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The Persecuted Church

 

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Teaching, prayer, and doing God's will

As we read the bible or hear sermons that are biblically based we are instructed to live the Christian life and do good works.

Christianity can be much like eating food for our nourishment. Without a well balanced diet, a good attitude and exercise one can become sick and anemic very quickly. With our physical food we can see the affects easily on our body but this is not always so Spiritually. Our growth should be bringing us forward to finding our calling in Christ to know his specific will for our lives

Today it is a rare person that pursues more education pushing out into the waters of ministry on their own. It's not easy to sail in uncharted waters or where few want to go, especially with so much resistance today. It's even more rare for someone to be prepared to go out into the battlefield to head off the enemy and save souls. Whether we go off into the mission field or stay here and work through the Church, we should always be ready to give an answer for the faith we possess.

Today life just isn’t the same anymore. What was once simple has become complicated. We once had more time to choose what we want to do in our day now we barely have time to get what is necessary done. Despite our circumstances we have to find time to be with the Lord, to be instructed by the word, pray and exhibit our good works. I don’t think anyone would question that this needs to be seen in society now more than ever before.

There are so many issues today. Feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, euthanasia, abortion, suicide, divorce, cults. We are surrounded by a flood of anti-Christian teachings and world views competing, battling for the hearts and minds of everyone on planet earth. At the same time there has not been more opportunity to be part of a ministry and be useful in helping to spread the message of Christ. We have no excuse, as we see the lateness of the hour and the people that we are surrounded with that will die and go to an eternity without God.

Its unfortunate but what had started as a good idea for Christian TV has become church for many people. Instead of becoming involved and being personally used of the Lord, they watch the preachers and give their money and that’s their service done to the Lord. Promises of Prosperity, success, breakthrough turnarounds for the family that is split. You just need to receive them, put your hand out and touch your TV, etc.. It's all done to be received from your living room, so don’t have to move. From what we see and hear on Christian TV one would think the church has never been in better shape, were fit ready to roll anywhere as evangelistic servants, right? Not quite, the church has never wobbled more than she is today and its all because we’ve bought into the false advertising of the Christian vendors. The church is getting ripped off because huge amounts of money that should go to the local congregations and the local ministries and being sent to TV evangelists who live extravagant lifestyles and have to pay enormous amounts to air time and satellites.

Those who are supposedly gifted do all the work and the audience supports them. And why not with the promised blessing of gain they can give to their hearts content and sit at home and be blessed. But this is not the way the Lord would have it, he wants everyone to be involved. He gave every believer the Holy Spirit, and with him comes gifts and talents that we are responsible to find and use. If this was done the Church would have the power, the needs would be met and we would not be so anemic in society and the religious world. How do I know this? Its been said the cults are the unpaid bill of the church. If they are growing then we are not doing our job spiritually. If we were doing our job, and had more watchmen euthanasia bills would not be passed. Abortion would not have killed off the next generation. But this is the price we pay when a few do the job of the many. With a war of values broken out on all fronts who can watch and do everything, some things have to slip by.

Jesus’ prayer of sending workers into the harvest field is more needed today than ever. The fact is that there are less people hearing the gospel message than a few years ago because of the population growth and anti Christian sentiment. Despite all the efforts of TV Christianity.

Organizing efforts to reach the people masses of the world have been successful in some ways but I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind when he said as you go make disciples from all nations. Many efforts have broken ground where there was no mention of the gospel previously, but there is still the teaching element that has been neglected. If the Church at home is not taught correctly to know the scriptures, they will not be effective to others.

When we look at the sermons that brought thousands into the church in the book of acts they cut, they convicted, and they convinced people to be committed.

Revivals, like those of Charles Finney, Jonathan Edwards, D. L. Moody, even the famous Pentecostal Revival at Azusa Street at the turn of the century, resulted from the powerful preaching of God's truth, a crushing awareness of sin resulting in true repentance and growing obedience to God's Word. Even one does not agree with some of these names one cannot help but see the results were from hands on ministry, people with people.

