mixed in with an elaborate system of works. All through this and the preceding chapter 13 John paints a colorful word picture of apostasy buttressed by persecuting power — just as in the Dark Ages. Innocent Christians will experience economic hardship and even a boycott if they don’t succumb to worshiping this still-false “beast power.”
And yet a pure church will survive! Back in chapter 12, John gives details: And the dragon was wroth [angry] with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (17). The crisp Message paraphrase: The children who keep God’s commands and hold firm to the witness of Jesus.
Two points are worth noting. First, to obey Jesus in a spirit of loving gratitude for Calvary is not legalism, not at all in the persecuting “Babylon” spirit! Jesus Himself said to all His followers: ‘You are My friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). And this Revelation passage says boldly that the holy church in the end days, while firmly embracing the gospel of grace, will be faithful in obeying Jesus to the fullest possible extent. A beautiful description of the remnant movement is found in 14:4: They kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
Secondly, there is a wonderful, growing movement among Protestant Christians to fully adopt the first angel’s gospel invitation as it exalts Jesus for His power during Creation Week — as is found in the fourth, or Sabbath, commandment. Note: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day (Exodus 20:11). Several groups and many individuals recognize the importance of honoring the weekly Sabbath that God established as a day of worship and rest. The Adventist faith is a good example of those who have made a radical remnant commitment to Jesus and His saving gospel of grace--which includes full, joyous obedience to each and every one of the Ten Commandments, including a return to honoring and uplifting the seventh-day Sabbath.
View related article: Humble Holiness | Click here for more information about Seventh-day Adventists
David B. Smith writes from California. (13 of 28) His web page is Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information. Biblebay