"(This article is the substance of a message given by Joji Samuel - elder of CFC Kottayam, India - at the All-India conference of CFC churches in Bangalore in 2015)"
How can we preserve the glory of God in our churches until Christ returns?
When we say that we want to preserve the glory of God in our midst, we are assuming that the glory of God is in our midst at present. How can we be sure of that?
We have heard some glorious truths in our midst in these past years, that have liberated us from sin and brought great freedom in our midst. That is one way by which we know that God is with us – because Jesus said that we can know that we have the truth of God when we are set free from sin (John 8:32). But now we need to see how we can continue in this liberty and move forward.
Paul, writing to Timothy, towards the end of his life, urged him saying, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching, be absorbed in them” (1Tim. 4: 15,16). And then he told Timothy that if he continued doing those things, he would ensure salvation both for himself and for those who hear him. We have experienced the reality of truths that have liberated us in these past years, and we have experienced God’s presence in our midst in our gatherings. These are some of the evidences of the glory of God being in our midst.
I was born into a Pentecostal family and attended a Pentecostal church. But after awhile, I realized that many of the things that I was speaking about were not a reality in my own personal life. I did not see the reality of those truths in the lives of others in the church that I attended, either – not even in the lives of the pastors and leaders there. It was at that time that I read a book titled “How to live the victorious life”. In it, I read about the possibility of living an overcoming life. So I thought of contacting the author of that book. But the author’s name was mentioned as “An unknown Christian”. Later, when I met Brother Zac Poonen and heard him also preaching about this victorious Christian life, I asked him whether he was that “unknown Christian” who wrote that book. But he said it was not him. Later I discovered that the author was someone who lived in England in the late 19th century. It was from that book that I first got the hope of living an overcoming life. But I could not get any help for this from any of the people around me.
Then I got to know Brother Zac Poonen more closely and started reading his books. I not only heard from him the message of a life of overcoming sin but also saw an example of a Christlike life in him. He preached about Jesus being our Forerunner Who came in our flesh and was tempted just like us in every point – and overcame. This gave me an entirely new vision of the Christian life and I started associating with Brother Zac’s church ( Christian Fellowship Church). Very soon thereafter, I experienced a genuine baptism in the Holy Spirit as well.
The Pentecostal movement started as a work of God in the early 20th century. We have all heard how Martin Luther (in the 16 th century) recovered the truth of justification by faith that had been buried for many centuries. Later the Anabaptist movement brought forth the truth of water-baptism. Then John Wesley came with the truth of how to live a holy life in separation from the world. Later the Pentecostal movement came and restored the truth about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, as proclaimed by the apostles in the first century.
But when we look more carefully at the Pentecostal movement, we discover that their leaders equate the work of the Holy Spirit with the exercise of His gifts alone. I did not see any Pentecostal leaders who manifested the power of the Holy Spirit to live a holy life. Their emphasis was only on spiritual gifts. I also observed that although they sought for the power of the Holy Spirit, almost all of them still chased after money and sought for positions of honour. None of them spoke about living as victorious Christians. Others also observed this contradiction – but no-one seemed to be disturbed by that.
That reminds me of a story I heard of a man who had once been a business executive but who developed some mental problem after his retirement. Then he would walk to his office parking-lot, imagining that he was still driving his car. So he would make all the movements with his body, as if he were driving a car – applying the brakes and parking his imaginary car in an open spot. Then he would open the door of his imaginary car and get out and “close the door” and go to the security-person and tell him to “watch his car”!! He would then come back a little later to the parking lot and act as though he were getting into the car, reversing it and driving away. Some people who saw his actions asked the security-person one day what the man was doing. He told them that the man used to come there with his real car when he was a big executive but had now become mentally deranged. “But”, said the security-person, “the man doesn’t create any problem for anyone. He just parks his imaginary car and goes away and comes back a little later and drives it away. So I leave him alone”! The people then asked him why he didn’t correct the man. To which the security-person replied, “Why should I correct him, when he gives me the parking fees regularly each week, and in addition, gives me a hundred rupees every two weeks to wash his car as well”!!
That is a picture of what is happening today in many Pentecostal churches: People are play-acting as though they were filled with the Holy Spirit and making various movements and noises. Their pastors, who watch all these antics, say, “Why should we disturb them? They are paying their tithes every month and also giving gifts regularly to us pastors. So why should we tell them of the reality of a genuine Spirit-filled life of victory?” Of course, those pastors don’t have a victorious life themselves! But that is the delusion that is taking place in many Pentecostal churches.
