Faith or Fantasy?

The recent passing of Pope John Paul II followed by his spectacular funeral service, and then the appointment of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new Pope has generated unprecedented attention on the Roman Catholic Church.

In the eyes of the majority of Christians, the late John Paul was one of the greatest and most respectable Popes that ever occupied the papal office. Not only was he recognized for his political involvement on an international scale, but he sincerely dedicated himself up to the last bit of his strength in support of world peace and moral values for the Church as well as society.

His audacious position on sensitive issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, was commendable yet an affront to those of us who labelled him as the ‘apostate father’. But we were too timid to take a public stand for what we believe as moral and right.

Pope John Paul’s successor, Cardinal Ratzinger, now known by his new title Pope Benedict XVI, is not only following in his footsteps but has already expressed an adamant desire to fortify the international position of the Catholic Church and re-unite the entire Christian community under Rome.

It is obvious that Rome will only make minor adjustments to encourage an amalgamation with other Christian denominations that she deems as backslidden from the ‘only true church.’ But the basic claims and doctrines of Roman Catholicism will remain constant and may never change to accommodate the return of her so-called ‘wandering daughters.’

I am convinced that erroneous concepts, such as Papal Infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, Mary Mediatorship, the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, Purgatory and other similar beliefs will always remain the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church. The truth is, I am interested but not really bothered by this reality.

As a fellowship, we have long concluded that all of the aforementioned doctrinal positions are erroneous and not supported by scripture. The truth is, the faith of anyone, including ourselves, that rests on a foundation of heresy, pagan practices and useless traditions is not an expression of Biblical faith at all. From my perspective, believing in fantasies will do nothing to develop genuine faith for scripture declares, “without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Heb. 11:6).

It is therefore obvious that in a world that rarely views things from God’s perspective, but is rather overwhelmed by fiction and fantasy, Catholicism and other similar organizations will encounter minimum opposition in pursuing a path for expansion and prominence.

Now, in lieu of these recent changes in Rome, many students of Bible prophecy will declare, without hesitation, that the “whore” of Revelation 17 is indeed regaining her strength in a greater effort to re-gather her harlot daughters. Nevertheless, the majority of Christendom will succumb, with little resistance, to her pomp as portrayed by the media.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly the guilt and condemnation of a movement that was responsible for the slaughter of over 50 million Protestants during the dark ages can fade and diminish so rapidly in light of its present so-called glory? From my point of view, Rome will still be Rome as long as God permits her to be that way.

But is this massive institution, with over one billion followers, the only movement that holds tenaciously to her doctrines? The answer is, no! She is by no means alone when it comes to dogmatically holding on to her religious persuasions.

As we examine other Christian movements, it is evident that almost every prominent denomination and non –Christian religion claims exclusivity, and to a great extent, infallibility. It is really no surprise that the majority of us who condemn the concept of Papal Infallibility are, ourselves, guilty of the same spurious assertion.

Of course, there are those who are more liberal and would forego the importance of doctrines and godliness in order to include other denominations into their concept of what the Body of Christ should be. The bottom line is, Rome is not the only movement that is blind to the possibility of its own spiritual demise. There are countless other sincere organizations that have also, unknowingly, drifted into this spiritual snare.

As we further examine this subject, may God help us to be honest enough to recognize and admit to our own shortcomings and realistically consider our own attitude to exclusivity and infallibility.

Can we, as a body, slip into apostasy?

Are we impervious to spiritual decline?

Is it possible that, although our fathers of the faith had genuine experiences with the Lord, that we, the recipients of their teachings can drift into a spiritual rut?

Can the true work of God today collapse into a state of apostasy tomorrow?

Is it also possible that for us to move ahead in God we may have to abandon some of the religious concepts and traditional practices handed down to us? Or, are we essentially no different from Rome, so deeply rooted in our traditional concepts and customs that our minds are blinded to any possibility for change?

