The Christian's Walk in a Day of Breakdown - by Keith Petersen
February 13, 2009
A GENERAL LETTER REGARDING THE GROUND ON WHICH CHRISTIANS TODAY ARE TO WALK AND TO GATHER
It is apparent that it would be sensible to clarify some of the foundational Christian principles regarding both the individual path of the Christian and also, reflexively, the proper ground on which Christians are to gather in fellowship. There is a hope that this is in view of providing a framework within which the divisions amongst the different brethren today can be reconciled. If some of what is stated here in this letter seems overly simplistic, please bear with it – keeping in mind that the desire is to highlight fundamental Christian principles.
On the simplest level, speaking reverently, practical Christianity can be considered as: (1) our individual (and, ultimately, collective) relationship with Divine Persons and (2) as a result of that relationship, our relationship with other Christians and men in general.
Thus, the Lord reminds us that the “Thou shalt love [the] Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy understanding. This is [the] great and first commandment. And [the] second is like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” It is evident that the second commandment cannot properly be entered into if we are not in the good of the first commandment.
It has been well said that Christianity is simply Christ over again. It is clear from Scripture that the individual Christian is called by Christ to morally come out from a world system which is characterized by the rejection of Christ (“the whole world lies in the wicked [one]”). Paul writes in Corinthians, “Wherefore come out from the midst of them ….. and touch not [what is] unclean”. Christianity is, in its inherent character, a spiritual system – “God [is] a spirit; and they who worship him must worship [him] in spirit and truth” (John 4).
Of course, the Bible makes provision for – God graciously takes into account in our histories here – the fact that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels”, and James writes that “we all often offend.” Yet, from the Divine perspective – and, considering that we each have the Holy Spirit “who is able to guide you into all the truth” – Jude writes that God “is able to keep you without stumbling.” The simple reality is that all failures on the part of the Christian are a result of some activity of the natural mind. If we are amenable to the lead of the Holy Spirit, His leading works to keep us “without stumbling”; if we listen not to Him – or, minimize His voice – we are vulnerable to going astray – whether in some smaller detail or in greater degree.
I hope that all that has been written above is entirely agreeable to each one.
We are, as Christians here, in a world system that has and continues to reject Christ (God, of course, is working to secure souls out from this world system, and the Holy Spirit is here as “he who restrains now until he be gone”) and, as a result, we are engaged in a warfare. Paul writes in Corinthians as to the “arms of our warfare” – i.e., that they are “not fleshly, but powerful according to God”.
The most immediate conflict for the Christian involves what is within – which is to say, that we must overcome the attempts of our “old man” to influence our Christian path here. We are called upon to appropriate and to maintain the victory of Christ in the Cross, and it is done through the power of the Holy Spirit – “if, by the Spirit, ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live”.
It is evident that any activity of “the flesh” in the Christian is as a result of having failed to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.
A resultant question is: `How do we each deal with our failures – both in ourselves and in others?’ Paul writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us [our] sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is simple – the indwelling Holy Spirit prompts us and we acknowledge our failure.
As has been noted, Christianity is a system of relationships – firstly, between God and ourselves individually, and, then, amongst each other and men here. As I repent of some sin of mine – the matter is closed – the Lord has paid the penalty already on the Cross and I have effectuated a judgment and confession which maintains the efficacy of the Cross.
Let’s say I slashed someone’s tires through anger and malice, and have been rightly accused by another Christian of doing this. I refuse the admonition – let’s say I state that it was not I; but, someone else. Now, the matter stands that not only have I not judged my sin; but, my will is active to the point that I am refusing the truth. I am now affecting my relationship with Divine Persons (is the Lord content to allow a refusal as to the truth to remain unconsidered in the relationship between Himself and me?) and my immediate relationship with another Christian – the one who is coming to me in relation to this sin. There is also, if that person is different than the one who approached me as to this sin, the sin against the owner of the car. Ultimately, of course, my actions affect my relationship with all Christians everywhere since it is “the one body”; but, my issues, according to Scripture, are to be taken up initially in the local setting in which the sin occurred.
The greater sin is the attempt to cover it up. Adam and Eve sewed aprons of fig leaves in an attempt to cover up after eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Achan took the gold, the silver and the “beautiful” cloak of Shinar and hid them. Ananias and Sapphira sold the land and attempted the deceit that it was sold for less than what was the actual value.
Heaven will never, under any circumstances, acquiesce in unjudged sin. In the case of Adam and Eve the Lord forced the confession back to its initial root – which was the activity of Satan in regard to the independence of the natural mind in deflecting from the commandment of God (Satan told Eve she wouldn’t die, and she independently decided to eat and to give to her husband to eat). In the matter of Achan, the matter was forced by the Lord so that all of Israel was sifted until Achan was revealed. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira Peter said, “why has Satan filled thy heart that thou shouldest lie to the Holy Spirit ….. Thou hast not lied to men, but to God”, and they both lost their lives.
