Part IV

Chapter 14

The Surgeon Eternal

I awoke to the blurry sight of an acoustic ceiling and a large digital clock on the opposite wall. My mouth was filled with a hard plastic tube that forced its way down my throat and intermittently pumped air into my lungs. I felt like I was being choked as the breathing rhythm was so artificially unlike the one which my lungs and entire body demanded. Alternate pain and numbness ruled differing portions of my body. The compelled rising and falling of my chest made my sternum and backbone feel like rusty hinges. I felt awful.

When I tried to adjust the invasive and uncomfortably placed ventilator, I discovered that my hands were secured to the sides of the bed. I felt worse.

Consciousness came and went several times before I remembered that my discomfort was due to having had -- earlier that morning -- a massive heart attack. Once the emergency team had stabilized my condition, however, they found three of my heart's arteries were more than 90% blocked. There was no avoiding radical surgery -- a triple bypass. So soon upon my coronary, the operation took on a high probability of death.

The heart attack had felt like a giant TV wrestler was trying to manually insert an inch and a half diameter pike into my chest by slow and deliberate pressure. I thought nothing could have felt worse. I was wrong.

They had told me that I was "fortunate" to have had my heart attack while in the hospital. Somehow I doubted that as I looked at the interminable pace of the digital clock before my eyes.

For nearly two months after the surgery, pains and discomforts exceeding those of my heart attack were with me almost all day. Breathing bent and distorted my healing sternum -- and, God have mercy if I would ever have to cough or sneeze. During the surgery, my rib cage had been spread apart and my spine -- against its natural purpose -- became a hinge which only recovered with months of rest.

At times I felt, in passing, as if the recovery was not worth the price for avoiding the heart attack. Yet now I write this book -- and have written seven others since that event now more than four years gone.

Was it worth it? I believe it was, but you would have been hard pressed to prove it to me during the first two months of recovery.

* * *

Radical, emergency surgery is no picnic. It is often life-saving. Sometimes it is simply too late to do any good and the patient dies. Other times the patient simply refuses the assistance.

It has been said that the sword of the Word may be used both as a slaughter weapon against His enemies and as a blade to amputate gangrenous limbs among His troops. There may be some truth to this. Often it is painful to us for God to remove the carnal portions of our lives. But if they are allowed to grow to cancerous dimensions, radical removal is the only answer. The analogy fits God's people well. Recall the story of the tribe of Benjamin in Judges 19 through 21 where the Benjamites tolerated the sons of Belial (sexual perverts) in their midst. In order to purge the evil from the nation of Israel, it was necessary for the rest of the tribes to confront Benjamin and demand that the evil ones be surrendered. Benjamin refused. The rest of Israel, as one man, fought against Benjamin until only 600 men of that tribe survived. The tribe would have been utterly destroyed had the 600 not fled and hidden themselves.

This mighty judgment came against the Benjamites -- out of whom would later come the prophet Samuel -- was a result of their tolerance for sin in their midst. As ingrained as this tolerance was, Israel knew they could not abide this evil and escape judgment from God. The sacrifice of an entire tribe was the only solution and the possibility of Benjamin's extinction was very real. As terrible as this judgment became, however, it was far superior to the annihilation of the entire nation -- or even of the tribe of Benjamin. And though the recovery process was long and painful, Benjamin was still used of God afterwards.

Such radical "surgery" for the Body of Christ has precedent in Scripture. Most of the seven churches addressed in the Revelation no longer exist today. This includes one, contrary to the sword-as-surgical-instrument analogy, whom the Lord said He would "make war against . . . with the spirit of [His] mouth." (Revelation 2:16) Apparently, in this last case, the sword was unsheathed and the result was death. The threats against most of these churches seems more indicative of enemies of God rather than friends -- yet, it is the Church of God to whom He speaks!

Modern examples also abound. Christian nations like Germany and Poland who have departed from the faith have been conquered by pagans, subjugated, destroyed, divided, or diminished in status. England has become a strife-torn patchwork of competing hedonisms. Most of western "Christian" Europe is under the deception of humanism and suffers from the attendant miseries.

