Wednesday, August 6, 2008

COVENANTALISM

A NEW FACE FOR AN OLD SPIRIT

by Albert James Dager


Christians can generally recognize the overt evils of the world that tempt us to sin. Likewise we recognize those obvious philosophies that denigrate Christ and lead men into spiritual error. What is not easily discerned is a religious philosophy that contains sufficient truth to gain our confidence while leading us into bondage to the dictates of men and into spiritual error.

Religious philosophies cater to an innate desire to prove ourselves worthy to God. By their nature they nullify God's grace and place works of righteousness in its stead. So subtle is this evil that even the most staunch defenders of the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace are seduced into implementing prescribed works not only for their own lives, but for the lives of those under their authority in the Church.

This spirit of religion is the greatest obstacle to perceiving God's will and living in obedience to it. Only in the conquest of that spirit can we exercise true freedom in Christ which guarantees our salvation and allows us to serve Him unhampered by the dictates of others.

One expression of the religious spirit is an inflexible liturgy: If we do certain things in certain ways we will grow spiritually, God will answer our prayers, we will be blessed. The liturgical religious spirit also tells us we must know how to pray by some formula (usually patterned after an amplified version of the Lord's Prayer) in order to be heard by God.

Another expression of the religious spirit afflicts church leaders more than anyone else. It tells them that they must get their flocks into line in order to please God. It strives for commitments from congregants that they will fully support the church's programs and vision.

It isn't that these leaders are evil. Many are trying to do the best they can to disciple those under their care. But their perception of religious duty exceeds that of Scripture. They require conformity to their programs and uniformity of expression rather than unity of the Spirit and exercising of one's freedom in Christ. They perceive it their duty to line the sheep up and drill them on their responsibilities to the leadership.


TOTAL COMMITMENT

The Christian's commitment to Christ is to be total. But one's definition of total commitment to Christ might vary from person to person. Many leaders perceive total commitment to Christ as total commitment to their church or para-church ministry. It is seen as a willingness to forego all for the benefit of the leader's vision, even by those whose labors are voluntary. Just as many corporations require those who would move up the corporate ladder to subordinate their personal and family responsibilities to those of the corporation, many pastors require their congregants to subordinate everything to the church.

Those who cannot or will not fall into line, forsaking even their own family's needs for the pastor's vision, are considered uncooperative and often treated as second-class church citizens. They are made to feel guilty or fearful of God's judgment for their failure to perform to the standards set by their pastor.

Pastors often don't understand why their congregants aren't as committed as they are to the church. They wonder why others can't make all of the meetings or get involved in all the things pastors like to see their leaders involved in. What those who make such demands neglect to realize is that it's easy to make the church one's life when the church is the provider of one's livelihood. It's another thing to have to work in the world every day, meet the needs of personal and family obligations, and still give a substantial amount of one’s income and time to the church.

Most pastors don't have another job. The meetings are his job. By and large the programs are his programs. The church revolves around his schedule.

This isn't the way it should be, but for the most part this is the way it is. Consequently, the less "cooperation" leaders get, the more they feel they must implement programs to insure cooperation. In such a setting the religious spirit is in its glory.


THE OLD FACE

The shepherding-discipleship movement, which attained its greatest impetus during the 1960s and 1970s, exemplifies the manifestation of the religious spirit. In its implementation of discipleship toward a goal of developing holiness in the lives of its adherents this movement destroyed marriages, split churches, induced poverty, and ruined the faith of many.

Dissatisfied with their perception of the Church's weakness in its expression of faith, and desiring to see more power exhibited in spiritual warfare, those credited with devising the shepherding-discipleship movement (Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Don Basham, Charles Simpson and Em Baxter) felt that the problem lay in lack of accountability to godly authority. Perceiving themselves called by God, these men implemented a discipling program with themselves as its head, and to whom others should submit in order to mature in the faith.

