Yes, salvation is both a present reality and a future prospect. Apostle John writes, "We KNOW that we have passed from death to life" and "We KNOW that we are of God" (1 Jn 3:14; 5:19).
When you receive Christ and believe on Him you are given the right to become a child of God (Jn 1:12). You are saved (Acts 16:31). Your sins are forgiven and you are washed by the blood of Jesus (Rev 1:5). This assurance is yours by the Holy Spirit. He bears witness with your spirit that you are a child of God (Rom 8:16). For this purpose He primarily employs the written Word of God (Jn 20:31).
There will be certain positive indications when a person is saved. The guilt is gone and there is the joy of Salvation. A new love for God and His Word is born. Prayer becomes a delight. A desire to live holy is manifest. The very outlook on life is changed. Fellowship with the children of God is pleasant. A burden for the salvation of others is usually felt. These things may not manifest to the full measure, but as a newborn child you will start growing in these things.
Salvation actually belongs to three tenses. Salvation past is deliverance from the penalty of sin (Rom 6:23). Salvation present is deliverance from the power of sin (Rom 6:14). And salvation future is deliverance from the very presence of sin (Rev 21:27). Salvation today is not absence of temptations. Therefore don't be alarmed at the increasing measure of temptations. Temptation is not sin, only yielding to temptation is.
The devil is a liar (Jn 8:44). Turn a deaf ear to him. Suppose you fall in a temptation he will immediately whisper that you are no more a child of God (Rom 8:33,34). But remember you don't lose your sonship if you sin. Only the fellowship with God is affected. Confess the sin and be cleansed at once (1 Jn 1:7-9). You are safe and secure in the hands of God. No one can snatch you away (Jn 10:28,29). Rejoice!
Look to Jesus. The answer is in Him. He was tempted like us "in all points" but He overcame (Heb 4:15). "He is able to aid those who are tempted" (Heb 2:18).
On our part we are to first surrender the organs of our body as a living sacrifice on God's altar (Rom 12:1). We are no more ours. We are bought with a price. We belong to God. Make a covenant with your eyes that you will no more look at someone lustfully (Job 31:1). Present your hands to God so it may not touch the forbidden. And your legs not to go where Christ Himself would not go. And so on (Rom 6:13). Remind yourself of this commitment each morning
The power to say no to sin is yours by the indwelling Christ. You are dead, buried, raised and seated with Christ (Rom 6:3,4; Eph 2:4-6). Meditate on this fact of identification with Christ as often as possible
To receive a fresh supply of strength to resist temptation Christ has taught us to pray. Our body of flesh and blood is weak. Our desire to overcome temptation becomes effective only when we "watch and pray" (Mt 26:41)
When Christ was tempted He wielded the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, against Satan (Mt 4:4,7,10; Eph 6:17). Be regular in Bible meditation. David hid God's Word in his heart that he might not sin against Him (Psa 119:11). Saturate yourself with the Scriptures. Memorize as many verses as you can. At the hour of temptation the Holy Spirit will bring to your remembrance the right text (Jn 6:14-26)
Don't be a loner. You need the fellowship of God's children. "If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble" (Eccl 4:9-12)
Everytime you overcome temptation the battle will only be intensified. The "roaring lion" will be after you (1 Pet 5:8). But "He who is in you is greater that he who is in the world" (1 Jn 4:4). Take refuge under the blood of Jesus. Depend on His grace. "Sin shall not have dominion over you!" (Rom 6:14).
Because in certain Churches the members repeat the Lord's Prayer like a parrot without understanding or feeling, the other Churches don't say the Lord's Prayer at all. This is like throwing away the baby with the bath water. Disuse is not the solution for meaningless use. Many Christians shout "Hallelujah" without their heart in it. Should we then stop saying this wonderful heavenly word of praise? Blind reactions will rob us of rich blessings.
The common weakness of all of us is that "we do not know what we should pray for as we ought" (Rom 8:26). Also our prayer life needs lot of unlearning. Many times we pray like the heathen. The Lord's Prayer is a model prayer. It is the first prayer to learn in Christ's school of prayer. Heathenic praying is known for vain repetitions and wrong priorities. Only one out of the seven requests in the Lord's Prayer relates to our bodily needs. How much our prayers will be revolutionized if only they are patterned after the Lord's Prayer! (Mt 6:7-13). New believers and children must be encouraged to memorize the Lord's Prayer which is the most comprehensive prayer of all time.
Luke records that the Lord taught this prayer in response to the request of one of His missionary disciples when they returned from their first tour (Lk 10:1-5, 17; 11:1-4). He had not let them carry money purse or any bag when they went. Therefore He taught them to pray and trust God for their "daily" bread! Yes, the Lord's Prayer is truly a missionary prayer. It begins and ends respectively with the focus and goal of missions. I urge soulwinners to say this prayer meaningfully everyday so they may overcome the temptations to strive for their own fame, build their own empires, do things according to their own whims and fancies, and so on.
Jesus and the apostles often articulated their needs in prayer to God through the very words of the Scripture (Mt 27:46/Psa 22:1; Acts 4:24-26/Psa 2). The Book of Psalms was used as the Book of Prayer and Praise by the Jehovah worshippers. There's nothing like praying or singing the very Scriptures. The Word of God is the will of God. "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us!" (1 Jn 5:14).
The Lord's Prayer is also called the Family Prayer. My wife and I say this prayer in our own family devotions. It instills in us a new confidence as we begin the day with "Our Father who is in Heaven!"
Prayer is the underlying power to effectively wield any weapon of the whole armour of God (Eph 6:13-18). Therefore the devil does all that's possible to weaken our knees or divert our mind. Here's how you can defeat his mind-oriented strategy.
Apart from maintaining a spirit of prayer "always" and "without ceasing," choose that hour for prayer when you are really fresh. Prayer involves mind, spirit, soul and all. Jesus often chose the early hours of the day for His secret communion with the Father (Mk 1:35). Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), the pioneer missionary to China, spent several hours in private devotion each morning before the sun rose. When we are physically and mentally exhausted, concentration in prayer is rather difficult.
Prayer means going to the Throne of Grace. We have access to the same by the blood of Christ. A conscious acknowledgement of the power and the merits of the Blood gives us a strong footing against the enemy. Satan trembles when we appropriate the blessings of Christ's blood and make positive confessions (Heb 4:14-16; Rev 12:11).
Our prayers must be wrapped up in praise and thanksgiving. God inhabits the praises of His people (Psa 22:3). When the presence of God becomes more and more real, we get absorbed in the spirit of prayer, and distraction is overcome (Phil 4:6). I have found switching over to praying or praising in tongues with the Spirit's enablement quite helpful, because I thus byepass the mind (1 Cor 14:14).
When there is no focus in prayer, your mind will begin to wander. Be definite and specific about your requests. Keeping a prayer list and praying over the items one by one is effective.
There is no command in the Bible to close our eyes in prayer! Dr. Oswald J. Smith (1889-1986), a great missionary statesman of Canada, used to walk up and down in his prayer closet with his eyes open and praying aloud. He testified that he had walked several miles inside his prayer room! As far as possible one must choose a place where there is least disturbance and noise from the outside world. Jesus has taught us to shut the door of our room before we begin to pray! (Mt 6:6). If you cannot afford to have a room in your house for prayer, choose a corner! In any case, don't forget to disengage the telephone and switch off your mobile!
Prayer is a conversation. I have found praying with an open Bible extremely helpful. Reading and praying and reading and praying... (Dan 9:1-3).
In spite of following all these guidelines, you still may have the problem of distraction in prayer. Yes, prayer is a battle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual powers of the demonic kingdom. The moment you get a distracting thought, arrest it at once. Give no time to meditate it. Keep resisting the devil and he will flee from you (Js 4:7). In-the-Name-of-Jesus is not a phrase to begin or end a prayer. It is our very authority and foundation for prayer (Jn 14:13). Pray with this consciousness throughout.
While Christ is up there in Heaven by the right hand of the Father to pray for us, we have the Holy Spirit within us helping us and interceding for us (Rom 8:26,34). We are to be sincere and persistent and God will take care of the rest. Pray when you feel like praying; pray when you don't feel like praying; pray until you feel like praying!
We must address the Father in Heaven. That's what Jesus Himself taught: "Pray to your Father"... "In this manner pray: Our Father in Heaven!" (Mt 6:6,9).
During the days of Jesus on earth, the disciples straightaway asked Him whatever they wanted. But pointing to the new dispensation which Pentecost would usher in, Jesus said, "In that day you will ask Me nothing... whatever you ask the Father in My Name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My Name" (Jn 16:23,24).
Even though Jesus is the One who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, He has directed us to ask "the Father" for this gift (Lk 11:13).
The early Christians prayed "to" the Father (Acts 4:24-30). The apostolic teaching is clear: "THROUGH Jesus we have access BY one Spirit TO the Father" (Eph 2:18). Paul writes thus of his own prayer practice: "I bow my knees TO the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 3:14).
God Almighty is our Eternal Father. Christ Jesus is our Elder Brother. The Holy Spirit is our Executive Helper (Heb 2:10-12; Jn 16:17). We pray "to" the Father, "thro" the Son, "by" the power of the Spirit. The trinitarian Godhead is best understood in the context of prayer.
Our prayers are addressed to the Father who is in Heaven. They are advocated by the Son who is seated at His right hand. They are assisted by the Holy Spirit who is right here on the earth in us (Heb 7:25; Rom 8:26,34). What a picture! What a privilege!
Does it mean we cannot pray "to" Jesus? No. There are prayers in the Bible addressed to Him (Acts 7:59; Rev 22:20). But these are more an exception than a rule. The clear teaching in the Scriptures is to pray "to" the Father "through" Jesus. Let us not hesitate to shed down our traditions, though cherished long, to become more and more scriptural.
Can we praise Jesus? Of course yes. We should. But the ultimate worship is to the Father. Read Jn 4:23; Eph 3:21; 5:20; Col 1:3,12. Even when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord, it is "to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:11).
