Month 4:20, Week 3:5 (Chamashee/Teruah), Year:Day 5936:109 AM|
7 Sabbaths + Omer Count Day #42
Gregorian Calendar: Monday 9 July 2012
Illusions and Reality
Continued from Part 1
No Bible-believing Christian or Messianic can honestly say that the state of the Body of Messiah - the Messianic Community or Church - is remotely the way Yah'shua (Jesus) first built it or wanted it to develop. I know that before I was born again I was utterly confused by all the contradictory denominational teachings, so much so that it has taken me the better part of my life to know where exactly I should be: with which believers and with what correct doctrines and practices. It is only now, some 35 years after I was first saved (many of which have been spent alone in this quest), that I am beginning to feel that I finally have my spiritual feet on rock-solid ground.
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Ps.133:1, NKJV).
It has been a very long journey and not without some considerable distress along the way. I have walked with many people who have come and gone, each thinking they had found a better way or otherwise abandoning the search altogether and returning to the world. Those who have pursued the latter course have vented their anger on me in numerous ways, blaming me for the choices they made, and some have outright persecuted me. That is one of the hazzards of pioneering leadership.
That isn't to say that I haven't make mistakes, because I have - lots of them - as I fumbled around in the doctrinal and ecclesiatical pot pourri trying to make sense of the accumulated confusion of two millennia. Look at the history of any group of explorers like Christopher Columbus or Captain Cook and you will discover there are losses, sometimes large ones. There are risks venturing into the unknown - always. However, it's our own choice - and ultimately our own responsibility - whether we choose to become an explorer or not and where we put ourselves under the captaincy of others or try to become our own captains. For those who discover new lands of emet (truth) there is exhilaration - for those who abandon the journey there is typically bitterness, and that because for both a considerable amount of sacrifice is entailed. Those not of the pioneering spirit prefer to settle down in one or other denomination and slowy fossilise, preferring constancy in, and the illusiory safety of, error to all the upheavals and change that come from discovering new things.
The Protestant Reformation came at a huge cost requiring tremendous sacrifice to break away from a tyrannical system of religion that sought to hold men in spiritual and temporal chains. They paid with their blood. At the same time, the Reformation introduced a degree of anarchy and antinomianism (lawlessness) that has been responsible for its own woes today, not least of which has been factionalism on a scale never seen before in the Messianic Community. Today there are about 34,000 that would take you about 500 years to properly study and experience in order to know them all (assuming you wanted to). And though factionalism also exists in more authoritarian systems that have to some degree been inspired by the Catholic model of control, it has not been nearly as extensive as in the Protestant world. Even the Eastern Orthodox Church has its factions and there are a few Catholic ones, with rival popes every now and then.
Take the Mormon Church as an example. Though you have probably never heard of them because they are (with the exception of one, the Community of Christ, formerly the RLDS Church) so small, there are actually hundreds of LDS factions or break-offs.
The same has happened to the late Herbert W. Armstrong's creation, the Worldwide Church of God - there are dozens of 'Church of God' break-offs with many leaders claiming the same authority as Armstrong, including his own son who broke away even while his father was still alive.
The Jehovah's Witensses also have their break-offs like the Lord's Witnesses (who created the True Bible Code, a crushingly heavy tome in the same style as JW founder, Charles Taze Russel's many books) and the much bigger Laymen's Home Missionary Movement which is mosly concerned about propagating Russel's work, which the main body of Witnesses has unofficially rejected.
What all of these have in common (along with Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) is that they all claim to be the 'one-and-only-true-church or organisation', that salvation is available nowhere else, outside of which is only a prospect of hell.
Even the Seventh-Day Adventists (SDA's) are of this ilk, for though they are not so brazen about their claims they subtly maintain that they are the 'one-and-only' too and that those who don't follow Ellen White (like Joseph Smith, Herbert Armstrong, C.T.Russel/Judge Rutherford, Herbert Armstrong, etc.) will go astray because all these were 'God's anointed', His 'prophet', 'mouthpiece', 'pastor general' and in some cases, even 'messiahs' (rennegade SDA David Koresh springs to mind). There are even a few of these 'mighty ones' amongst Evangelicals (like Benny Hinn and Kenneth Hagin) who go around cursing people who criticise their pretended 'anointing'. Even Messianics are breeding their own 'one-and-onlys' though instead of restoring the 'True Church' they're pretending to restore the one-and-only 'True Israel' and saying that there is no Israel outside of them. Some of them are blatantly racist claiming that either the Jews, British or the Black Americans (but not Black Africans) are the Master Race and therefore the true 'Israelites'.
