Brothers Ken Miller, Barry Grant, Zack Johnson, and John D. Martin discuss what issues must be pursued with wholehearted conviction, with no regard to the cost. Panel discussion moderated by Brother Paul Shirk.
How do we prepare to suffer for the cause of Christ?
Peter tells us, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind…” This would indicate that we are to have the right mindset regarding suffering for our faith. How do we prepare our minds to suffer for Christ as God would choose for each one of our lives?
In this panel discussion, we consider:
- What do the Scriptures say about discerning and preparing for persecution?
- What can we learn from non-biblical individuals who applied Scriptural principles in their time and circumstances?
- What are the current and imminent issues before us where we should be preparing to engage as overcomers?
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Overcoming With a Personal Testimony
The disciples and early Christians testified to God’s work in their lives, and it brought the wrath of this world upon them. This segment will focus on possible reasons why the church has become ‘the quiet in the land,’ and the cost of its silence. Have we signed a peace deal with the world so that it will love us instead of hate us? A personal testimony will be shared, and then we will examine our hearts’ response to it. The enemy has been trying to silence the church for centuries to no avail, for “we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”Barry Grant
Overcoming With Obedience and Divine Preservation
Obedience is our life-line if this world is our crucible to holiness; however, the world has managed to twist obedience into a kill-joy. This segment will restate martyrdom as a Christian’s glory, remind us that persecution is an expected outcome of obedience to King Jesus, and recalibrate our desire to achieve spiritual power through separation.Zack Johnson
The Scriptures teach that deception will increase in the last days. How can the people of God avoid being swept into self-deception and the deception of the age?Ken Miller
Overcoming With Prayer and Praise
Jesus led the way in facing persecution with both prayer and praise. This segment will focus on the dynamics of this approach, practical ways it can be implemented, and examples from the Bible and Christian experience showing how persecuted people have used prayer and praise effectively.John D. Martin
Paul Shirk: Well, thank you for joining us today, and welcome to our panel discussion. We’re going to look at the topic of “What Hill Should We Die On?” and particularly, “How do we prepare for the potential coming persecution?”
My name is Paul Shirk. I will be the moderator, and then we have our panelists here with us, which were introduced by our brother. It’s our desire that God would be glorified in this discussion, and that you would be encouraged and then challenged to leave here and to continue to reflect on what we intend to present.
I’m not sure what comes to your mind when you think of the idea of preparing for persecution. Perhaps you’re of the mindset that we should let it all to the sovereignty of God and that in God’s timing and in God’s way, He will bring it when He sees fit, and He will give grace as needed at that time, and so in the meantime there is nothing for us to do. Or perhaps you might look at it a little differently – perhaps you will look at Scripture and try to figure out where we are in God’s prophetic timetable and try to predict what is coming next for the church, and how you can specifically prepare for that. These are all different things that I have heard growing up. I don’t know what you may have heard. But we would like to look at something a little more sure tonight.
- We want to look at “What do the Scriptures say about discerning and preparing for persecution?” Let’s seek their guidance first and foremost.
- We also want to look at it from the aspect of nonbiblical examples. It’s one thing to read Scripture, to read those examples, but we might ask the question: What would that look like in more modern times? And so I’ve asked the panelists to think about nonbiblical examples where biblical principles were employed.
- We also want to identify some current and imminent issues that are before us, where we should be engaging now, and making sure we are not compromising but we are learning to be overcomers.
As you hear these presentations, you could ask yourself these questions:
- Do I embrace a full Scriptural approach to persecution?
- Do I equally emphasize the importance of these aspects that we’re going to cover tonight? That is,
- my personal relationship with Jesus Christ,
- my obedience to the Scriptures,
- that God is sovereign over my situation,
- but yet I need to recognize the importance of maintaining sound doctrine.
- And how can I do all of this, being prayerful and joyful, as I think about coming persecution?
So we would ask that you would engage with us on these biblical concepts. You may continue to send your questions to us on the website chatline, and we’re going to address as many as we can. Go to the KFW webpage and click on this event, and it will take you to a webpage with a message box where you can submit your questions. We will also have some time at the end where we will look at these additional questions that are being submitted in real time. And we may also, if we have time, take some questions from the floor at the end. So for those of you who are present, you can also be thinking about what your questions may be. So we thank you for participating in this way.
The overarching theme as we go through these four different aspects is:
How are we preparing ourselves to be overcomers, to face adversity and potentially persecution?
We’re going to begin with Brother Barry Grant. He comes to us from Hicksville, Ohio, where he attends Allen County Christian Fellowship, along with his wife Julia and five children. His focus will be on
The Importance of Having and Sharing a Personal Testimony.
In Revelation 12, there is the account there of Satan being cast out of heaven, and he’s making war with the righteous seed, but it says, “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” So let’s give Barry our attention now as he speaks to us of the power of a testimony from a blood bought child of God.
Thank you, Brother. Is it a coincidence that in Revelation 12 the verse that he just mentioned, that “the word of their testimony,” and overcoming by that word is in the same verse as “they loved not their lives unto the death”? I believe that our testimony links us to spiritual warfare. The kingdom of darkness does not like it when we testify of the power of God.
I also believe that there’s a lack of testifying amongst us. So why is it? Why is there a lack of testifying amongst us?
- Could it be because we do love our lives and we are not ready to die, that we have stopped testifying of what God is doing?
- We [maybe don’t?] understand the power of testimony, and that it is the means to overcoming.
- Maybe we have stopped testifying because in reality God is not working in our lives.
- Or maybe it is because we believe that testifying of what God is doing in our lives is pride, so we begin to only talk about our failures, thinking that that is humility. And that leads to a defeated church.
- Could it be that we have signed a peace deal with the world? We know that this was the case through our Bibles, through the New Testament. They tried to silence the disciples. They told them, “We’ll let you go, but you have to be quiet.” We know how they responded. They could not but speak of the things which they had seen and heard! The enemy has been trying to silence the church ever since it began. We know the story of Zwingli trying to silence the early Anabaptists. “We’ll let you go; you can go back to your families, but you have to be quiet. Quit talking about what’s going on.” The truth is, if God is working in our lives, the people around us will know it. It’s a powerful thing that “we cannot but speak” of.
Now speaking of pride and testimony, I’d like to share a testimony with you really quickly, and I would like you to see how you feel about what I share with you. How does it make you feel?
I was walking home one day from a neighbor’s house there in Haiti, and I saw a man approaching me. I never had seen him before, and I knew most people in that village. So I looked at him particularly, and that’s when I noticed that he had a gun in his hand, and he was walking very quickly in my direction. I knew there had been people threatening my life. I knew that people wanted to kill me. As he approached me, I remember a peace coming over me that I cannot explain. And as he pointed that gun at me, I figured it was my last days. But I did not think about my military training, of how to de-arm, and actually put him in subjection in a matter of seconds. I never thought of that. All that I thought about was “God is bigger than this.” And I didn’t control those thinkings. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think about what I would think about. But after this man stared at me with that gun for a moment, looking very frustrated, he jerked the gun down and walked away. And that’s the end of that story.