Here's the final stage: "When all things are subject to Jesus, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all" (1 Cor 15:28).
When we pray, God looks at our hearts rather than the physical postures we assume (Mt 15:7-9). But both in the Old Testament and the New we find physical postures as expressions of inner attitude. Of all the postures, kneeling in prayer is the commonest because it is a gesture of reverence and obedience.
King Solomon offered his historic prayer of dedication of the Temple on his knees. Though he was a monarch, he did not hesitate to kneel down in the presence of all the people (1 Ki 8:54; 2 Chr 6:13). Ezra confessed the sins of God's people in the kneeling posture (Ezr 9:5; 10:1). Daniel was the Chief Administrator in Babylon but he never abandoned his childhood habit of kneeling in prayer. In fact he did it three times daily (Dan 6:10).
Our Lord Jesus was habituated to kneel in prayer. Even while agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane, "He knelt down and prayed" (Lk 22:41). The disciples sat down and slept! It is difficult to fall asleep when we kneel straight! The pew cushion is a meaningless invention. When folks came to Jesus for help and healing, they knelt down before Him (Mt 17:14; Mk 1:40). Stephen died on knees praying (Acts 7:60). Peter offered the resurrection prayer for Dorcas on knees (Acts 9:40). Kneeling was a favourite posture for Paul also. Even in the seashore he knelt down and prayed (Acts 20:36; 21:5). To the Ephesian Church he wrote, "I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 3:14).
We have a sure word of prophecy that every knee shall bow before our Lord (Rom 14:11; Phil 2:10). It is wrong to spiritualize this passage. If we spiritualize the words "every knee shall bow," what about the words "every tongue shall confess?" Let's also not dismiss the habit of kneeling as merely cultural.
In the renewal of worship everywhere, we are repeatedly told by the song leaders to lift up our hands in praise. It is good and scriptural. But let us not forget that the most famous worship Psalm calls us: "Let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker" (Psa 95:6). This will bring back the reverential fear that's sadly missing in many praise gatherings. "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling" (Psa 2:11).
Back to our knees!
Having been reared in high Anglican tradition, this was my question whenever I saw a group shouting in worship. But the experience of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit and a study of the worship passages in the Scriptures convinced me that raising our voices in praise and worship is perfectly normal.
"The Lord was not in the wind... the Lord was not in the earthquake... the Lord was not in the fire... and after the fire a still small voice!" (1 Ki 19:11-13). This is the passage usually quoted against shouting. But then how do we explain the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost with a rushing mighty wind and tongues of fire? (Acts 2:2,3). And later on the shaking of the place where the disciples were praying? (Acts 4:31).
Psalm 46 says, "Be still and know that I am God" (v10). But the very next Psalm, 47, says, "Shout to God with the voice of triumph!" (v1). Yes there's a time to be silent and a time to shout! (Eccl 3:7b).
The organised religion will not be comfortable with shouting in worship. On the Palm Sunday when the whole multitude of disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice, some of the Pharisees urged Jesus to rebuke His disciples. What an answer Jesus gave! "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out!" (Lk 19:37,40). Note the word "immediately!" Had He not come from Heaven where silence was rare? (Rev 8:1).
The Book of Psalms was the songbook of the people of Israel. It repeatedly calls people to sing aloud and make a joyful shout (66:1; 81:1). It states, "Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!" (89:15). Let's not dispense with it saying that this way of worship belonged only to the old dispensation. The inauguration of the new dispensation was marked by joyful sound. What a noisy day Pentecost was! (Acts 2:1-6).
When Solomon was crowned, the earth almost split with the joyful sound of people (1 Ki 1:39,40). Are we not crowning in worship the One greater than Solomon?
Both silence and shouting are expressions of our emotions. Each has its place. Those who are naturally expressive find it easy to lift up their voices in praise. People of the other type will hesitate a lot. But many of the second type have testified of the release when they got filled with the Holy Spirit. One should not condemn but encourage the other.
Pentecostals should worship with non-Pentecostals wherever possible and vice versa. This will keep the feet of Pentecostals on level ground, and help the non-Pentecostals soar high with wings! Learning to worship God both ways is maturity. Also we will be saved from empty shout and dead silence!
Yes. The Bible says so!
Water Baptism is not an invention of a man or a Church. God the Father instituted it (Jn 1:33). God the Son commanded it (Mt 28:19). God's servants inspired by God the Holy Spirit instructed the believers to be baptised (Acts 2:38). The early Church consistently practised it (Acts 2:41; 8:12; 9:18; 10:47; etc).
The only person who never needed to be baptised was Jesus. He had no sin to repent of or to be cleansed from. Even John the Baptist tried to prevent Him. But Jesus said it was to "fulfil all righteousness" (Mt 3:15). And when He came out of water the Father testified, "In You I am pleased" (Lk 3:22). Baptism is thus an act of obedience.
Spiritual experiences, however rich they may be, are no substitute for water baptism. Cornelius the godly military official had his prayers answered and alms approved. He was even baptised with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. But apostle Peter "ordered" that he must be baptised in water (Acts 10:1,2,45,46,48).
Baptism is an outward expression of an inward experience. It is a testimony to our death, burial and resurrection with the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 6:3-6). It is not to be thought of as a mere ceremony. It is "the answer of a good conscience towards God" (1 Pet 3:21).
One should be baptised immediately after believing on Christ as his personal Saviour. The three thousand Jews who received Christ on the Day of Pentecost were baptised the same day (Acts 2:41). The Philippian jailor was baptised the same night when he believed on Christ (Acts 16:33). After Paul's encounter with Christ on the Road to Damascus, when Ananias met him, he asked Paul, "Why delay? Get up and be baptized and have your sins washed away." Delayed obedience amounts to disobedience.
No baptism before personal conversion is valid. Where is burial before death? After a nominal Christian or a non-Christian repents to the "One Father" and accepts the "One Lord," he must obey in the "One Baptism" as a testimony to his "One Faith" (Eph 4:5).
When people are converted from non-Christian background, the question arises at water baptism whether their original names should be changed. In India, especially among Hindus, most names are associated with deities. Therefore some ministers of the Gospel insist a name change for the baptismal candidates. Is it a must?
Many Biblical names make statements about character (1 Sam 25:25; Acts 4:36). The name given was often determined by some circumstance at the time of birth (Gen 29:32-35); sometimes the name expressed a hope or a prophecy (Isa 8:1-4; Hos 1:4). Patriarchal times saw names as indicators of character, function, or destiny. Soon names began to be given more hopefully than discriminatingly, until finally we are not sure whether the name tells us anything about the nature. (The New International Dictionary of the Bible)
We Indian Christians often think that all Indian names are Hindu, and all Western names are Christian. To us Western names appear superior to Indian. "Blackstone" in English sounds to us better than the same name in an Indian vernacular. "Murugan" is the Tamil name of a Hindu deity, but it just means "Beautiful!" We will not accept this name, whereas we will name our son as "Apollo" and our daughter as "Diana." Both these are actually names of Greek deities! (Acts 19:27,28). "Apollos" means a "destroyer" and it is the name of a youthful god of music. One of the apostles had this name and he didn't change it! (Acts 19:1; 1 Cor 1:12).
Those who insist on changing names quote Exodus 23:13 and Joshua 23:7 where we are commanded not to make "mention" of the names of other gods. This simply means that we should steer clear of idolatry. If we take the above commandment literally, how can we read so many passages of the Bible where the names like Ashtaroth and Baal are repeatedly mentioned? And how can we call or address people with such names? You can't even pronounce the names of the President and the Prime Minister of India! The Bible unhesitantly uses the Babylonian heathenic names given to the three Hebrew young men (Dan 1:7; 3:2&28). The apostles did not change the name of the first gentile convert (Cornelius) or that of the first European convert (Lydia).
We commonly say that Saul became Paul. This is strictly not correct. He already had both these names given by his parents. "Saul" is a Hebrew name, common in Jewish background, meaning "asked of God." "Paul" is a Roman name of the Hellenistic background, meaning "small." A Roman citizen usually had three names (Acts 22:27,28). The apostle was continued to be called as Saul even after his baptism, Spirit-filling and call to ministry (Acts 9:22,26; 13:1). But from Acts 13:9, he was called Paul, perhaps because he was then entering the Gentile phase of his ministry. This was not a name change.
It may be advisable to drop community names like Nadar, Pillai, Mudaliar, Iyer and Achary. Otherwise change of names causes unnecessary problems in society and government records, especially in rural and tribal areas. Non-Christian parents feel that they are disrespected when the names lovingly given by them to their sons and daughters are changed when the latter believe on Christ. This may lead to unnecessary alienation and antagonism. The furtherance of the Gospel is hindered.
If the candidates themselves strongly request a name change, we can comply with. Even here, we must help them choose names in the local vernacular and cultural style. No need to search for names in Hebrew or Greek. What is promised under the New Covenant is only a new "heart" and a new "spirit" (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:25-28). But if we wait, we all will be given a new "name" in New Jerusalem! (Rev 3:12).
Separation is a fundamental Christian doctrine that runs through the Bible from the beginning to the end. God not only "created" light but He also "separated" it from darkness. This is recorded on the very first page of the Bible (Gen 1:4). The very first Chapter of the longest book in the Bible mentions the necessity of separation from "the ungodly... sinners... and the scornful" (Psa 1:1). The inaugural sermon on the Birthday of the Church called the listeners to "be saved from this crooked generation" (Acts 2:40). The last page of the Bible differentiates between the indwellers and the outsiders of the Heavenly City (Rev 22:14,15). There is therefore no argument against the call for separation. The problem however is in the outworking of it in practice. As in the other issues, Christians go to extremes in this matter also, causing confusion to the younger generation. How does God expect us to relate to the ungodly?
