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Pure Religion and undefiled March 6, 2012

Posted by Henry in Contending for the Faith.
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Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (Jam 1:27) KJV

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV)

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (NLT)

Recently I have written a series of posts addressing “tithing” (amongst other things) and this started with the post “Unravelling the tithing dilemma”. Some reading this blog may think that my sole focus has simply been on “tithing” and may even think I sound like a broken record repeating myself but there is a central theme and purpose to each post and in this post I aim to tie up all that I previously stated. Hopefully the point of all these posts may therefore come to the fore through reading this post.

I opened this post with a quote from James 1:27 as this sits at the heart of the tithing equation today and which sits at the very heart of our Gospel. The two other translations I gave, more fully expresses what the KJV version intended to say. What sits at the heart of the tithing equation therefore is the question of what is acceptable religion before God?

 Under the Old Covenant Israel was called to give a tithe of the produce of the Promised Land to the Levites, the poor, the fatherless, the widows who were all in NEED that they may eat and be satisfied (Deut 14:29). Today the church seeks to recapture the practice of collecting a tithe but what does the church do with it? In contrast to ancient Israel where the tithe went to meet immediate and pressing needs, today we use the tithe to maintain lofty and expensive church buildings and pay a salary to the priests or pastors (and perhaps the organist). Today we talk about giving to God, and equate our giving to maintaining these structures as giving to God (this is seen as furthering the Gospel). Yet in the early church giving to God was tantamount to meeting the needs of the poor, the fatherless and the widows. If the tithe is God’s then let us start giving it to God via the poor and stop talking about it. In Matt 25:35-46 we see Jesus saying that if we feed the hungry, visit the sick, clothe the naked etc we have done it to Him but if we did none of those things we did not do it to Him. There are those who will argue of course that when we give money to church that the church will in turn use some of this money to send missionaries abroad and to give to the poor and other charitable causes. In my experiences, some churches remit a portion of the takings to the umbrella body and this may help to support missionaries in the field. However, for others the main church takings (tithes and offerings) are normally treated as sacrosanct – by this I mean that most of it is used up on the administrative overheads (including salaries) and the rest kept in a bank account but very little or none of it goes to meet the needs of the poor. Instead, after the main tithes and offerings are collected we are then asked to “dig deep” into our pockets for extra funds or “love offerings” that will go to missions and fund charitable works. This was not so in the early church however. Do we for a minute think that God is pleased with great and grand buildings we have elevated in His name, and maintain with vast sums of money year by year, whilst millions of people throughout the world go hungry each day? Perhaps the church cannot solve the poverty problem across the world but we can certainly do more even in our immediate communities.

In the early church all of the church takings were redistributed to meeting the needs of the whole church, including the elders who ministered over the church. This is aptly demonstrated in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35. What a contrast to today’s church where the poor and the needy who come in go home empty-handed with the promise that God will bless them if they tithe faithfully even if they have to borrow to pay that tithe (as in the example of some churches)? The early church did not consider their possessions as their own but had all things in common – and they laid what they had to give at the apostles’ feet who in turn redistributed so that no one lacked. Other examples of this practice are evidenced in 2 Cor 8:12-15 and 2 Cor 9:1-8 where Paul collected gifts from other churches to give to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. The early church was acting out the very commands/teachings that Jesus Christ imparted to us such as in Matt 19:21 where He instructed the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give it to the poor. We also see another example in Luke 16:9 where Christ says we should make to ourselves friends with the mammon (worldly wealth) of unrighteousness. In meeting the needs of the general poor we are also encouraged to give to the elders, especially those who minister in the word and doctrine (1 Tim 5:17).

 Today we have reassigned the purpose of the tithe (not that we are under the Law), as the principle of it as demonstrated under the Law is not borne out in how we utilise it in the church today. In contrast to the early church also, faithful stewardship is now exemplified by our giving of tithes and offerings to God to maintain lavish buildings and large administrative budgets in the place of directly redistributing the funds to meet the needs of the poor. Is our religion as practiced in this way by the church today acceptable to God when pure religion and undefiled, which God accepts is defined in scripture as caring for the fatherless and the widows and keeping oneself spotless from the world?

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The Blessing of Persecutions and Trials January 29, 2010

Posted by Henry in Word of Faith Movement.
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At the beginning of this year I had a mishap with my car which was quite challenging to face. Basically the cam belt went whilst I was driving and rendered the engine almost irreparable. One mechanic told me that it would cost in the region of £700 to repair and that this figure was perhaps a conservative estimate. To say the least I was gutted as I drove a very modest car and did not have the money at the time to repair it or to buy another car, which would have been the better option. I told my friend at work about the issue and said to her that this was my “New Year blessing”, a broken down car and no money to fix or replace it. She laughed and said, “Your funny” with a hint of sarcasm. If I didn’t need the car it wouldn’t have been so bad but in the area where I live public transport is infrequent and impractical for myself and my family’s needs. To cut the story short however, I was able by God’s grace to replace the engine and the car is now operational again, at least for the time being.

