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Thursday, May 28, 2015
Refining and Reducing - A Study For Today's Remnant
I wanted to take a break this week from posting the parish Bible studies because I have some important stuff to talk about today. Looking around at our present society, and especially the violence and persecution done against people of true faith, calls for a word of encouragement. So, that is what I want to share today.
On a sunny day in the ancient kingdom of Israel some 2700 or so years in the past, a guy named Elijah lived, and he was a true prophet of God. Concerned about the rise of the worship of a pagan devil called Baal imported from the neighboring kingdom of Sidon in Phoenicia by Ahab's Lebanese wife Jezebel, and the growing numbers of Israelites being swept up in the fervor of this pagan ritual, Elijah had to do something drastic. So, he issued a challenge to King Ahab to duke it out with about 900 "prophets" of the demon Baal atop Mt. Carmel in northern Israel. Despite all their best efforts - which included self-mutilation by cutting, etc. (I Kings 18:28) - it came to nothing, but Elijah uttered one simple prayer - "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again" (I Kings 18:37-38, NKJV). All of a sudden, WHOOOSSSHHHHH!!!! Fire rained from the sky and totally incinerated the sacrifice, the altar, and even with all the gallons and gallons of water that saturated it all - it even boiled the trench around the altar dry! It was a great day for Elijah and his God.
However, despite such a momentous victory, old Queen Jezebel was not happy, and she wanted to settle the score with this troublesome prophet of God messing up her religious enterprise. So, she sent word to Elijah - in effect threatening his life! - by saying "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as one of them by tomorrow this time!" (I Kings 19:2, NKJV). So, Elijah was essentially a fugitive with a death sentence on his head. He fled into neighboring Judah to the desert, and while out there all this mess began to get to him, at which time he flopped his weary body under a broom tree and resigned himself, saying, "It is enough! Now Lord, take my life, as I am no better than my fathers" (I Kings 19:4). But, some hours later, he was awakened by a strange voice saying "arise and eat," and there was a piping hot breakfast waiting for him! This happened a couple of more nights as Elijah camped out in a cave, and finally God asked him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (I Kings 19:9, NKJV). Elijah spilled his guts, essentially telling God that it was a lost cause trying to save those reprobates back home because if he even tried, he would be strung up himself. So, God tested him - which one would sound like His voice - the tornado, the earthquake, the fire, or just a still small voice? Then, God asked him again what he was doing out there, and Elijah gave the same shpil as before. In response, God told Elijah to go and anoint another king in Israel, a guy named Jehu, and then told Elijah this - "Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him." (I Kings 19:18). That is the crux of this story for us, because whatever hits us, we are not alone, and indeed are in good company with great Biblical heroes like Elijah and even Jesus Himself. And, this is where I want to talk some.
We have all felt like Elijah at some point, if we are serving God like we are supposed to, haven't we? I think now for instance of the brilliant creationist, Dr. Kent Hovind, who is locked away unjustly in a jail over something that the sentence hasn't been exactly fair. I think of the 21 new Coptic saints who were martyred recently on a beach in Libya by ISIS demons, all because they were Christians. I think of Cardinal Raymond Burke, the faithful Roman Catholic cardinal who was demoted by a pope who I am finding very disturbing recently. And, those Christian businesses who are being outlandishly sued by radical homosexual activists over cake of all things - Marie Antoinette would be proud of those homo-nazis, I will say that! And on, and on, it goes - I too have had my share of being slandered and falsely accused by people who I stood up against as well - academics and even fellow students in Christian colleges who all of a sudden think it's good to be heretical - so I know too. I am not going to go into a lot of that or the details these situations entail, except to say that in my own perplexity this story of Elijah reminds me that I am not alone - there are faithful Remnants of those who have not "bowed the knee to Baal," and I have learned to seek them out, and we encourage each other. They transcend denomination too - some of these good people are Baptists, some are Pentecostals, others are Catholics, and some belong to other church traditions, but we all share a faith that we joyfully confess and just don't nominally assent to in order to "kiss butt" with religious and academic hierarchy. However, I still have to ask myself on occasion - has the world gone completely nuts???? Just in the past 20 years so much has happened that it is even beyond my own comprehension at times, and it does overwhelm me on occasion. However, it is at that time God starts talking, and the peace of understanding His plan is what gives me a reason to go on, just like it did Elijah in the wilderness.
A few nights ago, I had a rather disturbing dream that relates to this. In it, I was in a bad snowstorm in a subtropical place like Florida, and next thing I know I am battling with wolf-creatures of some sort in the dream! There were two types of these creatures - one had the appearance of a wolf but also walked upright and was sentient like a human. The other looked like a giant wolf similar to those creatures in Tolkien's The Hobbit, and those were vicious-looking. The two creatures were different in the dream but seemed to be working together in a common purpose. As I thought about that, the Lord gave me the meaning of this dream - whenever you see a wolf in a dream, it is a spiritual adversary of some sort. The ones that had human-like attributes and were smaller represented apostate Christians, while the meaner, bigger creatures represented outright demon-worship. What God was showing me is something we will be talking about momentarily, as at some point in the very near future there will be enemies sitting in our churches who will be trying to destroy us, and we need to have sharp discernment - they will look and act like one of the flock, but they will be a ravenous wolf. And, now that is what we are going to talk about here.
