“Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you.” Leviticus 25:24
When God calls one into a covenantal relationship, first he sets about a process of separation, sanctification and re-orientation. Ezekiel 16:2-9 With Abraham he took him out of his home and the prevailing culture to start something new with him, something that has seized the imagination of over 3 billion people all over the world. Genesis 12:1-2
He took and weaned Israel from an idolatorous culture and taught them to not cast their hopes and expectations on vanity, but to walk in all the ways of God Genesis 18:17-19 and live by the wisdom of God. Deuteronomy 8:2-3
Christ Jesus also taught the church to not pursue earthly aspirations in the manner of those who had not known God, but to aspire to citizenship of God’s Kingdom and live by its righteousness. Matthew 6:31-33
Churches have become fora for motivational treatise. Everyday is everybody’s season. Everyone has a possession to possess. All have a domain to take.
The foundational principle of those who would walk with God therefore is to leave off a materialistic world view and enter into a transcendental dimension.
It’s for that reason that St Paul exhorted the church to set her affections on things above and not on things on the earth. Colossians 3:2
In The Complete Bible Handbook, John Bowker approached our relationship with God from a different angle. Contrary to received wisdom about ancient Israel’s journey in God, he wrote that God never fought on the side of Israel. Rather, it was Israel that fought on the side of God. Israel was God’s army, a divine instrument to bring about judgement and change in the world.
From that view, to be in God is to live for God and to lend one’s self solely to the demands and the challenges of that relationship. As for our needs, Christ said God knows them and he will meet them, much more than he does for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.
And what should we expect when we fulfil our part in this relationship? Well, plenty and, then again, nothing!
Between Deuteronomy 28:1-14, Isaiah 58:6-14, Malachi 12:9-12, and loads more scripture, the promises of reward for faithfulness are inexhaustible. But Christ counselled that that should not be the motive for faithfulness. We should do things for God because we love him and we have a duty to honour him. Luke 17:7-10
With all respect, Christ’s teaching on that point is not a revelation. Shadrach, Mishac and Abednego had demonstrated with their lives that with or without divine assurance of deliverance, they were prepared to go to their graves honouring God. Daniel 3:17-18
When God commended Abraham for his readiness to sacrifice his son, it was because God saw in him a willingness to honour God and not a business acumen to trade with God. Genesis 22:12
However the demands of building and sustaining a church have led some down a different path. The church today is under pressure to move with the times, to be relevant to the challenges of a different age and to effectively address the fears of Joe Bloggs.
Churches have become fora for motivational treatise and the sort of monkey business that pitted Christ against the money-changers in the temple. Everyday is everybody’s season. Everyone has a possession to possess. All have a domain to take.
Christ chose to not build his Church on promises of what he could do with bread and water. Rather he went about speaking uncomfortable truths.
Some teach as though our whole relationship with God is about what we may get from him. And whatsoever we do for God, be it worship, offering or tithing is so that we may come into our wealthy place.
Times have indeed changed but human needs have remained basically the same. Shelter, food, clothing, a desire to improve one’s lot and security for one and ones household have always been the reason for much of our striving.
There was a dire impetus to address these needs at the time of Christ because Israel was under a Roman yoke. He had the power to make loads more bread from a handful and turn water into wine, but Christ chose to not build his Church on promises of what he could do with bread and water.
Rather he went about speaking uncomfortable truths. At some point the crowd that went about with him deserted him and only his core disciples remained. John 6:66-68 Was he bothered? I think not.
Christ had read what the prophets said about him and he knew that the challenge of building and sustaining his church were not his’ but his Father’s. As Isaiah wrote:
“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” Isaiah 9:7
Therefore there was no reason for him to appeal to libidinal impulses to pull and, or maintain a crowd. Since the goal of the church is soul elevation, it is counter intuitive to gratify base instincts.
The largest collection of disciples Christ had at any given time was 70. The harvests of souls by his disciples were in thousands. That was because the zeal of the Lord was at work.
The confession that they had neither gold nor silver to offer did not discourage an impoverished Judean population because God confirmed their ministry with signs and wonders.
A congregation that lives off pastoral promises of wealth and power for sustenance is in need of separation, sanctification and re-orientation.
Their sermons were not decked with oratorical pyrotechnics. They were largely unlearned people. They only rehearsed their history to establish the Lordship of Christ. Hence St Paul was bold to write to the Corinthians:
“And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power….For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” 1Corinthians 2:4, 2Corintthians 4:5
As God assured Zerubbabel, the work committed to us could not be done by our power or our might but by the Spirit of God. Zechariah 4:6
These are examples to teach that those God employs for his work will not be without his help. His zeal is to be found where his interests lie. The church of God in Christ Jesus should therefore have no reason to appeal to base instincts to advance the cause a higher consciousness. It defeats the point of taking people out of the world to walk in all of God’s ways.
A congregation that lives off pastoral promises of wealth and power for sustenance is in need of separation, sanctification and re-orientation. Churches that are founded by God have no reason to worry about keeping the boat of salvation afloat. That’s for God to deal with.
A Church that requires the tricks of earth-bound trading to ‘win souls’ is one from which the glory of God has departed.
Such a church is Ichabod.