ZEAL BUT NOT ACCORDING TO KNOWLEDGE
Zeal for God But Not According to Knowledge
The sticker read:
We don’t take faith too far.
We don’t take religion too seriously.
We don’t judge and we don’t talk about sin.
If that’s the kind of church you’re looking for why not join us in Laodicea?
My first thought upon reading the bumper sticker was, “if this isn’t satire this non-denominational group just shot to the top of the worst named church list.” A congregation named after Tyre or Sidon could likely be the only candidate to overshadow it. Obviously it was a satirical skewering of professed Christianity in the country today.
Culturally, what seemed to be an unstoppable wave of atheism just a few short years ago (http://bit.ly/1OyaY6p) has been met with a rising tide of people who profess to be “Christians”. By far the most vocal of them have been the evangelical non-denominational groups. Those groups whose casual contemporary religious experience is termed “authentic” and whose teachings termed “relevant” is designed not to offend, are cultivated to appeal to the worshipper who is looking for a faith that fits within their daily lives. Therein lies the problem. The faith that we see in the New Testament is a faith that changes the man. New testament faith is a faith that we must fit out lives within and not the other way around (Galatians 5:13-26 and 1Corinthians 6:9-11). As for what makes the message relevant consider the words of the Apostle Paul to the church at Thessalonica (1Thessalonians 2:1-8).
To be fair there’s plenty of religious error to go around. It certainly exist among the traditional denominations, and even congregations that profess themselves to be the Lord’s people and of Christ have a tough time staying on the right side of error. A name on a building is no guarantee that a church is as it should be.
It’s also important to note that no one doubts the zeal of those that hold such faith nor the love that they profess for God. But is loving zeal sufficient? Consider this passage from Paul’s letter to Rome.
1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:1-3 NASBStr)
But what was the problem with satirical Laodicea of the sticker above? To understand the reference we need to go back to the third chapter of Revelation. (Revelation 3:14-22) Laodicea was the lukewarm church. Condemned for being neither hot nor cold. Jesus said of them that they were blind to their condition thinking themselves wealthy when they were spiritually destitute.
The idea of being lukewarm is puzzling, why would the Lord prefer that they be cold to tepid? The answer is found in their call to action. “ Because you say, “ I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked”. Like many who profess themselves disciples today they wore the name of Christ but there was nothing of any substance at all. It would be more preferable that they were untouched by the gospel at all than to feel as if they were righteous but fail to emulate Christ in their own lives. This was a group of people that considered themselves to be right with God, and yet the evidence for being so is not there. How do we avoid a similar failing?
Recognize that feeling and experience do not outweigh truth
A good number of my extended family on my wife’s side count themselves among one of the major charismatic denominations. They are fond of saying that “a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.” I have heard many who identify with a number of the contemporary non-denominational movements make similar statements as to feeling the Holy Spirit moving among them and working in their lives. We look at this and we shake our heads.
If that were the case that a man’s feeling and experience trump scripture why would Paul tell us of the value of scripture in 2Timothy 3:15-17? Why in the 2nd chapter of that same book are we told to study to show ourselves approved if the whole counsel of God cannot be ascertained from and by His written word? In that same chapter why was Timothy told to commit those things that had been taught to him to men that could thereby teach others? After all isn’t the Holy Spirit just going to reveal it to us when we need it? One would think that experience would dictate that? Why then in Romans 10 is the word commended to us as that thing that brings about faith in the 17th verse. Why is the Gospel message and not the indwelling of the spirit the power that brings forth salvation according to the 1st chapter of that same epistle? If we aren’t going to accept that the truth flows from the word, and if all truth cannot be found within its pages what point does it serve?
Good questions all and while we see the folly of such a belief do we not do the same when we tolerate sin in our own lives and yet neglect our condition because we “feel” right with Him? Is it really any different than “feeling” religious because we attend services a few times a week? If the only evidence of our conversion is losing a few hours a week that would have been otherwise devoted to some selfish pursuit, can we really say that we have received a love of the truth?
Storming the will…Pricking the heart…Reaching the sinner
No one enjoys talking about sin. Preachers are no exception. We do it because we are charged with teaching those things that God has approved. The purpose of such lessons is love of the people. The aim is to keep the mind focused and the heart from wandering. The problem with modern denominations that teach either the impossibility of apostasy ( some call this the preservation of the saints) or just don’t speak of sin at all is that they leave the purpose of the scripture unfulfilled. I recently had the opportunity to hear a sermon online from one of the newer non-denominational groups in Houston.
Many in my social network have been talking about them, and I know of at least one person who has left the Church and joined themselves with this group. I was curious as to why.
At the end of the lesson I could see the appeal. The man delivering the sermon was not only a capable speaker; he was an enjoyable speaker. His message felt relevant, and his tone was even and loving. He was reading from the churches own translation of the Bible, and the text was comforting. He taught a lesson that I was not in complete disagreement with. It was a message about using open doors given by God to share the Gospel. He spent a lot of time in Colossians 4:6 and talked about seasoning speech with grace in particular when dealing with those of the world. In fact I didn’t have a serious disagreement with his message until he began talking about fear and how making people fearful of eternal consequences will never bring them into the love of Jesus.
Let me share with you the quote “…anybody been through the you’re probably going to get hit by a truck today so you might want to come to Jesus talk?…fear is a bad way to communicate. If you’re trying to breed fear into someone to help them make a decision it’s not going to turn out good.” The proposal was then made that a better way was to take those people that you’re trying to bring to Jesus to the church’s luxury suite at the baseball park and share what Jesus has done in your life and your story there.
No one is saying that we should be scaring people into Jesus or even that it is possible to do that, but if fear and consequence have no place in motivating the sinner then why are they so often mentioned in the New Testament? It’s dishonest to behave as if there is no place in any discussion with the unconverted for speaking candidly about sin. 2Peter 3:10-18; Romans 13:11-14; Romans 1:28-32; 2 Corinthians 5:11, Colossians 3:5-11 all remind us that not only sin but its consequences need to be in our thoughts. Luke 13 serves this purpose as well (unless you repent you shall all likewise perish) and the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12 has similar undertones. The purpose of the gospel is to bring the heart to repentance. Part of that gospel call is repent while there is time yet. The same Jesus who said that he came to seek the lost (Matthew 18:11-13) also taught the parable of the fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). It was also that Jesus who spoke in John 3:16 of God’s love that taught the Parables of Matthew 25 on judgment. To teach only one side of Jesus’ message serves no one. If we will not teach or hear a message that deals honestly with sin than can we really be His disciples? If we never tell the truth about sin how can there be any repentance?
It’s also just as important to remember that the story that is important is not our story but the story of Jesus. People should see the fruit of our faith born in the spirit, but the message of the Scripture is one of repentance. It is not the message that Jesus merely made me a better person. It is the message that He saved me from my sin, and for that reason I am His person reflecting His glory.