I think it is necessary for us to understand that God has always moved His work forward in spite of religious movements that chose to remain stagnant. The sincere commitment and dedication to the past can cripple one’s desire to move ahead into the future. As someone said, “The past is good for contemplation and offers a good foundation, but it is a terrible place to dwell in.” Fear of change and the unknown will immobilize all possibility for progress.

Consider for a moment the biblical account of Moses and Joshua. Was Joshua acting contrary to the will of God when he led the children of Israel into territories unknown to them? Scripture records many actions of Joshua that were quite different from those of his past leader, Moses. Yet, it is recorded that, “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua…” (Josh. 24:31). It should be noted that while Moses was alive, Joshua was his faithful servant. There came a time after the death of Moses that Joshua had to stop living in the past. He had to stop trying to fill Moses’ shoes and accept the reality that it was now his responsibility to lead the people into the future. It was necessary that Joshua start hearing from God for himself rather than seeking residence in a spiritual fantasy land.

Similarly, we should not dwell in the past or simply mimic those who have gone on before us. Rather, we should seek God and be able to recognize our own calling and ministry, without deviating from the vision and foundation of our past leaders.

Reflection on God’s commandments to Joshua after the death of Moses can assist us in drawing a sober conclusion to all of this. God said, “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersover thou goest.” (Josh. 1:7).

To ignore the past in order to move ahead is as unproductive as holding on to the past and ignoring the present and the future. Therefore, let us stand on the foundation of the past as we endeavour to build for the future. We are to perform that which God has commissioned us to do.

Having our own identity and being able to receive direction from God for ourselves is not rebellion. As a matter of fact, failing to obey the voice of God in leading His people on is rebellion.

Change has always been difficult to accept, both in the natural as well as spiritual world. But, as technology progresses, so does truth, and if truth is reality then one’s failure to advance with truth will obviously leave one in the past — living a fantasy.

If ever there was a time for us to accept the reality of our present spiritual standing it is now. To create an outward manifestation of excellence and ignore the awfulness of our relationship with God is misleading to others and deceptive to ourselves.

The point I’m trying to make is that if we are not exactly what we claim to be, but have drifted off course from that which was envisioned by our founders, it may very well be that our faith is also standing on fantasies. Just as with any other apostate movement our confidence and pride in the past will not justify our present standing in error.

In his epistle to the Church at Rome, the Apostle Paul suggested that much could be gained from the examples and information contained in the scriptures. He wrote, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4). With this in mind, let us resort to the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, as a good example for comparison.

Consider the Exodus with the spectacular miracles used in their deliverance from Egypt, and Israel’s amazing forty-year journey through the wilderness, overshadowed by the preserving hand of God. In addition, they had Abraham as their father with a covenant for blessings and proliferation. Also, we are not to forget their amazing conquests of the many ungodly nations in the land of Canaan. These wonderful acts of God were sufficient reasons to generate a sense of religious pride and spiritual ego in the hearts of God’s people. And sadly, this was exactly what happened.

Paul challenged Israel’s feeling of religious superiority in Romans 2:17-20 by first of all, identifying the reasons for religious arrogance. He wrote, “Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.”

The Apostle continued by questioning the reality of their commitment, pointing out the fact that their claims did not correspond with their commitments. They were not only responsible for the justifiable criticism from the Gentiles, but were also hypocrites. (Rom. 2:24). He wrote, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter…” (Rom. 2:28).

The question to ask ourselves is: Are we in a similar rut?

Are our religious claims justified by our spiritual relationship with God?

Will our outward manifestations of holiness in dress and order suffice for our lack of spiritual commitment?

Similar to the nation of Israel, we too, can be so overwhelmed by the credibility of our heritage and outward manifestations of ‘holiness’ standards that we fail to see the awfulness of our own shortcomings. But God is good, and by His guidance we may be granted sufficient grace to recognize the reality of our backslidings. Personal examination may honestly reveal the great lack of unity and commitment among us.

Well, do we believe alike as a fellowship?

