In a vision the Lord gave me, I saw small white castles across the landscape, all flying white flags with red crosses on them, dotting the countryside as far as I could see. I instantly knew these represented "pastoral kingdoms." These were places where the local villagers could run in and find refuge when they felt threatened by their enemy. This verse came to mind: "The Name of the Lord is like a strong tower that the righteous will run into and be glad." Notice, there was no mention in that verse of a literal tower; it's God Himself who is our Protector. That's where our help comes from; the One who made the Heavens and the Earth.
These "castles" were a demonic deception for they were NOT really a place of safety; not the "sanctuary" they were thought to be. Today, too many perceive or expect these "pastoral kingdoms" (church buildings) to be places of holiness inhabited by the Lord where they will be accepted by all, loved unconditionally, and have their troubles cared for and needs met. Too often, these same individuals ultimately leave after failing to find what they thought they were looking for, i.e., their personal salvation. Sure, many will "get their ticket punched" and consider themselves "saved" or "born again" but, in time, they discover that these sanctuaries are mere buildings and that they were better off BEFORE they ever entered the doors. Many attest to feelings of having been judged, weighed, measured and found wanting and wind up turning their back on Christianity all together, some embracing false Christs and false religions. Church splits, poor leadership, boredom...it seems there's always something to prune the trees.
Jesus said there'd be days like this.
A KINGDOM OF DENOMINATIONS?
In the early 1500s, a German monk named Martin Luther became so convicted of his sins that he spent up to six hours confessing them. As he studied the Scriptures he found that salvation didnít come through anything he did, but simply through trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Notice: Salvation was the key. He listed the contradictions between what the Scriptures said and what his church taught on the matter, and nailed his "95 Theses" to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther became the first to "protest" against the established church, and thus has been called the father of the Protestant Church.
Since that time, there have been many MORE disagreements causing many MORE splits. How much water one should baptize with? Dunk or sprinkle? How to sing what and why? Who should govern whom, etc. These things and many others have caused thousands of Christian splinter groups. Many of these groups are convinced that they alone are right and that all others are wrong.
How can any one of them call themselves 'the true Church" when the best any of them can truly be called is the first "true denomination"?
Religious division is not a new concept. When the kingdom of Israel split into the northern and southern segments, each chose a different style of worship. Jeroboam and his advisors wanted Bethel to be Israel's chief religious center, intending to compete with Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:25-33). Though Jeroboam was a charismatic leader and organizer who had popular support, Bethel's religion became idolatry leading to Israel's eventual downfall. We can go all the way back to Cane and Abel and find division where the people's service and love of God are concerned.
A denomination might hold fast to a man-made tradition that was handed down over centuries and ratified by the clergy. If the authorities believe that tradition is equal to the Scriptures, then the practice often becomes infallible. Divisions flourish when individuals are unable to differentiate between God's ordinances and man-made practices.
When the church at Corinth was faced with many elements of division, Paul encouraged cooperation among members, both Jew and Gentile (1 Corinthians 12:12). Despite their differences, each believer had one thing in common; faith in Christ. This truth is where the Church found its unity. Paul wanted to reinforce the relationship between the Jew and Gentile in the early Church while discouraging competition. "May God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," (Romans 15:5-6).
Despite all the confusion, Christian churches DO manage to subscribe to certain foundational beliefs such as the deity, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, "The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are his," (2 Timothy 2:19). So, despite all our manmade dogmas, doctrine and traditions, God knows who belongs to Him and whose hearts are far from Him. He is not fooled by false piety, self-righteousness and mere religion. Thomas Jefferson wrote about a preacher, Richard Mote, who "exclaimed aloud to his congregation that he did not believe there was a Quaker, Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist in Heaven, having paused to give his hearers time to stare and to wonder. He added that, in Heaven, God knew no distinctions."
As Believers in Jesus, we all must share the same essentials of our Christian faith. God gives us unique personalities and abilities to worship, serve, and follow Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church; our King. "There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all," (Ephesians 4:4-6). As one retired Church of Christ minister said at a conference, "Don't fool yourselves! Not every individual sitting in your pews believes the things you want them to believe. That being the case, we might as WELL encourage unity in the Body of Christ!" It's true. I've spoken with scores of people who are not only unfamiliar with the basic tenets of their denomination, but have admitted to attending a particular church solely because of family pressure or for societal reasons.