Ultimate Values: Unity or Holiness

"More churches have been destroyed by the Accuser of the Brethren and its fault-finding than either immorality or misuse of church funds." 1

* * *

There is no evidence of the truth of the above statement -- nor is there corroboration in Scripture. But it does reflect a growing body of teaching in the American Church that it is wrong to point out sin within the Body of Christ. Granted, the booklet in which the quote was found contains some real substance regarding gossip and slander, but the book's overall premise encompasses genuine, critical self-examination within the Church as the work of the Accuser of the Brethren. The practice of rebuke was denounced in Israel as well when the prophets engaged in it. Isaiah described these people, "Who say to the seers, 'You must not see visions'; and to the prophets, 'You must not prophesy to us what is right, speak to us pleasant words, prophesy illusions . . .'" (Isaiah 30:10). Today we say, "Don't be so negative. Speak positive, uplifting messages. These doom-and-gloom messages are divisive. If you speak non-confrontive messages, we will have unity and you won't chase away new believers."

But it is a simplistic notion that the appearance of unity given by ignoring Church-wide iniquity is more important than holiness. Surely, many of today's believers would view Jesus' words in Matthew 23 as coming from the Accuser if they were repeated by Him now. Ignoring sin may unify sinners with one another, but none are thereby unified with God.

Who can say that the Church has suffered as greatly from criticism within as from the televised sex and money scandals of recent times? Actually, those turgid, public revelations are probably a form of judgment against the American Church for the very willful ignorance that made such gross sin possible. Our unwillingness to confront sin in the first place allowed these situations to grow to the proportions they eventually attained. Israel was punished by becoming a byword in much the same manner. Today, the Church is spoken of with similar derision. And the Church deserves such scandals because the American Church in general did not rise up against overt sin and heresy.

Historically, the Church -- Old and New Testament -- has been constantly reined in by prophets. When God's people cast off restraint, more prophets appear to warn of doom or declare impending judgment. But this ministry has never been popular. It is worth noting, though, that in any move of God it is always a minority who participate though many more reap the benefits. Perhaps revival today hinges on just a handful who are willing to repent and seek God.

Revival, however, is not to be sought lightly. The moving of the Spirit -- like radical surgery -- can be very painful.

If My People

One of the most often heard verses in America in recent years is 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

Remarkably, in the context of the verse, this was offered as a remedy to God's curses of drought, plague, and disease. The verses imply that it is God's people who bear the blame for such things. Yet, the American Church is more liable to blame "environmental abuses" inherent in the world's lifestyle than sin in our ranks for wave upon wave of localized famines, droughts, floods, medflies, crime, pollution, serial killings, whiteflies, herpes, AIDS, and countless other curses. The last thing we will examine is our own culpability.

At this time in the news there are terrible floods occurring in southern California which are due to heavy rains. Houses are sliding down hills so fast that you can watch their zip-codes change. Yet, the commissioner in charge of water supplies has just simultaneously tightened restrictions on water usage due to the ongoing 5-year drought. I find it a supreme irony that this particularly hedonistic part of the country should, at one time, suffer the devastation of too much water and the impingement of too little. Yet, as far as I can tell, there has been no outcry to God about the source of this judgment.

Most often, when this verse in second Chronicles is quoted, it means another round of self-serving religious activities that fail to have impact outside the church doors. A couple of hyper-emotional prayer meetings will birth a forlorn hope that the world will have miraculously changed during that time. And in the minds of most, the focus remains on the sins of the pagans rather than the sins of the Church. Very little is made of the "turn from their wicked ways" clause -- unless "their" means "over there." No one expects to have to do the hard work of redeeming the culture from the pagans.

But the verse is explicit and specific. Both the fault and the solution is declared in the first three words: "If My people . . ." The fact is, the evil things we see have come upon us because of sins like divorce, adultery, and murder in the Church! Look in your Bibles. Abundant rain for crops, fertility of the ground, children, and even business prosperity are blessings of God given to an obedient people. Drought and pestilence appear as judgments for departure from Him. Do we think things have changed? Has God abandoned the earth to "natural causes" as Deists propose?

These crises have come upon this nation only as we began trusting in our own ingenuity to pull us through and decided we no longer needed a living God to care for us. Yet the escape route is rigidly laid out. The "My people" of that verse must first humble themselves -- not send out more missionaries, or soup up the evangelism explosion and Bible study ministries, or expand outreach services, or reorganize the service, or write congressmen, or picket abortion clinics. "My people" must humble ourselves and confess our sin. The other things must follow, but not precede, repentance.

