A Lament For The Church

Lament – verb:

1. to express passionate grief about.

2. to express regret or disappointment about something.

The translators of the King James version of the Bible found seven different Hebrew or Aramaic words which they have rendered as lament. They range from tana, which means to commemorate an event; to sapad, which means to tear out your hair and beat your breasts. This word, sapad, was used exclusively by the prophet Jeremiah, throughout his writings.

Recently, I have found cause to lament the state of the church. So far, this cause hasn’t yet aroused me to tear my hair out, nor to beat upon my chest in anguish. So far. But, I do feel a deep sadness welling up in me, which I suspect, will become that demonstrative before I am finished writing on this subject.

I like to think that my approach to following Y’shua (that is, Jesus, His real Hebrew name) is relatively simple. That is to say, I look at what He said and what the Bible teaches about Him, and try to apply it to my life in practical ways. I first believed God’s message of redemption early in 1988. I was a young man with a drug habit and a propensity for lying and stealing. I had heard the message several times from various sources, but it was only when God opened my spiritual ears and eyes, could I accept the truth.

Back then, my approach was very simple – I would look at the Bible and accept it as truth. I wouldn’t waiver from the path. I walked straight ahead. Then, as is often the case for new converts, some stuff happened. Looking at those events now, I see the hand of God, but back then, my inexperience and reliance upon how I felt about things, got the better of me. To my shame, I fell away.

My falling away was pretty quick and very severe – within 18 months I was back in jail. It took me many years of trying to find my way back to the Narrow Path. There was a great deal of lamenting on my behalf. But once I started to surrender to God and His generous love, then I was able to stop lamenting. I was able to pray for the joy of my salvation to return, and it did.

That was nearly three years ago.

In that time I have found myself considering the state of the church. When I walked away from regular church back in the early 1990s, things were not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but you felt optimistic for the future. The teaching, generally speaking, had its footings firmly in the word of God, even if the interpretations were a little off. But, over the years, I have watched (mainly from the sidelines admittedly) the modern church slide further and further away from God.

This week, for the first time, I felt a real pang of lamentation inside for the true spiritual state of the church. I will come onto that shortly. But first, let me make a qualifying remark. When I use the word church, I am NOT referring to any building; nor am I referring to any of the organised religious establishments, such as those who are part of the Anglican Communion. I refer to the body of believers who claim to know Christ as their personal saviour, and who will readily subscribe to the modern church ideal.

I have been greatly concerned for sometime about the spiritual health of the modern day church. I have seen in my mind a malaise, upon the overall leadership of modern churches. There is an arrogance that I find distasteful. I see it in both the teaching, and in the day to day running of individual churches. Now, I will tell you that I am no one else’s man, except for God’s. That is to say that I am not a Calvinist, or a Wesleyan, or a Lutheran, or anyone else’s for that matter. I have purposed to seek God in the way that He intended us to seek Him. That meant, for me, some hard choices. It meant to be prepared to question what was being taught in church and what churches did in their routines. It meant choosing to learn to listen for the Holy Spirit in the quietness, and learn to follow His lead. It meant forgetting everything I had learned and been taught since 1988, and choosing to seek God for wisdom and understanding about scripture. I have a long way to go, but the journey so far has been a remarkable one.

We, that is my wife and I, haven’t attended a church on a regular basis for over a year. In the past three years we have joined and left two churches. For some of you, this will sound unbiblical. You will probably already be thinking of scripture to back up going to church. Well, let me tell you, there is only one. You can find it in the letter to the Hebrews. Here it is:

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…” [Hebrews 10:25a NIV]

Out of context, this first half of the verse, is used by preachers and elders all across the globe as leverage to keep people attending regularly. The truth is, that without the context of the entire letter to the Hebrews, this half verse has become an object of a legalistic approach in the modern church. It is used to invoke guilt. Guilt is not what God wants. He wants us to encourage one another, just as the rest of the verse says.

And it is this kind of approach which started to sadden me, this apparent right that they think they have to take scriptures of out the context in which they were given and make a law out of it, and then put God’s name to it. This sort of thing is always dangerous.

Right, I am going to work backwards. Let me tell you of the event that triggered me even sitting down to type any of this stuff.