Working through supposedly autonomous cell groups, the shepherding-discipleship movement gained tremendous impetus among many who were justifiably dissatisfied with the impotence of their churches. People who had felt their hands tied by inactivity and dead formalism welcomed the opportunity to make themselves accountable to someone they felt they could trust to lead them along the path of a dynamic faith walk.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the movement proved to be as immature in their understanding of God's methods as those they were attempting to lead. They went beyond the parameters established by Scripture and took upon themselves the responsibility to govern virtually every aspect of the lives of those they discipled.

No one could make a move without the approval of their shepherd. Everyday decisions involving shopping for personal needs, what to wear, and with whom to associate came under the scrutiny of the shepherd. What had started as an attempt to build maturity in individual Christians' lives became the means to stifle mature growth and subordinate people to the whim of self-appointed prophets. The leaders of the movement failed to realize (or chose not to consider) that those they led were not their disciples, but were Jesus' disciples.

The broken lives and resulting scandals that rocked the movement eventually caused those who initiated it to back off for awhile. But although the movement died in name, the spirit behind it lives on, and many of those who initiated the original shepherding-discipleship movement are today working to implement their ideas among established churches.


THE NEW FACE

In the past the religious spirit of shepherding-discipleship was confined primarily to small cell groups which operated under extreme authoritarianism working autonomously from the established churches. Today it has gained ascendancy within the denominations and among many independent churches, both charismatic and fundamentalist. Within this new context shepherding-discipleship is called covenantalism. Its focus is, as before, on small home groups, but this time under the sponsorship of churches. Thus it has gained respectability and acquired the confidence of pastors that it lacked in its previous life. In fact, covenantalism is increasing at a rapid pace among thousands of churches in the United States, and is spreading to many churches abroad.

Underlying the philosophy of covenantalism is a dominionist mindset which perceives the Church's mission as one of conquest over the nations. It is believed by those at the forefront of the covenant movement that the Great Commission is a mandate for the Church to take dominion over the governments of the world. This cannot be done unless a sufficient number of Christians submit to apostolic authority.

This apostolic authority is vested in certain apostles and prophets designated by a group of men and women whose religious philosophy grew out of the Latter Rain Movement of the 40s and 50s, particularly the Manifested Sons of God. This was the foundation of the shepherding-discipleship movement of the 60s and 70s. The 80s saw these movements take root among the established churches.

It is significant that Charles Simpson, one of the leaders of the old shepherding-discipleship movement, is the founder and Chairman of The Fellowship of Covenant Ministers and Churches (FCMC), head- quartered in Orlando, Florida. One of FCMC's purposes is to promote covenantalism with the goal of establishing pastors as the disciplers of a dominionist agenda.

Em Baxter, Simpson's associate in the shepherding-discipleship movement, is an Advisor to FCMC. In its first two years FCMC granted membership to some 120 churches as well as many independent ministries, and is growing steadily.

According to the thinking of those at the forefront of covenantalism, dominion cannot be achieved without worldwide evangelism which, in turn, is dependent upon a sufficient number of Christians being groomed to "take their communities and nations by force." This does not mean preaching the Gospel, although that is a part of the program. Rather, it means taking control of the spiritual and temporal forces that govern the world system. It is by nature ecumenical and concerned more with establishing a society based on biblical ethics than on true righteousness in Christ.

What seems to appeal the most to pastors is the idea that covenantalism implemented through home cell groups can result in growth for their ministry. Recognizing that the pulpit ministry is insufficient to build membership and to meet the needs of the people, they have come to realize that close-knit home fellowships can be used to their benefit.

The idea of home fellowships which form the nucleus of a congregation is in itself not wrong. In fact, it's a step in the right direction. Where those who promote covenantalism are in error is in requiring that those involved in the home fellowships meet certain standards that are not delineated in Scripture, but are outgrowths of the religious spirit of the shepherding- discipleship philosophy.