By virtue of creation, all men and women, godly or ungodly, belong to God the Creator. He loves them all equally and grants them "sunshine and shower" without any partiality (Mt 5:45). As God's "offspring" the entire humanity "lives, moves and has its being in Him." He is not far from any man or woman (Acts 17:27,28). Without understanding this truth the religionists of Jesus' day were practising exclusivism. But when He freely moved with the irreligious and sinful people He was nicknamed as a "friend of sinners" (Lk 7:34). He had no problem partying with "sinners" in their dinners and celebrations (Mt 9:10-12). We too must maintain normal social relationship with people. True spirituality is not anti-sociality. We should only be cautious lest we learn the corrupt and evil ways of the world.
Born-again youngsters must not despise their parents if they have not yet become believers. There must be no reservation in marital relationship with an unbelieving spouse (1 Pet 3:1,2). Christians must cooperate wholeheartedly with their non-Christian colleagues as long as no moral principle is violated. Obedience to non-Christian bosses must be hearty (1 Pet 2:18). But one must think twice before entering into a business partnership with an unbeliever. However, more often than we think, non-Christians are smarter than Christians in industry and commerce. Jesus Himself acknowledged, "The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light" (Lk 16:8b). Therefore as long as there is no succumbing to fraudulent means, corrupt practices and tax-evasion, there's nothing wrong in having unbelievers as business partners.
Some youth ministers, especially those who work in colleges and universities, lead young believing students into seclusion in the name of separation. These boys and girls then stop going to the common reading rooms, sports fields, games, variety entertainments, etc. This paints a negative picture before non-Christians about Christian discipleship. Making friendship is the first step in campus and neighbourhood evangelism. It is usually from the circle of friendship we bring people into the sphere of Christian fellowship. Fishers of men must be friends of men. Sin must be hated but not the sinner.
When I got converted as a college student at the age of sixteen (1962), I did not leave my old friends. I still loved them and met with them. I made clear to them my new commitment and change of life. They would not use filthy language or crack vulgar jokes in my presence any longer. An isolated and insulated Church will not influence and impact the society. Besides being strong in worship, the early Church had "favour with all the people." That was the secret of their daily growth (Acts 2:47).
No local Church is of 100% believers or 100% unbelievers. It's always a mixture, but the percentage varies! In the strict sense, worship of the Lord's Name and fellowship around the Lord's Table are meaningful only if all the participants and partakers are born-again folks (2 Tim 2:22b; 1 Cor 10:16.17). One can perhaps restrict breadbreaking to believers, but who can restrain un-believers from joining worship? (1 Cor 14:24,25). All the baptized may not be grains; so also all those not baptized are tares. Acute differentiation is difficult (Mt 13:24-30). Let's therefore avoid hairsplitting but become a caring community.
Here are some of the favourite texts of separationists—
Christ's prayer to the Father for us sums it all: "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one" (Jn 17:15).
"Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ" (2 Cor 2:14).
"In all (these) things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Rom 8:37).
A casual reading of texts like these would make an average Christian believe that he would never have any failure in his life. Though it is not the will of God that His children live in defeat, He does allow failures in their lives for their own good. The biographies and autobiographies of God's men and women sketched in the Scriptures prove substantially that no one escaped the "discipline of failure." Abraham the father of all those who believe, Peter the prominent leader among the twelve apostles, Paul the foremost teacher of Church truths, and name anyone for that matter, all had their share of failures. In my personal life and ministry victories have been too many and failures too few. But I can honestly testify that in my 50 years of walk with God (AD 2013) I have learnt more from my failures than from victories. An analysis gives me atleast five reasons why God allows failures in our lives—
To make us humbler
"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov 16:18). It is natural for us to be puffed up with pride when everything goes alright and successful with us. The grace of God is opposed to the pride of man (1 Pet 5:5b). God is too gracious to withhold His grace from us. If failure is the only way to make us bend and walk humbly before Him, He hesitates not to permit it in our lives. It's better to fail and rise again than to forfeit the grace of God.
To make us wiser
When our lives are free from any kind of defeat or failure, we tend to ascribe our successfulness to our brilliance and wisdom in doing things. The Bible asks, "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him" (Prov 26:12). And it admonishes us, "Do not be wise in your own opinion" (Rom 12:16). Failures and defeats lead us to review our course and make us know that what we know is far less than what we know not.
To make us kinder
God severely deals with those who are hard on others but lenient towards themselves. The Scripture admonishes, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted" (Gal 6:1). It was in a sense the failure of Peter which qualified him to minister to his brothers (Lk 22:32). The Almighty is the God of all "comfort" and the Father of "mercies." He treats us gently in our trials and tribulations. When we taste His kindness we know how to treat our fellow-strugglers (2 Cor 1:3,4). Jesus "sympathizes" with our weaknesses compassionately because He Himself was tempted like us in everything (Heb 4:15).
To make us holier
"Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again" (Prov 24:16a). Being a righteous man, he analyses everytime why he fell and avoids the causes. This way he becomes more and more righteous in practical living. Genuine and godly sorrow produces in us "earnestness... eagerness... indignation... alarm... longing... concern... and readiness" to see ourselves purified (2 Cor 7:10,11). Lessons we learn from failures help us stay vigilant against the enemy's attacks.
To make us interdependent
We never realize that we cannot do it alone but we need each other until we fail miserably. No member in the Body of Christ is self-sufficient. Every member needs the support of others (Eph 4:15,16). Jesus sought the company of His disciples in the hour of trial. But Peter boasted that he would follow Jesus even if all would forsake Him. We know who went thro' the trial and testing triumphantly.
Friend, let not any failure in life lead you to condemnation (Rom 8:1). Failure is not final. Failure can become a weight or it can give you wings. In the words of Henry Ford, "Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently!"
While talking about the will of God, we must understand two aspects: One is the general will of God and the other the specific will of God. The former is basic and it is the same for all of us, but the latter is different for each individual. Sanctification, Praise, Doing good for evil, etc., relate to the first aspect (1 Thess 4:3; 5:18; 1 Pet 2:15). When we are consistent and faithful in fulfilling this aspect, we will be able to understand and undertake God's specific will.
There are usually four means by which we can ascertain God's specific will—
First, the teaching of the Scriptures. The Word of God is the final authority in all matters of life and conduct. Once a course of action cannot be fully endorsed by the Scriptures, there's no further consideration or appeal.
Next, we have the inner voice of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Spirit leaves impressions on our hearts and minds. He is the Divine Helper to lead us.
Thirdly, we refer to godly counsel. Mature believers and leaders can guide us with their knowledge, experience and gifts.
Finally, we consider the circumstantial evidence. Generally this serves as a confirmation because it is God who orders situations in our life. We are drawn in the palm of His hands. When these four things are aligned, we can safely proceed. The inner peace over the matter is further evidence.
But there are times when in spite of taking all these steps we still may not be sure of God's will. There could be several reasons—
The restoration of the operation of the gifts of revelation, namely Prophesying, Word of Wisdom and Word of Knowledge, has refreshingly reassured us that God does speak today. But one of the misuses of these gifts is evident when preachers who claim to have these gifts promise believers a blueprint for their lives. Though such a promise may be exciting, it is definitely not in line with the teaching of theBible.
God does not give us a blueprint but a map and a compass. If there's a blueprint there's no room for choices. We will be simply dictated by the details of the blueprint rather than directed by the Spirit of the Lord. Life will become dimensionless. It's the element of uncertainty that adds excitement to life and strengthens faith. Of Abraham, the father of those who believe, it is said, "He went out, not knowing where he was going" (Heb 11:8). This is walking by faith. We don't need to know "what" the future holds for us. It's enough if we are assured "who" holds the future for us.
When Paul at the hour of his conversion asked God, "Lord, what do You want me to do?," he was not given a blueprint for the rest of his life. Rather, God answered him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:6). This must have been very humbling for an intellect like Paul. But this best illustrates how God leads us by one step at a time. John Henry Newman (1801-1890)sang,
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom;
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on;
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene;
One step enough for me.
Getting influenced by the so-called "prophetic blueprints" from preachers is highly risky and it may ruin your life completely. Don't go from preacher to preacher asking for predictions. Direct and simple leading of the Holy Spirit is the birthright of every child of God (Rom 8:14). There's a fourfold discipline which guarantees God's direction for your life—
People go for blueprints because they are afraid of making mistakes. No child learns walking without falling. Trying to be cocksure about everything actually paralyses us. Keeping the general Biblical principles in mind, walk according to whatever light you have. If you deviate, God will correct you by a voice "from behind" (Is 30:21). Even if you make a mistake, you don't need to be unnerved. We learn from mistakes. When our heart is steadfast towards God, He will turn everything into good. God did not tell the apostles in the first instance itself to go to Macedonia. When they went to Asia the Holy Spirit forbade them to preach there. They tried to go to Bithynia and they were stopped by the Spirit there also. It was at Bithynia, the Lord gave them a call to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10).
God does allow periods of darkness in our lives. We must simply trust in Him and stay put (Isa 50:10). "Bread of adversity and water of affliction" must not scare us (Isa 30:20). Running here and there will get us nowhere (vv15,16,18). Alongwith David we can sing, "God is my strength and power; He makes my way perfect" (2 Sam 22:33).
We understand the ways of God better and better only when we grow and mature. No father will tell a child what only an adult can understand. Jesus did not tell everything to His disciples in their three year training period. He once said to them, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (Jn 16:12). It is against God's own wisdom and kindness if He gives us a complete picture of our future at the beginning or any stage of our walk with Him.
There is hardly anyone who has not made New Year or Birthday or Anniversary decisions anytime in his life. But almost everyone regrets that he has not been able to keep them up. In course of time we conclude that it is not worth making resolutions at all. Little do we realise that such a conclusion is to our disadvantage and it stunts spiritual growth.
"It is God who works in you (us) both to will and to act according to His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). Therefore in the strict sense none of the desires of God's children for making resolutions is self-generated. The guiding hand of the Father is there behind them. Good resolutions help positive growth. Resolutions are like goals. They motivate us to go higher and deeper. In this context Apostle Paul testified, "One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:13,14). Decisions help us focus on the aim sharply and avoid distractions.