GOD IS DOING A NEW THING
Proverbs 6:17-19 lists seven things that God hates. Solomon said, "These six things doth the LORD hate; yea, seven are an abomination unto him..." One of these hated "things" is referred to as "dissension among brothers." Over the decades, I believe it's the Gospel of Salvation that has caused the GREATEST dissension among brothers throughout the Body of Christ. Why? Because, when we peel back the onion skins, it seems each of Christianity's 3,000 denominations has its own concept of what it means to be "saved" or " born again." Whether its our terminology, traditions, dogmas, doctrine or rituals, whether we utilize a Sinner's Prayer, a Profession of Faith, or Water Baptism, it's those things that serve to cause division between the brethren because our focus is so much upon the "thing" that we prescribe to and NOT on advancing the Kingdom of God and promotion of the Cause of Christ. Oddly, all adherents would agree that they are advancing the Kingdom. The sad fact is that we are, as a whole, advancing in the wrong direction.
We're living in a day when God is introducing us to a "New Authority" that will alter the way scores of Believers across denominational lines will begin to view every aspect of their lives, their work, their relationships and the way they worship our God. I hate to break it to you, folks, but the authority of the Gospel of Salvation that we've all grown to know and love, is gone.
When John the Baptist came preaching his Baptism of Repentance, it was essentially a Baptism of Salvation and the Jews came running. Why? Because, for the first time, a sinner could have his sins forgiven through a Baptism of Repentance. This was a brand new message from the LORD GOD, never before heard of in all of human history! The children of Israel did not have a way to have their sins forgiven (without sacrifice of life) until the moment that John preached a Baptism of Repentance. Imagine how they must have been overjoyed! Peter preached to the Jews, "Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins!" Paul, on the other hand, preached, "If any man be in Christ, He is a NEW creation, the old has gone, the new has come." When the world sees that we've REALLY been transformed and we show them something they WANT, they'll come to us in droves for they've become jealous for what we say we've found in Christ. Right now, they couldn't care less - a decision based upon observation.
The authority of that "Salvation" message was acceptable to the natural minds because it's what was being sought after by the Jews. Even today, many Christianized Muslims will attest that, in Islam, one of their greatest frustrations was that there was no way to get rid of the guilt of sin. Mankind WANTS to be saved and has gleefully responded to a message and procedures that showed us HOW. From Water Baptism to Professions of Faith to recited prayers of salvation like the ABC's of Salvation or Four Spiritual Laws, we have devised one method after another to show people how they can become "born again" or "saved" according to our manmade, non-Scriptural methods.
Interestingly, there are over 30 references to some variation of the phrase "follow Me" or "follow Him" and only ONE phrase that tells us "we must be born again." Deep in our spirits, we knew that the Salvation message did not produce what we wanted it to produce; we found it wanting. But like the Jews who were forever longing for a means of personal redemption, too often, we aren't being shown that there IS one. Surely, we've all seen that the results of most people's "salvation" experiences were far from exemplary. In fact, multitudes have, themselves, realized that they were not saved or born again for they saw absolutely NO TRANSFORMATION had taken place in their own lives. Charles Finney, who single-handedly assisted 50,000 people in getting "saved" or "born again" later repented after having met so many people who personally testified that no perceivable changes had taken place after that initial emotional appeal and response. That's why, even today, so many Christians find themselves STILL seeking after something else, even after they've supposedly "found Jesus." It's why we hear so many news reports of ministers engaged in sin and even wonder why, in our very own lives, a certain sin so easily besets us every time.
The one thing that has appealed to and attracted multitudes to Christianity throughout Christian history is no longer "packing them in", i.e., the Gospel of Salvation. When we examine, with spiritual eyes, the mass exodus that's taking place across the planet every week - people who are leaving organized Christianity at a rate of about 53,000 weekly while 3,800 American churches fold up annually, despite more and more referring to themselves as "born again Christians - we have to ask ourselves what the Spirit of God is up to.
So, one might ask, if it's no longer the Gospel of Salvation, what is this NEW Authority - the NEW message? Simply put, it's the Gospel of the Kingdom. You see, the Kingdom of God has only ONE authority, that's our King, Jesus.