It is because of this terrible situation in many churches, that God sent a man into our midst – a man with a burden for reality in God’s church.
In Luke 12:56, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not discerning the time in which they were living. We too need to discern the time in which we are living – and we need to see where we are standing ourselves. And we need to move forward with the Lord. The man who discerns this present time and receives the burden of the Lord for this time and takes up that burden and moves forward with it is a true prophet.
There were many prophets in the Bible who received a burden from the Lord for their own time. John the Baptist was a prophet and a man sent by God. If we look at his life we can see some of the unique characteristics of a genuine prophet.
First of all , John had only one message. It was “Repent, Repent” – and he proclaimed it with a great burden. Was John’s message a balanced message? Not at all. He had only one message: Repent. Every true prophet will have a God-given burden – and so his message will never be balanced. Who were the people giving a balanced message during the days of John the Baptist? It was the Pharisees – who had studied the Scriptures in depth. They preached a “balanced” message in their synagogues, but they were all spiritually dead! And the people sat in the synagogues listening to these so-called “ balanced” messages, remaining equally dead. But a few among them who had a hunger for God went out into the wilderness to listen to the imbalanced message of the true prophet of God – John the Baptist. Thus they were saved from spiritual ruin.
Another characteristic of a true prophet that we see in John is his strong language. Many preachers begin their messages by respectfully greeting their hearers first of all. But John began his messages by saying, “ You brood of vipers”!! He did not preach to entertain people but to convict them of their sins.
A third characteristic of a true prophet is that he will never be a compromiser. King Herod loved to listen to John’s preaching and appreciated it greatly. When people appreciate our preaching, it can be difficult to tell them the truth about their spiritual condition. But John did not feel any such limitation. He rebuked Herod to his face and told him that he was an adulterer, by having married his brother’s wife. John was not a compromiser or a man-pleaser. He lost his life as a result of speaking the truth. But he remained faithful to the message God had given him – right up to the very end. That is how every true prophet is.
A few people in Israel who recognized that John was a true prophet who had the message of God, joined him in the wilderness.
If we look at our times and the movement of which we are a part (CFC – Christian Fellowship Church), we can see many similarities to what we see in the ministry of John the Baptist
First of all, like John, we also preach only one message; Be conformed to the likeness of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit . When new people come to our meetings, some of them ask us why we are always preaching on this same subject every Sunday. They tell us that we are not preaching a balanced message! But that is the burden which is in the heart of the Lord for His people at this time. But how many Christians are there who recognize that this is the message of the Lord for this time – that this is the current burden of the Lord for His people. And how many Christians are there who are willing to go out “to the wilderness” to be with His prophet?
And further: As with John, the preaching that we hear in CFC is also very strong and totally uncompromising.
And like those God-fearing men did in John’s time, the Lord is calling His people today also to go outside the camp with Jesus, bearing His reproach.
Have you “seen” the burden that the Lord has for His people at this time? If so, will you stand for the Lord – and with the Lord? But you will have to pay a price.
Have you observed how a flock of birds fly? There will be one bird in front leading the flock – and all the other birds follow in the shape of an arrow behind it. The bird in front leads the whole flock. There could be many obstacles in the front of that flock, such as electric wires and towers and other obstacles. It is the leading bird who faces all these dangers first of all. And it avoids all of them carefully. The other birds then follow safely behind him – and they are thereby protected. Even so for us – it is a great privilege to be associated with and to follow the example of a man of God who carries the Lord’s burden and steers us clear of all the spiritual dangers along the way.
Watchman Nee once said that we must move with the current “wave of the Spirit” in our time. If we had been living in Martin Luther’s time, it would have been right to stand with Martin Luther. But if we were living in John Wesley’s time, we should not be standing just for what Martin Luther stood for. Because by then God had revealed more of His truths to the church through Wesley. Then we should have stood with Wesley, for those higher truths. Otherwise we would not be moving with “the wave of the Spirit” at that time.
In the early 20th century, the Holy Spirit began to move with the Pentecostal movement that emphasized the baptism in the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit of the Lord is now leading God’s people further – to a life of victory and overcoming sin, So we should all be moving with thecurrent move of the Spirit. And those who decide to move with this current move of the Spirit will stand with God’s prophet and be willing to bear the reproach of being outside the popular “ religious Christian camp”.
Whenever God has moved in a new way in past generations, there has always been opposition by other Christians who have sought to kill the new movement with strong criticisms. And the most common way by which people seek to kill a move of God is by calling it a false teaching. And most Christians are more afraid of false doctrine than they are of committing gross sins!! So it is not surprising for us, when we hear that some Bible-colleges in our day have a subject in their syllabus for their students titled “CFC churches as a cult-group”!!