This letter is gaining length a bit – please bear with me as I am seeking as best as I can to help us arrive together at a common, acceptable platform regarding these important truths. Brethren are divided today over matters of practical truth. These all need to be reconciled properly before Heaven.
The Church is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. God is jealous of His rights in His house. In the tabernacle system in the Old Testament, no package was to be allowed into the tabernacle. Nothing is to be hidden – “there is nothing hidden which shall not be made manifest; nor does any secret thing take place, but that it should come to light.” (Mark 4:22). In the Revelation all is placed upon the “sea of glass”. It is transparency. David said that “thou hast tried me, thou hast found nothing: my thought goeth not beyond my word.” The Lord said of Nathanael, “Behold [one] truly an Israelite, in whom there is no guile” and He said of Himself in response to His questioners, “[I am] Altogether that which I also say to you.”
The reality is that God’s house is a holy house, and each and every Christian is called upon to maintain, firstly, the holiness of their own walk with Christ and, thus, reflexively, the holiness of their walk in relation to other Christians. They are also called upon to meet sin as it might occur with other Christians. Matthew writes that the Lord said, “if thy brother sin against thee, go, reprove him between thee and him alone. If he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he do not hear [thee], take with thee one or two besides, that every matter may stand upon the word of two witnesses or of three.” The last step given is “But if he will not listen to them, tell it to the assembly; and if also he will not listen to the assembly, let him be to thee as one of the nations and a tax-gatherer. Verily I say to you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on the earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on the earth shall be loosed in heaven.” These are all the words of the Lord Himself.
The entire thrust of the above teaching is that sin is to be met – it cannot be left. God hasn’t ignored the sin of man – He has met it perfectly in the Cross of Christ. We are to implement this in our own Christian path.
If and when sin is not met in the path of either individual Christians or in a company of Christians, a distance is created between Heaven and that/those Christians. If and when judged, the distance is removed (“I am with you while ye are with me”). The allowance of sin grieves the Holy Spirit. If sin continues to remain unjudged, the Holy Spirit becomes quenched (see 1 Thessalonians 5). Once this happens – the practical state of the Christian mirrors “light which is in thee be … darkness” – and there can be a virtually intractable state (“Ephraim is joined to idols: leave him alone”). The worst cases of this are seen in Paul’s admonition that there could be “a sin unto death” and, for such a one, we are told not even to pray – terrible result.
Dear brethren, the great need for us all today is to be unified. There are general issues regarding Christendom – and our understanding from Scripture is that certain divisions and denominations are evidently to remain in Christendom up until the rapture (see Revelation chapters 1 – 3) – yet, the Lord worked backward from the fig-leaf aprons of Adam and Eve to arrive at the truth (of course, He knew the truth from the outset), and we can do the same today.
I believe that there are, today as this is written, several important issues that need to be resolved. The most pressing question is why did the Lord allow a breakdown of such magnitude to occur in the Church to the result that Christians today are everywhere divided and splintered? Next, how are we to arrive at a right and proper ground for fellowship today?
I write all this with the presumption that the reader is concerned to find the proper answers and resolutions to these issues. If there are those less concerned – more inclined to be indifferent – I point such to Revelation 3: “I know … that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. Thus because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spue thee out of my mouth”. If you or I are/am a casual Christian, the Lord is shown in this section to be outside knocking. Jeremiah bluntly says, “Cursed be he that doeth the work of Jehovah negligently.”
I fully believe that the primary answer to the first of the questions in the paragraph above is of the same character as is seen in the Lord’s statement to the assembly at Ephesus – “but I have against thee, that thou hast left thy first love.” This is noted by the Holy Spirit as the very first failure in the Lord’s address to the very first assembly addressed in the beginning of the Revelation – a section that prophetically shows the subsequent course of the Church in our dispensation. “Thou hast left thy first love” – and, “I have [it] against thee” – sobering words ….
This devolves back to the first and greatest commandment – “Thou shalt love [the] Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy understanding.” Not only has this never changed; but, whom does God have in mind to fulfill this but those to whom He has brought into such wonderful, sonship glory along with the Christ?
The Lord’s question to Peter in John 21 was, “Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me?” What is our response to this question? Do you – do we – love the Lord? What is the proof? This latter question should press strongly upon each. What is the proof? Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 11 “But let a man prove himself, and thus eat of the bread, and drink of the cup.” God is a heart-knowing God.