I testify today of the power of God that that did in my life, encouraging me that in the face of death, God can be there to give us peace and to give us comfort. And as we testify to that to other people, it will encourage other people to make a stand for Jesus Christ, and then testify themselves as to what God is doing in their life. So God bless you.
Paul Shirk: Thank you, Brother Barry. I’m going to pose a question to you. This comes from sort of my background in dealing with apologetics. When you go to share a testimony with some people, some people who come from a skeptical background will say, “Well, it’s very nice that you have a story, a nice story to tell about yourself. And maybe your parents taught you to think this way. Or maybe your church teaches you to think this way. So yes, it’s nice that you have this story, Barry, but that’s not really good evidence as to why I should believe the story that you’re telling, and why I should make that a part of my life.” How would you respond to that?
Barry: Yes, I think it’s very important that we actually do have a testimony because that testimony is that proof. When I can look at somebody that has that skepticism about whether God is real or if it’s just my story, I can tell them about who I used to be, and what God has done in my life. It’s exciting to do that, and usually that gets them to think, “It’s real. Something did happen in his life, and we can’t deny that.” And that usually motivates people to accept the fact that it does seem like God did do something. So, just the proof of being free from addiction – smoking for fifteen years two packs a day, and then never smoking again! An alcoholic going to alcohol classes for decades (AA classes) but could never be freed, then got converted and never drank again! You can tell those people, “Listen, God wants to do it in your life. He wanted to do it in mine, and it worked. God is able!” And just our testimony can shatter this doubt thing that it’s just something you’re talking about.
Paul: Thank you. Do one of you other panelists care to respond?
John D. Martin: Brother Barry, whenever they ask you, “Do you have any suggestions as to how we can intrigue people to ask us questions about our lives?”
Barry: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think we can start off by denying the fact that we believe like the world believes and going along with the world’s system. It just pops into my head right now, in talking with the FBI through that kidnapping. The first time we talked to them – these are professionals from the FBI. They know what they’re doing; they’re very skilled and educated, and they had it all planned out. I had to just stop them and say, “Listen. We don’t believe the way you do. We actually believe in God, and we don’t carry guns on our hips.” And just that provokes people to say, “What are you talking about? We know Christians. We’ve been around Christians our whole life, and we went to church for years, but what are you talking about? This isn’t normal.” And it gives us an opportunity. So when we live the life of Jesus and we’re excited about it, people come and ask you questions, and it’s a blessing.
Paul: So Brother Barry, could you elaborate a little bit more though on how sharing a testimony prepares you for times of persecution?
Barry: Yes! Because when we testify, the devil wants us to believe that God’s not involved in what’s going on in our lives. It’s just karma; it’s just what happened; oh, I got lucky; hey, that’s interesting that happened. But when we testify that it was God, it also increases our faith, and it makes us believe more, and our faith is increased. And when all that happens, we are excited, and persecution is welcomed. But when we’re hesitant – “Was it God? was it not?” we don’t testify. And then when a real challenge comes up, we question whether God will be there for us. When He’s been trying to show us all along, “I’m here for you. I’m here for you.” And this world wants to silently reject that God is at work.
Paul: So Barry, when you’re in the process of sharing your testimony, your values will start to project through, and people will start to try to analyze you, and try to put you into a box. And in our world, that’s probably going to end up in a political box on the left or the right side, depending on what the subject is and depending on what you’re saying. So if someone leads the conversation sort of down that road of “What do you think is the answer for our country, and the times that we’re in, and we’re in these difficult times, and Christians are being persecuted; they’re being pushed out.” And so where do you stand in all of that, and how would you respond if someone takes that twist on the conversation?
Barry: Yeah, it’s interesting. The first thing I would say is, “Trump is not the answer. It seems like we think that the country should be like the Church, and that’s not the reality.” So I point people to the Kingdom of God, to Jesus, and how it’s separate from all of these things, and it’s more than likely separate from what you think Christianity is. And point them to something so much higher, and you can open your Bibles and read them the Sermon on the Mount, read them the Words of Jesus, and it’s amazing how people can actually believe in going which way in these politics and all of these world issues, and in reality it’s all in the same boat. We need to expose the high standard of God. It makes all of those things look pretty lame. It proves that it doesn’t matter which way this thing goes, without God, it’s not going to go in the right direction.
Paul: So do some of the rest of you have any experiences along this line that you would share?
Ken Miller: I have a question that’s a little bit unrelated. Is it ok? So every personality is different, and we probably got some apostle Paul’s or apostle Peter’s among us. We’ve also got maybe a Barnabas or a Timothy, people who are a little more shy, reserved, more inward focused, and they have a testimony; they want to share it. What are some first steps for those personalities to be able to share their testimony?
Barry: Well, I really appreciate those people. The apostle Paul prayed for boldness three times. Could it be that the apostle Paul wasn’t a bold man before? Could it be that he was shy? I think that the power of God and the excitement of the Kingdom and His work on this earth can call shy people to come out and testify for God, and they can do it in a way that really shocks people, because this person doesn’t talk much at all, and now all of the sudden he’s bubbling over with testimony, with positive things. And in that quiet slow manner, it’s just as powerful, I believe.
Paul: So are you suggesting, Barry, that if by nature, I tend to be a quiet or a timid person, by the grace of God, when I get asked a question about my faith, I could potentially light up and become someone that they have not seen before?
Barry: Yeah, I’ve seen some pretty quiet people light up about deer hunting. (Chuckle from audience.)
Paul: Any other questions from the panelists?
Paul: Ok, we will then go to our next panelist, Zack Johnson. He currently lives in East Boston with his wife Crystal and son Leif, where he fellowships with the Followers of the Way, and he serves as president of Sattler College. He was born and raised in Quito, Ecuador, and has a passion for Christianity, peacemaking in the international realm, and will be presenting on
The Importance of Obedience in the Life of an Overcomer.
In Revelation 3:10, we are told that God will keep those who keep His Word and He will keep them from the hour of temptation which is going to try the whole earth. As Zack speaks about the relationship between divine preservation and obedience to the Scriptures, we would invite you to think about that. Do I live my life in obedience, understanding that my obedience has a direct relationship to how God responds to me at times in either protection or divine intervention? According to the Scriptures, there is a relationship. Let’s give our attention to Zack.
Thank you. Thank you, Barry. When you think about the question of obedience, and how it relates to the world, it becomes a problem if you frame the world about your happiness. When we survey the general state of what many of the people around us are pursuing, and maybe even ourselves, I could say that many of us want to be happy. When you put the layer of obedience upon the threats of happiness, the Bible becomes a tricky “document” (I’ll use the word “document”) to argue over with someone who doesn’t want to be obedient. However, if this world is not about our happiness, and more about our holiness, then obedience becomes our lifeline, the very thing that will connect us to our Father when the end comes. So what is the life about? Is this world about our happiness, or is it a crucible to our holiness? That is a question that everyone has to answer for themselves at some point in time.
And not only does it become a lifeline for us to save us, but it is the key to a redeemed life that gives us access to something called – I call it “Titus 2 grace.” If you ever hear the word grace, and you’re looking for a definition, Paul defines grace as something that will give you the power to obey and the power to become a people zealous for good works. So not only will it save us; it will propel us in this life. Amazing!