He wants His Church back.
And He'll get it.
WHY PREACH THE KINGDOM MESSAGE?
As many are aware, the word "church" comes from the Greek word "ekklesia" which means "the called out ones." You may be surprised to discover that the word was never intended to describe anything of any religious significance. Actually, the word referred to a forum of privileged Roman men in any of the Empire's conquered territories, the local government of a town. The ekklesia's main function was to turn the local, conquered people into Roman Citizens. In other words, the people were to become assimilated into the ways of Rome through these men exposing them to Roman culture, art, science, literature, entertainment, government...everything.
When Christians eventually began using the term to describe themselves and the mission they were engaged in for Christ, it challenged the political autonomy of the Roman Empire. The very use of the term was seen as a challenge to the authority of the Emperor. Furthermore, the Christian ekklesia included women, children, slaves and other socially-excluded people who were not only included and belonged, but were given a voice. This actually appealed to the masses of oppressed people. In short, Rome saw in Christianity a counter-culture that drew upon the authority of God, contrasting the Roman political and social world. This subversive form of community spread like wildfire throughout the empire, and was perceived by Rome as a threat.
The Kingdom of GOD was at hand! It was fluid, local, accessible, approachable and crossed all societal, economical, national, political, racial, generational and gender boundaries, just as it should be doing today.
The Church is supposed to be the Divine Government of God among the nations. So that the people can become the people of God, the Church is supposed to impact society in such a way that the Kingdom is advanced.
The problem? Once we packed the pews as a result of our "salvation" message, the Church became introverted and turned in upon itself. Jesus said "I will build my church," not "build a church upon Me." Big difference, do you see it? Though the Scriptures instruct us to "GO" and tell, today's churches are too often saying "Come and listen." Society's keen to it. Quite skeptical these days, in fact.
The Church STILL consists of "the called out one's," not from a religious standpoint but from a governmental position. It's the government of the human heart that matters. We are Ambassadors of Christ, Paul said. An Ambassador represents a government and wherever we go, we represent God's Divine Government, not merely the Christian religion or any particular flavor of denomination.
The King is in charge of this Kingdom. We represent the Divine Government of God and our basic mission is to tell people that the King loves them, forgives them and desires relationship with them.
THE CHURCH OF THE KING IS A CHURCH OF KINGS
Never fear! The Kingdom of God is ALREADY resident within you because the KING already resides within you. Remember, God's not "up there" somewhere. He lives in YOU!
You are His priests.
Yes, YOU! Jesus is your High Priest.
See for yourself: God declared to Moses way back in Exodus 19:5-5, "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel." First Peter 2:9 reads, "You are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, God's own people, to proclaim the glorious deeds of God..." Revelation 5:10 reads, "And hast made us unto our God a kingdom of priests, and we shall reign on the Earth."
When Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is at hand," He was basically saying, "The invisible, invincible Kingdom of God is within your grasp - you can TOUCH it. You're SO NEAR! It's right here...I am IT!"
We have no concept of Kings and Kingdoms in the West. But wherever the King goes, so goes the Kingdom. Wherever His Ambassadors go, they represent the Kingdom as well and have all of its powers backing them. I heard of a missionary who was walking in Africa with a guide. Suddenly, the guide pulled the missionary low to the ground, forcing him to bow as he did the same. Just then, a runner ran by carrying a message with the King's seal. The guide told the missionary that anyone with the King's seal was as good as being the King and was to be treated as such.
That's the concept. You ARE the righteousness of God in Christ. In other words, when God sees you, He sees Jesus. So does Satan. He's very aware of the ultimate power that resides in God's people and he trembles at the thought. Until we renew our minds to that fact, he continues to stimulate our imaginations and "mess with our heads" till we start to believe his deceptions. That's why we must understand that the battle is for our minds. We are instructed to "cast down all vain imaginations and everything that exalts itself above the knowledge of God." When these anti-Kingdom, anti-Christ, anti-Truth notions creep back in, speak to them aloud. "In the Name of Jesus, I come against you lying spirits. I am a child of the King, a servant of the Kingdom. I'm one of God's priests upon the Earth and you have no right to me. Jesus is my Lord. He OWNS me. So, by the authority of His Name and by the power of the Holy Spirit who raised Him from the dead and now lives in me, I command you to GO!"