God’s commandment as to our love for Him is no arbitrary commandment. It provides the delivering power in our lives to keep us separated from what would hinder our relationship with Himself.
If the first noted failure of the Church as quoted above was a diminution of love for the Christ, it is safe to say that our diminution of love for Himself can always be used by Satan to further prepare the ground for some subsequent failure. The Lord said that “I have against thee” and then stated further, “Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works: but if not, I am coming to thee, and I will remove thy lamp out of its place, except thou shalt repent.”
The Lord does not simply gloss over this reduction in love. He says that there is a falling away, and a need for repentance. Furthermore, He says that the lamp will be removed. How is this? It is surely because the testimonial light of the Christian is no longer what was intended by God. Many Christians today think that the lamp of Christianity glows brightly; however, the reality is that it is, in large part, filmed over with the influences of a world system that “lies in the wicked one”. Indeed, from scripture we can see that, in the Lord’s subsequent addresses to the remaining assemblies, the lamp is no longer even in view.
Relative to this is the question: How do Christians become so moved away from the fundamental principles of Scripture that such apparent failure and disunity takes place?
The Lord is “the way, the truth and the life.” If we move away from the Lord due to a lack of love – resulting, clearly, in a lack of fidelity – we shall suffer a concurrent reduction in our esteem of the truth. The Lord’s word is “Believe the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Proverbs 23 says “Buy the truth and sell it not; wisdom, and instruction, and intelligence.” There is a clear link as to wisdom and intelligence relative to the truth – “the truth as it is in Jesus.”
The truth, then, can and does – as is apparent in the general history of the Church – get gradually sold. The king of Egypt “took away the shields of gold that Solomon had made. And king Rehoboam made in their stead shields of bronze and committed them to the hands of the chief of the couriers who kept the entrance of the king's house. And it was so, that as often as the king entered into the house of Jehovah, the couriers came and fetched them, and brought them again into the chamber of the couriers.”
Bronze has use; but, it in no way represents the highest values of the truth as is seen in the gold. The tabernacle system when built by Solomon was overlaid entirely inside and out with gold – representative of the highest level of man’s relationship with God, and, vice-versa. In the section in the Revelation in which the Lord reproaches Laodicea for being neither hot nor cold, He says, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold purified by fire.” Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, says, in Lamentations, “How is the gold become dim!”
Thus, it is right to say that the failures on the part of what should be considered to be full-grown, responsible Christians can be seen typically as due to a lack in our fidelity to Christ – a lack in our love. This lack of fidelity enables a wedge by which Satan can then act to further move the Christian(s) away from the truth. The Lord says of some, Ye will say `Lord, Lord’; however, He shows that the heart and the mind are not truly in the matter.
I can say, personally, that I greatly fear the first steps in Christian decline. Why? Because they can involve small steps – which can be considered as more inconsequential variances with the truth. Some great, gross evil when first presented by Satan can be recoiled against; however, let this same enemy introduce a small amount of leaven and, when it runs its course, the lump is fully leavened. It is the little foxes that spoil the vines.
To the last question: How, then, do we properly reconcile all these departures so that, today, the ground has been morally cleared to the end that we can – as we should be – in proper Christian fellowship?
The answer, as always, is Christ. “Christ everything, and in all.”
The first thing is to see the truth. Haggai asks, “How do ye see?” We have to see and understand what is in the mind of God as it relates to the practical, moral standing of the assembly in relation to a world system “which lies in the wicked one.” This letter has attempted to, as concisely as is practical, set this out. Then, if we each judge our circumstances – past and present – as necessary, our robes are washed and we have right to enter into the city by the gates (Rev 22). If we cannot “judge righteous judgment” (John 7), are we not unfaithful to the light of Christ in our lives?
God speaks in Scripture of a wonderful unity. Would not any desire this? What love! What holiness! What joy of association with others who have properly washed their robes! It will be this way in Heaven – what prevents, as said the Ethiopian eunuch – for this to take place at this time?
If we cannot reconcile – what is the reason? Is it not a lack of self-judgment – a lack of transparency – with each or any? The reality is that there is no scriptural reason for brethren to be in separation (the Bible does account that separations would come so that certain would be manifest as approved; however, that is not the primary intent of the Holy Spirit). Paul – the great apostle of the assembly – writes in Ephesians “using diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace. [There is] one body and one Spirit, as ye have been also called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all.”
Let us be moved by the Spirit of God to effectuate what is necessary so that we may, in these last days, come together as pleasing to God.
 I am not referring to some sin which might have affected others and/or caused some lasting effect – i.e., if I robbed a bank, shot the teller and am now in jail awaiting sentencing – I am yet reaping the fruits of what I have sowed – whatever confession I might have made to the Lord.