Then – (I read the Beatitudes earlier today) the last beatitude that I read, I hope everyone remembers it – persecution. “Blessed are those who are persecuted, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is something that we can be expecting – something that obedience will bring.
But really, when you think about it – I once tried to eat a container of peanut butter in front of my college students. (It’s really hard. I don’t necessarily recommend it.) But my point was that if you’re constantly inhaling spiritual things, constantly coming to events like this, constantly going to church, constantly listening to sermons, and yet you don’t test your faith in the world and become a friend of sinners, you’re going to become a little flabby, if you just keep digesting the peanut butter. So persecution becomes sort of a steroid of physical fitness, so to speak.
Why did the martyrs of old glory in persecution as if persecution is glorious? Why do we pray for deliverance? What has changed between us and the Christians of old? That’s an interesting question.
And if we do face persecution, we must know that God does not bless everything that He allows. In Romans 13, we have a man named Paul describing an emperor named Nero, whom he calls “His minister,” and yet Nero would be the very one who would cut off Paul’s head. God does not bless everything He allows. But nonetheless, did God “keep” Paul? I can almost guarantee it – in the grand scheme of things.
Some of us will have different outcomes. I shared the story of Jim and Elizabeth Elliot today. Jim was speared to death. His wife Elizabeth was left on this earth to raise a family and to become an evangelist. They might have had the exact same life with different outcomes. We don’t know what our end will be. Yet it doesn’t diminish the importance of obedience.
So are there current issues that sort of compromise on our call to obedience? I would say, “Absolutely yes!” We are in danger everywhere. I would say one of the greatest threats to the Church is just the lure of the enemy to say, “Did God really say this?” With separation to the world, with things like lands, family, jobs, the American dream, materialism – all these things that want to compromise with obedience. So I’ll leave it there and open it to questions here.
Paul: Thank you, Zack. One of the questions that was handed in: You stressed the importance of obedience, and if you were sharing that with someone else and trying to illustrate to them the importance of obedience and that relationship for preparedness for persecution, what if someone says, “But in everything from my background that I’ve heard and from the Bible training that I’ve received, a strong emphasis on obedience leads to legalism.” How would you respond to that, because you’re making obedience a very important aspect of the Christian faith?
Zack: My favorite passage to point to is the one where Jesus is interacting with the Pharisees, and the Pharisees have required – they have leveled another standard upon the Jewish people, that they have to wash their hands before eating. (I think this is right. Correct me if I’m wrong.) So the strict manner of thinking is that we get to redefine legalism in that conversation. Legalism is asking something of someone that was not required by God. And when you look at the Scriptures, you can say, “Brother, this is our King Who asks this of you. This is not legalism. This is The Way. The Way that Jesus gave us creates order, it creates freedom, and it creates the opportunity for transformation.” So, I would say that if I am calling you to be obedient to something that you can’t find here in the Scriptures, shame on me! But if you can find it right there, you cannot call it legalism. You can simply call it “The Way.”
Paul: But if I were to push back a little bit on that, and say, well, isn’t our relationship with Jesus Christ the most important thing? And so putting this emphasis on obedience, would it not lead us to become more performance oriented or more works oriented, and would we not tend to look at people and measure them on the basis of the actions that we see in their life rather than maybe the relationship that they have with Jesus Christ?How would you respond to that? I’m just probing into that question a little more.
Zack: I’ll say some things, but I’d be interested to hear from the other panelists about this. David Bercot has a great message about the levels of obedience, that when we become obedient to Christ, we don’t start with an immense relationship. Obedience is a journey; and it starts with not understanding the complete reasons behind it, but as you grow in your levels (I can’t say I’ve attained it), you realize that Christ asks these things of you because He loves you and He cares about you more than you possibly can imagine! He’s giving these things for you. I have to think about my mother and my parents in this analogy. When I was young, there were moments when my mom would just beg me not to do something, and I’d look at her like, you really want to harm me. When I grew up, and I think about my relationship with my mom, she was the person who loved me most on the planet. And that’s how I think we need to be thinking about these terms of obedience as opposed to something that will hinder our relationship rather than something that is born out of pure love.
Paul: Ok, anyone else care to respond? This is a very prevalent issue that we face.
Paul: So I’m going to do a follow up question. Zack, you will get the opportunity to answer it or you can pick one of the panelists because they’re not volunteering to help you (Chuckle). So explain a little bit more about how obedience works in a love relationship with Jesus Christ.
Zack: Jesus at the end of the Sermon on the Mount says, “Many will come to Me and I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, ye workers of lawlessness.’” (Or in other terms, there is a Greek word called, ‘antinomian.’ Jesus is saying, those who don’t know Me are antinomian, or lacking obedience in a certain sense. Later on in John, it’s striking – the last comments Jesus has to His disciples: “If you love Me . . .” What does He say? Somebody say it. Fill in the blanks. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” And so the relationship between obedience and love is an interesting one that I think is between a parent and a child. And God has revealed Himself as our Father, giving us a set of transformational teachings that lead to a life of love. We can’t understand all of them in depth, but I know that Jesus leaves us with this blatant teaching about loving Him through following His teachings.
Paul: So if I were to summarize some of your comments, would it be fair to say that if I truly love God, I ought to have a high value on obedience because it’s my roadmap to love?
John: I think Jesus actually says that in John 15. He states it the other way. He says, “If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love.” And I think what the logic is there, is that as we obey Him, we see how good He is. As we respond to Him, we see His goodness in a way that we wouldn’t see it if we would not have actually acted upon what He told us. And then He follows up that statement. Right after that statement, He says, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” So obedience leads to love. Obedience leads to joy. It’s not wooden legalism.
Paul: Now as I walk up and down this line, and I look at these people in front of me, I’m noticing that they’re all white Caucasian, and that they’re probably coming from Swiss and German background, or at least that’s their mentality. And so their context for obedience perhaps gets wrapped up in a singular culture that I’m seeing represented here. So if someone was to ask the question, “What does obedience look like in another ethnicity or another culture of the world, and how that might be applied, would it look any different?” Or how would you respond to that? Zack, you may go, or you may point out someone else.
Zack: I’m going to choose the elder on the panel. John D. (Chuckle.) I’ll respond after him, though.
John: Well, different cultures have different make-ups. Some cultures are very emotional, and so their response is going to look different. I think that’s one of the challenges we have when we have a transcultural situation, to learn to appreciate each other’s way of responding to Christ.
Zack: I’m just going to follow up and say that if you find yourself in a homogenous group of people (and your surroundings are not homogenous) in that you might live in an environment where you are surrounded with people who look exactly like you – you come from the same ethnic background, that there might be something wrong, and there’s actually work to do in order to think about answering this question of – Is the statement that you said true, Brother? And if it is, are you ok with it? And if you’re not, then what will you be willing to do to change it?
Paul: Anyone else care to respond?
Barry: Yeah, I think obedience is obedience and disobedience is disobedience, no matter where you’re from. How things are lived out may be different, but we’re all called to obey, no matter what, and we all have the same Bibles. So I think it could look more similar than what we want to think. Even though they don’t have all the history that we would have, or all the reading materials, or all that, God still calls them to the same obedience, and also gives them the desire to obey.
