UNITY & THE CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALS (IV), FELLOWSHIP & THE MISSION

UNITY & THE CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALS (IV), FELLOWSHIP & THE MISSION

From the previous posts in this series, we have shown that the primary “fundamentals” of the mature Abrahamic Faith are two points: (1) That there is one eternal, immortal, all-powerful, and all-sovereign God, who is the Father alone, and (2) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. A secondary “fundamental” is the Hope of the resurrection, the restoration of the whole creation, and the promised land inheritance. As Paul declared, “We were saved in this hope (Rom. 8:16-25).   

Yet as the title of this series suggests, there is a tension between the goal of unity, for which Jesus prayed and by which the world can come to know the one true God through His Son (John 17:20-24), and disagreements over theology. The previous post in this series shows clearly that the fullness and richness of the Abrahamic Faith was only progressively unveiled over a period of seventy years, from AD 26 when Jesus was baptized and began His public ministry until AD 96 when John wrote the book of Revelation. In fact, the “revelation of Jesus Christ” is not complete until John wrote “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1). Jesus Himself appeared to John at both the beginning and end of this book. He had this final word to say to the churches of God, clearly and unambiguously declaring who He is, and threatening with the loss of the inheritance anyone who either adds to or takes away from this final and complete revelation of Jesus Christ sent from God through His personal “Messenger” (Angel), Jesus Christ Himself (Rev. 1:1). Here are Jesus’ own last words of warning to us from Revelation 22:12-20 (LGV):

12 ‘Look! I am coming suddenly, and [bringing] My wage with Me, to distribute to each according to his work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those washing their robes so that they should have a right to the tree of life, and they may enter through the gates into the city. 15 But dogs, drug users, fornicators, murderers, idolaters, and the entirety of the [ones] fond of practicing falsehood are excluded. 16 I, Jesus, sent My messenger to testify these things to you for the assemblies. I am the Root and the Descendant of David, the Bright and Morning Star. 17 And the Breath and the bride are saying, ‘Come!’ And the hearing one, say “Come!” And the thirsting one, Come! And the one who is willing, receive the water of life freely! 18 I am testifying to everyone hearing the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone should add to them, God will add to him the plagues having been written in this book. 19 And if anyone removes from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of Life, and from the holy city, and from the things having been written in this book. 20 The One testifying these things says, Yes, I am coming suddenly.’ Amen.”

The testimony of Jesus concerning His full identity in these final and unambiguous words is not to be taken lightly. The mysteries that were revealed through Paul and then John are necessary components of “the Faith once for all delivered to the saints.” Yet, since these things were revealed progressively throughout the seventy-year period (AD 26-96), it follows that the 3,000 Jews and proselytes who were baptized into Jesus Christ on the Day of Pentecost did not have the fullness of understanding of either of these mysteries. Their knowledge was far inferior to the theological understanding which the members of the seven assemblies of Asia Minor possessed after they received the complete canon of the New Testament including John’s Gospel, epistles, and Revelation. But God embraced those 3,000 as His sons and daughters on the Day of Pentecost, and continually added to the Jerusalem assembly which only possessed a basic understanding of both the Hope of the inheritance and the nature of the Messiah. Those Christians “continued in the Apostle’s doctrine” which they had at the time, even before the Apostles themselves gained complete understanding progressively through the Breath of Truth.

From Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, all that first group understood about the Messiah was the following: “Jesus of Nazareth, [was] a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know – Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. … This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. … Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22-24, 32-33, 36 NKJ). This understanding of Jesus was rudimentary and entirely Israel-centric. Yet those who repented and were baptized with this knowledge alone immediately became God’s sons and daughters. God accepted them despite their very limited understanding. They then comprised the church of God at Jerusalem along with the eleven Apostles.

As the New Testament shows, conflicts over doctrine emerged among both the Jewish and gentile believers. The Judaizers from the Jerusalem assembly refused to accept the first “mystery” regarding the gentiles becoming “Abraham’s seed” and thus heirs of the Abrahamic inheritance apart from the Mosaic Covenant. Paul’s letter to the Galatians completely sets the record straight concerning this error of the Judaizers. Then, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (ch. 15) shows clearly that some in that thoroughly Greek church did not believe in the Abrahamic Hope, the resurrection of the body and land inheritance. This was due to the Greek philosophical influence and presuppositions which saturated their culture. They no doubt had difficulty letting go of Plato’s immortality of the soul and heavenly destiny concepts in his philosophy. While Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in part to correct that early error, he did not imply that such were not Christians and that they should be cast out of the church. He simply made a very good case for why they were wrong and why the resurrection of the body was absolutely essential to the true Christian Hope. Who did Paul demand that the elders of the Corinthian church cast out? It was the man who was publicly living in fornication (1 Cor. 5).