We are bothered by the fact that we are unable to keep up most of our resolutions. The accompanying guilt discourages us from attempting again. But we must remember that no failure is final for God's children. "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he falls, he shall not be utterly cast down" (Psa 37:23,24). Even repeated failures must not stop us from trying again. "Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again" (Prov 24:16).
Resolutions must not be overambitious. They must be realistic. For example, if you had been by and large prayerless, don't straightaway decide that you would spend atleast two full hours each day in solid prayer. Rather, begin with fifteen or thirty minutes. After steadying up at that level, increase the duration step by step. Great things have small beginnings (Zech 4:10). "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed!" (Mt 13:31).
Don't make too many resolutions at a time either. Instead of taking twelve decisions at the beginning of a year, you can take one at the beginning of each month. Christian life is a walk, not a jump! It's climbing up steps, not going in a lift! It's true we can soar on wings like eagles when we wait on the Lord. But eagles don't reach lofty heights instantly. (Isa 40:31). A good principle of growth in Christian life is that lengthening must be proportionate to strengthening (Isa 54:2).
You can share your resolutions with your closest prayer partner or your spouse. Such accountability is beneficial. But there's no need to make personal resolutions public. This would bring unhealthy pressure on you. Resolutions are not vows. They are simply your personal and voluntary steps to improve your walk with God and before men. Tell God the desires of your heart and trust Him for His enablement (Psa 37:5). Do your best and leave the rest in His hand. "It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy" (Rom 9:16).
At the end of the year, review your performance and treat yourself with a good dinner or a new dress for your accomplishment (Eccl 9:7,8). "The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops" (2 Tim 2:6).
The Bible abounds with examples to explain the Trinitarian nature of Godhead.
Let's begin with the life of Jesus—
All the three Persons of Godhead are seen clearly active in the life of every Christian also—
Also in the Christian ministry we have all the three Persons involved actively, with functional differences—
The three Persons of the Trinity are equal in their diety but the authority is centred in God the Father. Here are some examples—
For nearly 400 years the King James Version (KJV) has been deeply revered among the peoples of the world for its majesty of style and musical arrangement of language. The devotional character of this historic Bible is timeless. But it is wrong to think that God spoke in King James English!
When we talk about a new translation several Christians immediately think about God's command that we should neither add anything to the Word of God nor take away from it (Dt 12:32; Rev 22: 18,19). While appreciating such dedication to the plenary and verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, it must be pointed out that this command refers to the "original" autographs of the Bible. God's Word was not originally written in English or Hindi but in Hebrew and Greek. Neither is the King James Version the first English translation.
It was John Wycliffe (1320-1384) who first made the whole Bible available in English from Latin so the ordinary layfolks could understand. This was followed by several revisions and new translations—William Tyndale's New Testament in 1525, Miles Coverdale's Bible in 1535, Thomas Matthew's Bible in 1537, The Great Bible in 1539, The Geneva Bible in 1560, The Bishops' Bible in 1568, and then the King James or the Authorized Version in 1611. The KJV itself was actually "a revision of the Bishops' Bible on the basis of Hebrew and Greek" even though on its first page is written as "newly translated out of original tongues." On the face of this history of the English Bible, who can say that the KJV of the 16th century is the final?
All living languages of the world keep undergoing profound changes. If Moses and Matthew were alive today, they would not be speaking or writing in the language of 4000 B.C. or 100 A.D. Otherwise no one would understand them. Also the Bible writers used the common street language of the day, the informal idiom of everyday speech and marketplace. The writers were not interested to create a monumental work; rather they were inspired to communicate a message to the people. The Bible is not meant to be worshipped, but worked out in our daily living.
Updating the language is one of the chief purposes of modern translations. Several words in the KJV are obsolete. The modern generation does not understand its archaic expressions of the era of Shakespeare. If this is the case with the Christians, what about the non-Christians who desire to read the Bible? If the New Testament also had been written in Hebrew, its message would not have easily reached the non-Jews. But God in His missionary-minded wisdom led the NT authors to write in Greek, the language of the gentiles! Hallelujah! When will we Christians catch this vision?
Another reason for new translations is the discovery of a number of Greek manuscripts that were far superior to those available to the KJV translators. There has been also a remarkable improvement in the knowledge of Hebrew. It may come as a jolt to many that none of the original manuscripts was ever available to any Bible translator. Bible translation down through the ages was done only from copies of the original. It may surprise us that there are about 2,00,000 variant readings in the manuscripts of the New Testament. Dr. Woodrow Kroll, the Director of Back To The Bible, honestly states, "Without the original writings, we are simply expressing faith in the case for one set of copies over another."
The most recommended among the modern translations are The New International Version (1978), The New King James Version (1982), The Englsih Standard Version (2001), The New American Standard Version (1971) and The New Living Translation (1996). The other versions that could be mentioned are The New Revised Standard Version and Today's English Version (Good News Bible). There are also translations, word-for-word or thought-for-thought, by individual authors in the contemporary language. The popular among them are The Living Bible (Kenneth Taylor), The NT in Modern English (J.B. Phillips), The NT, An Expanded Translation (Kenneth S. Wuest) and The Message (Eugene H.Peterson).
Instead of fighting over the superiority of one translation over the other, let's thank God for the availability of so many translations. These translations don't compete with each other but complement. Each of the four Gospel writers narrates the same incident in a different way than the other. This way we get a fuller understanding of the happening. The various versions of the Bible do the same job to bring out the richness, force and clarity of the Hebrew and Greek texts.
A translation found good for meditation may not be suitable for memorization or ministration. This is due to personal taste and preference. As a KJV addict for several years, I am now comfortable with NKJV for all the above three exercises. Because I never had the time or opportunity to study Hebrew or Greek, I refer to as many translations as possible to get closest to the original. I own a Bible with 52 translations!
Not everyone relishes change. Let not the younger generation disrespect the older people for their traditional and conservative mindset; nor should the older despise the younger for their free and flexible attitude. It is the responsibility of the middle-aged Bible teachers and preachers to serve as a bridge between these two groups and maintain balance and harmony.
"Of making many translations there is no end!" In my opinion the English-speaking world has had enough and more of Bible translations. Let's now divert our resources towards the 1600 Bibleless languages and the languages in which the translation has not been updated for centuries.
No one asks whether we need pastors and teachers, because we all know that we do need them as they are God-given ministers for our growth and safety (Eph 4:11-16). If these ministers can be "heard," can they not as well be "read"? Moreover, if God can speak to us through His servants of today, can He not speak to us through those of yesteryears? Thank God for the great Bible commentators of the past who took time in their days, in spite of their busy ministries, to write down timeless expositions of God's Word. If we fail to use them, great will be our loss.
Even though the disciples were familiar with the Old Testament Scripture, they did not understand it until Christ expounded it to them (Lk 24:25-27). The Ethiopian official was so addicted to the Scripture that he was reading it even while riding on a chariot through a desert road. But his question to Philip was, "How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?" (Acts 8:26-35).
Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatian believers, "The gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal 1:11,12). People sometimes quote this passage and refuse to use Commentaries and Bible study aids. But wherefrom did those Galatians receive the message? From a "man" called Paul, of course! (v11). Paul was uniquely chosen by God from a Jewish background to be trusted with the revelation of the gospel of the grace of God to be taught to the Jews and Gentiles alike. Not every man gets such direct revelation. In fact Paul commanded Timothy to teach others whatever the latter had learned from him and thus pass on the truths from generation to generation (2 Tim 2:2).
Another Scripture misquoted is 1 John 2:27, "You do not need anyone to teach you." But verse 26 makes it clear that the apostle was referring to false teachers and not the faithful ones!
Some pastors and teachers give an impression to the people that all they preach and teach are their "original." This is sheer hypocrisy. "Others have laboured, and you have entered in their labours" (Jn 4:38b). We must unhesitatingly tell our congregations what study aids we use and give due credit wherever necessary. We should introduce reliable and time-tested commentaries and study aids to the people and help them grow strong. Such volumes must be displayed for sale in every Church service. No father, if he is a real father, will develop an inferiority complex if his son outgrows him in knowledge and stature. A high school student largely depends on what his teachers teach in the classroom. But at the college level he will have to spend long hours in the library with reference books.
Bible Commentaries by Matthew Henry, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown and Adam Clarke are among the best. There are several modern Commentaries incorporating recent Biblical scholarship. Most of these outstanding works are of course by non-Pentecostals. The Pentecostal preachers and teachers are just waking up to devote themselves to this type of writing ministry which would bless generations. (Read my booklet, Unless someone guides me..., a guide to choose Bible Study aids).
It is still sad that many who possess Commentaries don't use them regularly. I suggest that you read 2 or 3 pages daily from your Commentary from the beginning, besides your personal meditation of the Bible. That will keep undergirding your knowledge and grasp of the Scriptures, especially in these days of truth-twisting.
When two preachers give two different meanings to the same passage in the Bible, average Christians wonder whether there is more than one meaning to a single text or which is right. People won't mind if interpretations differ one from the other slightly. But when they totally contradict each other, simple minds are confused. Here are a few reasons why interpretations differ—
The Bible is an ancient Book. Its first five books were written in 1400 BC and the last book in AD 90. This means, some books were written 3400 years ago, and the last one 1900 years ago. The gap between the time of writing and today is about three millennia! The geographical, linguistic and cultural gaps make interpretation difficult. Any interpretation that ignores these gaps is bound to mislead us.
The Bible is a Book of Promises. But not all promises can be literally claimed by us today. There are national promises given to the people of Israel. Most of them were relating to physical and material blessings (e.g. Dt 28:1-14). But under the New Covenant the blessings are primarily spiritual (Eph 1:3). In the same way, exclusive Messianic promises cannot be claimed by every Christian today. Take for example, Psalm 34:20, "He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken" (Jn 19:36). Even the bones of the thief who was saved through the direct ministry of Jesus were broken! (v 32). We can of course pray for angelic protection but there's no guarantee that we will never sustain a bone fracture. Dispensational promises also must be handled carefully. No lion will eat straw today or a baby can play by the cobra's hole. This will happen only in the Millennium! (Isa 11:7,8). Personal and situational promises also cannot be generalised. Don't expect God to curse those who curse us as He promised Abraham (Gen 12:3). We are to bless those who curse us (Mt 5:44).