Something like that.
THE PROBLEM OF COUNTERFEIT UNITY
The World Council of Churches is generally perceived as a good thing. I've participated in many interdenominational gatherings myself and there was always a sweet atmosphere there with no one stepping on anyone else's denominational toes. Where ecumenism is concerned, the first organization that springs to mind is the World Council of Churches (WCC). In my opinion, the only measuring stick regarding who is with Jesus - the King - and who is against Him, MUST be the Gospel of the Kingdom. The next question must certainly be, "Are you building Christ's Kingdom or your own group's?
The Bangkok conference of the WCC was opened by the president of the World Buddhist Society. In her prayer she called on "the gods of all religions" to save mankind. Sorry, lady, but King Jesus has already accomplished this. That's not a Kingdom-minded person.
The Nairobi conference of the WCC expressed itself in favor of the more intimate unification of humanity. One of the sessions on spirituality was attended by Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Pentecostal Christians, as well as Hindus, Buddhists and an atheist. Atheists, too? No Kingdom people in that group.
At the 1983 WCC conference in Vancouver, Canada, explicit recognition was given to the traditional religion of the Red Indians. A totem pole was erected in honor of all their tribal spirits. Wrong king once again.
At the 1991 WCC conference at Canberra in Australia, recognition was again given to the traditional tribal religion of the host country. Witchdoctors of the Australian Aborigines made a ritual fire with wet gum-tree leaves, from which thick clouds of smoke arose. The 4000 representatives to the conference were requested to walk through the smoke in order to obtain the blessing of the ancestral spirits. Some of the representatives said that this was a very wonderful experience as the presence of the Holy Spirit could also be sensed in the smoke. There was a spirit present that's true, but it wasn't the Spirit of King Jesus.
At the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Council's "Decree on Ecumenism" states that ecumenical activity cannot result in changing any aspect of the Catholic faith. This foundational principle is reflected in the post conciliar documents dealing with ecumenism. For example, Post Conciliar Document No. 42 says that the purpose of ecumenism is to transform the thinking and behavior of non-Catholics so that eventually all Christians will be united in one Church. It states, "This unity, we believe, dwells in the Catholic Church." In other words, "unity" means that all Christians will become Roman Catholics. This information was provided by Mary Ann Collins, a former Catholic Nun. If this former nun's information is accurate, is this the attitude of a denomination bent upon advancing the Gospel of the Kingdom, or the Kingdom of Rome? Sad thing is most of the world's Catholics are clueless to this agenda and many actually disagree with it. Among the rank and file can be found scores of "Jesus lovers" who want to hear His Kingdom Gospel preached.
They want to see it modeled and be taught how.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE EDIFICE
The idea of being a community is essential to being the ekklesia. Our English word "community" comes from the Latin communis. The com means "together" and munis means "ready to be of service together." People who are in community are not only in the same boat, but they are rowing in the same direction; toward the same goal. Here is the genius of community; people are stronger together than they are apart. "Two are better than one" (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12) and "Two cannot walk together unless they are agreed (Amos 3:3).
The ekklesia must be a Community that actually impacts society. Parish the notion of the lost merely finding their way to a pew of a local church. There MUST be more to it than that. Multitudes are slipping out the back door while we're counting noses in the friendly confines. Though your personal experience with organized religion may be wonderful, for many it's not filling the bill. Is the problem with them or with the institution?
Folks, in my ministry, I hear it constantly. People say all kinds of things when they don't have to look you in the eye and an on-line ministry is ideal for them to "tell it like it is." They are tired of hypocrisy. They watch the news and the stories of fallen ministers are legion. They are tired of hearing from church to church how they can become an ideal member of this group or that rather than an ideal Christian. They feel condemned when they "open up" in an effort want to alleviate their guilt. They want to be set free from bondages and bad habits but are feeling judged because they have those things. They want a RELATIONSHIP with God but are, instead, being taught how to be RELIGIOUS. We're trying to get them "saved" using unscriptural techniques and repeated prayers and rituals that are nowhere to be found in the pages of Holy Writ.