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul demanded separation and disfellowship, not over doctrine or wrong eschatology which some of them held (2 Thess. 2:2), but again over conduct. “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (2 Thess. 3:6 NKJ). In this case it concerned Christians who were not behaving in a godly way concerning their finances. The same situation was the case when Paul wrote to Timothy to “withdraw yourself” from those who do not “consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3 NKJ). Again, doctrine and practice which results in ungodliness and disobedience to God’s commands is what we must distinguish and then separate ourselves from all professing Christians who practice, justify, or promote such things.

It is true that John’s books draw a clear line in the sand regarding the doctrine of Christ vs. the doctrines of the Gnostic teachers. Those false teachers denied that the Son of God who came down from heaven actually “became flesh.” They also held that the “Father” whom Jesus proclaimed was not the same God of the Old Testament, the creator, the God of Abraham. They denied the very first fundamental, the one true God, and they denied the second fundamental, that the Son became flesh. Thus these many false teachers were called “many antichrists” by John. Yet John made it clear that they never were “of us” in the first place because they denied these two primary fundamentals. “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:18-19 NKJ).

As probably all of the readers of this blog are aware, Evangelical Christianity has obediently followed Rome in declaring that all who contradict the Trinity are apostates and outside of the Christian Faith. In my early years as the pastor of Oasis Christian Church in Tampa, I did the same thing. I called non-Trinitarian groups “cults” and their leaders and members “heretics.” We did the same for all groups who did not believe in the immortality of the soul and eternal torment. Looking back on my early days of pastoring, I am ashamed. I have grown a great deal in my understanding of the Scriptures and early Christianity over the last few decades and have brought hundreds (maybe thousands) along on my spiritual journey, a journey which has been public throughout my over two decades of online ministry. Because of this I have been ostracized and called a “heretic” and “cult leader” by many Christians, former friends, and even extended family.

Looking back, I cannot say that I was not a child of God because of my past ignorance, although I marvel at God’s patience. I became a child of God when I repented and was baptized into Jesus Christ long before I was a pastor, despite my ignorance concerning many theological points. I did not become a child of God during my decade of pastoring when I abandoned the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and eternal torment, or when I finally had to let go of the Trinity after a long internal struggle. Looking backwards, I am very grateful for God’s grace and patience with my ignorance. Yet, to my shame, even after coming to the present conclusions on these topics by God’s grace, I did not immediately extend the same grace to Unitarians who agree with 4Winds on most things but do not accept the preexistence of Christ. Neither did I extend that grace to Jehovah’s Witnesses who also agree on the same but teach that the Son was created by God rather than begotten out of God at the beginning of creation. Thank God that is no longer the case. I have learned to appreciate, value, and view all Christians, not in “black and white,” but in color, each individual and each group being on a similar journey through which God is continually drawing towards a deeper and more meaningful vertical relationship with Himself, and horizontal relationship with all of our brothers and sisters.

In closing this series, I would like to offer some advice to those who have either been members of the former church I pastored, or who have followed my online ministry which has been continuous since 1998, especially those who have followed my decades-long journey from Evangelical Christianity to where I am today. Do not make the mistake of writing off brothers and sisters who do not believe as we do. While it is a good and beneficial thing to pursue purity of TRUTH, it is not a good thing to take a wrecking ball to fellow Christians or groups who disagree. There are things far more important to God than our specific knowledge of theology. Theology is there, not to puff us up, but to help us to understand and thus to know God better. As we grow in grace and knowledge, we should become conformed more and more to the image of His Son.

It is clear in the New Testament that a local “church” included all who had repented, believed, and were baptized into Christ, regardless of whether they all could fit in one building, or where they were on their spiritual journey to perfection. The local ”Body of Christ” is not the official “membership” of what is today called a local “church.” A local New Testament “church” or “assembly” or “Body of Christ” or “Temple of God” consists of all those within a particular community whom God accepts as His sons and daughters. As Paul told the Corinthians, those who segregate the body of Christ, saying “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Peter,” or “I am of Christ,” are carnal. The same is true of those who say, “I am a Baptist,” or “I am a Methodist,” or “I am Presbyterian,” or Church of Christ, Assembly of God, or Church of God, or 4Winds Fellowships, or KJV only, and thus reject or look down upon those outside the walls of their local church, denomination, or home fellowship. This is looking on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart. This is driven by pride not by humility. To have a truly godly perspective, we must look upon our entire Christian community as the children of God, our brothers and sisters. God does not accept or reject people based on our refined doctrinal statements, which translation we use, or our level of understanding of the deeper things of God. He distinguishes His children by the following criteria: “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity’.” (2 Tim. 2:19 NKJ). God is interested in whether or not we truly know and love Him and His Son and are being changed by His holy Breath, whether we love one another, not in word but in deed, and if we show our love for Jesus by humbly seeking to keep His commandments the best we know how. This is “walking in the light” which we have been given (1 John 1:7).