Those who would take the role of shepherd in these home cell groups must first demonstrate their loyalty to the pastor's vision for his church and a willingness to move those he disciples in the direction the pastor deems appropriate. In essence, the home fellowships are for the benefit of the congregation only to the degree that they benefit the pastor's programs. If any spiritual benefit is realized by an individual it is certainly acceptable and even touted as a reason for others to join. But if the leadership is not also benefited the home fellowships are often dismantled or imbued with an even stricter authoritarian structure.

Proper application of God's grace nurtures an individual's freedom in Christ. The demands of leadership should be confined to those prescribed by Scripture, and should concern themselves with sin and exhortation to service toward one another. However, Church authority should be ready to implement discipline where discipline is needed, not for the sake of their own egos or to implement their programs, but with a humble caring for the spiritual benefit of those under their care. There should be no demands for performance according to the standards of men, regardless of how good they seem.


CHURCH COVENANTS

The method of implementing the new shepherding-discipleship program in the churches is to require members to sign covenants with the pastor wherein they agree to perform certain duties in order to be considered in good standing. Among other duties, these include:

1) commitment to a small group headed by one who has previously covenanted with the pastor to follow his "vision";

2) commitment to hold one another accountable for their personal lives;

3) commitment to tithe to the church;

4) commitment to a minimum standard and time of prayer;

5) commitment to consistent and faithful attendance at services and meetings.


No one can disagree that these are noble goals. But covenantalism by its very nature induces compulsion upon those who fall victim to it. Once a covenant is signed it is difficult to break without terrible feelings of guilt and shame at having failed not God but men to whom the allegiance was given.

It is not difficult to see that at the heart of these covenants is a shepherding mindset that gives leaders a psychological edge in herding the sheep into line with their "visions."

The Coalition on Revival (COR), head-quartered in Mountain View, California, is one organization actively working to implement covenantalism in the churches. Through the influence of shepherding proponents on the Steering Committee of COR, covenantalism has taken root. This is evidenced in the COR Covenant as well as many of its sphere documents (see "COALITION ON REVIVAL: Putting Feet On The Dominionists' Agenda," Media Spotlight, Vol. 10 - No.1).

In its sphere document, "The Christian World View of Pastoral Renewal," COR addresses the concept of the pastors’ vision:

We affirm that every pastor, to accomplish his task and stay encouraged, needs to surround himself with a few trustworthy and loyal men from among his church's leaders who are in the process of catching his vision for their church and are eager to play their part in it and to be discipled by him in how to be Christ-centered, Bible-obeying men of God.

Local pastors and seminary administrators must be made aware of the pastor's need to create around himself a loyal, faithful band of elders and staff who are committed to his vision for their church and to helping that vision be accomplished, and who are being discipled by that pastor:

There is no scriptural precedent for a pastor to "surround himself with a few trustworthy and loyal men" to catch his "vision." This is priestcraft. "Visions" for pastors invariably mean programs for growth. The more people one can get to sit in his pews and listen to him the more success he feels he has attained. And if church covenants can be used to garner loyalty to his programs so much the better. This evil has taken root because pastors have not examined their own motives in implementing their particular "vision."

The head of the Church is Christ, not the pastor. Yet the approach of COR and that of covenantalism in general assumes that every pastor's vision is from God and that most if not all pastors are de facto qualified to disciple others.

One of the paramount visions promoted among pastors by COR and other leaders of covenantalism is the taking of dominion over their communities and nations. This involves social action based upon the philosophical underpinnings of the religious right, and may include anything from protesting abortion and pornography to support of the free enterprise system and a strong military. In many cases, one who holds a liberal viewpoint on economics, the military, or other non-scripturally mandated agenda, would not be in submission to his pastor and, therefore, he would be considered not in submission to Christ.

The answer to spiritual growth does not lie in tying Christians to their pastor's vision. It lies in an example of humility (the same example Jesus gave us) demonstrated by church leadership. If all our churches were led by God-ordained elders in mutual submission to one another, and to whom the pastors were in submission, there would be fewer splits. There would be less idolization of men who speak great, swelling words that sway congregations to support their "visions." And there would be many who would seek to emulate Christ as they see their leaders emulate Him.