 The point I want to make though is that often when trials come our way we do not see the blessing in them. In this particular experience of mine, the first blessing was the fact that we were meant to be travelling on the motorway that very day but decided to go somewhere local first, when the problem occurred. If the car had broken down on the motorway it could have caused a fatal accident but thank God it broke down when I was braking to stop at a traffic signal. Praise be to God for His mercy. Isn’t God good? More importantly however when trials come our way they are meant to “sharpen” our faith and we should see them as a blessing. Many people however don’t see trials or persecution as a source of blessing. Some even think it is a curse. For them blessings means increasing in health, wealth and prosperity and the Word of Faith Movement comes to mind here. In stark contrast to the Word of Faith beliefs however Jesus had this to say in Matt 5:10-12:

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

In conjunction with the above quote we also note from scripture that it is a blessing to endure trials:

 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12, NIV)

 I have broken with convention in using the KJV for the above quote because the NIV uses the word “trial” as opposed to “temptation” in the KJV and thus gives a better rendering. The message is clear however that persecution and trial are sources of blessings and not just material things unlike what those in the Word of Faith camp teaches. If God were to only bless us with materials things and health we would become like the Laodicean church who thought that now that they had become rich and increased in goods that they no longer needed God. If our faith is being tested daily however we would learn to always trust in God and put our faith in Him. Again quoting from the NIV version 1 Peter 1: 6-7 has this to say about enduring trials:

 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed..

 If our faith is of much greater worth than refined gold then, which blessing would you rather have? The blessing of having your faith tried through trials or the blessing of health, wealth and prosperity?

Are Denominations Important? January 14, 2010

Posted by Henry in Denominations.
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There are many different Christian denominations across the globe today, be it Baptist, Methodist, Apostolic or Oneness Pentecostals, Reformed, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventist, just to name a few. The interesting thing to note however is that none of these names existed during the early birthing and consequent growth of the Church. So why then do we have so many different denominations today and are denominations important?

Certainly for some people denominations are important to them because they feel that theirs is the “true church”. In my own experiences when having discussions with members of denominations such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventist and Oneness Pentecostals, they all are of the view that their own denomination is the true church and consequently everyone else is on the wrong path. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have made claims suggesting that they are the Elect and the 144,000 who will be saved. A closer look at scripture will show however that in actual fact the 144,000 mentioned in the Bible constitutes 12,000 men of each of the 12 tribes of Israel who did not “defile themselves with women” (Rev 7: 4 – 8, 14:1 – 4). It is clear to see then that these 144,000 are not Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In contrast the Seventh Day Adventist say they are the true church because they have kept the Biblical Sabbath which they claim is Saturday (the seventh day) and that those who attend Sunday church do so in direct opposition and disobedience to God. They ignore the fact that the calendar we now use was instituted by Pope Gregory the Great, hence the Gregorian calendar. As such it would be very difficult to ascertain whether the seventh day as we know it today coincides with the seventh day God instituted as the Sabbath from the time of creation. The key point that the Seventh Day Adventists seems to have missed however is that God set aside the 7th day as a day of REST, what ever that day is or was. God did not say that we should attend church services on the Sabbath but to REST and do no work in it. The other point to note though is whether New Testament Christians are obliged to observe the Sabbath since Jesus fulfilled the Law thereby abolishing it, which also included the Sabbath. In any event Romans 14:5-9 has this to say:

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.

The Oneness Pentecostals on the other hand believe that one should be baptised in Jesus name only, as opposed to Jesus’ instruction in Matt 28:19-20 where he told the disciples to go out and teach all nations baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Oneness Pentecostals however uses Acts 2:38 as one of the central pillars of their faith. This is what they use to support their claim that one should be baptised in Jesus name only because Peter said so. But who is Peter? Do we obey Peter or do we obey Christ? Notwithstanding, it is doubtless whether what Peter said was meant to be a baptismal formula since Jesus already gave us the baptismal formula that we should use. Peter was more concerned with telling the Jews of their need to be baptised in the name of the very Man whom they had crucified. After all scripture tells us there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved except Jesus.