The Bible is a difficult book. There are many passages which cannot be easily interpreted, because it's both a divine and a human book. Our knowledge is imperfect. We will understand things perfectly only after the second advent of Christ (1 Cor 13:9-12). Many preachers and people don't seem to accept this fact. Peter, who once thought that he knew everything, when he matured, confessed, "Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his Epistles... in which are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures" (2 Pet 3:15,16). Though Peter himself was not formally "educated" or "trained," he emphasizes here the need for systematic learning and stability on the part of those who preach and teach the Word. Most of the freelance preachers of today are neither seminary-trained nor systematic in self-study. Hence the confusion in our pulpits. There's also a deception in spiritual circles that preaching extempore is greater than that with painstaking study and preparation. Some pulpiteers make empty boasting that they get everything directly from God and they don't refer to study aids. It's a pity that these men are ignorant that only Paul received direct revelations from God whereas Paul expected Timothys and Tituses to learn from him and pass it on to others (Gal 1:12; 2 Tim 2:2).
I exhort God's people to consult more than one source for difficult passages. An apostle will interpret the Bible with a pioneering vision. A prophet interprets it to proclaim God's burden. An evangelist interprets it to explain God's peace and comfort. A pastor interprets it with the growth of saints in mind. And a teacher interprets the Bible to lead God's people into a balanced understanding of divine truths. No single local Church may have all these five ministries (Eph 4:11). Our loyalty to a local Church therefore should not make us indoor plants. Sunshine and breeze are necessary for bearing fruit!
The Old Testament and the New Testament are the two lips of God to speak to us. The New is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New. We cannot understand one without the other.
But the difference between the Testaments must be clearly understood. We have the shadow in the OT but the substance in the NT (Heb 10:1). The New Covenant, unlike the Old, is not of the letter but of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:6; Rom 7:6). In the OT the Law of God was written in tablets of stone but now God writes it in our hearts of flesh (Jer 31:31-33; Heb 8:8-10; 2 Cor 3:3). The ceremonial part of the Law takes a spiritual meaning in the New Testament. For example, the Sabbath speaks of the rest Christ gives to His people here and then in eternity (Mt 11:28; Heb 4:4-10). Similarly God told Peter to eat even the "forbidden" food of the OT to explain to him a spiritual truth, that is, how God can save and cleanse the gentiles also (Acts 10:10-16,44,45). The temple in the OT becomes the people of God and their bodies in the NT (Eph 2:19-22; 1 Cor 6:19). The New Covenant is called a "better" covenant (Heb 7:22; 8:6).
Praise the Lord we are not under Law but under Grace! (Rom 6:14). Let us "stand fast in the liberty... and not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Gal 5:1). In fact those who attempt to be justified by the Law "have fallen from Grace" (v4). Law and Grace cannot live together. Ishmael and Isaac cannot dwell in the same house (Gal 4:28-30). An old cloth and a new peice should not be stitched together. The new wine cannot be kept in old bottles (Mt 9:14-17).
By saying so we do not mean that the Old Testament is irrelevant to us today. Apart from the Law the OT contains prophecy, history and wisdom. "They were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Cor 10:11). The OT must be read and diligently studied by every Christian but the interpretation and application must be always in the light of the NT. Praise God for the whole Bible!
God rested on the seventh day after His work of creation and sanctified it (Gen 2:2,3). There is no record of Abraham or any other patriarch before Moses observing Sabbath. There was no such command during their days. But God included it in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:8-11). The Law explains the mode of observance (Ex 23:10-13). Jesus was born as a "Son of the Law." He observed the Sabbath (Mk 6:1,2). That was definitely Saturday the seventh day of the week.
The New Covenant begins with the death of Christ (Mt 26:28). His death has delivered us from all the ceremonial part of the Law. This was signified by the tearing of the veil in the Temple when Christ died. "Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Col 2:14). For a Christian today there is no law of Sabbath. "Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Col 2:16,17).
What then is the rule today?
Romans 14:5,6 gives the answer in no vague terms: "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it." Hence this becomes a matter of total liberty and individual choice.
We have several references in the New Testament that the believers in the early Church gathered on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1,2). This was perhaps because the Lord rose again on the first day. But there is no command to observe this day as a Sabbath.
It will be good to set aside one day in the week for rest and relaxation from the routine. God Himself "rested." It renews the body, refreshes the mind and blesses the family. (In the Arab countries Friday is the weekly holiday). Let's use this day of rest for spiritual exercises like worship, fellowship, prayer, Bible study, self-examination, and so on. We need this very badly in a busy world like ours. Even under the Law Jesus said this day could be used to do good and save life. We can lift up a donkey or an ox from the pit! (Mk 3:4; Lk 14:5). Go reaching out to save the lost!
God's seventh day was man's first day. God worked and rested. Man first rested and then started to work. It is not Saturday or Sunday but whether or not we are going to set aside a day to rest and "delight in the Lord" (Isa 58:13,14).
"Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind!"
Water baptism is one of the major issues which has divided Christians and thrown them into opposite camps. The question is whether infants can be baptized or not. To find a satisfactory answer to this question an earnest enquirer searched for books on this subject in a Christian bookstore. When he came across a title, What the Bible says about Infant Baptism, he was so excited that he bought a copy and took it home even without opening it. But he felt terribly cheated when he found that all the pages of the book were blank. When he shouted at the shopkeeper, he coolly replied, "Yes sir, the Bible says nothing about Infant Baptism!"
Because Jews did not baptize their children but only circumcised the male babies we cannot find a direct answer to our question in the Bible. Infant baptism is a ritual that was introduced in the Church in the later years in order to christianize the children of Christian believers. But the Bible teaches that "the Kingdom of God belongs to children" whether or not they are born to Christian parents (Mt 19:14). It's a pity that even the disciples of Christ could not understand this (v 13). "Children are a heritage from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is His reward" (Psa 127:3). This refers to all children irrespective of who their parents are. They will go to Heaven if they die before the age of accountability. Angels on their behalf in Heaven keep worshipping the Father (Mt 18:10). When David confessed, "I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me," he was simply referring to the fallen nature of all human beings (Psa 51:5).
Under the Old Covenant God had said that He would punish even children for the sins of their fathers (Ex 20:5). Accordingly an old Jewish proverb said, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Ezek 18:1). But God has changed this principle under the New Covenant. He said, "You shall no longer use this proverb" (v3). Each one is responsible for his own sins only (v4; Jer 31:29-31). In the Old Testament God primarily looked for "national" or "community" response. Under the New Covenant God expects "personal" or "individual" response and obedience. "Each" of us shall give account of "himself" to God (Rom 14:12). Even while addressing a Church, Christ expected "individual" responses (Rev 3:20).
All that God has commanded parents is to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord (Eph 6:4). The godly influence of parents on children cannot be overstated. The faith of Lois influenced her daughter Eunice who then impacted her son Timothy. Knowing the Scriptures from childhood came in handy when Timothy entered ministry (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15).
Similar to the Jewish practice of circumcision, Christian parents may bring their children to the Church to be dedicated or blessed by God's servants as Jesus did when children were brought to Him. But baptism must be reserved to be administered after an individual personally repents of his sins and believes on Christ. Both Jesus and Paul had been circumcised as babies, but they were baptized later (Lk 2:21; 3:21-23; Phil 3:5; Acts 9:18). Baptism in the Bible was always "after" confession of sins, repentance and believing on Christ (Mt 3:6; Acts 2:38; Mk 16:16; Heb 6:1,2). Because water baptism is a figure of death and burial, anyone who has not personally reckoned himself dead and buried with Christ must not be baptized (Rom 6:1-11).
Sprinkling a few drops of water on babies to bless them and give them names may not be wrong. But calling this as baptism becomes an unscriptural practice which later confuses the candidates. However old a tradition may be, in order to maintain the supremacy of the truth of God's Word, we must not hesitate to drop it. Otherwise we will be guilty of making the commandment of God of no effect by our tradition (Mk 7:13). Times of ignorance God has "overlooked" (Acts 17:30). We must not think He has "sanctioned" what we did then. The difficulty many Churches will face if they stop administering infant baptism will be enormous. It may threaten to collapse the very structure. But this is what reformation means. Let everything that can be shaken be shaken in order that only that which cannot be shaken may remain (Heb 12:27).
When the Bible speaks about "one Lord," it refers to Christ of the Scriptures and no other lords though there are many (1 Cor 8:5). When we talk about "one faith," we mean faith on Christ and Christ alone. All the other faiths must be renounced. The same argument holds good for "one baptism." It's an act that follows when a person puts his "one faith" on the "one Lord" (Eph 4:5). Unless infant baptism is abolished, we will continue to have more Ishmaels than Isaacs in our Churches!
There has been a great deal of confusion over this issue and it is quite unfortunate that this has divided many Christians. But the teaching of the Bible is plain and simple for an unbiased mind.
Jesus said, "ALL AUTHORITY has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:18,19). On the basis of this forthright teaching of our Lord, baptism must be administered "in the name of" the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, "on the authority" of Christ.
How do we then explain the formula used by the apostles in Acts, where there is no mention of Trinity? (Acts 2:38; 10:48; 19:5). In these instances the emphasis was on the difference between the baptism of John or the Jewish baptisms and the Christian baptism. Therefore the author found it not necessary to write the trinitarian formula every time but simply indicated the authority on which they were baptised. This is very clear from Acts 19:1,5. The disciples at Ephesus told Paul that they had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit. He immediately asked them, "Into what then were you baptised?" In other words, "How is it you say you haven't heard about the Holy Spirit? Was not the Holy Spirit mentioned in the baptismal formula?" Apparently they had received only John's baptism and so the Christian baptism was then administered to them, obviously as per Matthew 28:18,19.
The Bible does not contradict itself. This is one of the basic truths to be kept in mind while interpreting the Scriptures.
