Some people believe that their church speaks for God – that if the church has spoken, God has spoken. Others reject organised religion totally and trust more in their own inner spirituality for guidance. How can we know what God is really saying? In this article I give my own perspective on some of the very important questions people must look at if they seek to find God’s will in the midst of the spiritual confusion that exists today.
Does the Church Speak for God?
By God, I mean the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. If atheists are right, the question itself is foolish. But not so many people today are atheists. Let us grant then for a moment that God exists, and examine the question. We first should ask if God speaks personally at all. Deists say that God created the world as a kind of wound up machine, but that he doesn’t get involved in it or reveal himself to people. If Deism is correct, obviously the Church does not speak for God, as God does not really speak personally and all we could see of him would be through our study of Nature.
All Christians are Theists of a particular kind. All Christians believe that God has revealed Himself through His Son Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who was born of a virgin – Mary, the wife of Joseph, both of whom were ultimately descended from King David and from Abraham before him. We believe in a personal God who has spoken in various ways and continues to speak today. The disagreement between churches, denominations and people claiming the title ‘Christian’ is in exactly how, through whom or through what, God has said. And of course, even if the literal words be known, there can still be plenty of disagreement amongst Christians as to what exactly those words mean. The question of interpretation is a very real one and we should be humble enough to consider the possibilities that our own understandings of what God has actually said could be in error.
By the Church, I mean the community of people who are called out from the world and are in some sense identified with Jesus Christ. Now the confusion arises once again as soon as we try to define what is the TRUE church of Jesus Christ. For some the answer is simple – THE GROUP I BELONG TO is the true church. But it is fair to ask – why should your group in particular be part of the true church at all? I know its good to honor your parents, but just because your parents may have believed in a thing does not make it right. Other people have parents who believed different things. The truth about God has nothing to do with which people came together and had children together.
So who or what speaks for God today and how can we know?
It is my position that there is no easy answer to this question. To really know what God is saying, on a consistent basis, we CANNOT be lazy. We may be pretty confident of certain things that reflect God’s will without too much trouble – but keeping these commandments is sometimes more difficult. Few would argue that God wants us to commit adultery for example. Virtually no Christians would argue in favour of adultery – but even there – confusion exists on the meaning of the words of Jesus. Jesus seemed to be saying that lust in the heart was a form of this sin. Now we also know God does not want us to murder people, molest children and so on. But can we tell for example which group of people who pray to God we should align ourselves with? To really know this is an important issue – and one that the spiritual forces of wickedness will fight hard to confuse you on. Christians, muslims and even Hindus generally all agree that evil spirits exist. These spirits have the agenda to deceive and destroy mankind, to separate people from God through lies which they can speak directly and indirectly into the minds and hearts of all people. So if you are going to find the truth, you will have to be diligent, because there are spiritual enemies working overtime to keep you from this truth. This is happening whether you believe in evil spirits or not. The Bible says, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one”. (1 John 5:19). Just because a man is blind and cannot see something, does not mean it is impossible for him to be hurt by it. On the contrary, a blind man is even more vulnerable than one who sees.
True Christians agree in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son (Hebrews 1:4). We have some of the words of Jesus written in the four gospels and these were given so that we might believe in Jesus. But beyond this, professed Christians are in disagreement many times. That doesn’t mean YOU should throw up your hands in despair of ever knowing God – but it DOES mean that you can’t take this thing casually and expect that with everything that is working to confuse, deceive and distract you, the answer to this important issue is impossible to know.
Fundamentalists believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, given by verbal plenary inspiration. That is, all of it is the Word of God, and the Word of God is expressed in words. But the word “fundamentalist” has become a dirty word today. Many people when they hear this word, they think “bigot” or maybe even “terrorist”. And some fundamentalists ARE bigoted – even against fellow Christians – who they consider to not adhere rigidly enough to the truth as THEY see it in the Word of God. On the issue of terrorism, it MUST be understood that no one reading the New Testament literally could imagine that Jesus commanded his disciples to spread their faith by means of physical violence. It is quite different in the Qu’ran of course. A muslim who takes the Qu’ran and the Hadith seriously can’t escape the obligation to fight a physical jihad against the enemies of islam. Moderate muslims may differ, but they are the ones who pick and choose which parts of the Qu’ran they like – and they often don’t seriously attempt to do what the Qu’ran says. But now we have the enemies of religion generally lumping every one who believes their text in a single category – that of fundamentalists. It is therefore a very unhelpful word.
Roman Catholics believe that the Bible is the gift of the Church, and as such, must be interpreted in harmony with whatever would be the current Traditions of the Church as defined by the Powers that Be in the Roman Catholic church – the Magisterium I believe they call it. Roman Catholics see that the authority of God really is in their church which has historical roots back to the days of the apostles, it is claimed. The truth claims of serious Roman Catholics are very important to understand and if we reject them, we ought to know WHY we do.
The so-called Orthodox church which is something of a remnant of the Byzantium empire defines itself with the word “Orthodox” which means “true or correct or right”. But just because you call yourself true and correct doesn’t actually make it so. I can label a jar of poisonous salts as “sugar” but the label won’t save the person who eats of that jar. Likewise, the person who trusts in the label “Orthodox” and what it has attached itself to should be at least willing to think about the issues, lest they perish in their sins. Sadly, “Orthodox” people are amongst the most closed-minded formal religionists you will find anywhere. I speak from personal experience, having spent years of my life in “Orthodox” Romania. The “orthodox” seem quite content to hole themselves up in their little fortresses with their various historical documents and condemn the rest of the word to hell, including Roman Catholics and all those others who they haven’t bothered to evangelise for the last 2000 years. That is, if they take their religion seriously at all. There are people who would kill for the Orthodox church who don’t even bother to turn up to it more than once a year. Of course, I am jumping the gun here, we really should consider the truth claims of the Orthodox church also. After all, they do have a history at least back to the 4th century. And what a history it is.