Jesus made Christianity a hands on experience for all to participate in. He didn’t have a certain group of people as priests as in Judaism. Because we have been reconciled to Christ we now are ambassadors to reconcile others we are all automatically put in a priesthood. In the OT. The priest came from a specific tribe Levi, not so in the NT

1 Pet. 2:5  “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. All Christians are part of the priesthood we all offer up sacrifices to God  which is our service to him, Heb.13:15. As the priests in the Old Testament offered incense and offerings each morning and evening to God on the altar of incense as believers we offer the incense of praise, prayer and thanksgiving to God. We become a living sacrifice in service to our God.

1 Pet. 2:9-10 Peter finishes by explaining the result of God’s making all believers priests. “ But ye are a chosen generation, a Royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; Who in time past were not a people but are now the people of God; who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

All believers are Holy to God, set apart for his service.  As Israel is God’s chosen people according to His covenant made to Abraham in the OT. So New Covenant believers are chosen in Jesus Christ.

Paul writes of his ministry to the believers in Rome, Rom. 15:15-16 “ That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Here Paul describes himself as a priest (a minister) who serves through the preaching of the gospel.  This is the calling of all believers to affect those around them with the gospel message.

Today we have a Nicolaity meaning those put in authority to rule. That a certain individual or group is given greater prominence over others. Many want preeminence they want you to be there disciple, to depend on them for teaching, and to give to them.

Jesus states “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate (Rev 2:15 and Rev 2:6). Nicolaitan is composed of two words Nico means Victor or Conqueror and Laos (from which we get the word “Laity”) is the people. So a Nicolaitan is one who rules over the common people, a Dominionist, a cult leader who wants control and make disciples after himself. 

2 Jn.4 nothing please John more, as well as the Lord, than to see his children walk in the truth. That is when we are effective. If one does not practice their Christian life their testimony suffers whether someone knows it or not. Theology should turn into practice or it has not affected the heart. How can we have convictions without our whole being involved. Our goal should be that we are to Love the lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, our whole being. Anything less than this can mean that we are loving something else in his place.

The basics of Christianity means their are core beliefs that unite us in Christ. God the uncreated, Christ the eternal God there is one God and 3 distinct persons who exist simultaneously as the One God. the virgin conception , the incarnation, the sinfulness of man and the need of a savior, the new birth, the Gospel death burial and physical resurrection, the 2nd coming, baptism, Christ the eternal mediator and priest, the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture, the giftings, judgment and rewards to the believers. These are a few of the essentials that are clarified in the Scriptures that all should be consistently taught in church so we are prepared and can teach others.

The NT exhorts people to right doctrine twice as much as right conduct, because if you have right doctrine you will have correct practice. Right doctrine means you will practice your Christianity in a practical way. When the gifts are practiced and used correctly you will have true prophecy. There will be order in the Church and people will be built up for the work of the ministry. Disorder in using the gifts results in teaching people contrary to sound doctrine.

Many want the gifts of miracles healing, tongues and prophecy which can bring attention to oneself. The gift of teaching is mentioned and practiced more than any other but is more neglected. The practical gifts are the ones that really bring compassion and order. Such as helps, mercy, encouragement, administration are the least desired but the most needed. But gifts themselves are not the answer, Jesus is.

When leaders in the church teach wrong and the other leaders allow it, the sheep will follow. Whole sections of the church have left what they once practiced as Biblical doctrines for something new and improved. The same is offered in the world for advertising their products, that was last years now this is the improved updated version. Buy it, its on sale now!

We are not to be following a man. If we do we will end up like every cult in history We are to be followers of Christ and his revealed word, not what he has not revealed. If God is silent on an issue we should not be listening to people speaking sermons or writing books on this. Gnostics have always been inside the church and today we have more than our share of Gnostic revelators who have influenced whole segments of the Church into fantasy revelations.

Didn’t Jesus say In John 14:12,” you will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” We can do greater works, as in more abundance, because the ministry of the Spirit is not limited to one only, but now has many. Greater is in reference to number not in quality. The apostles nor we can never do a greater work (miracle) than the resurrection or make the blind see. Notice he does not say greater miracles but works. What is greater is the ability to bring someone in a direct contact with Christ and have the holy Spirit live in them, something that was not offered at the time he said this. Can you think of a greater miracle for someone than to bring them into relationship with the Lords and have the assurance of eternal life? I can't.