There is a great deal of talk out there in Christian circles about revival, these days. Many claim to have this prophecy, declaring themselves to be God’s spokesperson. Many lay claim to new revelation from God, despite Y’shua being His final word to mankind. You can Google end times prophecy or just look at the mind-numbingly contradictory Elijah’s List website to see that the spirit of the anti-Christ is alive and active throughout the world.

I have learned that it is vital to have standards when it comes to prophecy and new revelation. In John’s first letter, we are told to test the spirits. Not many people, sadly, do this and, as a result, what they claim to be of God, is little more than their own imagination of self-centred desires. Worse still, it could be from an evil spirit. They wouldn’t know because they don’t test what they hear inside their heads. Here’s my simple rule:

There are three explanations for what you ‘hear’ inside your head:

1. It’s God.

2. It’s you.

3. It’s another spirit.

In order to test the origin, you must understand what was said. If (and only if) what was said has foundation in scripture AND points to the person of Y’shua, that is, to anything He said or did, then it is likely to be of God. If, any part of what is said involves you ultimately receiving recognition or congratulations for you something you say or do, then it’s you, or your imagination. If what is said fails to point to scripture and the facts of Y’shua’s life; if it points to a new revelation of who God is, then it is not of you nor of God. It is a demonic force.

I am not asking you to take my word for this. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you. Learn to test what you hear inside your head. Remember also, and perhaps most importantly, that if it is God, it might be Him just talking to you. It might be Him showing you an area of your life that requires His careful work in. It is very unlikely that God will give any of us a message for general release to everyone unless that issue that is spoken of is no longer an issue in our own lives. Otherwise, if we haven’t learned the lesson that God is teaching us, it is hypocrisy to teach it to others. God doesn’t deal in hypocrisy. Ever. Those through whom God chooses to speak, are those through whom He has already done the work. The experience speaks for itself.

I have written several articles on this subject which can be found on this blog. People can easily get excited when God speaks to them, and assume that He wants them to apply what He has said to everyone else. Just because God speaks to you, it doesn’t mean He wants you to share it. Test, prayerfully, everything you hear. After a while you will be able to spot the differences between God’s voice and your own. The external and demonic voice should be easy to spot. It will always be about you and what you can get out of telling others. Empty promises. Just like in the garden with the fruit. All about you. If you give such forces a foothold in your life, they will move in.

There is a lot of talk of revival out there. People want it. They are desperate. So desperate, that for some years the church has been accepting anything supernatural as being the Holy Spirit at work. This is foolishness. Since the early 1990s there has been a move that can only be described as supernatural. People call it revival. They claim that it is God. But, just because something supernatural happens, doesn’t mean that it is of God. You could visit our local coven here in Hunstanton and witness the supernatural, I am sure. However, you would never say that it was God moving. For some reason we have got to thinking that because it happens inside a church, then it MUST be God. This is foolishness too. If you want a true biblical perspective on revival perhaps you can take the time to read this article: Myth Busters #1 – Revival. Just the facts, according to God.

Recently (here’s the event I was referring to early) I listened to a sermon (for want of a better word) which had been billed as the testimony of a man whom Jesus had visited in a dream and given him a message for all of us. So, before I started to listen to the recording of the service in which he spoke, I must admit I had the expectation that he was going to say things like ‘and God showed me…‘ or ‘then God said…‘, but it wasn’t like that at all. In fact, the only mention he made of what Jesus had said to him was a reference to a church which has a reputation for revival. He didn’t say that God said anything about it, other than He had told him, in this dream, to look at this particular church.

After that followed a series of statements and conclusions and scriptural references none of which had apparently come to him in this dream. Each time he started upon a new point or issue, he didn’t preface with ‘and God said…‘ or ‘this is what God is saying to us…‘, no. He simply started each new section with the qualifying remark, ‘I believe…‘, and we can all do that, without involving God.

But, because what he was saying was exactly what the congregation (and the leadership of the church) wanted to hear, he received a rapturous reception. It was taken as God’s word to them.