Many claim that they love Jesus, read the Word daily, pray circles around many church-goers, but have "had it to here" with mere "CHURCH-ianity."
They just want to be loved and accepted. There are MILLIONS of them out there; Christians flying below radar. God knows their names. They're feared by demons as well.
Regarding the ekklesia of ancient Rome, the Emperors saw that, instead of being a threat, this community could actually hold the Empire together. So, the Church and the State were merged. This new concept of being Christian and Church in many ways reduced the impact of the original form of ekklesia which was distinctive, local and relational. The church as a department of state became oppressive, imperialistic, power-driven, immoral and hierarchical. God, in His infinite mercy and loving kindness continued to do things through this manmade style of church as true worshippers sought to find Him there - and He still does so to this day - but the distinctiveness and subversiveness of this brand of Church as a sign of God's kingdom was drastically diminished.
Statistically, it's shrinking and has, for the greatest part, lost its societal impact.
Throughout history, whenever Christians chose to break from the prescribed methods of organized Christianity, they were ostracized and suffered great persecution. Catholics killed Protestants and Protestants killed Catholics as well as each other. And the world has not been impressed. Today, the only part of the universal Church that is growing and thriving is in the third world where persecution is the norm and Christians of various stripes are banding together in order to survive.
Incredible miracles are taking place, not within our manmade denominations or our ornate edifices, but in mud huts in villages and in caves and rice fields by nameless people who simply "get it" and desire to serve their King Jesus.
Transformation of lives is taking place. By transformation, we aren't taking about a Baptist who becomes a Catholic or a Methodist who goes Pentecostal. We aren't referring to a 30-year backslider who shocks the community by walking into Sunday school either. No, we're talking about a person who makes a complete reversal in who he is. The drunk-turned-preacher. The hooker- turned-super Christian. That sort of thing. We're talking about complete transformation.
It can happen. I see it all the time. It happened to me. But it's too rarely occurring in traditional church settings. Why? Because our focus is on people "getting saved" and NOT upon renewing the minds as to who King Jesus is, what His Kingdom purpose is all about, and that there really IS a Kingdom of Darkness whose defeated evil Prince wants to kill, steal and destroy us all - and WILL - if we don't continue with our mop-up operation on planet Earth.
It's time for Church as UN-usual. Time to think outside the edifice.
Church as usual is quickly becoming a relic of the past. Though some may see this as being an "anti-Church" message, nothing has ever been any farther from the truth. In fact, it's a Pro-Kingdom message and the Kingdom can only be advanced with all the oars of the Church - a boat called "Unity" - rowing as One.
GOD HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
What multitudes fail to recognize is that God does not live in buildings made of stone." Too many Christians believe they will "find God" when they attend church services and, though God is faithful to allow those who are seeking to actually find, I believe He desires to be found as expressed through His people and that's far too often NOT the case. God lives within His people, NOT within the walls of an elaborate structure. Don't misunderstand; though the buildings themselves are NOT evil, the concept that God lives there is implicitly false. It's a deception and we know who the Father of lies is.
With eyes turned toward Heaven, many seek after God as if He's sitting "up there" looking at us. Wrong! He dwells WITHIN His people and longs to live THROUGH them. Jesus was our living example of this. "God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in SPIRIT and in truth." God made man in His image (Genesis). Does that mean He has eyes, a mouth and a long white beard? Not at all. He's a Spirit. So are we for we are made in His image. That's why, I believe, Scripture tells us to walk by faith, not by sight. Our 5 senses will continually betray the physical man as we become moved by circumstances and situations, swayed by emotions. The spiritual man, on the other hand - the physical man who walks in the Spirit - is best equipped to be used by the Holy Spirit to manifest His gifts and presence to others. The spiritual man is well able to take on the demonic spirits who are engaged in warfare with humanity.
Let's serve God and teach the Doctrine of the King. Think of it: we ALL have the same Father any way. Imagine what could possibly happen to our world if all Believers simply began teaching the Doctrine of Christ the King only. He IS the Head of the Church, after all (and anything with more than one head is a freak). Personally, I've seen His Doctrine and the Gospel of the Kingdom change lives and set people absolutely free while millions persist in playing church, many in bondage and not even knowing it.
PLEASE ENCOURAGE AUTHOR,
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