Paul: So would it be fair to summarize this way? We might look across the world and see different applications, but it should be to the same guiding principle and for the same reasons, and obedience should still be flowing out of a loving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Paul: So now, taking this in another little twist, Zack – We know that there are other people who do not obey everything that we obey, or that we feel needs to be obeyed. Or they may say they obey it, but they just simply understand it differently; therefore, their obedience looks different. You’ve used the example of some folks in your family history, and their understanding of obedience would have been different. And think about it from the aspect of a young person who is looking at what we’re presenting as an understanding of obedience, and then there may be other voices in the world that would have a little different understanding of obedience. And this person is trying to understand, “How do I know when I’m being obedient or disobedient just by looking at examples of different lives? And how do I navigate through that and understand whether my obedience is –” I’ll put it where they would typically put it: “How do I know that it’s sufficient? That it’s enough?”
Zack: That’s a big question. One of the things I would say there is that I don’t want anybody that’s young to have a blind obedience forever. When I talk about obedience, it’s not necessarily just looking at a list and saying, “I’m just going to do this for the rest of my life” without understanding why. I would say to that person: Embark on a journey to understand the why’s behind the obedience principles that you hold most dearly. Maybe start with the most important one to you. And then after you’ve studied that, teach it to somebody else. One of the principles that I think about in not being a “blind obey-er” is the ability to walk through it and be able to explain your obedience levels to somebody else. And in that process, you end up understanding the sufficiency. When you’re trying to teach somebody else to be obedient, you become very aware that you’re broken, too. If this person only knew how broken you were, they’d even think you were not as sufficient. So what I would say is, start with some of the things that you are questioning, and dig into them, and try to explain them to someone after you. After you do that a few times — The question of sufficiency becomes one of these things called “the fallacy of the beard.” Have you ever heard this? Where you can say, “Hey, do I have a beard?” And someone could say, “Hey, how many whiskers do I need to have a beard?” And you get that that’s an impossible question to answer. And obedience no longer becomes about sufficiency, but it becomes one of these things about whether you’re pursuing it or you’re not pursuing it, and you’re not setting a minimum bar to attain, but rather that it’s a complete lifestyle. It’s a hard question.
Paul: So again, if I were to try to make a bit of a summary here: If my focus on obedience is focused on a list, and I want to see if I’ve done enough, and my list I compare with other people’s lists, then my perspective on obedience is not what it should be. My focus should not be on just have I done enough? But, how do I express my love for my Lord through obeying all that He asks me to do? Is that a fair assessment?
Zack: Yeah, that’s a fair way to put it.
Paul: Any other thoughts from other panelists?
Zack: Can I add something? They said we could be a little controversial here, so I’ll open the floor for a tiny bit of debate here as well. Maybe not debate, but – it’s also striking when I think about what’s required of God and before the throne that obedience comes to mind, but intellectual ascent to doctrine does not. Sometimes I think we can confuse those two in different ways, and that when we look upon people who don’t have the exact same set of doctrines to open questions in the Scriptures, there’s a danger of confusing that with obedience, when it truly requires openness among the brotherhood. I’ll just leave it there. I hope that makes sense.
Paul: So we have a couple minutes left. Again, I’m paraphrasing a number or these questions, and I’m grouping them together to try to get concepts out there, and I’m trying to dovetail it into the conversation, so I’m taking some moderator liberties here, but I am trying to check the questions as they come in and trying to keep them in the context here.
So we have this strong emphasis on obedience, and we’ve identified how we can have the right perspective on that, but now as the world becomes more ungodly, our obedience to Christ is going to continue to come into more conflict with obedience to the state. Where that conflict comes into play, how do we express that to other believers so that we’re not creating a spirit of rebellion? And how do we express it to the state so that we do not appear as if we’re acting in defiance?
John: Well, I think our attitude in all of our responses should be one of meekness, even if we have to disobey. I don’t think there’s ever a place for us to express resistance and rebellion of spirit. So even if we have to disobey, I think we should go out of our way to demonstrate a meekness and a respect.
Paul: So if I could summarize some of the things that I think are being said, I want to sort of say them in a different way, and to ask if this is a fair statement: When our obedience to our Lord comes in conflict with obedience to another power, if that is all done in the spirit of submission to our Lord, it cannot represent rebellion against another authority. Is that a fair assessment?
Paul: Any other comments?
John: I think legalism is whenever our response is to something outside of Christ so that He can’t speak into our lives. You know, you have this list. You might have gotten it from your parents; you might have gotten it from the church. They may even be good Gospel practices, but if you never see anything beyond that list, Jesus cannot speak into your life. If He tried to ask you to do something that was not on that list, you would never hear Him. So I think legalism is when we are committed to a code of ethics, and we are not connected with Christ; He is not speaking to us; we’re not hearing what He’s saying to us outside of that list.
Paul: Ok, this has obviously generated some questions. So, very good discussion.
Paul: We’re going to have to move on to our next panelist, which will be Ken Miller from Stuarts Draft, Virginia. We’re going to look to him for
Guidance in Overcoming Deception.
The Scriptures are full of warnings against deception in the last days, and even doctrines of demons. The truth of sound doctrine stands in opposition to deception, and Ken is going to speak to us about detecting and overcoming deception.
Well, I’d hope to discuss three things. One, the tragedy of deception. Secondly, types of deception, and then thirdly, how we can overcome deception in an age of deception.
1. The Tragedy of Deception
Something happened about six weeks ago. I was with my wife for a little marriage retreat in the mountains, and in the morning, I needed to go to work. So we were at a cabin south of where I live, so I get in the car in the morning at about 5:30. It was still dark. And I drive out to US Rt. 11, and I head north, and I’m going to go to I-81 and on to Harrisonburg where I work. So I get in the car, and it starts to rain. Now I’m driving up US Rt. 11 and it starts to rain quite a bit harder. And I’m dealing with an eye situation – two implants this summer, and at that time, I had the one implant in my right eye, and I was getting adjusted to it, and the vision in that eye wasn’t completely 20/20, and the left eye was legally blind without any kind of eye care. So I was there driving up US Rt. 11 and the rain intensifies, and now I’m looking for the exit ramp, and I find the ramp onto I-81, and now I’m driving up 81 north, and the rain intensifies. Now, I’m really getting slightly alarmed because I can hardly see the road. The rain is just coming down in torrents. I can barely see the white line on the side of the road, and I’m looking for the lights of a truck ahead of me to keep me on the road. And water is starting to accumulate on the road, and I’m scared of hydroplaning, but I’m also scared to pull off the road, so I keep going about 40-45 mph up 81 north toward Harrisonburg.
Finally, I see some exit lights up ahead. I kind of lost track of time. I was concentrating so hard. And I think to myself, this is probably either Mint Spring, or the Staunton exit on up ahead, and I had a sense of relief because I’m going to drive out of this eventually, I know. And I came up to the exit, and I looked at the sign, and it said, “Raphine.” It was so startling and so disorienting. Raphine is south! Not north! And it was so shocking to me, that I drove past the exit. That couldn’t be Raphine! But then it dawned on me – it was! And I realized what had happened. In the darkness, in the rain, with my visual impairment, I had taken the wrong ramp! And I’m heading south, when all the while I thought I was heading north. I thought I was on the right road, but I was heading in the completely opposite direction.