Now, I am not saying that it wasn’t God speaking. I am simply using this as an example to expose a particular type of practice that is both accepted and rife throughout the modern charismatic church. Because what was said was reinforcing what they desired to hear it must be true and of God. There is a good example of a prophet telling the people exactly what they wanted to hear in the book of Jeremiah. Chapter 28. It deals with the false prophet Hananiah. You should read it.

When I heard this guy telling his story, I jotted down some of the key points. They were mainly the same things you hear of over and over again in revival seeking charismatic churches – revival is just around the corner but we need to be ready. Dig the well, pick up the mantel, that sort of thing. It keeps people engaged. They keep coming. They keeping filling the collection plate. Then they are invested in it, so they keep coming. And the revival is always just around the corner. In the past three years I have heard that same message many times. Empty promises, every time.

Now, I am running a risk here because the person who was speaking could well read this post and take serious offence. But, I stand not in judgement over my brother; I am just concerned about how widespread the deception in the church of today really is. Let me explain just how far it reaches.

The only part of the dream which was attributed to God, was the telling my brother to look at a particular church. I am not going to tell you the name of the church. But, I like to do my research, so I googled this church. Just as I imagined I found a nice shiny worldly website complete with a huge DONATE button. A little more digging around and I found out some very interesting stuff about the said organisation. There was a lot of stuff that you would immediately say was good, but a great deal more that was not at all good. Further still, I then saw an account of a famous American preacher associated with the so-called Toronto Blessing who had held a revival meeting there last summer. Lots of people falling around in fits of laughter, apparently drunk on the Holy Spirit, laid out on the floor. That sort of thing. Supernatural, but not necessarily of God. In fact, having spent a great deal of time researching the events at Toronto, Brownsville, Lakeland, and Dudley in the West Midlands, I am convinced that the manifestations which have long been declared to be of God, are not of God, at all.

But, the trouble I am faced with is the despite there being many involved in the apologetics movement (the defence of the true gospel), because everyone wants the supernatural, the leaders at these big old megachurches, accept anything supernatural as being of God. This is deception.

This isn’t the time and place for me disputing with these people what they claim to be of God. This is me simply telling you what is making me sad. If it was God who had told my brother to look at the particular church that he mentioned, it was either to tell him to look to their example or to not follow their mistakes. But, the way the story went, it was as if he was telling everyone that the example of this particular church, is what you should all follow. If that is the case, then there is a real problem.

The church he referred to from his dream is well known, large, and far-reaching. It is, however, involved in several scandals regarding, amongst other things, promoting homosexuality among its leadership, and some very severe cases of what is known as heavy shepherding. These matters alone are sufficient for me to question its validity, but when you couple them with the pursuit of Toronto style manifestations in services, then it is a whole other issue. In fact, everywhere I look I see conflict and control; people at conflict with those in leadership; those in leadership trying to control them; people in conflict with what is being taught and who is teaching it. Now, I readily accept that any church could become victim to untruthful rumours. However, these are usually centred around sole individuals who have a particular axe that needs grinding. The variety and volume of the accusations against this organisation go beyond anything I have seen before.

I have seen the inside of these kind of large organisations over the years. They are run like businesses, with business plans, and business models. They are franchises whose sole aim is to maintain the institution that they have created. Whilst it would appear on the surface to be all about community and loving each other, there exists within each of them an inner core, a nucleus of people with the same agenda. Success is measured in terms of the number of people who attend and the amount of money they give. Their operations are sleek, and if you changed the subject matter from God to another other club or society, they would still be a success. They make new comers feel welcome but keep them at a distance. They promise everything and deliver something less. And yet, even with all these things against them, people love to attend. The question we need to ask is why?

I don’t have what I would call a certain answer for that question right now. If you have been to a megachurch you will know their appeal. What once appealed to me, no longer satisfies. I see too many problems, all hidden beneath the surface. All NOT talked about. In fact, they are never allowed to be discussed.

What happened to how it should be? What happened to that dynamic, loving church of the 1st century, who we see in the pages of the Book of Acts? Hopefully, I can address those questions as we go along. But first, let me return to the event that started this post.

