Blood on the Head
"But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes a person from them, and he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand."
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Christian -- especially those in leadership -- are responsible for how the gospel is presented. "For the lips of the priest should preserve knowledge," said Malachi, "and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts." Here is laid out the pattern for the ministry. Those who instruct as a messenger of the Lord should seek and speak truth -- not merely cover our denominational preserve or the American Dream Gospel.
Those who heard Malachi prophesy were guilty of this sin also. "But as for you, you have turned aside from the way," Malachi continued, "you have caused many to stumble by instruction . . ." Part of the role of the pastor is to teach people how to do the Word of God without waiting for some kind of imprimatur from his church or minister. Discipling someone in Christ is to teach him to hear what the Word says -- then do it. (Ephesians 4: 11-12)
If the gospel is presented some way so as to minimize the responsibility of people for their sins, a false gospel goes forth. Those who heed its call may simply become more religious rather than being saved.
The First Woe
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First of all, some leaders are not believers at all but men with comfortable jobs and respectable positions to protect. Their ministries are no more than a career move. Others are those who operate on religious feelings rather than the Word. Each is influenced by what is regarded as normal in his sphere of influence -- there are protocols, there are standard operating procedures, there are things "the way we've always done it."
There are dozens of ways -- subtle and overt -- that men can hinder those who are entering the kingdom. When unusual activities occur, some presume that they are not from God and extinguish them. Certain classes of people -- defined by outward appearances -- can be categorically rejected. Spontaneous and unanticipated outbreaks of salvation, prayer, or Bible study are often rejected or controlled and corralled. Serious study and questioning of long-standing traditions will be rooted out. Orthodoxies of procedure in worship and other activities can be rigidly enforced so as to exclude any sovereign act of God. Gospels can be preached that give "good news" other than that of the cross or that present a different god than that of the Bible. False doctrines can be taught that will keep men from repentance. Church leaders can fail to confront sin in a meaningful manner leading sinning believers to continue in their lawlessness.
All of these and more are concocted and perpetrated by men. All have the effect of keeping people from entering in to God's kingdom.
Dare No Discipline
-- Proverbs 13:24
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Scripture commands us as individuals and as a Church to deal with sinful members in specific ways. Failure to do so is not only direct disobedience to God but sets the Church up for serious consequences. In Matthew 18, immediately following the parable of the Good Shepherd and the lost sheep (vv. 12-14), Jesus describes the means by which we ought to deal with a brother who sins against us:
This process is obviously not for every minor offense since Paul, expanding on this principle, tells us that it is better to be wronged than to make some of these matters public. (1 Corinthians 6: 1-7) This is confirmed by the dictum that "Love covers a multitude of sins." But prior to that passage, Paul commands that believers to "not associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler." We were not to even eat with such people! (1 Corinthians 5: 11)
But these verses are foreign to the American Church. It is regarded as "unloving" to rebuke -- not to mention disfellowship -- another believer. In most American churches a sin must be very visible (and embarrassing) to be called into question. Certainly, I have never heard of anyone being disfellowshipped for being covetous as the Corinthians passages suggests. Yet, God commands it. It is possible that someone who regularly showed up drunk in church might get some reaction -- but it is unlikely to follow the pattern of Matthew 18.
During any study of the subject of Church discipline, it becomes apparent that the process is designed for two main purposes:
The first purpose is summed up well by James 5: 19-20, "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins."
"Saving his soul from death" seems altogether too important a matter to be left to chance or passed off because of discomfort. Yet, Church discipline is virtually non-existent in the American Church. Divorce, adultery, fornication, drunkenness, covetousness, and abortion all exist in the American Church and are largely ignored or treated as something other than sin (which will be discussed under a later heading).
One example is the pastor of the church attended by the notorious third-trimester abortionist, George Tiller. This pastor, who claims to be pro-life, has instituted no rebuke or other proceedings against the baby-killer. The congregation has decided to continue to "love" Tiller -- and "love" him all of his way to hell.