The shock of that incident caused me to think about the unspeakable tragedy on that Great Day, when people who are convinced that they are on the right road will discover that they have been deceiving themselves. And we are well familiar with that passage in Matthew 7. Brother Zack already quoted part of it: Matthew 7:22-23
“Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?’”
And then those awful and terrifying words:
“And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
The tragedy of deception is that deception scrambles a person’s internal guidance system, so that he’s deceived without the ability to know that he is deceived. His mechanism for detecting the difference between truth and reality has itself been compromised through deception. So deception and knowing about it is a very important question.
2. The Types of Deception
I don’t want to spend much time on what we could call the external deceptions that we know are out there, for anybody who is watching society degenerate or maybe studying at the university, the culture is pressing on us with philosophies that are confused about morals and gender issues, and those types of things. And we are going to stand on that hill, and we won’t compromise there.
But I’d like to talk about the deception that may be internal to the Church. And one of those deceptions has to do with what Jesus said is “the deceitfulness of riches.” That one continues to concern me – the prosperity that we live in. I was talking to a brother in the back this afternoon. A brother who spent three years in prison in Ukraine in the Soviet era for his faith. And he told me, “Being in prison there compared to living in America was a piece of cake.” The prosperity that we live in here has a numbing effect. Jesus said that riches have the potential and the capacity to deceive. Then we go to the book of Revelation, in Revelation 3, and there we have the Laodicean Church, and sadly there, Jesus is about to spew that church out of His mouth. He said that those people think that they are rich and increased with goods, and they think that they have need of nothing. But in reality they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. There was this huge disconnect between who they thought they were and who they actually were. They thought they were on the right road when in fact, they were headed the wrong way. What caused that disconnect? Brothers and sisters, I fear that it was their wealth and prosperity. It seems that whenever we have prosperity and plenty of wealth in the physical realm, somehow it dulls us in the spiritual realm, and we begin to feel comfortable and prosperous in the spiritual realm, when in fact we may not be. The opposite may be the case.
3. How we can overcome deception.
So, a couple lessons from my ride that morning:
- It was dark. We must acquaint ourselves again and again with the teachings of Christ and make it a regular practice to read through the New Testament to bathe our minds in the light.
- Secondly, my vision was impaired. We need to be able to see the things that are not seen, the eternal realities, in order to avoid deception.
- Thirdly, I was alone. If my wife had been along, she would have noticed that I got on the wrong road. We need to continue meeting together and living together in Christian community under our Lord Jesus if we wish to avoid the deception of the day.
So we’ll open it up for questions.
Paul: Thank you, Ken. So what would you say to someone who is going to college and they know that they need to go there with the attitude of being willing to learn? Because that’s why they’re going there – it could be for any number of reasons, but a trade that they’re pursuing, and so there has to be that attitude of openness and willingness to learn. Yet at the same time, knowing that those professors whom they’re going to learn from may also attack their faith and try to deceive them. What would you say to someone who is going to college, who is going to be in that atmosphere of – I need to learn from this person, but I also need to be guarded when I’m around this person? And, ultimately, so that I’m not living in fear as to whether I’m deceived or not – how do I know if I’m deceived or not deceived?
Ken: Well, I would suggest, first of all, we could work on that testimony, before we head off to school into such an environment. By the way, I think that’s a valid and a wise question and a perceptive question because we all know the statistics. So many young people have left home and have lost the faith in these secular places. So maybe, as the saying goes, “the best defense is a good offense.” So maybe we could be prepared to go on the offense. If there isn’t a testimony burning in the heart, get one there!
And secondly, we had Brother Zack just speak on obedience. So with a testimony, and a life of willing obedience, that would be a great way to launch into the atmosphere of a university – an obedience that is born out of a love relationship. I kept thinking about a passage from War and Peace (of all places) here this evening. Tolstoy writes in there, I think it’s the Austrian emperor who is doing the troop review, and Pierre, the main character in the book, is so awed by that emperor and so full of admiration for him, and he gets to be the last horse in the line of cavalry that marches past the emperor’s reviewing stand, and he hears the emperor comment, “Well, what great form!” And right there he would have died for the emperor! He had so much admiration, respect, and even love for his emperor. And if we can go into the world with that kind of love and admiration for our King, the testimony will radiate out of that.
Thirdly, I would say, stay rooted and grounded in community. If it were my son or daughter, and they were young, the ground rule is, of course, no boarding at a university. Whatever university you choose, it should be near a place where you can stay with a godly family and stay anchored in a godly environment.
Fourthly, find a mentor, that has maybe walked the path ahead of you, and has emerged with a faith that’s stronger from the university.
Fifth, I know that places like Faith Builders have special retreats for students who are going off to college. Those are some points that I would think of. But I never went to college, so some other brothers here probably have other insights on that question.
Paul: Any comments from the other panelists?
John: I think the first step into wrong thinking is wrong living. You’re susceptible to a false philosophy if you’re looking for a way to disobey Jesus. And so I think our best defense against wrong thinking of all sorts is to do what we know Jesus wants us to do without compromise.
Paul: So if I could summarize in just brief bullet points:
- Have a testimony and share it, because that’s sort of staking your grounds at the outset.
- Study your benchmark.
- Commit to living a life of obedience which is going to separate you from the false philosophy that you’re going to be exposed to.
- Be in community, so that you’re in communication.
Does anyone have any other comments – specifically relative maybe to your relationship with the Lord so that you’re not living in fear? How do you have that personal assurance that I know I am not deceived? Anyone want to comment on that? That’s still at the very heart of that question.
John: Well, Brother Ken alluded to this. There was one more thing I would have said, and that is, be sure you’re plugged into a good local congregation, and have the wise counsel of all the brethren in that congregation, and be very open with them. If things get said that don’t sound right, counsel with your brethren, and get their input as to what you’re to think of what that professor is teaching.
Paul: I’m just going to put a little nudge here. What about the Spirit of Truth? Any comments on the Spirit of Truth that is spoken of in the Scriptures. “He will guide you into all truth.” And we have the witness within ourselves. Just some thoughts. Any comments on the Holy Spirit and how that would relate to personal assurance.
Ken: Yeah, I think of this story of this lady who was just converted, and she was on a witnessing trip somewhere. (They were actually going door to door in those days.) The leader of the group noticed that this young woman who was obviously filled with the joy of the Lord and the Spirit, and he was sort of disturbed when he noticed that she went up to the door of a man who was known to be abusive of Christians. But she went and talked to him, and she came away with the report that she had a sweet experience with him. I’m not sure if he came to the Lord or not. But how did she do that? It was her testimony. It was her own faith, what was inside of her, that allowed her to witness to this man in a very gracious and a very winning sort of way.
Paul: Ok, well, thank you for your thoughts there.
Paul: We’re going to move then to our next section, which is going to be led by our final panelist, John D. Martin. He comes to us from Shippensburg. He tells me that he needs no introduction, so I’m not going to introduce him any further. But he will speak on
Overcoming with Prayer and Praise.
As he shares, have you ever thought about prayer and praise as a coupled weapon for spiritual warfare? Have you considered joining these two together to overcome the enemy? John is going to walk us through some Scriptures and examples to illustrate how prayer and praise may be used to overcome.