Evangelicals are people who base their beliefs concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ on the New Testament. It is a much more friendly label than “fundamentalist” and lots of evangelicals are broadminded enough to realise that there are plenty of people that God has saved who do not think exactly as they do. To the evangelical mind, there are even quite a few Roman Catholics and even Orthodox who may well be right with God through faith.
Protestants are people who belong to denominations which broke away from the Roman Catholic church, mostly from the 16th century onwards, and who take a stand against various things in the Roman Catholic church. The main protestant leaders of the 16th century were Martin Luther and Jean Calvin – and they have plenty of followers today. Some of Luther’s followers today are trying to tell us that their views on salvation and justification are compatible with the Roman Catholic ideas after all! One wonders what all those burnings at the stake and denunciations were about then, in former times!
Calvinists are people who believe Calvin’s key teachings. These teachings are very intellectual in nature. They have to do with the idea that man has no real part in his own salvation. The Dutch Reformed churches, Presbyterians and some Baptists are Calvinistic in their theology. For Calvinists, man can’t have any part at all in his own salvation, not even to say “Yes” to the gospel preached in the power of the Holy Spirit – God does it ALL for him from start to finish. In Calvinism, man is totally corrupt, and the only time he gets saved is when God forces him to do so by means of “Irresistable Grace”. In Calvinism God makes a person spiritually alive before he repents or believes, so that he CAN (and will) repent and believe. Calvinists can’t tell us why God doesn’t force everyone to be saved, why He only picked a very few, mostly Calvinists, to be saved. They say that is a mystery we can’t understand. Calvinists tell us that the idea that God does it all, including orchestrating all the bad things that go on in this world – is for His Glory and proves that He really is Sovereign. ALL the really important decisions in Calvinism are made by God – but we still get to be guilty for not choosing the right things even though God made us totally sinful and unable to do His will. Of course this way of thinking is totally opposed to Roman Catholicism, which emphasises “works”. For this reason some Calvinists believe that they are the only true heirs of the Reformation because unlike Pentecostals, Arminians, Wesleyans, Semi-Pelagians, free-will Baptists and others they totally reject any part man’s will would have in determining his eternal destiny. For Calvinists, Christ didn’t die for everyone at all – He just died for the people He decided to save in spite of themselves. Other Christians believe that Christ died for all men, as the Scripture says, but Calvinists redefine the meaning of “all” to fit in with their theological framework. Calvinists are very good at intellectual arguments and never tire of bringing up the same old proof texts which they have interpreted to justify their whole theological system of God. If any part of their system is attacked they will appeal to their whole system as being the “context” of that verse which interprets it. If anyone appeals to reason or logic with a well-informed Calvinist they will pride themselves in sticking with their interpretation of the Scriptures above all appeals to what is reasonable or seems just and right, which they will think of in terms of human sentimentality or fallen human logic.
Pentecostals, Charismatics and “Third Wavers” are evangelicals (normally) who put an emphasis on the renewal of the sign gifts, supernatural manifestations and empowerments of the Holy Spirit. Many television evangelists fall into this camp. I myself would fall into this camp. But I can tell you that as a movement, we are far from perfect. The love of money and other forms of carnal compromise are sadly not unheard of in our circles, as with others. But God is working with us wherever he can as with others, and I believe we are more open to a full-orbed faith concerning the promises of God in our lives today.
Holiness churches are those evangelical churches which emphasise the importance of living a holy life through faith in Jesus Christ. Of all churches, perhaps these are the ones which have had the greatest impact for social good of any. Sadly, the original fire of the Wesleyan societies in the 18th century which transformed and saved England is hard to find today. Reading the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, it is hard to deny that God considers purity and holiness as being more important than displays of spiritual power. Its something that Pentecostals, Charismatics and Third Wavers need to consider deeply, without throwing away the precious truths of divine healing, deliverance and the gifts of the Spirit which have been restored to the church, I believe, in the last 50 to 100 years.
If this all sounds terrible, believe me, when you read standard church history it gets even worse. When you read of how professed Christians killed each other – for example in the looting of Constantinople during the Crusades or in the horrible atrocities of the Inquisition, how some popes had sexual orgies in the vatican and not to mention the scandals of drunkenness and deception that have gone on in recent years in all quarters, you have to wonder why Jesus Christ has put up with so much for so long. We answer that it is God’s love and patience – nevertheless a Day of Judgment is coming for all – both believers and unbelievers. The main thing is to repent of YOUR sins, and trust in the one who died in your place. Then out of gratitude for that, live a life by the Holy Spirit’s power that gives honor to God.
Wow, I have just touched on the topic of the article, and have hardly begun. I hope that people will take this article in the spirit of love and realise that the motivation is to help us all be nearer to God in our hearts, as well as our behaviour. This will only come through authentic faith which touches God and brings the powerful activity of the Holy Spirit into our souls to change us.
God can speak through anyone, but there is no guarantee that a given individual or church will speak accurately for God just because it desires to do so, or claims the inherent ability to do so. So then, as Jesus said, TAKE HEED THAT NO ONE DECEIVES YOU. For many will come in my name saying that I am the Christ, and will deceive many. (Mattthew 24:4,5)