1 John 4:15 – 5:4 (NKJ) 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. 5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.  3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.

If we are to be effective witnesses concerning the enormous benefits of understanding the richness and the treasures of the deeper truths of God’s Word, it must begin by first openly displaying that the practical results of those benefits are real and effective in us. If we are to be true witnesses and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom in these last days to those who do not know the one true God, it must be by willingly and humbly allowing God to fulfill through us Jesus’ own prayer: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23 NKJ). How can we proclaim the “oneness” of God, and the “oneness” of the Son with the Father, without demonstrating the “oneness” of God’s children, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3 NKJ)? The two are inseparably linked together! Therefore, we are compelled to love, accept, and engage in as much unity as possible (without violating our consciences) with all of God’s people. We must not segregate ourselves based on doctrinal statements or the name on the sign, but by the evidence of God’s holy Breath working in and among ourselves and our brothers and sisters who are outside our four walls. That means we should seek common ground, common associations, common goals, common worship, and yes even common fellowship with all whose speech and actions reveal love for God and His Son and who demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Yet we are commanded to remain separated and aloof from all professing Christians who walk disorderly, who engage in or defend the works of the flesh, who practice dishonesty or pride, those who prioritize the pursuit of money and materialism above the pursuit of the Kingdom of God, and those who refuse to keep God’s simple and obvious commandments while justifying themselves in their disobedience.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (LGV) 1 Therefore, I the prisoner in the Master, plead with you to walk worthy of the invitation with which you were called 2 with all humility and meekness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to preserve the unity of the Breath in the bond of peace: 4 a common Body and a common Breath, just as you were [originally] called in a common Hope of your calling, 5 a common Master, a common Faith, a common immersion, 6 a common God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.

4 thoughts on “UNITY & THE CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALS (IV), FELLOWSHIP & THE MISSION

  1. Hello Tim,

    Thank you for your transparent and humble description regarding your spiritual journey on this subject. My first interest in your internet ministry goes back to the late 1990s while trying to make sense of the rapture, and you have been a great help there.

    I am currently facing a decision with my family on whether or not to join in fellowship with a local church where the elders embrace theological systems such as Calvinism and Amillennialism. However, we were originally and continue to be drawn to the loving nature and warm fellowship of the congregation.

    Do you think theology should have primacy in the choice of a local body of believers? How do you think a Christian should deal with the “cognitive dissonance” of hearing teaching at odds with the truth that you believe the Lord has shown to you?

    These are sincere questions, and I certainly appreciated your perspective on judging fellowship with others based on true life change versus the finer points of doctrine.

    Thanks,
    Ryan

    1. Ryan,
      Doctrine is important, in the sense that it can dictate or influence behavior. I would consider Calvinism one of the most dangerous doctrines in evangelicalism to expose one’s family to. This is primarily because under certain circumstances it can excuse personal sin (with unlimited grace), and it can portray God as a tyrant and a monster when really bad things happen, since that was allegedly His determined will. It also paints God in an unbiblical way regarding the unsaved, especially when combined with eternal torment. Many people have turned away from the Faith and become atheists because of the view of God’s character that Calvinism necessarily implies.

      Amillennialism is less of a problem, IMO, but it still replaces the biblical Hope with something that is foreign to the Scriptures. So it also does have some negative effect. But you can easily counter it. I think it would be wise, IF you have to settle for less than ideal, to think through the possible long-term effects that whatever wrong doctrine may have on one’s family, and then find a church that is least offensive in this regard. The things is, we all NEED fellowship which is what the assembly is supposed to be, where we can put into practice all of the commands and examples in Scripture of how Christians are to behave and interact with one another, and where we can be encouraged, uplifted, and challenged.

      I think you would be better off with a non-Calvinist church. But sometimes you have to go with whatever is available in your area. In any case, it is the husband’s and father’s responsibility to teach and train his family in the things of God, and to filter what they are exposed to. You are the “firewall.” So, it is important to counteract any false teaching that your family hears at whatever church you decide to attend. It also might be fun for family members to make a game out of spotting errors in preaching and teaching, and explain why. It would be a useful tool to reinforce the truth, and it would help family pay attention.

      Deut. 6:4-9 (NKJV)
      4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
      5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
      6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.
      7 “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
      8 “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
      9 “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

      Tim

  2. Hear! Hear! Tim.

    After a long absence from attending a local assembly I might return this weekend after reading this. Father help me keep Your purpose in mind.

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