COMPULSION

The requirement to submit to a pastor's vision induces compulsion and robs us of the experience of learning to submit to Christ in a spirit of humility. One element that induces compulsion is the requirement to tithe. Yet Jesus did not require tithing in order to be considered in good standing.

We owe not a tithe, but all we have. But unless we give without compulsion and with a cheerful attitude, the amount we give-whether 1% or 100%-is immaterial. In God's economy giving is for the benefit of the giver, not the recipient. He is the provider for all our needs; all legitimate needs in the Body of Christ will be met by the Lord working on the hearts of those He has chosen to use for His glory. For it is He who must receive glory from our works, not we or those whom we serve.

As one grows in his faith he comes to understand by the prompting of the Holy Spirit that his giving should be generous, even sacrificial. If he is disobedient to the Spirit's prompting in a given situation it is up to God, not the Church, to chasten him. And it is up to God, not the Church to place upon his heart how much he should give.

The Lord may at times prompt us to give directly to that widow in need rather than to the coffers of the church. (I can hear some leaders gasping). Yet if the churches took seriously their obligation to meet the needs of widows and other faithful brethren, it would not be necessary for believers to circumvent the offering plate in order to see that those needs are met.

If, in the opinion of some, this is erroneous thinking, then let the Lord convict the hearts of those who give in this manner. Teaching on giving is valid, but it is not up to those who are supported by the brethren to insist that the brethren give any particular amount. If they demand faith on the part of their congregants to receive what they need, then they must exercise that faith themselves in believing that God will provide for all the needs of their ministry regardless of how much is given to others.

Requiring congregants to sign a covenant promising that they will tithe puts them under compulsion, particularly if they feel their tithe isn't being properly used. This is true not only of one's money, but of his time and talents.

While it may legitimately be said that how one handles his money reflects the depth of his commitment to Christ, it is up to no man to judge someone on the basis of how much he gives. In fact, pastors should encourage congregants to give secretly so no one can judge them in the matter but the Father who sees in secret (Matthew 6:2-4).

As much as possible, this same principle should apply to all our service. Signing covenants does not allow for privacy of one's benevolence, but makes an open show of it. The act in itself promotes a sense of pride in those who sign it, and leadership's disillusionment with those who do not sign it. The danger of ostracism and divisiveness among the brethren is greatly increased when they are separated into the classes of those who do and those who do not sign a covenant.

Should one not sign the covenant he is often looked upon as unsuited for ministry or for receiving the full benefits of the church's services. Those who do not agree to attend a minimum number of services or other church functions are discouraged from being involved at all.

This approach disdains the personal freedom and the individual needs of the members. It says that their commitment to Christ isn't sufficient to allow them good standing in the congregation; they must make a commitment to the pastors (defined as a commitment to each other).


THE TAKING OF OATHS

Once a person takes an oath (and that is what a covenant is) he is bound before God to fulfill that oath. The guilt and fear that come from failure to perform can haunt people for the rest of their lives.

Pastors who require the brethren to sign covenants in order to be considered in good standing are acting contrary to Christ's admonition against the taking of oaths, which He stated in Matthew 5:33-37:

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:

Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

It is argued that these covenants are merely reaffirmations of what we already promised God when we came to Christ. This is not true. A reaffirmation of faith does not require oaths to tithe or become involved in social action.

To be a member of the Body of Christ does not require oaths or signed covenants with men. Why then, should Christians be required to sign them in order to receive the full benefits of the ministry or to be considered worthy of leadership?

Every time you sign a paper to pledge some given amount to a ministry or state your intention to do or pay anything beyond what is scriptural, you have taken an oath. Yet you do not know if tomorrow you will be able to fulfill that oath.

Can a minister really have at heart the interests of those he supposedly serves if he does not warn them of the danger of entering into a covenant, let alone requiring them to do so? Is he really interested in their spiritual growth if he hides from them the danger of commitment to men, all of whom are at best untrustworthy?

