It is with some hesitation that I had set about to write this book. Perhaps that is because there are so many possible responses to what I will propose in the ensuing pages. Am I just a fault-finding, critical person? Yes, I can be said to have that failing. Does the following diatribe simply represent that critical nature? No, I don't think so. What do I hope to accomplish with such a string of invectives? I hope that we will all become ashamed enough of our churchy, religious sins to repent and return to God's Word. I hope we will escape from the clutches of the carnal nature canonized as liturgy.
It has long been my belief that the Jews of Christ's first coming were a foreshadow of the Christians of His second. This belief has only been strengthened by time and observation. Just as the Church is urged in Scripture to look at Old Testament Israel as a pattern for what they should and should not do, so, the culmination of the Jews' long wait for Messiah may well bear resemblance to the Christian's long wait for the Second Coming.
Jesus, speaking of the end time, asked the cryptic question, "When the Son of Man comes will He find faith in the earth?" When He came the first time, He noted that it was a Gentile centurion of the hated Roman Legion that best exemplified faith. At another point he spoke of those seated with Abraham as coming from the east and the west -- while those alleged to be Abraham's children would be shut out.
God's own people shut out?!? Impossible! Yet, it happened. The very people of the covenant -- scribes and Pharisees, no less -- would lose out to pagans who had expressed genuine faith. Dare we be so smug in our religiosity to be likewise blinded? Will we follow down that broad, well-worn path of religious pride and miss the opportunity for the blessedness of seeing Jesus?
I am not speaking eschatologically, here. I realize that "every eye will behold Him" at His second coming. Rather, I speak of seeing Him in the way that daily transforms us from faith to faith and glory to glory into His image. This, I believe, is the essence of revival.
Jesus tells us that His words will not pass away. As a corollary to that, I propose that, until the end of this fallen world, the conditions that Jesus' words were aimed at will not pass away either. I think this is especially true of Matthew 23 and Christ's warnings to the Laodicean Church. Other criticisms by Jesus and the Old Testament prophets apply equally well and must also be examined.
In this writing, it will be helpful for you to note that I use an upper-case C on Church when referring to the Body of Christ in general and a lower-case c when speaking of denominations or individual congregations. The distinction becomes important at times but in no way implies that congregations or denominations are not parts of the Body.
I must make it clear that I love the Church and all its parts, but ignoring its pathological condition would be a great evil for me. Each year that passes brings news of greater morbidity in the Church and I cannot remain silent in its face. I lay claim to no special unctions of oracle. I do, however, know I am responsible for issuing a warning when I see evil upon the land.
It was many years ago when I began to see the parallels between the 23rd chapter of Matthew, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the modern Church in America. But as I have become more familiar with the inner workings and daily practices in the Church, the comparison becomes clearer. Interestingly, the Jews of Jesus' time were divided between the Hellenized Sadducees and the more orthodox Pharisees in much the same way as today's Church is between the liberal Mainline churches and the evangelical and fundamental churches. Small Zealot-like groups were thrown in for spice and mystic Essenes wafted around the periphery.
Into this cacophony of religious noise comes Jesus. Those drawn to Him appear to have been those who were Jews in the same way that many Americans are "Christians" -- by osmosis. The "Church leadership" of Jesus' time, by and large, saw Jesus as a negative, divisive person -- the same way their forbears viewed Moses, Jeremiah, Malachi, and all the others. In fact, because of the natural animosity towards truth within "God's people," Jesus noted that it was impossible for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem -- the city of God!
Francis of Assisi, Luther, Wycliffe, Bunyan, Wesley, Booth, Spurgeon, Moody, and many more suffered at the hands of the Church for their willingness to attend the King's business without fear or favor of man. More recent examples include A.W. Tozer, Francis Schaeffer, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer -- all of whom have gained nominal popularity once they were safely dead.
I am certain that some will remind me that Jesus and the prophets were specifically addressing the unsaved Pharisees and Sadducees -- and Jews in general. But, just as clearly, I remind them that God thought those burning words important enough to permanently record in Scripture because of their universal applicability. Saved pastors still have to deal with the same carnal nature as unsaved Pharisees. And -- shocking as it may sound -- there are plenty of unsaved pastors and elders out there who need the words as well.
The most difficult defenses to penetrate are religious defenses. Once someone has constructed a Scriptural base for his sin -- whether that person is saved or unsaved -- it becomes most difficult to dislodge it. In my own mind, the parable of the sower and the seed illustrates this best. I see the seed that fell on the way as being the Word given to someone who, because of much hearing the Word, has grown insensate and hardened to its penetration. That is what the wayside is all about -- it has been trodden so long and continuously that it would take dynamite to loosen it enough to prepare it for planting.
Perhaps this hardness-by-exposure element of human nature is at the core of the religious calcification that Jesus and the prophets found. Men tend to put layer upon layer of tradition, form, and "we've always done it this way" over the Word until those traditions take on greater weight than any demonstration from God Himself. After all, what else could explain why the Pharisees, after seeing Jesus miraculously heal, immediately went out to plan how to kill Him?
Is Jesus "against the Church" as my title suggests? He is -- in the sense that he was "against" the Jews of His time and His messengers in the Old Testament said He was against Israel. I contend that if Jesus were to come to earth clothed in the same ordinary humanity as he had 2,000 years ago, he would indict the American Church of the same crimes of which he accused the Jews of His day and of the age before His coming. If He came now, He would find little difference between the two ages.