John D. Martin:
Well, I start with our Lord Himself. I don’t think we realize what His frame of mind was when He was facing the cross. Mark 14:33 says, “And He taketh with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed.” (If you study those terms, it means stricken with terror and horror – about the same frame of mind you would have if you were going to be crucified.) “and to be very heavy” (that terminology means to be desperately depressed.) When I first studied that out, I thought I never thought of Jesus in that way. I never thought that He would be terrified and horrified and deeply depressed.
And so how did He face it? Let’s take Him as an example. We all know that He prayed in the Garden, but we are told that before they went there, they sang a hymn. Now what hymn did they sing? Well, they probably sang “The Great Hallel.” “The Great Egyptian Hallel,” which would have included Psalm 113 through Psalm 118. It would have been a long passage. And also in that Hallel is Psalm 136, which is the psalm that says, “His mercy endureth forever.” So one of the things that He used to face this horrible temptation He had was to sing those psalms. And if you look at them, they talk about God’s mercy; they talk about His longsuffering; they talk about His faithfulness. There are just all kinds of things in there about God that Jesus used to reinforce Himself. And so here we have an example of our Lord Himself Who faced this horrible situation of the cross, terrified, horrified, deeply depressed, and He uses song as one of His weapons, and also prayer. After that was all over, He walked out with perfect poise and faced that horrendous ordeal with this tremendous preparation.
The Bible says that God dwells in the praises of His people, Psalm 22:3. The Bible also says in Nehemiah, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Now you can express joy in ways other than song, but song is probably the best way. So here we have two passages. One of them says that the joy of the Lord gives you strength, and the other one says that when you sing, when you praise, God’s presence is actually there in your song. So I think that helps us understand the tremendous power of song.
And so we’re often asked, “What would you nonresistant people do if somebody attacked your family?” And I think all of us would say that we would pray. I wonder how many of us would sing? I’d like to just put that in your mind. Whatever we face in the days ahead, I want that to rise to a high level of consciousness, that one of your best weapons along with prayer is singing. The story is told – well, it’s not just a story – we were visited some years ago. This is in one of David Bercot’s books. He knew these people, too. Dicio and Olivia. Olivia was from this country. Dicio was from Argentina, and they had served with Operation Mobilization all their lives, and they were here in this country in Atlanta, Georgia, in a motel room, and there had been several murders in the city, and everybody was told to beware of visitors; keep their doors locked, and just be careful. Well, they did not hear the warning, and they left their motel door open because they were expecting friends, and they wanted to be hospitable and have their door open, so their friends could just walk in. Well, in walked these two murderers, and they ordered them to the floor, and Dicio did that, and their pattern then would be that they would shoot their victims in the head while they were on the floor. Olivia did not do that. She was sitting on the edge of her motel bed and she stood up and she walked toward them singing a Gospel song. And they turned, and they left.
Now, it won’t always end that way. We’re in a battle. There are going to be casualties; we need to accept that. There are always casualties in a battle. But these are weapons that we can use. Of course, we all know that Paul and Silas sang and prayed in that prison. I am convinced that if they had only prayed, the result would have been different, but they combined these two – these two powerful resources. I think sometimes we think singing is just an emotional uplift. It’s not that. It’s inviting God’s very presence. It’s giving us the supernatural strength that God can give, that He has ordained to happen when we sing.
And of course, you all know the story in 2 Chronicles 20 where the son of Asaph, (one of his descendants, who was a singer, by the way) prophesied that you people won’t need to fight in this battle. And the next morning Jehoshaphat said we’re going to obey the Lord’s prophets, and so they marched out into battle singing, and of course, they did not fight in that battle.
So, I think we need to begin to think of song as a resource. It is a tremendous resource. It always has been. All through history, the great revivals were always accompanied by singing. And this wasn’t just to psych people up. It was actually something – God loves singing! He’s the Person that authored it. And when He hears His song, He is especially attracted there where that song is being sung. So let’s use singing as a resource.
Paul: Thank you, John, for those thoughts. You probably have all heard the question before, “How do I give a testimony if I don’t have an amazing testimony to share? I don’t have a great story to tell.” And I’m going to take that thought and put it within the context of your comments on singing, because I think we are probably more in tune with the need for prayer, but maybe less in tune for using singing as a weapon. But following in that same vein – if someone feels inadequate to share a testimony because “I don’t feel like I have a good story,” what do you say to the person who feels like they don’t have a good singing voice, or it just does not come naturally for them, but here this is a weapon that God has given to us. What words of encouragement would you have for them?
John: I’m not sure it’s the aesthetics that’s going to convince people. I had a prisoner call me from a state prison the other day, and he said, “I want to sing you a song.” And from an aesthetic standpoint, it was a pretty bad song, but I was just so blessed! God spoke to me through that song. So I don’t think we’re looking at aesthetics; we’re looking at the spirit behind that song.
We had a brother that visited our congregation often, and he sang horribly off tune. I mean, it was terribly off tune. One evening they sat him beside me and he told people afterward that he would never sit beside me again because I got him off tune. (Chuckle from the audience.) But I don’t think there was anybody in any of the congregations where he visited that would not have told you that it was inspiring to see the zeal and the spirit with which he sang his off-tune songs.
Paul: So if we were to take your admonition, and sort of rephrase it a little bit for encouragement for someone who feels that singing is a bit of a struggle — Operatic singing is not what is going to leave the testimony; it’s the joy that’s coming from the inside that makes the difference. And I think there is really a cross-reference there, relative to struggling with “I don’t have a great testimony to tell,” and struggling with “I don’t have a great singing voice.”
Any more thoughts from some of the other panelists here, or maybe even a testimony of how you’ve heard or known of God using singing.
John: There’s a very interesting account in the Martyrs Mirror. I did not give it, but I’ll give it now. In 1556 the new king of the Netherlands visited King Philip, and he was captivated by the song of a 14-year-old by the name of Joost, and he demanded that he go with him back to Spain to be his singer, but in the morning they found that Joost had run away, and he hid for six weeks to keep that from happening. Four years later, he was 18 years old, and he was captured as an Anabaptist. And four inquisitors tried to dissuade this 18-year-old Joost. They threatened him with torture, and Joost said, “You can kill me, but you have no power over my soul. God has. And He is the One I fear to disobey.” They said, “If you do not recant, we will take a hot rod and we will take it from your knee down through your shins, down through your leg into your ankle. And he said, “I will not recant.” So that was done to both legs. And finally, he was dragged back to prison. And there he wrote out his testimony, an amazing testimony for an 18-year-old boy, on five sheets of paper. And he also composed a hymn. When they led him to the stake, he was tied to a stake inside a hut of straw, and as they led him into that hut, he sang his song that he had composed in prison, “O Lord, Thou art forever in my thoughts,” and he kept singing till the flames had collapsed the hut. A brother in the crowd remarked, “King Philip wanted Joost to sing for him, but Joost has sung today for a greater King!” Beautiful story!
Paul: Any other comments from the panelists?