Those who are new in the faith may be threatened by the specter of the extreme authoritarianism characteristic of covenantalism. And how difficult it would be to witness to unbelievers if, in addition to the scriptural requirements they may expect to adhere to upon giving their lives to Christ, we saddled them with the obligation to tithe and support the vision of a pastor they don't even know.

The way Jesus ordained for us to enter into His covenant is by baptism. And we need be baptized only once.


A MATTER OF TRUST?

Those who require their followers to sign covenants often ask them to trust that they have their best interests at heart. Yet trust is a two-way street. If someone has confessed Christ and kept his testimony pure, the leadership should trust him without requiring him to sign a covenant.

As for a pastor, we should trust him as long as he does not betray that trust. But we should not be so foolish as to risk our birthright at his hands. Short-term commitments to his enterprises may be acceptable, but long-term commitments apart from those ordained by God's Word, such as marriage, are foolish.

We cannot equate commitment to a pastor with commitment to Jesus. If we are truly committed to Christ we will be committed to all our brethren in Christ including our pastors and elders, but we must be ever cognizant of the fact that men may fail us no matter how godly they seem. In fact, it may not be their fault that they fail us. If we put unreasonable demands on pastors and elders we can be sure that they will fail us. But that would be our fault, not theirs.

There are many pastors who are doing their best to minister God's truth out of a heart of love for those they serve. Let's not assume that all or even a majority of pastors are self-serving. In many cases where pastors appear self-serving it's because they learned their job profile from seminaries and Bible colleges that propagate a religious establishment.

If we choose to fellowship under a particular leadership we must do all we can to support that leadership in its goals to serve the brethren. Let us offer help to them rather than tear them down because we disagree with some methodology that is not addressed in Scripture. We can learn to work within any form not in conflict with Scripture in order to accomplish God's purposes for us in the Body of Christ.

Therefore, we must be diligent in our service to the Church. And the leadership should be supported to the fullest extent of our abilities. But each individual must be the judge of that extent. Covenants not expressly sanctioned in Scripture are not of God, but are born out of a religious spirit that seeks to rob God's people of their liberty in Christ.

If you are a pastor who is struggling in these areas I pray you will seek the Lord's correction in order that your congregation may be blessed and your personal ministry strengthened.


CONCLUSION

Although we are expected to judge the teachings and the actions of all within the Church, including those who lead us, we must be careful to grant to them their own freedom in Christ to serve Him the best they know how. Our attitude must be one of humility and kindness predicated upon love for those under whose authority we have placed ourselves.

Yet the fact remains that there are evil men in the Church, some in positions of leadership. Should we find ourselves at odds with a pastor who has proven himself a deceiver, confrontation may be inevitable. If in spite of our pleas and prayers he persists in abusing his position, God has already pronounced His judgment:

Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?

Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.. ..

Therefore. ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord;

As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock;

Therefore, 0 ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord;

Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock: neither shall the shepherds feed them- selves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. (Ezekiel 34:2-10)

How aptly this Scripture applies to those who would require covenants in order to bring the sheep into line with their "vision."

In their desire to keep the sheep from straying they herd them into pens rather than allow them to enjoy the wide pastures of God's grace and freedom in Christ. If they would tend the sheep within the boundaries of the pasture and correct them when they stray from those boundaries rather than herd them into pens to feed on the grist from their own theological biases and preconceived notions of what constitutes "Christian duty," they would prove themselves pastors worthy of the Lord's favor.

from:
http://www.erwm.com/Covenantalism.htm

9 comments:

jeleasure said...

"What is not easily discerned is a religious philosophy that contains sufficient truth to gain our confidence"

Exactly why I wrote 'Love One Another'. I wanted to provide more information than 'child like faith' receives. We are told this is all of the faith we need to be saved. However, what about the fruits of the spirit vs. the deeds of sin? How will a person know what is most important? That being Paul's statement from Galations 5:6, "The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love". I've met quite a few people who feel their obligation to Christ is to simply attend Church and announce they are a Christian.
I've developed a saying, "It does not make a person a Christian because they say they are".
Any way, there is a lot of information to cover here, Jeff. I'm afraid I can't comment on the entire article.
Jim

Great Googly Moogly! said...