There are saintly and sincere men both among the Trinitarians and the Unitarians. Truth is one but the interpretation is different. One group should not decry the practice of the other and baptise the baptised again and again! Let's rather go after the "lost sheep!"
"We go to a full gospel Church." "He is a full gospel preacher." These are statements frequently made by Pentecostal or Charismatic people to denote their denomination or describe their doctrine. Non-Pentecostals are offended by the usage of the words "full gospel" by the other group, and ask, "Do we then preach half gospel?" Let's examine this issue in the light of the Scriptures.
The words "fullness" and "gospel" come together only twice in the New Testament, and that is when Paul concluded his Epistle to the Romans. "From Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ... When I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ" (Rom 15:19,29). From what Paul has written in the other Epistles, we can understand that what he meant by what he wrote to the believers in Rome was that he did not leave out any part of the "whole counsel of God" in his preaching (Acts20:27).
The word "gospel" is an anglo-saxon word meaning "good tidings." This is brought out on the first Christmas day in the angelic announcement to the shepherds. The gospel is the "good tidings of great joy to all people" (Lk 2:10). The best definition of the gospel is given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. He claims that he "received" it personally from the Lord (v 3). He writes, "I neither received it from man, not was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal 1:11,12). His definition reads like this: "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3,4). This is the gospel in its purest and fullest form. Any deletion or addition corrupts it (Gal 5:4).
Full Gospel Churches, so called, include in their message the need to be baptized in water by immersion, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and exercising the gifts of the Spirit. They point out that the other evangelical Churches stop with repentance and faith. But according to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, even "baptisms... laying on of hands..." etc., are all simply the "elementary" or the "first" principles of the doctrine of Christ (Heb 6:1,2). In other words water baptism, Spirit anointing, and Gifts of the Spirit are only the A-B-C of Christian life. The foundation is not the building! "Let us go on to perfection!"
Those who call themselves as full gospel preachers preach about healing and pray for the sick in their meetings. Unfortunately the gospel content in their sermons is usually low. They spend too much time telling stories and talking about their experiences. On the other hand the sermons of evangelists like Billy Graham and Augustine Sallins, who do not pray for the sick in public crusades, have been consistently rich in gospel content. The gospel is not primarily about how to be healed, rather how to be saved (Mt 1:21; Acts 16:31; Rom 1:16).
Jesus Christ is the Gospel of God (Jn 14:6). If by "full gospel" we mean all the blessings we receive through Christ, we are justified in using these words. The Bible gives various names to the Gospel. When it is called the Gospel of Peace, we stress the sacrifice of Christ (Eph 2:14-16; 6:15). The Gospel of Grace emphasizes Christ's Saviourhood (Acts 20:24; Eph 2:8). The Gospel of the Kingdom empha-sizes Christ's Lordship or Kingship (Lk 8:1; Isa 52:7).
There's no blessing apart from Jesus Christ (Eph 1:3). Even the Holy Spirit does not add anything to what Christ has "finished" for us. As the Spirit of Truth the Holy Spirit will lead us more and more towards Christ the Truth. "He will not speak on His own authority." He will glorify Christ. He will take of what is Christ's and declare it to us (Jn 16:13-15). Failure to understand this may trap us in "another" gospel in the name of "full" gospel.
This is the question of a thankless heart. For all that God has bestowed on us, the tithe is the minimum we can give Him to thank and honour Him.
Abraham tithed when there was no law of tithing (Gen 14:20). His was a voluntary act of thanksgiving. Jacob voluntarily promised God, "Of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You" (Gen 28:22).
This voluntary practice became a law of God to His people when the Nation of Israel was constituted. "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's. It is holy to the Lord" (Lev 27:30).
The Scribes and Pharisees were tithing of even "mint and anise and cummin," but they left out justice and mercy and faithfulness. So Jesus taught them that the act of tithing must be done in the attitude of love (Mt 23:23).
We have the New Covenant following the death of Christ (Mt 26:28), and under this there is no legalistic teaching on tithing. Because the New Covenant is a "better" Covenant, better methods of giving are taught: Cheerful giving (2 Cor 9:7), Liberal giving (2 Cor 8:2), Sacrificial giving (2 Cor 8:3). Therefore for a Christian today tithing is a good place to "start," not to stay. We must give and give and keep on giving until it affects us! That which costs us nothing is worth nothing (2 Sam 24:24).
The widow gave away all she had (Lk 21:1-4). Mary poured out all her savings (Mt 26:6-13). Jesus praised both of them profusely. Going from tithe to total is Christian growth (2 Cor 8:7).The Bible calls giving a grace and we are to abound in it!
Those who don't even give a tenth of their income to God are called in the Bible as thieves and robbers (Mal 3:8).
(Read also Question 64, Where should the Tithe go?)
The doctrine that Christian believers should not use medicine is found nowhere in the Bible but fabricated somewhere by certain extremists.
Several effective medicines are herbal extracts and they are actually God's provision for our health and strength (Gen 1:29). Rachel begged Leah for some mandrakes because it was a herb believed to promote fertility in women (Gen 30:14). It was prophet Isaiah who advised medical treatment to King Hezekiah even after God forgave the latter's sins and promised extension of life (Isa 38:5,17,21).
Jesus endorsed the medical ministry to the sick (Mt 9:12). The good Samaritan applied oil and wine on the wounds of the robbed man and bandaged them (Lk 10:34). Luke was called the "beloved" physician, obviously because of his loving medical help to the believers and the ministers (Col 4:14). Paul encouraged Timothy to take a little wine for his chronic stomach problems (1 Tim 5:23). The Greek verb, aleipho, translated as "anoint" in James 5:14, generally referred to "rubbing" oil on the skin as a household remedy. Of course the oil also symbolised God's powerful presence. In the visions of both Ezekiel and John we read about the "leaves" for healing (Ezek 47:12; Rev 22:2).
In the case of King Asa, he sought "only" the physicians. That was wrong (2 Chron 16:12). The woman with the issue of blood was not chided by Jesus for spending on doctors. Rather He cheered her up and healed her (Lk 8:43-48). Today we have hysterectomy to treat this condition. But there are still so many medically impossible cases calling for a miracle.
Some people argue that God does not get the glory if we are healed thro' medicine. That's incorrect. We work with our hands, and the factory or the company pays the salary (2 Thess 3:10-12). But don't we thank God for our daily bread and acknowledge Him as Jehovah-Jireh? In the same way a doctor may bandage the wound but the healing is ultimately from God who is our Jehovah-Rapha! (Ex 15:26).
There are godly men and women who would not touch medicine, whatever the sickness. It's an applaudable faith. But that should not be thrust on others. "Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God" (Rom 14:22). All do not have the same "measure" of faith (Rom 12:3). Parents who don't immunize their children against polio are failing in their moral responsibility.
It's unwise for anyone to brag he would never touch medicine. Several such paraders have regretted later with guilt when a situation necessiated medical treatment.
Preachers, especially healing evangelists, need not feel awkward to go to doctors, and hide it from people. Let people know that preachers are perfectly normal human beings! (Acts 14:15; Gal 4:13). If you have a visual defect, pray and visit an opthalmologist. He will give you a pair of glasses so you may read your Bible without strain! If you have a bad tooth, pray and get it extracted by a dentist so you can preach without pain! Physicians and surgeons are God's gifts (Jer 8:22).
The full blessings of redemption, especially for our bodies, can be realized only at Christ's return. Until then we enjoy just the firstfruits (Rom 8:23; Heb 9:28).
Jewels are mentioned generally in a good sense throughout the Bible. God calls His people His jewels (Mal 3:17). Salvation and righteousness are compared to ornaments and jewels (Isa 61:10). A wise reprover is like an earring of gold (Prov 25:12). "The lips of knowledge are a precious jewel" (Prov 20:15). The lovers in the Song of Solomon talk freely about jewels during their courtship (SS 1:10,11).
In Bible times both men and women wore jewelry. On the eve of their departure from Egypt, God Himself told His people, "Every woman shall ask of her neighbour... articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters" (Ex 3:22). The people did that (12:35,36). God asks, "Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?" (Jer 2:32). Concerning jewelry Jewish culture is very similar to Indian.
Jewels were worn for specific purposes also. The jewelry on the breast of the High Priest was to represent the tribes of Israel (Ex 39:8-15). Joseph, Daniel and Mordecai were presented with gold rings and chains as a mark of honour and authority (Gen 41:42; Dan 5:29; Esth 8:2). Rebekah was given jewels while getting engaged to Isaac (Gen 24:50-53). Jewels were used as a token in marriage (Isa 61:10). David referred to the golden ornaments in Israel as a sign of prosperity in Saul's reign (2 Sam 1:24). Job received rings of gold from his kith and kin while celebrating his restoration (Job 42:11). The crowning evidence of the father's affection toward his repentant son was shown by the best robe and a ring (Lk 15:22). During times of deep sorrow, garments were torn and ornaments not worn (Ex 33:4; Ezr 9:3).
Good things can be misused. Aaron made a golden calf with the earrings of the people (Ex 32:1-4). Gideon made an ephod with the gold earrings of the plunder. It became a snare for people to play harlotry (Judg 8:24-27).
The reason why Jacob buried those jewels under the terebinth tree was just that there were images of "foreign gods" engraved on them (Gen 35:1-4). In Isaiah 3:16-23 the Lord just condemns the pride of Zion. He is not speaking against jewels or perfumes or fine dress.
Both Paul and Peter emphasize inner beauty over external adornment (1 Tim 2:9,10; 1 Pet 3:3,4). They don't condemn wearing ornaments or fine dress as sin. On the other hand they stress that the worth of a woman is measured only by her godliness, submissiveness, gentleness and quietness. Peter quotes Sarah as an example of this inner beauty (1 Pet 3:5,6). If Sarah had not worn jewels, Abraham would't have had so much jewels at home to send to his would-be daughter-in-law! (Gen 24:30,47).