The end result of this tolerance for sin is that, individually and corporately, we become guilty of the blood of the sinner whom we do not confront. More, if the sinner is allowed to continue functioning within the Church, the Church becomes tainted and comes under judgment from God. Paul the apostle lambastes the Corinthians for their tolerant and "loving" attitude -- which he calls arrogant -- toward one such sinner. (1 Corinthians 5: 1-8) He warns them that their permissiveness will leaven the whole church with sin.
Hence, it is not "loving" to ignore sin among the brethren but rather it, as illustrated in the Proverb at the beginning of this segment, indicates that love is lacking. The American Church's unwillingness to deal directly with sin shows a profound hatred for both the sinner and the rest of the Body of Christ in that it places both in danger of the judgment of God.
Examples of God's response to "sin in the camp" are clear. Joshua's army lost a battle for the first time because of the secret sin of Achan. (Joshua 7) As the Scripture has said, "God is not mocked." And He will not be mocked by the American Church's bloodguilt in this matter.
Just as the refusal to execute murderers brings the judgment of bloodguilt on a nation, so the refusal to excommunicate brings the judgment of bloodguilt upon the Church.
1 thimbleful-----------Mental Assent (or any other faith substitute)
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The more distinctly modern version of "superficially healing" the people is the gospel of easy-believism or, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have it, cheap grace. Clearly, much of the American gospel is based only on the first half of Luther's dictum, Sola fides justificat, sed fides non est sola (faith alone justifies, but faith is not alone). 2
Many American churches lean so heavily on the first half of this equation, that we are guilty of teaching iniquity (lawlessness) as acceptable to God. Major teachers in the American Church openly -- though, at times, haltingly -- teach that being a Christian need not be accompanied by any obedience. This is particularly true in the evangelical, dispensational camps. One noted pair of theologians of this school said:
"Christ's personal lordship over the individual's life is not a condition of salvation." 4
Torturous exegesis has been required to remove any hint of what is falsely labeled "legalism" from the gospel. In an attempt to secure eternal security Harold Barker offers this innovative interpretation of the John 15 illustration of the branches:
"The phrase in John 15:2 would be better translated, "every branch in Me that beareth not fruit he lifteth up." There is no implication here that the branch is cut off and taken away. Rather it is lifted up, evidently from trailing on the ground, that it might receive sunlight, and thus become more fruitful." 5
I regard this as "innovative" because the text explicitly says that the branches which do not bear fruit are gathered up and "cast into the fire, and they are burned" (v. 6) not warmed by the sun. Perhaps the analogous hell here is merely a hothouse furnace providing warmth for budding carnal Christians?
All of these evangelicals will deny the Antinomian nature of their teaching by explaining that those who are truly saved will automatically evidence good works. However, when it comes down to actual cases, most of this school of teachers will admit that total "Christian" carnality is possible for saved people. Actually, carnal Christians of this type ought to be excommunicated or disfellowshipped as described in the last chapter. But Antinomians still cling to their "lordless" salvation and this makes it difficult to "regard them as an unbeliever" as Scripture commands.
In fact, often the overall impression is that someone who does try to live a holy life is in danger of hellfire because he is suspected of attempting a "works salvation." A.W. Tozer laments just such an attitude:
"Large assemblies today are being told fervently that the one essential qualification for heaven is to be an evil person, and one sure bar to God's favor is to be a good one. The very word Righteousness is spoken only in cold scorn and the moral man is looked upon with pity. . . . Is justification from past offenses all that distinguishes a Christian from a sinner? Can a man become a believer in Christ and be no better than he was before? Does the gospel offer no more than a skillful Advocate to get guilty sinners off free at the day of judgment?" 6
The gospel finally delivered to the seeker under this teaching, then, is one that does not save. No sanctification accompanies the justification. The "convert" proceeds with the option to live essentially the same life as before his "conversion" -- and is not saved at all. Knowing this, it is not surprising then when polls say American Christianity is on the upswing but that the newfound faith has little or no impact upon the lives of the believers.