The points highlighted above, although not exhaustive, do demonstrate some of the ways in which denominations do differ on points of doctrine. It may be argued that some of these points are not “foundational” to the gospel but the question should be asked, why do denominations differ on points of doctrine and beliefs? I believe the answer to this question lies in the fact that Bible tells us that heresies will creep into the church over time. This can be the only explanation for why there are so many different denominations, each with their own “brand” of Christianity, which differ in some way from another. It is interesting to note however that even from the early days, the Church was being divided up into denominations and Paul had to deal with this very issue in the Corinthian church (1 Cor 1:10-13):

10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Instead of being haughty and puffed up about this denomination or that, we need to heed the words of Paul here and get back to the “basics” of Scripture. As Paul makes it clear, Christ is not divided, therefore no divisions should be found amongst us and we all should be speaking the same thing and be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement. It is my prayer that we who call ourselves the true church should heed Paul’s admonition.

What does it mean to be a Christian? January 12, 2010

Posted by Henry in Matters of the Faith.
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A common definition of a Christian is: a follower of Christ. But is that all there is to it? In looking at this definition one could argue that Christ was simply a philosopher who existed over 2000 years ago and that His followers are simply adherents to His teachings thus ranking Christianity as just one amongst many religions from which anyone can choose. Indeed some see Christianity as little more than a “moral code” expressed in allegory, denying the existence of God and His Son Jesus Christ. It is easy to see how such a distorted view might come about if one does not know exactly what Christianity is all about and especially given that some religious figures have claimed over the years that “all paths” lead to God. But do they really?

Scripture (the Bible) tells us that Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, came into the world as the Messiah, first to the Jew and then to the Gentiles (Rom 1:16). Jesus came to deliver the “Good News” which is the Gospel unto salvation. Jesus said He came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). But salvation from what some might ask? To answer this question we need to go back to the beginning.

In the beginning (see the Genesis account) God created the world and everything in it and He made man (Adam and Eve) and gave him dominion over everything on the earth. God set Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and everything God created was good. But sin entered the world as a result of Adam’s disobedience in eating the fruit of the tree that was forbidden to him to eat of.  God warned Adam that the day he ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree he would surely die (Gen 3:3), and since that time man has been at enmity with God because of sin. Man no longer had the communion with God he enjoyed in the Garden and he was now separated and condemned to eternal death because of his sin. Adam did not die physically as it were, but he died spiritually. But the “story” did not end there because God purposed even before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8, 1 Pet 1:18-20) to save mankind from his sins so that man can inherit eternal Life.

Scripture tells us that we are all sinners who have come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Scripture also tells us that “it is appointed unto man once to die but after that comes the judgement (Heb 9:27).” It is for this reason that we need to be saved. To be saved means to be restored to a state where we can again have full fellowship and communion with God like Adam and Eve did before the fall, and indeed to be saved from eternal damnation. Salvation can be found in no other than Jesus Christ however. Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6).” Jesus is the Lamb of God who was made a living sacrifice to take upon Himself the sins of the world. Heb 9:28 says, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” This was the plan God had put in place to redeem mankind from their sins and to reconcile mankind to Himself. Jesus was prophesied of by the Prophets of old, was born of the virgin Mary by immaculate conception, He was crucified at Calvary and on the third day he rose and he later returned to sit on the right hand of the Father. This really is the Gospel, the Good News of salvation, the reason for every Christian to rejoice as he awaits the blessed hope of Jesus Chrst returning to claim the saints (the Church) to Himself!!

For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosover believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting Life (John 3:16)

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)

We had become as disobedient children, full of sin and all deceivableness, but in spite of this God loved us so much that He made a way for us to be saved, otherwise we would have been dead in our sins. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live (John 11:25).” Jesus came in order to establish the Kingdom of God on earth and all that we need to do to inherit this Kingdom is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ’s Kingdom we surrender our lives to Him as His subjects, submitting to His governance, will and purpose as outlined in His Word and through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit of God that enables us to believe in Christ Jesus and to repent of our sins and seek salvation in Him. When we come to faith in Christ therefore, we must be born again, born of water and of the Spirit (John 3:5). This is the “secret” to becoming a Christian.

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. (Isa 55:1-3)

Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isa 55:6-7)

In spite of the provisions that God has made, freely given to us all without money and without price, however, there are those who still believe that God doesn’t really exist. But the scriptures say, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” The Bible is not simply a story, a moral tale based in allegory. God truly does exist and His Word given to us in the form of the Bible is where we will learn of Him and find Life (John 5:39)! Moreover Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life (John 6:63).” These very words are what is written in the Bible and handed down to us today. Christianity is therefore unlike any other religion. It is not a path among many to God but the ONLY path. In this respect God is not an idea created to establish social or moral norms, neither is God simply a “gnosis”. But God, the creator of Heaven and Earth is real, and He lives. Jesus came into the world to testify of Him and to become a Christian is to believe and have faith in Jesus Christ even without having seen.

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (John 20:29)

Do you dare to believe in the Lord Jesus in order to receive salvation? For this is the way of the Christian

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