Do we preach the same things and possess the same vision?

What makes us different from other organizations in regards to unity and spirituality?

Let us consider, for comparison, other movements such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Mormon Church, the Assemblies of God, the New Testament Church of God, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Church of the Nazarene… the list goes on and on endlessly.

Is it not a fact that almost everyone of these groups takes pride in their own history and ideologies? Is it not a fact that most of them are confident of their authenticity and correctness even though they have drifted tremendously from the vision of their founders?

Yet, there is such a vast difference in their order and doctrinal standings that it is absurd to say that the Church universal is united. Let us not fool ourselves into believing that a dozen groups preaching a dozen different doctrines are all correct. Christian fellowship will not justify doctrinal differences. Though unity of the spirit is a necessity, unity of the faith must not be disregarded.

Of course, the question pops up again: Are we any different?

Does it matter what we believe?

Is doctrine important enough to be placed as a priority for fellowship?

Can unity be achieved if truth is ignored?

If the doctrine of the Trinity is correct, then the Oneness movement is in error. If baptism by immersion is correct, then the practice of sprinkling must be incorrect. Similar contradictions exist with the diverse concepts of the doctrine of Hell, Water Baptism, the Resurrection, Mortality of the Soul and many other basic teachings. Of course, this is not even dealing with the endless interpretations of prophecies.

The big question to ask again is, which church is right and which are the false ones? Would God send a dozen preachers into the same city with a variety of doctrines and standards for His people? Among the hundreds of religious groups in our present society, can we identify which movement is in the faith and which is not?

As a fellowship, we are positively convinced that we are right and our fellowship stands tall in comparison to other religious bodies. Are we quite sure about this? Or are we, like everyone else, trying to retain heritage rather than pursuing present truth? I do hope that our religious claims are not merely based on the past experiences of our forefathers.

The scripture tells us that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing cometh by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17). It should be carefully noted that the word ‘hearing’ does not refer to the simple listening of the word preached, but rather to the implementation.

Is it possible that, like the nation of Israel, we too can manifest all the trappings of good religion as is described in chapter 1 of Isaiah, yet lack genuine conversion and conviction? Isaiah highlighted the nation’s commitment to sacrifices, church attendance and many other aspects of external excellence. Yet, there was little inward working of God in their lives. The mechanical aspects of religion were adequately performed, and, in their own eyes and that of the public, they did well. But sadly, in the eyes of God there was little spiritual growth. Genuine charity was missing. The prophet described the reality of their spiritual standing by saying, “How is the faithful city become a harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.” (Isa. 1:21).

Again in Isaiah 58:1-8, the nation was called to repent, but the people did not recognize their transgression. As far as they were concerned, their commitment to God was impeccable. Scripture states, “Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God…they take delight in approaching to God.”

As far as prayer and fasting was concerned, they had much credibility, but their prayers were not heard. It seemed that God was not listening.

Is this similar to the way we are — an outwardly committed and dedicated people making a lot of sacrifices? Yet, upon examination, the majority of those in our prayer lines return to their homes undelivered. We have great conventions with many in attendance, good music, vibrant and extensive worship, and powerful preaching, yet is it not a fact, by the next meeting, our congregations seem to have drifted further into the world? Is it not true that the volume of God that we claim to experience in a meeting does not equate with the conversions and answers received? It would be even more sad, if, like Israel, we are blind to this reality.

It is my desire that the Lord help us to honestly recognize our present state and understand, that to merely adopt and perform rituals and traditional customs, is insufficient for spiritual growth. We are to receive new directions that will relate to our present needs. To understand what our present situation is and then grasp what should be done to correct this awful reality is described in the scriptures as ‘present truth’. The Apostle Peter wrote “Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things…and be established in the present truth.” (2 Pet 1: 12).

So, are we for real or are we merely engaged in religious rituals? True faith cannot be developed by believing and living a lie. Let us examine ourselves and make a choice between developing genuine faith or living out a fantasy.