Those who remove jewels as a mark of dedication to God must be commended. But this is a personal and voluntary act which cannot be taught as a Bible doctrine. Some have a strong craving for jewels. When such individuals desire to grow in their spiritual life, the Lord might lead them not to wear jewels. The Lord may deal with us not only concerning jewels but also in so many other legitimate things (1 Cor 6:12; 10:23). But none of these personal dealings of God should be generalised.
There were people with jewels in the early Church (Js 2:2,3). But the rule is that we must spend less on ourselves and more for the Kingdom. Extravagance in dress, ornaments and such things is totally unchristian.
Parents should not force their children not to wear jewels. This has undesirable effects. A wife should not remove her jewels against the desire of her husband (1 Cor 7:34; Num 30:6-15). There are men who shun spiritual things because their wives go extreme. Church leaders must not place removal of jewelry as a condition for Baptism or the Lord's Supper. This is both unscriptural and unethical. Legalism does not change the heart. Otherwise how do we explain so many anti-jewelry Christians flocking gold shops in Gulf countries just before they return to India?
Sadly the jewel controversy has divided many Christians. Let's strive for unity in major things but allow liberty in minor things and thus maintain charity in all things.
We have no problem in understanding the first of the Ten Commandments: "You shall have no other gods before Me." Why do we stumble over the second: "You shall NOT MAKE for yourself ANY carved image?" (Ex 20:2-6). Three things God has forbidden here concerning images: Don't "make" them, "bow" before them or "serve" them! If we are careless at the first step, we are sure to end up in idolatry.
The primary lesson we need to learn about God is that He is "Spirit" (Jn 4:24). Moses stressed this point to the people: "The Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw NO FORM; You only heard a voice... Take careful heed to yourselves... lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure" (Dt 4:12-16). God has given us statutes, not statues. Pictures are not much different from statues. One is two-dimensional and the other is three-dimensional. The difference is only geometrical.
What about Sunday School pictures and gospel films then? Well, they are used to explain to children and non-Christians the "earthly" life of Jesus. They must grow to believe on the heavenly Christ. Even the apostles, who had seen Jesus in the physical body, wrote, "FROM NOW ON, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, YET NOW we know Him thus NO LONGER" (2 Cor 5:16). We must grow out of childish practices (1 Cor 13:11).
Both Bible history and Church history abound with sad instances where "good" things became idols. An ephod became an object of worship for even a man like Gideon and his family (Judg 8:27). People were worshipping the bronze serpent that Moses had made until King Hezekiah broke it into pieces (2 Ki 18:4). Thank God Samson threw away the donkey's jawbone with which he killed thousand men. Otherwise people would have taken "holy chips" from that bone! (Judg 15:17). We Indian Christians must be exceptionally cautious because idolatry is in the very fabric of our nation. Take an inventory of your houses and Church buildings. Throw away all unscriptural things. Break them, bury them or burn them!
Should you be interested to know how Jesus looks like now, read from the Book of Revelation (1:12-16; 2:1,12,18; 3:1; 5:6; 19:12,13). There you have the latest and authorized vision. Head full of crowns. Hair like white wool and snow. Eyes like a flame of fire. Feet like fine brass. A sharp sword in the mouth. Face shining like sun. Seven stars in the right hand. Robe dipped in blood. Try if you can capture this splendour with paint and brush.
The flesh of swine was forbidden under the dietary regulations of the Mosaic law (Lev 11:7,8). The Jews therefore considered eating of pork as ceremonially unclean. But under the New Covenant, by holiness God does not mean ceremonial cleanness but spiritual sanctity. The emphasis shifted from the outer to the inner, from the material to the spiritual. Jesus explained it this way: "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man... whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated" (Mt 15:11,16-18).
Apostle Paul understood this truth much quicker than others. He declared, "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is NOTHING unclean of itself" (Rom 14:14). Having learnt this truth from Christ (Jn 1: 17), he warned Timothy, "In latter times some will depart from the faith... commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For EVERY creature of God is good, and NOTHING is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving" (1 Tim 4:1-4).
But Peter had difficulty in accepting this dispensational change, as several Christians today. Eventhough the so-called "unclean" animals were imported right from Heaven, and God Himself asked him to kill and eat them, he sternly refused. The voice from above corrected Peter, "What God has declared clean you must not call unclean" (Acts 10:10-16).
The Jerusalem Council wanted to keep the Peter-like Jewish believers comfortable while fellowshipping with their Gentile counterparts. Moreover during that transition period, the traditional reading of the Law of Moses was continuing in the synagogues every Sabbath. Therefore the non-Jewish believers were given a couple of dietary regulations also (Acts 15:19-21). Otherwise, under the New Covenant, because we have died with Christ, we don't need to subject ourselves to regulations like "Touch not, Taste not and Handle not!" Paul calls these as man-made doctrines and self-imposed religion (Col 2:16, 20-23).
Food habits however have deep cultural roots. In missionary work we must stay sensitive in this area lest we "destroy the work of God for the sake of food" (Rom 14:20). For example, in the list of animals permitted for food under the Law of Moses, the ox comes first (Dt 14:4). But eating of beef is highly objectionable to many Hindus and tribals in India. But they have no problem with pork! We therefore suggest to the missionaries working in such regions not to eat beef as a consideration to the people and the work (Rom 14:15-23). The decision of the Jerusalem Council concerning foodstuff was made on these lines only. Otherwise, in the absolute sense, we can eat any meat after giving thanks to the Creator God.
Some Physicians feel that there were also medical reasons why God forbade the eating of the meat of certain animals and birds. This may be true. For example, pork-eating is definitely harmful to those diagnosed for high cholestrol. One should choose the right kind of food to keep his body, the temple of God, healthy.
The Church Calendar has fixed December 25th as the Christmas Day. There is so much of dispute over its accuracy and it does not matter. The fact remains that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity entered this world in flesh and blood on the first Christmas Day. History is His Story!
Remembering the birth of Christ in a special way on a particular day of the year has nothing unscriptural about it. "He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it" (Rom 14:6). One has total freedom to celebrate or not to celebrate Christmas. "Let us not judge one another anymore" on such matters (Rom 14:13).
But how we celebrate Christmas is important. In several so-called Christian countries and communities, it has become a day of drunkenness and revelries and it brings dishonour to the Babe of Bethlehem. Our celebration may include new dresses and good food but we must remember that "the Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17).
On the first Christmas Day the shepherds "made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child" (Lk 2:17). Make the Christmas season a time of agressive evangelism! Instead of visiting Christian homes with carol singing, go to slums, villages and street corners to proclaim the Message to non-Christians!
And the shepherds were "glorifying and praising God" (Lk 2:20). Let Christmas season be a time of rich worship and lavish praise for "God's unspeakable gift" (2 Cor 9:15).
When we remember Christ's First Coming let's get ready for His Second Coming by reaching people who have not yet heard about His First Coming even after more than 2000 years. Let every tribe and tongue and people group sing, "Glory to God in the Highest!" (Rev 7:9; Lk 2:14).
(Read also Question 100, Should we Indianise Christmas Celebration?)
I believe in prosperity. But I also believe God allows times of adversity in the lives of His children. The wisest Preacher made the most balanced statement: "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other!" (Eccl 7:14). Job had the same balanced view on life. God endorsed what he spoke. He said, "Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" The Holy Spirit records, "In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:10).
One of the favourite texts for the advocates of the prosperity doctrine is 3 John 2, "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers." The promise in this verse is emphasized these days more than the condition. The fact is that most of the believers are not prospering in their souls! They hardly spend an hour with God alone in prayer. Very few memorize atleast one Scripture verse each day. Many of them don't go out even once a week after lost souls. Tears of confession and repentance are rare. Personal purity is not the priority. Sacrifice is an unknown word. Where then is prosperity in soul? Why blow up the promise alone, leaving out the condition? If God should answer our prayers to grant us physical health in proportion to our spiritual wellbeing, the Church will have to offer its members crutches and wheelchairs at a subsidized price! Beware!
Another oft-quoted verse is 2 Corinthians 8:9, "Jesus became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." Read chapters 8 and 9 and understand in what He guarantees to make us rich. "Rich in liberality!" (8:2). The Macedonian believers were in deep poverty but they were rich in liberality (8:1,2). And then rich in every good work! (9:8). We will be "enriched in everything for all liberality!" (9:11). Multiplication or increase of our righteousness! (9:9,10). The Bible clearly states there are many children of God who are poor materially but "rich in faith" (Js 2:5). Those who have been blessed with riches are commanded to "be rich in good works" (1 Tim 6:17-19). Again, Jesus was never rich materially. His riches speak of the heavenly glory which He forsook for us.
That of the widow was no ordinary faith. She believed in giving ten tenths to God! But still she was poor. She had only two coins! In the eyes of Jesus she was richer than all the rich men who gave from their abundance. She was in material poverty but spiritual prosperity (Mk 12:41-44).
In the Old Testament the emphasis was on material blessings but in the New what is emphasized is spiritual prosperity. "Blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph 1:3).
To have less today is not necessarily a curse. The apostles were rich in knowledge, wisdom and other spiritual virtues but many times they were in want. Paul writes, "Even to the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten and homeless" (1 Cor 4:11).
The Jerusalem saints sold their lands and houses and laid them at the apostles' feet to be distributed to those in need. In spite of this act of absolute faith, there came a time when Paul had to appeal to other Churches to raise money for the "poor saints" in Jerusalem (Rom 15:25,26). History abounds with examples of missionaries who gave away all they had and lived the simplest life possible in remote areas for the sake of the gospel, sometimes even without the basic needs supplied. Were they not heroes of faith? Therefore to say we will get everything if only we have faith is an oversimplification.
The health-and-wealth preachers would tell us, "The miracle is in your mind... The miracle is in your mouth," and so on. Who does not know that several of these preachers are in heavy debts? One wonders why their own formulae of positive thinking and positive confession do not work for them! God is Sovereign and He cannot be enclosed by our theories.