In the American Church, there is great fear exhibited of offending possible converts by coming out too strongly about sin. What is being overlooked is that the unsaved cannot be "scared away from" a God that they are already eternally separated from by their sin and unbelief. Their staying away from the church because of talk about sin only reveals an unrepentant heart. Until there is a confrontation between the sinner and his sin -- with the cross as his only hope -- there is no benefit in having him "churched." In fact, it is a sheer detriment to get a man going to church and cleaning up his life if he never acknowledges his sin and believes upon Christ as Lord and Savior. This is one reason the American Church is so diluted -- it has received as brethren multitudes of unsaved "good" people.
But the teachers of this hideous doctrine seem so intent on their error that they, perhaps, never exercise salvic faith themselves and they resist those who would exercise such faith.
The guilt of those souls, self-satisfied in their church pews, who have never come to repentance, will be a millstone around the necks of the "ministers" who withheld the whole counsel of the Word.
Troubled souls, deep in sin, are now told that we "love too much" or that we have low self-esteem instead of being confronted with our selfishness and sin. Rather than being called to repent, sinful men are called to therapy. There we permanently founder, intent on ourselves, in support groups that prod us into endless introspection. Why look at the evil nature of man when the blame rests squarely on an unaffectionate father or an over-affectionate mother? Call it anything but sin! -- acting out . . . repression . . . inner rage . . . a need for inner healing . . . anything but sin!
Proven anti-God psycho-innovators like Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Carl Jung, and Sigmund Freud are more studiously consulted spiritual problems than the Word of God. Those who attempt to blend "the counsel of the ungodly" (Psalm 1:1) with "Biblical insights" end up bending the Bible to fit the pseudoscience of psychology rather than discovering better methods of helping those trapped in sin.
Christians have all but abandoned our roles as counselors. And the leaders, the preachers, the pastors lead the way down this narrow segment of the broad way to perdition piping the gospel of "It Ain't Really Your fault." Popular psychobabble replaces profound proverb and motivational messiahs mutilate the Master's musings.
"Medical" and "genetic" models are now being put forth for homosexuality, child-molestation, and other heinous sins. How long will it be in the American Church before these sins are converted into "diseases" which cannot be avoided or cured?
It may salve the feelings of a sinner to have pastors, counselors, and therapy groups all preening him and buttressing the idea that his sin is a disease or the fault of some past trauma, but it will not lead him to the saving cleansing of the blood of Jesus. Again, one is reminded of Jeremiah 6:14, "And they (the priests and prophets) have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, "'Peace, peace,' but there is no peace." 8
The popular -- and erroneous -- wisdom applies to anti-war protesters and political "doves." The context of the verse, however, does not support the conclusion. Clearly, those saying "Peace, peace," are the religious leaders trying to calm the fears of the people upset by Jeremiah's dour prophecies.
Those who participate in this superficial healing will answer for the blood of those who received such counsel.
Blood of the Saints
Paul warned his listeners that he had declared "the whole purpose of God" to them because he knew that after his departure "savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock." These would arise "from among your own selves." But Paul had properly discharged is teaching and exhorting duties before God. For this reason, Paul said, he was "innocent of the blood of all men." (Acts 20: 26-31)
The American Church, for the most part, cannot make this claim.
The Blood of Unbelievers
-- Proverbs 27: 5
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But most of the American Church avoids speaking of sin to the world around them. Some of us have lost the capacity to believe in sin because we have believed the heresy of human goodness. Most, however, are merely uncomfortable with confrontation and have excused this sin of omission by claiming it is more "loving" to not make a scene.
Whole churches have backed out of public expression on homosexuality, child-molesting, and other abominations by declaring the sinner to be a victim of his sin rather than a perpetrator of it. While the Scripture commands believers to "expose the evil deeds of darkness" (Ephesians 5: 11), the American Church seems to be intent on ignoring them.
But the passage about the watchman on the wall quoted at the beginning of this chapter makes the silent witness to the sin guilty of the blood of the sinner. As uncomfortable as it may be, our job on earth is to warn sinners of their eternal danger. Our failure to do so will result in more than mere discomfort for the sinner -- and for us.