Many want bigger-bigger is better, isn’t it?  Every time the Lord started to do a work he used a few, not the many. Noah, Abraham, Gideon, the prophets were always the minority. He looked for quality not quantity the increase was left to him. He didn’t look for the hidden potential in people, but looked for those who would be willing to learn, willing to die to their old life and yield to his Lordship so he could bring to birth something that wasn’t there. God is still the creator but in order to bring new life to something the old must die. We want the numbers in the church and numbers are good. But Jesus is more concerned about quality not quantity.

Sometimes we as believers are impressed by looking at what we call 'results,' and saying, 'God is blessing that ministry. Look at what is happening! People are getting saved, healed! Needs are met! How can you find fault with that?' Sometimes we hear this report from the very people that are doing the ministry who want peoples contributions. So they boast, exaggerate, and promise them what Scripture does not to receive the offering for their ministry. We can be so nave to what is operating, we need to look beyond the surface and what is often an infomercial to solicit our support.

It's not just the results that God's looking at. He wants it to be done His Way so he receives the glory. The issue is not whether people get saved or not. The issue is: Is it done God's way, is it his plan? The ends does not justify the means, it may be that way in the world, but not with Christ. Take for example Jeremiah who had very little results as we would measure it. But he followed the commands of the Lord to preach repentance, he had a heart for the people. Look at Jonah who finally did obey but his heart wasn’t in it, and he had the greatest revival in biblical history. God doesn’t need man to accomplish his purposes, but he wants to use us for his glory and have us share in it by knowing him through the sufferings and trials.

Look at Moses who was asked to strike the Rock and water flowed out, a second time in Num.20 he is to speak to the rock and instead he strikes it twice in anger. He violated God's command and misrepresented him to the people .In Ex.17 he struck it and is not reprimanded. Water was supernaturally supplied twice, the first time he struck the rock he did in obedience, and the time 2nd in disobedience because he was only to speak to it. Despite his disobedience God gave the water to the people, It was supernaturally supplied! What difference did it make to Israel, whether Moses struck the rock or spoke to the rock? They got what they needed! But it made a difference to Moses. He was kept out of the promised land because he did not do what was asked by God, he misrepresented him. There are many ministries today that get results, what they do it works. But the question that needs to be asked is it God's way, are the people being manipulated and who really gets the blessing or the glory. Who is paying the price?

Not all that glitters is diamonds and gold. So many think that if they Follow the yellow brick road of a famous evangelist, their is a pot of Gold containing success and prosperity waiting for them at the end of the road. What ever happened to the promise of suffering for his namesake or being persecuted. I‘m not saying we should be looking forward to this, but I see the very opposite being taught in some churches and on TV. That we are to be blessed and prosperous and everything should be smooth. This is a slippery slope downward to coach potato Christianity. What are we being prepared for peace and safety or the battle that rages for souls.

Jesus said to be witnesses of him to the ends of the earth. This meant martyrs,  no one at the time understood the sacrifice of what this calling meant. To take up ones cross not only meant suffering but could very well have meant death. To not love ones life more than the calling of Christ was reality. We can look back and see what it meant to the ancient saints from the history of the church.

Stephen the first martyr reminds the Pharisees of Jesus words in Mt. 23 in his discourse in Acts 7:52”Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers. He said they were stiff necked just as their forefathers in the wilderness.” Is it any wonder they killed him on the spot!

James 5:10-11: “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord-- that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” We are very unfamiliar with suffering for our faith. We cringe when we speak to someone about Christ and we are mocked. People say, 'Well look, I don't want to have conflict, and I don't want to have division. But this is how the first church grew by being bold and presenting the truth. They grew through conflicts with both the religious leaders and the Roman society. What some are looking for is a nice warm feelings where people will feel good about themselves and will throw teaching doctrine out the door. And all that matters is that we come together and have love. But you take Bible doctrine out of love and what do you have? What is love without the truth? There is no real love apart from truth! Biblical love only functions in the context of truth. To operate like this inside the Church is to throw in the towel and be just as the world.

What we need is some Holy Ghost boldness. All the apostles except one died out on the mission field, they were dedicated and the disciples they trained were just as dedicated. God asks His priests to be dedicated. In the OT when they served in the tabernacle they had written on their foreheads holiness to the Lord. They were separated to do his work, today it doesn't seem to matter.

