April 22, 2006

Religion or Relationship?

One of the things I thought we learned from the Jesus Movement of the 1960s & 70s is the need for a personal relationship with Jesus. We were rightly told that religion and its rituals were manmade, while knowing Jesus and making Him the Lord of our lives was paramount. But today there is a return to the spirit of religion that, rather than bringing people closer to Jesus, leads seekers to embrace shadows instead of substance.

We’ve seen Bible-believing churches, like Capo Beach Calvary Chapel, turn to the trappings of religion. These emerging churches have revived the use of icons and stained-glass windows, incense and candles, monasticism and contemplative "prayer" along with superstitious formulas like the blessing with the sign of the cross. So what’s next?

Well, if the return to the practices of the medieval church is any indication, the next step will likely be a return to a clergy hierarchy or what is known as Nicolaitanism. Of course, in many denominations this medieval practice has never gone out of fashion. This is the unbiblical idea that ordained ministers are closer to God than the "laity" and are to be looked to as our intermediaries to God. This is something that Jesus says He hates (Rev. 2:6)

In fact, Jesus taught His disciples that this ‘clergy over the people’ mentality is not the fruit of true Christianity. Perhaps He emphasized that so much because He knew that the evil heart of man would lead in that direction every time man is guided by his own ego and unregenerate imagination.

"But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you…’" (Matt. 20:25-26a).

"Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues"(Luke 20:46).

"But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments" (Matt. 23:5).

I don’t think it was an accident that Jesus faulted those religious leaders for their conspicuous wardrobe and all the trappings that set themselves above the people. Today he would look at the various long robes and stoles worn around the necks of clergy and make the same observations. I think the sight of someone like D. James Kennedy would give Him cause to gag. Jesus no doubt would condemn the practice of the entire clerical staff of the scandalous church of Bishop Earl Paulk who each wear a different color clerical shirt that signifies their position in the rank of the hierarchy. If I walk into a church and see that the pastor is wearing any of these ‘habits,’ I have to turn around and walk out.

This clergy class of Nicolaitans are the same ones that want to be called "reverend" or "doctor" in order to lift themselves up above other Christians. In the lukewarm dead denominations, they go so far as to put such titles as, the Very Reverend, the Right Reverend Monsignor, the Venerable Archdeacon, the Lord Bishop… the list goes on and on. My reaction? As the old saying goes, "Gag me with a spoon!" And Jesus said of such, "I will vomit you out of my mouth."

This idea that ordained clergy are closer to God than the Spirit-filled believers in a fellowship is a lie. In Christ we are all equal, a royal priesthood. It is ideas like this that birth such sayings as "touch not God’s anointed" and have produced the recent "apostles and prophets movement" that elevates some above the rest.

So we’ll just have to wait and see if the Emerging Church takes it this far. The fact that the religious sacramentals have caught on in Evangelicalism truly characterizes the term "backsliding": to slide back to a time of ignorance instead of progressing toward our mark in Christ Jesus. As we see this on such a grand scale, we know the great apostasy is underway.

♥♥♥

Heavenly Father, thank You that we can approach the throne of grace directly through Your Son, Christ Jesus. Thank You that nothing can separate us from Your love and that You have sent your Holy Spirit to dwell in us and conform us into the likeness of Your Son. That is all the transformation we seek. We give You all the praise and glory for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and we know we can add absolutely nothing to that. Thank you for Your Word of Truth that keeps us grounded in the faith as we turn to it as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give Your children discernment and understanding so that we will not drift back into empty formulas that replace the direct access we have to Your Spirit, Truth and Wisdom. Help us to hold onto our crowns until the end, as we discern the evil of the times and lift up our heads awaiting the final redemption of our bodies. We give You all the glory. Amen!

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