A warning: The author's definition of covenantalism is not the historic definition. While I agree with the author in what he is saying, he is not speaking of historic covenantalism, or covenant theology. Maybe there is a new movement out there that is calling itself covenantalism, but from what the author is describing it aint the same thing as the covenantalism that's been around since the begining of the Reformation (at least).

Covenant Theology is sometimes called "covenantalism" and is one of the two major theological systems in the church today; the other being "dispensationalism". When people talk about covenantalism or dispensationalism, they are talking about two different theological systems--both somewhat historic, though dispensationalism is more recent than covenantalism (but, then again, both claim to be founded upon the early church fathers and the Bible).

Their differences are not over soteriology, but mainly eschatology and ecclesiology. The essential difference between them is fundamentally a hermeneutical difference that manifests itself in differening doctrinal positions. One systems sees God's plan unfolding through the use of "covenants" and the other through the use of different "dispensations". One system understands Scripture to speak more "typologically" (NOT ALLEGORICALLY!), while the other holds to a strict "literalism". Both hold to the "essential" truths of Christianity. The most glaring difference between them, in my estimation, is how they view Israel and the Church--but neither system has ever been charged with heresy because they agree on the essential Christian doctrines.

This isn't, of course, a thorough treatise on the difference. I just wanted to make it clear that the author is not speaking of covenantalism in its historic understanding as Covenant Theology. Covenantalism, in its historic understanding, does not teach or practice what the author is talking about.

That said, again I agree with the author's concerns--I just wish the term "covenantalism" would not have been used. Either the author is mis-using it, which doesn't seem to be the case according to the article, or the movement in question really is using this term. Either way, they should change the name so that there is no confusion.

Thanks Jeff, for another fine contribution. I really enjoyed the article, as usual. :-)

thekingpin68 said...

Although we are expected to judge the teachings and the actions of all within the Church, including those who lead us, we must be careful to grant to them their own freedom in Christ to serve Him the best they know how.

Leadership should guide the flock.

Church attendees and members need to study and think for themselves.

Over control of persons can lead to a cultic environment.

Jeff said...

Jim,

Any way, there is a lot of information to cover here, Jeff. I'm afraid I can't comment on the entire article.

No need to, and please don't feel obligated to. I know the article is quite long.

I wanted to provide more information than 'child like faith' receives. We are told this is all of the faith we need to be saved. However, what about the fruits of the spirit vs. the deeds of sin? How will a person know what is most important? That being Paul's statement from Galations 5:6, "The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love". I've met quite a few people who feel their obligation to Christ is to simply attend Church and announce they are a Christian.
I've developed a saying, "It does not make a person a Christian because they say they are".


Yes, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian, any more than going into a garage makes you a car."

I believe there are those who are 'Christian' in name only, who attend church, who may have been baptized as an infant, who may sing in the church choir or be on staff at the church, or who may even teach Sunday School, but have never been regenerated (born again).

I also believe that there are false converts who may have prayed some 'prayer of salvation,' but their prayer was only at the surface level, and was just words. Their heart was never changed; they were never actually regenerated.
These are some of those to whom Jesus will say, "I never knew you."

Jeff said...

Jim,

I think I have said this before, but I think it bears repeating:

We have been saved (regeneration); we are being saved (sanctification); and we will be saved (glorification...1 John 3.2 - “Beloved, we ARE God’s children NOW, and what we WILL be has NOT
YET appeared.”). We can’t live as glorified beings yet; we WILL sin. In other words, it has to do with
what HAS happened, IS now happening, and WILL happen in our spiritual lives. Jesus is Lord of all. Past, present and future. And we need to look to Him in all. So our hearts will be settled when we still experience some things incompatible with where and what we WILL be; while we’re still in the here and now. And at the same time remain confident that what WAS done, IS done.