In past years, whenever a true prophet arose in Christendom beginning a new move of God, the movement was always considered to be a cult. So it is not surprising to see the same thing happening in Christendom today as well.
A book about the Christian faith, that was written around the time of the apostle John – in AD 100 – speaks about three marks of a false prophet (in new covenant times).
First of all , it said, that a false prophet would invariably ask for money for himself, from his listeners. When Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians about collecting money in the church, it was always for the poor believers in other churches – and never for himself. The Lord Jesus made it clear that no-one could serve God and money. Every Christian has to choose which of the two he will serve – God or money. He must serve one wholeheartedly and completely stop serving the other.
We all know how much the name of God is being dishonored in India, by Christian preachers who constantly ask people for money. Many preachers in India have amassed huge amounts of money for themselves in the name of preaching the gospel. They are earning today, much more than they would ever have earned if they had been working in a secular job. All of this clearly proves that there is something seriously wrong with the gospel that such preachers preach. They say that as sons of the King of the universe, they must live like earthly kings!! That is a deception that has produced a stench that has ruined the testimony of Christ in India.
The second mark mentioned in that book is that a true prophet (in new covenant times) will always be travelling from place to place preaching his message and not just staying in one place. False prophets however will settle down comfortably in just one place. When people once urged Jesus to stay with them, He said that He had to go to other places also to preach God’s Word (Luke 4:42, 43). Peter said that Jesus was always “ travelling around, doing good” (Acts 10:38). That is how every true prophet will be. The burden that the Lord has given him compels him to move from place to place, proclaiming that burden. A false prophet has no such burden. He settles down in one place and builds a huge headquarters for his ministry, that is big in the eyes of the world! But a true prophet follows His Lord Who said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
The third mark of a false prophet (the book said) is that there
will be a great disparity between his words and his actions – between his
teachings and his way of life. In Jesus’ life, His words matched His life –
they went side by side. In Acts 1:1, we read that Jesus first did and then taught
what He had done. A true prophet’s personal life-style will bear a powerful
witness to the message that he proclaims. A true prophet will be greatly
pained whenever he sees some failure in his life. The prophet Isaiah once
cried out saying, “
Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips, because
my eyes have seen the King
” (Isa.6:5). Paul once said,
“Wretched man that I am. Who will set me free from this body of death”
(Rom.7:24). Every true prophet who follows in Jesus’s footsteps, will have
this mourning and longing in his heart to have a life that fits exactly with what he preaches. But a false prophet is never
disturbed by the fact that his way of life is totally different from what he
preaches. A false prophet basically says to people, “The Bible is for me to preach – and for all of you to practice”!
Finally: Even where a prophet is faithful to God until the end, his movement will still tend to deteriorate and decline over a period of time, because the people who joined his movement with great sincerity in the beginning, gradually begin to compromise. The prophet who leads the movement of God will recognize this and will be burdened to prevent such a “falling away” as far as possible. But he may not succeed in preventing the falling away. We read that Paul’s coworker Demas left him (2 Tim.4:10). Why did Demas leave Paul? Because Paul had a great burden that the work should continue in purity? And the compromising Demas found that to be too much for him. Later, many others in the churches in Asia also left Paul (2 Tim.1:15). Why do people who once join a movement of God with a true prophet, later leave him? Because the prophet is totally uncompromising and seeks to please God alone, at any cost, and never seeks to please any of his followers or any other human being. Many of his followers then drift away, because they are not willing to pay the same price.
A true prophet will never be taken up with organizing large gatherings – nor will he be diplomatic in his preaching. Those who are diplomatic however will want to organize large gatherings – and they will never want anyone to leave their group. Jesus was never like that. He always told people that those who wanted to leave Him could leave at any time. A true prophet works in the same way. His burden is that the quality of the movement should never deteriorate. His kingdom is not of this world – and so he has no kingdom to protect. This is yet another mark by which we can identify the true prophets of our time.
Remember that Jesus said that whenever we receive a true prophet, we will actually be receiving Jesus Himself. So we should recognize the true prophets of God in our time and receive them wholeheartedly. Jesus went on to say that those who received a true prophet would also receive a prophet’s reward (Matt.10:40,41).
We do not all have the calling to be prophets. But when we see a true prophet, we should stand with him and go outside the camp with him and bear the reproach with him. Then we too will receive a prophet’s reward.
Let us take heed to these truths in all seriousness then. and apply them to our lives. We will thereby not only save ourselves from being deceived but also save many others around us.
May it be so. Amen.