It is from the writings of the church fathers that we know the history of the early church. Eusibuis wrote of their history. This statement has echoed over the centuries of time “the seed of the church is built on the blood of the martyrs.” Death was such a common way to go that it was called a baptism of blood. Christians were called atheists because they wouldn’t recognize Caesar as God. They didn't need to have Caesar as their only God, but only add him to Jesus and they would be spared. Many did not compromise, yet many did. Phil 1:29-30 “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.”

 John the Apostle was the last to survive being banished on the Isle of Patmos. Rev. 1:9 “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ,” Of the many disciples he had one called Polycarp who lived from 69-155 A.D.. He became the chief presbyter over the church at Smyrna and taught Iraneaus of Lyons. Polycarp joined 11 others who were scourged and beheaded, he was burned at the stake by Antoninus Pius. “So it befell the blessed Polycarp, who having with those from Philadelphia suffered martyrdom in Smyrna--twelve in all--is especially remembered more than the others by all men, so that he is talked of even by the heathen in every place: for he showed himself not only a notable teacher, but also a distinguished martyr, whose martyrdom all desire to imitate, seeing that it was after the pattern of the Gospel of Christ.” Ignatius who was also a friend of Polycarp became bishop at Antioch, he was fed to the lions at the Coliseum of Rome under Trajan in 117 A.D.. Irenaeus succeeded bishop Pothirus when he died in the persecutions. Justin Martyr was so bold he wrote a defense of Christianity addressed to the emperor. He confronted Marcion who rejected the OT. and issued his own version of the NT. in which consisted part of the Gospel of Luke and 10 of Pauls epistles only. Justin also died a martyr beheaded at Rome in l67 AD. Justin Martyr wrote-To the Emperor Augustus Caesar “You can kill us. But you cannot hurt us.” Athanasius defending the deity and tri-unity of God's nature was almost killed within the church as disputes of doctrine became overheated. He was chased out of Rome hiding out in the hills for years. He felt that doctrine was important enough to defend.

These men and many others lived out the declaration of Paul who said “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Because of pressure from the world and the new age of tolerance we are unwilling to speak out against those who misrepresent Christ or hate him. Unlike the early Church, they grew from contending openly. It was from being out in the open having friction that the people were convinced of the truth, not by any miracle crusades. Few do this any longer and we are certainly less unwilling to die for him. It has become the silence of the Lambs. The path of least resistance is chosen, we have become as tolerant as some liberals. We may be forced one day soon to have the courage the first century Church had, or go out with a whimper. The power and grace is there, we just need to step out in faith.

In countries that are communist and Muslim and anti Christian, many still face the same choice in the early Church, reject Jesus or die. In 1997-98 there were 160,000 Christians each year in about 60 different countries that we know of that gave their lives for the faith. In 98-99 Persecution of Christians is now on the upswing and reports of enormous amount of people that have died, because their faith is hated. 2 Thess. 3:1-3:” Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. Pray for those in countries that are being persecuted, it is our duty and privilege to pray for our brethren.

II Thess. 1:4-5: “so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; “ go look up how many of the letters are written about suffering or written in suffering and not blessing, you’ll be surprised. Contrary to the leaders that promise blessings for those who are in the covenant it was the very opposite for those who lived in the power of God.

The purpose for our sufferings is to know him. Phil 3:10: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, “suffering is mostly foreign to the Christian lifestyle today in America, but it was a way of life to the early Church. The phrase “fellowship of his sufferings” may sound strange. How can one have an intimate relationship around suffering? It means to partner together with him, we can receive strength now and the outcome of the resurrection later. Without it we can’t know him, and we certainly can’t possess resurrection power. The resurrection was their hope, just as Abraham knew when he offered his son Isaac, that God's promise would be fulfilled.

They didn’t look to the here and now for there reward but they looked toward heaven where their treasure would be stored up. Where is your heart today, is it for those who don’t know Christ who are deceived into another gospel. Are you willing to do for the truth what the cults do for a lie? It only took a few to turn the world upside down in the first century. Pray for the Lord to use you for his namesake. There is no time like the present. We can’t change the past but God can use us to be part of changing the future.

 

 

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