So no wonder there is confusion. The problem here is not, of course, with Christ but with Christianity, the bunch of people who have got it so wrong and who so terribly misrepresent the Master, giving Him a bad name because of their behaviour and in many cases doctrinal dottiness.
In nearly every case, at some level, the drive is for unity. But at what price and using what tools or instruments?
There are, as I see it, essentially two types of unity spoken of in the Scriptures which in practice overlap:
"Keep the unity of the Ruach (Spirit) in the bond of shalom peace" (Eph.4:3, NKJV)
The unity of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is principally about inner realities and not doctrinal propositionalism. There is a unity, at a fundamental level, between all authentic regenerated believers - Christian or Messianic - no matter what errors of doctrine they may believe in. In this ministry we call this Alef or Alpha Salvation that corresponds symbolically to the three spring festivals of Pesach (Passover), Chag haMatzah (Unleavened Bread) and Bikkurim (Firstfruits). Most Evangelicals operate together within this sphere, ignoring their doctrinal differences, as do most Messianic groups, 'for the sake of unity'. And this is not only acceptable but actually necessary, though not all accept this and fall into the error of the totalitarian 'one-and-onlyers' and insist they alone are right and the rest are 'heretical' or 'apostate'. Not a few King James-only groups are of this unfortunate persuasion too. As Messianic Evangelicals we happily operate within this sphere of unity, with qualifications and boundaries.
"[Yah'shua/Jesus] Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the qodeshim (set-apart ones/saints) for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Messiah (Messianic Community/Church), till we all come to the unity of the emunah (faith) and of the knowledge of the Son of Elohim (God), to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Messiah -- from whom the whole Body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in ahavah (love)" (Eph.4:11-16, NKJV).
Which brings us to the second passage where most of the trouble starts. Here a specific organisational structure is indicated with anointed officers all teaching the same emet (truth). Starting in recent times with Alexander Campbell (who founded the Churches of Christ in America and was in part the inspiration for Joseph Smith's Mormons thanks to Sidney Rigdon), the 'one-and-only' seed was born and has since multiplied in Protestantism.
Authoritarian systems believe that in order to maintain order and doctrinal purity there must be a special class of leaders whose responsiblity is to impose doctrinal unity on the members as the condition of remaining a 'member in good standing'. Those who 'deviate' from this doctrinal standard in conservative churches are usually excluded, liberals tending to be more tolerant and embracing of divergent views and overall heterodoxy. These days excommunication (and shunning in such groups as the Amish and Jehovah's Witnesses) is the most usual way to deal with people who doctrinally differ from the charter or constitution of a denomination or local church, about which I will be saying more in a moment. The more extreme groups do employ emotional pressure and mental blackmail by threatening their would-be heretics and deserters with the fires of hell if they try to leave their group - I experienced this first hand with the Mormons when I saw through the manipulation of their history and started critcising the cover-up. It was a nasty experience I will never forget.
But such non-violent exclusion was not always the way amongst orthodox Christians. Burning heretics at the stake was common practice amongst the Catholics (who excelled at it), the Anglicans, Calvinists of Geneva, and others. Puritans and Anabaptists, for example, were shown no quarter by either the Catholics or the mainstream Reformers. Indeed, I have personally seen the metal cages in the German town of Münster where a joint Catholic-Lutheran army hung up and murdered the Anabaptist population there who failed to escape from their clutches. Though not nearly as extreme as modern fundamentalist Islam, it was bad enough and wholly contrary to Scripture.