Given the overwhelming denial of sin in the Church and its hysterical optimism about the future of the American dream, 2 this kind of humility appears unlikely. America reels under judgment from God right now and the Church is blind to it. No one wants to admit that our nation's troubles have their source in the Church's sin. As it is, America is riven with internal strife, controlled by pagans, hostile to Christ, awash in blood, and on a course of glorifying sexual perversion because the Church will not repent of its sin and begin acting as God's Church should act. What could the future hold?

Shepherd's Bane

"Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment."

-- James 3:1

* * *

God has never been tolerant of sin among His people. Because of the position of respect filled by ministers, any Church leader who leads them to believe otherwise is in great danger. (Matthew 18:5-6) The prophets are rife with words against the prophets and priests who led God's people astray or told them that all was well when impending judgment hovered over their heads. (Jeremiah 6:13-14 & 8:10-11) "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves!" Ezekiel cried. "Should not the shepherds feed the flock?" (Ezekiel 34)

The most resounding denunciations in Scripture are usually aimed at the leaders of God's people and the severest punishments await those who do this work negligently.

God's appointments and knowledge confer responsibility. Ezekiel prophesies of the watchman on the wall and how his failure to warn the people in the city puts the guilt of their blood on his head. (Ezekiel 33:1-6) How much more, pastors and priests in the Church today?

Unpleasant and unpopular as it may be, it is the responsibility of the Church leaders to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. (1 Timothy 4:2) But this is not what occurs in the American Church. Everyone feels "called" to "love" people back to the truth -- meaning that we don't wish to do anything unpleasant. But there is no such "ministry" in the Bible where people are "loved" by ignoring their sin. In fact, this is a manifestation of lack of love because the sinner is abandoned to his hellbound fate while he is given the impression that all is right with God. No demonic scheme could be more complete.

My friend Theophilus noted that the American clergy are "like sleeping dogs that never bark."

What will these Men of God answer to the blood of their churches when they stand before God?

Other Responsible Parties

"And from everyone who has been given, much shall be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him will they ask all the more."

-- Luke 12:48b

* * *

There is no other known generation of Christians who have been "entrusted much" as we have. We have access to the Bible in a way unheard of in past times. A number of translations help us to clarify rather than confuse the passages. Concordances, study guides, Greek and Hebrew lexicons, and Bible dictionaries are within the reach of nearly any believer in America. Commentaries can be consulted and compared; scholarly books are written to illuminate us as to the reasons for this or that interpretation.

And Americans have money. Even those who are poor are mostly so only in comparison. We have the wherewithal to purchase many of the books -- or at least take a bus to the library and look them up.

There is simply no excuse for the rampant Biblical ignorance in the American Church. Adopting a whole set of doctrines without serious study is not fulfilling one's obligation to the verse quoted above. The mere availability of such massive resources for Biblical study imparts liability to us for our understanding -- and then doing -- the Word of God. None of us will have the luxury of pointing to pastors and Church leaders and saying, "I just followed what I was told."

Spiritual laziness will not so easily be justified. While leaders who did not lead will be accountable to God for their errors, the individual and church bodies who mutely suffered bad teaching and blindly accepted the words of men will also pay the price. The authority that legitimately exists in the ministry will not shield the congregation from accountability for the "much" we have been given.

How Shall I Admonish You?

This was the question Jeremiah asked Jerusalem in Lamentations 2:13. The weeping prophet looked at the promise that was Jerusalem and was astonished at the impending doom. How would he reach the city with God's message. There was a barrier to their hearing.

"Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions," He said. "And they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity, but they have seen for you false and misleading oracles." (Lamentations 2:14)

The majority of the priests and prophets had a soothing message -- one very different from that pesky Jeremiah. The old coot was just too picky about every little sin. The religious leaders assured them that everything was O.K. with God -- after all they were Jerusalem! God would not judge them!

The profound unbelief of the people of the holy city combined and strengthened by the religious leadership's refusal to confront sin was ultimately deadly to Jerusalem.