Zack: I was just going to add that there’s a story in the book called, The Insanity of God, by Nik Ripken, and I won’t tell the story perfectly, but there’s a story of an inmate who sang the same song every day until the day that he was executed. On the day he was executed, his inmates sang the song for him as he was led. I often – when I first came into the communities here, I was so intimidated by the number of songs all of you know by heart because you’ve been singing them. It’s very intimidating, but I would say just having one song to drift to yourself, your heart-song, is something I really picked up on that story – the song that somebody knows you by, and that when they hear it, they think of you. When you’re singing that on a really regular basis, so that when that moment does come, that your instinct is prayer, and maybe even that one song, so it’s a habit, not something that you have to think about in the moment.
Paul: Thank you. Any other comments?
General Questions that came in:
Paul: Ok, I’m going to move to some more questions that I’ve saved for the end, because they are more general questions about persecution, and I think it would sort of equally apply to all the panelists. I saved them till the end because we sort of got an overview, and now we can look at this subject of persecution maybe in a broader way.
So let’s respond to this question – I’m going to paraphrase it. Basically – “Is it healthy for a person to spend time imagining or trying to figure out how persecution is likely to come, and specifically how they should prepare for that persecution? Maybe it leads almost to the point of a bit of a stress in their life because they wonder if they’re really prepared enough for what might be coming or what they might face?” So I’m opening that up to the panel. Maybe just to keep it moving, I’m going to just start with Ken, and let’s just go down the line here, and everyone just give a bullet point thought maybe on that.
Ken: I would quote Jesus. He said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is much.” So we can all probably think of one area in which we’ve been a little bit convicted in recently, and where we should be more obedient. Take that little thing and work on it. Maybe for me, it’s staying within the speed limit going up I-81. I think I can be a little more faithful in that. Little acts of faithfulness put together add up to big ones.
John: My remarks are along the same line. I showed you the cross, and how we are tested all day every day making decisions, and if we have learned to make hard decisions, and have learned to take up our cross and let the flesh suffer in those decisions, they will make us stronger and stronger. I don’t think Judas failed that miserably all of the sudden. The Bible says he had the bag, and had that which was within. I think he was pilfering all along, training himself to be a thief. And so I think if we train ourselves to face difficult situations and pay the price and suffering of our flesh, that will prepare us for the large tests.
Barry: Yeah, I would be thinking along the same lines. This whole thing of “I don’t know what I would do” – I almost think we can lay that to rest, because if we have God working in our lives each day, then can’t we trust that He would also be working in our lives when we’re suffering persecution? And we can actually be confident in that, and say, “I do know what I would do because God says He’ll never leave me nor forsake me. So I’ll do what God wants me to do in that time.”
Zack: I’ll just say that there might be a tiny benefit of developing fortitude and testing yourself in some of those scenarios, and preparation in reading some books about other people, but I agree that Jesus says, don’t worry about tomorrow, for today has enough troubles of its own. Other people have said it well, too – Mark Twain said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” If you imagine the infinite number of ways that you could be persecuted, you’ll probably come down to a “finger load” in your lifetime. They won’t happen. Then another way of thinking is that you suffer more in your imagination than in reality, so the benefits of worrying, I think, don’t outweigh the cons. So it’s not necessarily a great thing to do.
Paul: And if I might add a thought – we just covered four aspects of preparing for persecution. So if we would implement these four areas of our life, 1) sharing our testimony, 2) being obedient, 3) being joyful and prayerful, and 4) adhering to the truth, that is preparing for persecution. That’s preparing for persecution in God’s way.
Now, it has often been said that it seems like persecution is what it takes for the Church to give proper priority to core doctrines or core truths, and to let the periphery be the periphery. So the question is, “Being that we are not in a time of persecution, what can we do for the Church that would create that same unifying effect, being able to properly prioritize our core values and maybe being less rigid on some of the things that there may be differences among us?”
Again, just starting with Ken, let’s just go down the line and give just a few bullets.
Ken: Can I be last?
John: I’ll be next to last.
Paul: Zack, I think it looks like it got sent your way.
Zack: Thank you, brothers. Can you restate the question one time?
Paul: Essentially, the question is saying, it seems like persecution is what unites us and helps us establish priorities and establish periphery, so lacking persecution now, how could we reap that benefit of learning how to unite around core values and letting periphery be periphery? I guess it would be another way of saying we would be better prepared for persecution because we’ve already established the right priorities.
Zack: The assumptions on the question are hard. I think it’s a good question. My challenge to the question itself is – Is there anything in the Scriptures that is periphery? It’s a hard thought process to say I’ll take this part of Scriptures, but in times of persecution, this part doesn’t really matter. When I look at the title of this – “What Hill Should We Die On?” today, it seems like the answer to that is, “I’ll die on any hill in obedience to Christ’s teachings and the teachings of His apostles.” Thatis at the core, and beyond those would be somewhat of the periphery, but at the same time, just because we’re not facing persecution does not mean we’re not in war today! Every time you have Communion, we’re told to examine ourselves, and we’re told to beg for mercy for when we fall short, and so I think I’ll leave it there, that it’s the teachings of Christ and the teachings of His apostles which are essential; other things are on the periphery. Yet in essence, we are always at war, and so the question of “What can we let go of when we’re not in persecution?” is a hard one to me. I’m going to say, “Not much.” But I’ll leave it there.
Barry: Yeah, I would push back a little bit that we’re not in a time of persecution, but maybe a time of sleeping. But besides that, I think if we as bodies come together and take things seriously, and maybe shift our focus from the things of life, and to pulling together as a body and loving each other in a way that provokes the world to want what we have, we’re going to be a unit that’s ready for anything, and we’ll be excited when it comes.
Paul: Ok, I’ll go to the next question here. In relation to deception, understanding that historically a lot of the persecution that believers have faced has been at the hands of other organized religion, including even Christianity, how do we discern whether we are in – I’m putting it in my own words – whether we are in truth, or whether we are in error? (understanding that much of the error has come through Christianity.) I think that’s the intent of the question.
John: Well, I spoke to that in my message. That’s because people have left Christ as the primary focus and have used the Scripture with philosophical manipulation and logical arrangement of ideas and have not continued to reference Jesus. I don’t think we can go wrong with constant focus on what Jesus actually said. I think once we start to manipulate Scriptures and come to conclusions that actually contradict what He said, then is when we go down the wrong road. And that’s what most of Christendom has done.
Paul: Any other thoughts?
Ken: I think there’s a value in studying the interpretation and application of those faithful believers throughout history, who have been known to follow Christ and put Him at the center.
John: I like that comment. I tell people, I like to test things by what I call the historic Christian faith. If nobody in all of history said what I’m hearing, then it’s wrong.
Zack: When I was leaving the air force, I had a friend invite me to dinner, and they asked me if I spoke in tongues, and I proceeded to tell them, no, I don’t. I don’t speak in tongues – in the way that they do. They said, “We’re going to teach you tonight?” And they prayed out loud, and then they said, “Say something.” And I rambled something in Spanish because I was very nervous, and they said, “Look, you did it!” I said, “All right, yeah.” And they proceeded to say, “Hey, why are you leaving this if we speak in tongues, and you’re not in the Spirit? How is that?” I said, “We have truth.” I’ll affirm that it’s the teachings of Christ.