I wholeheartedly believe in Paul's admonitions to the Ephesians about unity but at the same time I accept that denominationalism and schism is inevitable. We aren't going to change it, and creating exclusive one-and-only groups isn't going to fulfil Paul's demand for unity. It just doesn't work that way. Indeed, if we are going to enjoy the freedom to search for emet (truth) unconstrained by man-made creeds then we must not only be allowed to move from group to group but we must recognise that they are beneficial to a degree. I have learned something of benefit from every group or church I have been a member of or have associated with. And nearly every believer I have met has taught me something even if we radically disagree on some things. In an imperfect world, that is how we learn and grow.
There is, without a doubt, a restoration of emet (truth) going on and there are pioneers out there - fallible though they are - who are enthusiastically trying to gather all this emet (together). I am one of them. Each has taught me something beneficial which I have incorporated into my own belief system. There is without a doubt a MAJOR CONVERGENCE going on. Quite what the final product will be no one really knows even if we have some vague ideas. All we're sure about is that Yahweh is working and that emet (truth) is coming forth into the world the likes of which have not been seen for a very long time. Moreover, most of these will be rejected by your average Christian or Messianic because they are too fond of their own pet teachings and traditions, again, an inevitability, because the remnant consists only of the pioneer types.
One thing I am now utterly convinced of (and I was not always of this persuasion) is that you cannot force the remnant to be a certain way - only the Ruach (Spirit) positively witnesses how they should go. So what form should the remnant currently take?
The Messianics are quite correct in claiming that the church system is not biblical and that Yahweh's Body is actually a Theocratic Kingdom but that is wholly impractical while His people remain in diaspora, scattered around the earth in the nations without their own country. Moreover, that country will not be set up until Yah'shua (Jesus) returns so don't go hurrying off to the Promised Land in the expectation of making it happen (or thinking it has already begun). The Final Gathering, when it happens will not be by human means but will be of supernatural origin and so spectacular that the original exodus celebrated today at Passover will be forgotten in favour of the even more incredible deliverance and escape of Messianic Israel from the nations!
On the other hand, in reality something like the church system is inevitable while Messianic Israel remains in diaspora, but it will have more in common with the Patriarchal Era than with the so-called 'Church' one. It is to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we must look for our inspiration - and to the patriarchs before even them - in seeking the form of 'church' government best suited to our own time. This means that every head of household - the father-husbands - have got to get their shoes on and get trained as pastors for their own families. The Messianic Israelite disapora must consist of individual patriarchal families forming voluntary associations (not denominations) for fellowship and mutual growth. These must have the clear understanding that change is the rule rather than the exception, as Yahweh sifts, purifies, burns and teaches the fullness of His ways step-by-step to those who have true emunah (faith). Inevitably there will be groups at different stages of growth but since they are free associations there should be no attached stigma or resentment in families changing groups if they want to. At the same time, there must, if these groups are to be successful, be a certain degree of flexibility to allow families space to breathe without feeling they must be forced into a particular creed or a group's halachic rulings. Ultimately, it's the family unit that is the fundamental building block, not the church, synagogue or congregation. These can only exist to basically facilitate the independence of family life.
As Messianic Evangelicals (amongst the various names we have used) we have gathered a great deal of emet (truth) over the years and are virtually unrecognisable from what we were originally. And we fully expect to be much more developped in the next decade or two. The emet (truth) is hard for those coming out of the various false systems but rather than hide it away, as we once did for fear of driving people away, we now lay these "hot potatoes" out openly and people can help themselves to whatever they like as the Ruach (Spirit) leads them - so if you are interested in what we are doing, you might want to start there. And if you're happy with these and have a witness of them, and the Ruach (Spirit) is bearing witness to you to become a part of us, then we invite you into association. And when sufficient numbers have declared their interest, then we will organise again along the lines I have just described. There's a tremendous amount going on now so we don't feel it will be long before Yahweh gives us the green light to do that. What we don't want to do is get ahead of Yahweh - as we have sometimes done before - and be forced to 'eat crow' (as we have also done).
If you think you might be walking in our direction, then please either get in contact with us and/or join our online discussion groups and get known. With economic and probably social collapse underway it's important that brethren keep in contact and, where necessary, gather together for mutual support (but only as Yahweh leads). So if this devotional has been helpful and you'd like to know more, drop us a line!