There is a similar question in America. How shall the American Church be admonished? A great Church of a great and blessed nation stands on the edge. America was founded by men who bent their wills to God. The nation was nurtured by the Word. And though obedience was imperfect and judgments befell the land, there was always a return to her Maker -- until recent decades.

Church leaders, recalling fast-fading former glories, hide present sin in the covering of America's founding splendor. We unworthily claim the mantle of the Church of America's beginnings. Congregations, hungry for justification, accept the title of "Christian nation" and refuse to hear "negative" and "divisive" messengers who call our sin to account.

Only a sovereign act of God granting the American Church a "place of repentance" (Hebrews 12:17) will alter its collision course with God's judgment. But revival turns on an extremely fine point. To tip the balance of mercy, it may only take a small group seeking that place of repentance -- maybe only one person -- maybe you.


The hour is late -- and it could even be too late to redeem this nation and its godly inheritance. Certainly God will accept no repentance motivated by our hope of recapturing our former comfortable, complacent status. But we will all still stand before God with what we did from this moment with the knowledge we now have. Our situation is dire. It is truly, as in the oft-mocked prophetic tradition, "Repent or die!"

As individuals, we must repent -- first, for ourselves, then, as Daniel did, for the sins of the people. We will be of no use to God or anyone else until we have repented of our own culpability for the degenerate condition of America and the Church. Once having accepted our responsibility, we will be able to approach the changes needed with a humility borne of shared guilt.

And repentance is more than sorrow for sin, but includes a change of life. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Whether our assignment after repentance is public or private, the spirit of our activism will not be the rancor or self-righteousness of the super-religious zealot but the recognition of our weakness and dependence on God.

In either event, we must all go from our knees to obedience to God's Word -- even when it means sacrifice and discomfort. Regaining the culture (not our comforts) will be just plain, hard work. This is our only hope of revival. It will not take a majority of believers to bring the change, only a committed minority -- and the extended grace of God. The majority of the Church or a nation is always turned by a small group much like a ship with a small rudder. If God has mercy on that handful, the majority will be affected. If God is to have dominion in our lives and that dominion is meant to affect the world, then we must enter the fray in earnest.

Proverbs 12:24 tells us, "The hand of the diligent shall rule, but the slack hand will be put to hard labor." Note that it does not say the hand of the diligent believers, just the hand of the diligent. Today, the pagans rule -- not by some subversive plot, but because they were diligent and the Church was slack. Who is it that is now put to "forced labor" in America? The Church! The Church's hand has been slack and now we must whimper and beg for every meager privilege. We have our church buildings at the pleasure of the state. We fear to become involved in abortion, homosexual rights, and other moral, social, and political arenas because we are enslaved to our tax-deductible status. More and more, the Church is being isolated to a cultural ghetto. We have become socially irrelevant.

How irrelevant? Recently, a student, assigned to write a paper on an influential person, had her report on Jesus Christ rejected by a teacher who publicly mocked the girl and said she must write on a "real" person. Despite the fact that the existence of Jesus is better documented than that of Julius Caesar, the teacher had dubbed the life of Christ to be so irrelevant that His reality was questioned. The teacher told the student and her parents that her paper was appropriate only for the Sunday school -- the Christian ghetto.

Remember Jesus said, "You shall not see Me until you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

The threat that we will not see Him should be terrifying, but the solution is contained in the warning. We must acknowledge His sovereignty over all our lives -- and regard His Lordship as a blessing instead of a burden. We must receive His unadulterated Word as the unsparing standard for our thoughts, words, and actions. No other lordship must compete -- not even our own. And that lordship of His must not be a show but a true conversion of the heart.

If God is merciful, this can still be changed -- but it is we who will have to give diligence. It will mean little or no television, fewer vacations, less money, less free time, and plain old hard work. We will have to become knowledgeable about law, medicine, media, the arts, education, and the host of other fields the American Church has abandoned. We will have to act where we once cowered, speak where we once held our peace, and join where we once segregated.

It is likely that we will still suffer greatly for the sins already past because the law of reaping and sowing will not be suspended. But any other road than repentance from our current course will lead to annihilation.

The only question remaining is: Will we repent -- or die?

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Copyright © 1999 Paul deParrie