In a conservative Anglo-Catholic Facebook group I am part of, I have been reading a number of articles that have been posted, and many of them are quite enlightening. One article that caught my attention in particular was by Evangelical writer Ed Stetzer, and it was entitled "Survey Fail - Christianity Isn't Dying" (available at http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/05/13/nones-americans-christians-evangelicals-column/27198423/). The premise of Stetzer's article, which I thought was excellent, is that true Christianity is as vibrant as ever, which he calls "convictional Christianity" as opposed to "nominal Christianity." Although the statistics of the "unaffilliated" are growing from 16% to 23% as of a recent Pew Research poll, Stetzer notes that "Nominal Christians are becoming the nones and convictional Christians remain committed. It is fair to say we are now experiencing a collapse, but it's not of Christianity. Instead, the free fall we find is within nominalism." It is also important at this point to understand what Stetzer calls "Nones," and fellow Anglican researcher Bart Gingerich defined "Nones" as being those people - many of them Millenials unfortunately - who identify as "spiritual but not religious," and have a code they follow called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a term coined by writers Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton sometime around 2005 and consisting of a set of core tenets which embodies God as the "cosmic butler", and strong doses of political correctness and universalism. Many of these "nones" do attend "churches," but they prefer people like Rob Bell or Brian McLaren who preach pretty much the same junk. Many of these "kids" (as a lot of them are in their 20's) are sort of hippie-like in outlook, but the danger comes in what they have the potential of turning into as time progresses - these are the future enemies of true Christianity. That is why it is important now to witness the truth to as many of them as possible, because the window is growing shorter by the day.
We should actually not be overly surprised that all of this is happening, as it was foretold in the Bible two millenia ago. There are a number of things we need to pay attention to in Scripture though, because they mean something more so now than ever. Here is a sampling of what I am talking about:
1. A great apostasy in the Church (I Timothy 4:1, II Timothy 3:1-6, Matthew 13:3-23, 24-30, 24:9-12)
2. Perceived knowledge which is self-promoting (Titus 1:16, II Timothy 3:7, Romans 1:22)
3. God giving people up to strong delusions and doctrines of devils (I Timothy 4;1-2, II Thessalonians 2:11, Romans 1:28)
More could be said and shown, but this gives you an idea of what is happening. In order for people to totally apostatize, they have to be led by heady, high-minded people (the professors with their titles and letters after their names) who themselves are given to false teachings and illusions - many of these people at one time may have been Christians, but they forgot who they were and abandoned their faith in order to seek their own glory, and it shows in their attitudes. We have all seen some pastors and other ministers like that, haven't we? You know the ones - you disagree respectfully on something, and you get that condescending, baleful glare that says "Who are you to question me?" God didn't give up on such people though; they gave up on Him, and He let them have their way. Soon, with the absence of God being replaced with the idolatry of self , these people begin teaching things that are totally contrary to the Bible, the historic teaching of the Church, and some of their nonsense even defies common sense! Their followers grow though, because they use their talents to deceive people into listening, and before long they are leading others to apostatize the faith. Then, when such people end up behind the pulpits of our churches and the podiums of our college classrooms, as well as in denominational leadership, they next try to alienate and discredit the faithful Christians, thus marginalizing them. Some of you know what I am talking about too - you have been there before, and you know that frustration of not being able to even feel at home in your own church, school, or other institution because the "delusion" being propagated is so pervasive that it makes your spirit grieve. But, there is good news for you, which I want to close with now.
All of the stuff we see in the world is happening for a reason, and although the apostasy we witness now almost daily in the Church is at times overwhelming, it needs to be looked at in a different light. The faithful Remnant - those who love God and His teachings - are both being set apart as well as pruned themselves. The "falling away" that II Timothy talks about is also for the Church's benefit - it is removing a lot of "dead wood" from the Church that shouldn't be there in the first place. So, let them be "Nones" if they want; they have made that choice, and their dignity as fellow human persons compels us to respect that choice, no matter how it grieves us. We need to see it as a time to maybe look inward, and begin to grow spiritually ourselves - we may have to do that in many cases in the privacy of our homes with our close families, but you will not believe how that will edify you and how much stronger your own Christian life will become. Therefore, as Romans 8:28 reminds us, all things, even the nastiest situations, will work together for good to us who are called by God according to His purpose, and who love Him and His Word. God bless and be with you until next time.