When I consider the outcome of Jesus' pronouncements forty years later -- the destruction of Jerusalem -- I fear for the American Church. Annihilation is not my hope for America, but Jerusalem was certainly no worse off spiritually than the American Church is today.
Perhaps you doubt my premise that the American Church dangles precariously over the edge of a precipice of God's judgment. But ask yourself, Where is that blessedness of which Scripture declares accompanies the fellowship of the saints? Where is the love for one another that the Word says will cause the world to know we are His disciples? Where is the sacrifice for others commanded by the Master? Where is the denial of self? . . . the uncompromising declaration of truth? . . . the willingness to die for Christ? . . . the cross in our gospel?
Doesn't the lack of these things alone tell us of the precarious position we are in claiming to be Christ's while going our own way?
But Jesus is coming again! He will -- and has -- come to us in many revivals through the centuries to bring His Church closer to His will. However, revival only comes when people are willing to acknowledge His coming. The Second Coming will be different. He will come then whether we acknowledge Him or not. It, however, will only be a joyful coming for those who acknowledge His coming before His arrival. The only way that may happen is through metanoia -- repentance. Metanoia comes from the Greek words, meta (after, implying change), noeo (to perceive), and nous (the mind, the seat of moral understanding), all of which combines to mean a change of mind. In fact, we need a new mind, a mind renewed in His Word.
With that, my hope and prayer is that -- in answer to Jesus' question about finding faith in the earth -- the Church in America will be able to answer, "Yes!"
I suspect by now that there are those out there who are wondering if I am claiming to be some kind of prophet. Maybe, you may think, this is some egomaniacal, malicious nut who happened to get a book published.
I assure you, I claim no prophet's mantle. In fact, this book frightens me. Imagine trying to study Matthew 23 and Jeremiah in depth without self-examination. It cannot be done by any semi-conscious person. So, it is not just the Church "out there" that I fear for, but also myself. As I came near the end of this work I was struck coldly with just how short I fall when I use the measure of this work. In fact, the question occurred to me: Should I wait around to become perfected myself before publishing this book? I had to conclude that I could not wait to attain some fanciful spiritual plane before submitting to God's urging to put all of this down. I don't know why it is imperative that I do this now, but I believe it is.
Writing this book is like having a dream where some terrible danger existed and you were frantically warning everyone of this obvious evil but everyone else is oblivious to what you see so clearly. As I studied and wrote, it seemed that the Church was going about its weekly business while it was being devoured from within. It was frightening to see. I began to question whether I was seeing the truth or I was just a crank. It was at this time when I first met my Nigerian friend, Theophilus O. Ihekoronye, who confirmed much of what I was seeing.
But if this book has a "prophetic" ring to it, that sound derives from the truth of the Scriptures after which it was patterned. The rest is just observation. It doesn't take an educational degree to read the signs of the times. I simply took what I had observed of the American Church and compared it to the Matthew passages and other parts of the Bible. There is nothing spooky or ethereal about doing this.
What made the project harder was my own internal convictions that 1) I was failing my own test, and 2)
that it was necessary that I complete the work. Nor did my cynical nature bless me during this time. The work was an immense struggle against that carnal trait. I suppose I could have easily looked at the faltering American Church with disdain for their shortcomings (while ignoring my own) or, perhaps, I could have sought to excuse myself (and the sins of the Church) in an orgy of self-justification. In the latter case, I probably would have been unable to complete the book. One was the natural result of my cynicism, the other an overreaction against it. These two desires competed within me.
I was on the horns of a personal, spiritual dilemma. Two very important Scriptures in my life competed for my attention. Many years ago, the Lord warned me of my propensity toward the first error by enlightening me to Matthew 24:12, "Because lawlessness shall abound, most people's love will grow cold."
Sin makes one hard, He showed me. The sins of others will cause one to build defenses and become callous. I have the inclination to harden towards those who continue in sin -- especially after an abundance of grace is showered upon them. This, the Lord indicated to me, must not be allowed to happen.
But equally important was another verse, Jeremiah 48:10, "Cursed is the one who does the Lord's work negligently, and cursed is the one who restrains his sword from blood."
I also had a leaning to dodge my responsibility to confront sin because it is messy. I had several early encounters with my cowardice in the face of sin -- especially the sins of others. Rebuke is such a bloody business.
But we are in a war. Bloodshed is an inexorable part of war. Mushy sentimentalisms are not appropriate responses to enemy attacks. Our own army must be disciplined -- even when it is not pleasant duty. We cannot be slack about keeping ranks in God's army. The rigidly trained soldier may regard the exercises as unkind and unnecessary, but on the battlefield he will know the reason for his pains in training.
The drill sergeant who eases up on training recruits will send them to their deaths and endanger the nation they fight to preserve. The soldier who is unwilling to draw blood is no better than a traitor. These are hard facts.
As such, I can neither neglect work God has assigned to me, nor soften when He assigns me particularly "bloody" tasks. If the needed "bloodshed" is my own or that of others, I have no option but to fulfill my task as a soldier.
So I try to walk between hardening myself to the love that God bears the American Church and the need for radical action to snatch us from a perilous position beneath God's hand of discipline.
I do not know how well I succeeded in this balance. I will probably only know when I await His judgment of my works by fire. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)
December 13, 1991