If it was God who told my brother to look to this megachurch for inspiration, then I, and many others who champion the true gospel, are mislead. It means that we misunderstand the nature of the gospel. It means that to see Y’shua as God who became man; who humbled Himself and became obedient to God, is not the right view. Why do I say that? Because there is nothing humble in any of the people or organisations who are promoting the kind of supernatural manifestations that we have seen over the past two or three decades. They are all, without exception, self-promoting. They all, without exception, believe they have the monopoly on God’s will and His word. And monopoly is the right word, because that is what they are creating.

There is a new movement; a joining together of all these megachurches, with their sun-kissed pastors, and their designer lifestyles. These self-appointed super-apostles are coming together to form a super-mega-global-church. Just Google New Apostolic Reformation. Do some research. What you will find will either alarm you, or enchant you. Do not be deceived. They are deceived and are deceiving others.

My lament isn’t for these leaders who have it wrong. It is for the everyday believers who love Y’shua. The trouble is many of them are inside these churches, being swept along on a wave of something supernatural, which clearly isn’t of God. Sure, many will argue with me about Toronto, about Lakeland, about Brownsville, saying that many got saved during the meetings. I am sure that many did find out about who the person of Y’shua is. That’s not the point, however. The real issue is who is leading these churches? Is it God? Is it all their own imagination? Or is it something far more sinister?

The trouble with all of this is that the people want it. They want to go to services on a Sunday where the singing bit makes them feel all nice and warm. They want to hear sermons that make them feel like they are on the right path. They want to tithe their money and believe that because the megachurch is a registered charity, it is all being used to help poor people. Every believer on the planet needs to wake up. That isn’t any version of discipleship that I can find anywhere in the pages of the Bible. Y’shua said that we should follow Him. That means a life of denying oneself and choosing God’s work over everything else. That means a life of loving people even when they don’t love you back. It means a life where what you feel isn’t even a consideration in the choices you make throughout the day. It means to pick up your cross, daily, and sacrifice the things you want for yourself and follow the life of a humble man, who is God.

It means turning away from your old life and turning towards God. It means to trust Him in every single aspect of your lives – in your money, your home, your relationships. It means putting Him before everything else. It means embracing trouble when it comes your way, as if it is an old friend coming to help you. It means fighting your way to the Narrow Gate to make sure you are on the right path. It means to faithfully believe everything God says and to remain faithful to His word, His commands, even when life is tough.

Unless we find our way back to individual, personal relationships with Y’shua then we might as well all join the local megachurch. If there isn’t one near you already, there will be soon. But that is not The Way. Y’shua said He is The Way. Everything that God has said to mankind is fulfilled in the person of Y’shua. There is no new revelation, just a deeper understanding of His nature the further you journey with Him.

Yes, the people want the supernatural and revival. But none of that will truly happen until there is true humility among those who follow Him. Lives of holy living must be the only item on our agendas – not how we can get more people in on a Sunday. Yes, of course, it is about making disciples, Y’shua told us that. But the people who attend the megachurches are no more disciples of the Christ than those who attend football matches on a Saturday. I don’t mean to be disrespectful of anyone there, including football fans. My point is this: church is no longer about discipleship, despite that being Y’shua’s command to all of His followers. Sunday megachurches are little more than clubs to make people feel good. We have to stop trusting and relying upon our feelings and accept that life comes through the spirit, and not the flesh.

I lament what is happening to churches and in them, because there is no longer any control about what is being taught or practiced. Seek God. Seek Him today. Wail and lament all the things that don’t look like the person of Y’shua that are happening in your church. Wail and lament, If you want to see revival, to experience the true supernatural, it isn’t going to happen at some meeting that a pastor has decided it will. God isn’t a circus act who performs to order. Revival, true and supernatural revival happens in each of us when we submit and surrender to God. When we die to ourselves and our feelings, He revives us and shows us how to live. Life through the Spirit.

I am not sure that I am finished with this subject, but for now, I will leave it here. The message of the true gospel is simple. Our response to it is what produces fruit, good or bad, in our lives. It takes time to produce fruit of any kind. It requires care and nourishment and sunlight and rain. God doesn’t zap people and make them pass out, and hey presto! they are fruitful. You have to plant a seed. The seed has to die in the ground. Then, when the seed is dead, God does His work and revives it. This is His law for everything. Letting the things you hold dear fall to the ground is just the start. What God causes to grow, is far better.

Shalom.

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