Again:

He HAS saved us (regeneration) – Eph. 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

He IS saving us (sanctification) - 2 Cor. 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

He WILL save us (glorification) - 1 Peter 1:5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

--or--

He HAS cleansed us - 1 Cor. 6:11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

He IS cleansing us - 1 John 1:7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

He WILL utterly cleanse us – Eph. 5: 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

--also--

He HAS kept us – Gal. 3:23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.

He IS keeping us – 1 Peter 1:5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

He WILL keep us – John 6:39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

Paul warns us not to take grace and forgiveness and cleansing for granted and misuse it:

Romans 6 says:

"What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Jeff said...

Great Googly Moogly!,

Thank you for pointing that out. That is good to know, and is actually a relief, because what the author is pointing out is what I went through at my last church (i.e., an Elder trying to control my life and telling me I was in sin if I did not obey his opinion; when, if I obeyed his opinion, I believe I would be disobeying the Holy Spirit...in other words, he commanded me not to witness to someone, and if I witnessed the gospel to them, I would then be in sin, he said), and I'm glad to know that it is not a historic position that he is talking about. I may look further into that.

Jeff said...

Russ,

Over control of persons can lead to a cultic environment.

Yes, and that's exactly what happened at my last church, and, after I left the church, the church voted on an Elder-led church (where the congregation would have absolutely no say at all in any of the church's decisions), and the church split as a result, and the Pastor quit.

Basically, some Jehovah's Witnesses had come to my door, and I had talked briefly to them. They asked if they could come back, and I thought that could be a witnessing opportunity, so I agreed. The Elder commanded me not to meet with them, based on this verse:
"If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work (2 Jn. 10,11)."
I told them that I believed the verse was talking about not giving someone a teaching platform in the Church or in our fellowship, if they are bringing a false gospel. When that verse was written, believers were meeting in house churches, and to invite them into your house meant inviting them to speak in your house church. Also, in the Middle East, to invite them into your house meant sharing a meal with them, and basically saying, 'My house is your house,' in a manner of speaking---which was far different from talking to them for an hour in your living room, and they they leave. I told the Elder that inviting them into your living room in order to witness to them did not conflict with what the verse was saying. The Elder said that my disagreement with him was rebellion, and that I was in sin if I did not immediately and completely agree with and comply with his orders. The Pastor heard about it and said that he and the Elder would be coming to my house the following night in order to 'correct' my disobedience to the Elder. I told him not to come. All of these things made red warning lights go off in my head, and I could see that some spirit of control had taken over this church, and it had suddenly become cult-like, as you mentioned, Russ.

When I told the Pastor I was leaving the church, he asked me, "So, are you saying that you are breaking covenant fellowship with the church?" That threw me. I thought, "Covenant fellowship?? WHAT covenant? I never made a covenant with this local body of believers!"

Jeff said...

At that same church that I left, even when I first began attending there, if I ever mentioned any negative or bad thing that was happening in my life, a few of the members would immediately challenge me by asking, "Is there some sin in your life that caused that to happen?" Obviously, some problems in life are indeed caused by sinful choices; however, such an immediate, outright, condescending, self-righteous, judgmental, condemning, interrogative question is, IMO, a sign of a Pharisaical-type mindset.

Jeff said...

Also, after I left that church, I was told by some who still attended the church that it was announced, in front of the entire congregation, that no one was to have any contact with me (obviously the 5 people who contacted me, by phone and by email, after I left, disobeyed this command).

It was also announced, in front of the entire congregation, that I had stated that I did not want anyone from the church contacting me. This was a complete fabrication, because I had never made any such statement.

This was a Baptist church (ironically, one that a friend of mine had originally found on NineMarks.org, which is normally a good place to find churches). However, both my sister and one of my brothers, who have never attended a Baptist church, but who have attended non-denominational, Charismatic churches instead, said that they have experienced these exact same things at churches that they have attended in the past. My brother called it a 'spirit of control.'