But I’ve once heard David Bercot say, “Most American Christians know more about the history of their country than they do about the history of Christianity.” That cuts me. I was like, “Yeah, that’s true. I’ve studied more world history than I have church history.” And so, the call to everyone is to devote ourselves to church history and to the study of the faith, because church history is the spade work of Biblical interpretation, and it’s the spade work of knowing what is true and what is not. Not saying that the Spirit can’t lead us, but we have to test the Spirit against what is written in the Scriptures and our early witness.
Paul: So what could we say to someone who is not a reader? In other words, they will not read large volumes of material. Maybe they read their Bible faithfully every day. How could we give some practical guidance for someone who may be ok with hearing history being shared from other people, but it’s not their thing?
Zack: Who made the comment about deer hunting? Barry made the comment about dear hunting, and the comment was made that shy people get excited to speak about what their passions are. If you don’t like reading, then go hang out around someone who does, and sit at their feet and listen to what they’ve been reading. That’s one way – surround yourself with people who are passionate and turn your heart into the treasure, so that you treasure these important things more than you treasure these other hobbies that might not be beneficial. There are a lot of other resources today as well, if you don’t like reading. The world of technology is making many things available to us.
Paul: So I’m going to extract something that I think I heard Ken say and I think I heard John say. I’m going to say it a little differently, and I’ll give you opportunity to comment on it. I think we need to take this question seriously, because it’s – “How do we know when there are all these forms of Christianity out there, how do we get that personal guidance and help?” The statement was made about following the example of Christ. The statement was also made about following the Scriptures or obeying the Scriptures. Sometimes people focus more on trying to understand the Scriptures than on trying to obey the Scriptures. And we’re told that obedience opens up our understanding. Secondly, in the interpretation of Scriptures, one of the best guides to accurately interpreting the Scriptures is looking at the lives and the examples of Jesus and the apostles. So the Scripture helps us to become its own interpreter in that way. Any thoughts on that summary?
John: Could you restate your question?
Paul: Well, the original question was, “With all the brands of Christianity and Christianity being involved in deception and Christianity being involved in persecution, how do we know that we’re not being deceived?”So you brothers have responded to that. I was trying to direct it a little bit more toward the person who is looking to with their average devotional time, getting that assurance each morning that “I’m in the Word of God and my heart is true, and I’m not going into error.” I was suggesting that one of the ways of understanding that our Bible interpretation is accurate is if our interpretation would match the example that Christ has given.
John: I think that is the way it is. This morning, I quoted the Anabaptists who said, “No interpretation of Scripture is the right interpretation if it contradicts anything Jesus ever said or did.” So Jesus is the hermeneutic, finally, of our understanding.
Barry: Yeah, and we have the unity of the Spirit plus the Word of God and each other. There is a lot of safety, you know, in multiple counselors – if we’re all coming together, and we have the unity of the Spirit, and we have the Word of God, and all that lines up. When you think about all these people that are going off on these things that aren’t Biblical, they can’t have all that lined up, it seems. It seems very strange that they come to the conclusion they do. And if we stray away from the unity of the brotherhood speaking into our lives, and the Word of God, we’re going to fall into that same situation.
Ken: You used, the “unity of the Spirit,” Brother Barry, and 1 John 5 speaks of the “witness of the Spirit.” “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” (1 John 5:6-10.) So with a careful study of the Word of God, the inner witness of the Spirit, and brothers around us who are also seeking to love the Lord Jesus –
However, in all of that, we’ll probably follow truth imperfectly. And all of us should probably humble ourselves and admit that we’re probably not seeing the Scriptures perfectly in every way, understanding all the doctrines correctly, or even living obediently as we should. So ultimately it comes back, I think – now this may sound a little bit Protestant, but it comes out of the Martyrs Mirror. So here’s a young lady who was in prison. She had lost her husband due to martyrdom. They had been married seven months and had a child, which gives you a bit of idea of sort of the sketchy background of their lives before they were believers. And they were put in prison, and the husband had now given his life, and the girl – I think her name was Anneken – she was so cheerful when they interrogated her before her death. And they said, “Hey, you’ve lived this way. How can you know you’re right with God?” and all that, and her response was, “Well, in the areas that I fall short in, I trust Jesus to make up the difference.” (In essence, that was her answer.) So we can find a lot of comfort in our brotherhoods that are falling short. We trust our Savior for our final salvation, as imperfect as we are.
Paul: Your thoughts lead me to another quote from Balthasar Hubmaier. He said, “I am a man. I may ere. But a heretic I cannot be because I constantly seek instruction from the Word of God.” It’s that openness to hear and obey that never leads us in the wrong way.
Paul: I’ll give one final question here. And just respond in brief because we’re at our closing time. “At what point does manmade or church-made traditions obstruct obedience to Christ?”
Ken: Well, definitely where manmade instructions run counter to the Word of God (which has happened), in that case, there’s repentance needed.
Paul: Ok, any other thoughts?
Zack: If the traditions are hindering people from being baptized and obeying everything that Jesus taught, I would say that’s an obstruction to Christ and His teachings.
Paul: So if I were to summarize the statements that have been made, it would be more or less along the line of – there can be some practices or traditions that might be an expression or an application of the commandments, but when they are in direct conflict with the commandments, that becomes problematic.
Paul: Ok, thank you, panelists, for —
Ken: I wonder – this is maybe not quite in the program, but it comes back to a question that Zack raised. He talked about the idea of every person possibly having kind of a life song that he goes back to again and again. Would it be ok if sort of on a personal note, we close out this panel – maybe all the panelists who would wish to, could give one or two of the hymns they return to again and again?
Paul: Certainly. Do you want to start?
Ken: Well, since I raised the issue, I guess so. One of mine is “Jesus Thy Blood and Righteousness.”
John: Mine would be, “We Bless Thy Name, O Lord. . . For Thine is the Kingdom.”
Barry: “It is Well with My Soul”
Zack: “Unto Thee, O Lord”
Paul: “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”
Paul: Ok, what have you thought about? What have you learned this evening? How real and how vital is your relationship with Jesus Christ? That’s the foundation for a testimony. Are we connected to the life-giving Vine and are we abiding there? We all want God to keep us when we need Him most? But are we Bible-keepers? Christ keeps those who keep His Word. That promise was given to the Church of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, or the church of brotherly love, and we should strive for that warmth among us. But let’s also add Bible-keeping, because really that’s a fervency check in our relationship with the Lord. We ought to see that love and obedience are not at odds with one another. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
We should also ask ourselves the question, do we value sound doctrine? Do we have truth checks in place? Do we test everything we hear in the full balance of Scriptures? If we are not, we are susceptible to error and deception. Error can creep in wherever sound doctrine is devalued, or where relationships become more important than truth. We need truth and we need fervent relationship, but true relationships are truth-based. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”
Finally, we are both joyful and prayerful. Prayer is essential to the connection to the Vine. It is communion with God. His truth lies at the heart of our relationship, and that relationship should be in us “a well of water springing up.” If it springs up, it means it’s always fresh. And fresh water is what gives a testimony. Not only should it be springing up within us, but it should be flowing out of us – flowing out of us with joy! “With joy you will draw water out of the wells of salvation.” “He that believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” This can be our testimony in the times of persecution. The question is, will we do these things now that we can to prepare for persecution?
Thank you for your time and attention.