We are not calling Christians to poverty. But there were days when it was thought that poorer a man richer he was spiritually! Now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. What we need is a balance. Christians should work hard and expect God to meet their daily needs. Jesus has taught us to pray for our daily bread. But no one should try to become rich because "the love of money is the root of all evil." The golden rule is: "Godliness with contentment is great gain!" "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these let's be content" (1 Tim 6:6-10).
Perfection is understood in the New Testament as growth and maturity. Apostle Paul speaks of personal perfection as well as corporate perfection as an ongoing process. "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on" (Phil 3:12-15). "Till we all come... to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ... may grow up in all things" (Eph 4:13-15).
The New Testament speaks about the "standing" as well as the "state" of God's children. Our standing is our position in Christ; our state refers to our practice. Here are a few examples: By standing "all" believers are saints before God (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:1; etc). At the same time, we are called to be holy and walk holy (1 Pet 1:15,16). According to our standing, we are already complete in Christ (Col 2:10; but we are to "be made complete" in our state (2 Cor 13:9).
Our life in Christ can be divided into three experiences. The first one is Justification or Salvation or Rebirth, which is a crisis experience. Next is Sanctification, which is an ongoing process. Finally, there is Glorification, which will again be a crisis experience. Now we are between the crisis experiences, one past and the other future. We can further understand sanctification by looking at its three aspects. First, positional sanctification (1 Cor 1:30); second, progressive sanctification (2 Cor 3:18; Phil 1:6); third, prospective sanctification (1 Thess 5:23). Thus our sanctification will be complete at the Second Coming of Christ. At that time, our standing and state will perfectly agree. They will become one.
We do not reach a state of sinless perfection now. The saintly Apostle John wrote, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 Jn 1:8). As God's children with His seed in us, we will not practice sin, though at times we may yield to temptations (1 Jn 2:29; 3:5-10). We are to at once confess our sin to God, be cleansed and walk in victory claiming the promises and power of God (1 Jn 1:9; 1 Pet 2:3,4; Rom 6:14).
In the light of the New Testament, the perfect Christian is just a growing and mature Christian. Some of his marks are—
Love for the unlovables (Mt 5:43-45)
Detachment from materialism (Mt 19:20,21)
Control of the tongue (Js 3:2)
Patience in suffering (Heb 2:10)
Spiritual discernment (1 Cor 2:6; 13-15)
Oneness with believers (Eph 4:11-13)
Christlikeness in character (Lk 6:40)
Perfection means growing from holiness to holiness, righteousness to righteousness, and victory to victory, by looking to Jesus (Rev 22:11b). When we finally meet Him, "we shall be like Him!" (1 Jn 3:2).
1 John 5:16,17, "If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death."
The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Any sin when it is full-grown brings forth death (Js 1:15). But the Bible differentiates between accidental sin and deliberate sin. Under the Old Covenant the priest could make atonement for "unintentional" sins and the candidate would be forgiven. But if a person did anything "persumptuously" he would be completely cut off (Num 15:27-31). God's forgiveness is not limited by the seriousness of the sin, but it depends on the attitude of the sinner. There is no sin that cannot be washed by the blood of Jesus (1 Jn 1:7). God's generous promise is that, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool" (Isa 1:18). It is repentance that matters (vv 19,20).
The "sin that leads to death" is not just murder or adultery. It is outright apostasy. It is denying the very basic faith on Christ. In the context where apostle John refers to the sin that leads to death, he writes about "continuing to believe in the Name of the Son of God" and "keeping ourselves from idols" (1 Jn 5:13,21). When a believer denies his faith he crucifies again the Son of God and puts Him to an open shame (Heb 6:6). It is humanly impossible to renew such a person again to repentance. We can pray for him so he might come to his senses but we cannot pray for his forgiveness. Peter denied Christ and even cursed Him by his lips, but his heart did not apostatize. He was forgiven when he repented with tears of bitterness.
The Bible exhorts believers to pray for one another not only for their sicknesses but also for their sins (Js 5:15,16). When Abraham prayed for Abimelech, and Job prayed for his friends, God forgave them (Gen 20:7,17; Job 42:8). But there were instances when God told His servants not to pray for the forgiveness of the people (Jer 7:16; 11:14). God will forgive erring believers at our request, but those who have gone completely after heresy are outside the sphere of our prayers. There is no hope unless they personally repent.
We establish that the "sin unto death" is the denial of faith. When a Christian commits this sin he usually withdraws himself from the company of God's people and forsakes assembling together with them. He is said to trample the Son of God underfoot, treat His blood as an unholy thing and insult the Spirit of grace. Only a raging fire of judgment awaits him (Heb 10:23-29). Paul was a blasphemer but he obtained mercy because he did it "ignorantly," not with "the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 1:13).
It is appropriate to make a reference here to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which Jesus called as the unpardonable sin. The Holy Spirit is the only force available in divine economy to convict us of "unbelief" the sin of sins, and bring us under the lordship of Christ (Jn 16:8,9; 1 Cor 12:3). If a person blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, he is cutting the very branch on which he is sitting! (For a broader treatment of this aspect, refer to Question 47.)
If you have denied the faith you once professed, don't condemn yourself. Come back to God. He will abundantly pardon. The Church also must not simply write off those who wander from the truth. The members must do all that's possible to bring them back knowing that "he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover a multitude of sins" (Js 5:19,20).
Among the Bible-believing Christians there are two groups which hold views totally opposed to each other concerning salvation. One group claims, "Once saved, always safe!" The other group asserts, "Only those who endure till the end will be saved!" This issue has been responsible to throw believers to opposite camps resulting in bitter fights. What does the Bible say concerning this matter?
There are Scripture texts to support each view, if they are taken in isolation. Here are a few sample texts in support of "eternal security." Philippians 1:6, "God who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." John 10:27-29, "I give My sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand." John 17:12, "Father, those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition." Romans 8:30, "Whom God predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."
Some of the favourite texts of the other group are these: Mt 24:13, "He who endures to the end shall be saved." 1 Cor 10:5,12, "With most of our fathers God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness ... Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." Heb 10:38, "Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him."
These are the two theological streams in Christendom. The first view was advocated by John Calvin (1509-1564), a French Reformer. He said, "Salvation is not gained by our merit; so it cannot be lost by our demerit." His favourite text was Ephesians 2:8,9. In other words, Calvin emphasized God's part in our salvation. As a reaction to Calvinism, Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), a Dutch Theologian, emphasized man's part in salvation. Among his favourite texts was Philippians 2:12, "Work out your own salvation." Calvinism overemphasizes God's sovereignty and Arminianism man's responsibility. I believe that these are simply two sides of the same coin. The Bible is neither Calvinistic not Arminian! It beautifully balances both these views as the following passages confirm—
Phil 2:12,13, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."
Jer 32:40, "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me."
Hos 10:12, "We are to "sow" righteousness, and God will "shower" righteousness on us.
We are not saved by "works" (Eph 2:8,9), but we must "strive" to enter through the narrow gate (Lk 13:23,24).
No condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, but they must walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom 8:1).
Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith, but we must be patient and consistent runners (Heb 12:1,2).
Some more references to show how God's sovereignity and man's responsibility must be balanced: Lev 20:7,8; Rom 6:11-14; Col 3:9,10,5,8; 1 Pet 2:9-11; 2 Cor 6:18 & 7:1; 1 Jn 3:2,3; 1 Jn 5:18; 1 Thess 5:22,23; etc.
Now coming to our question: "Can we lose our salvation?" The wholesome teaching of the Bible does not give the answer as "yes" or "no." On the other hand, the Bible teaches that having been saved through grace, we must deny all ungodliness and walk in obedience to God's Word and stay prepared always for the Return of Christ (Tit 2:11-13). Any hairsplitting of this issue will only destroy the unity of the Body of Christ and damage our spiritual wellbeing.
Without God I cannot; without me He will not!
The Bible speaks of Christ's Second Coming eight times more often than of His first coming. The New Testament alone speaks of it 318 times. One of the commonest words of greeting used by the early Christians was "Maranatha!" (1 Cor 16:22). It is an Aramaic word which means, "The Lord is coming!" Yes the early believers lived with the jubilant expectation of the Return of their Lord.
While almost all the Christians believe in the Second Coming of Christ, they are widely divided on the timing and nature of His Return. There are broadly three schools of thought—
Each group can quote a few Scripture verses to support its view. I personally believe in the pretribulational and premillennial Return of Christ. This viewpoint has been held by most of the evangelical scholars and Bible teachers of repute.
We are now in the Church Age. This will be terminated suddenly when Christ will appear FOR the saints in the mid-air. "The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess 4:13-18). This is what we call the Rapture of the Church. This is our most "blessed hope!" (Tit 2:13). Then the world goes through the Great Tribulation under the rule of Antichrist. This seven year period is "the day of God's wrath." At its end Christ will return WITH the saints to the earth to establish His millennial Kingdom here (2 Thess 2:1-8; Rev 20:1-6). Then will follow eternity (Rev 21,22).
The Church will not go through the Great Tribulation because "God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10). The Church will be kept away from "the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world" (Rev 3:10). Some argue that the Lord will purify the Church through the Great Tribulation. I wonder why God should be interested in purifying only the last generation of Christians this way! Poor fellows!
The Second Coming of Christ is a message of comfort (1 Thess 4:18). We should not let it become a matter of conflict. The Rapture issue must not cause rupture in our relationships. While holding one view, let us respect that of others. The most important thing is the preparation for the Second Coming. There are three bounden duties we ought to be found "doing when He comes" (Mt 24:46)—
The dawn of AD 2000 became a hype in the business world. Even though the new millennium began only in January 2001, the number 2000 created quite a stir and hysteria. India alone is said to have spent anywhere from Rs. 1500 crores to Rs.2000 crores over the Y2K programme but thank God nothing catastrophic has happened. The religious world also had been thrown into all sorts of speculations. The pulpit sermons of the New Year watchnight services in Churches alerted Christians about the possible return of Christ in the year 2000. Sincere Christians want to know what the Bible has to say on this matter.
The last recorded message of Christ in the Bible is the conclusive answer to all the questions regarding the "time" of His Return. "Surely I am coming QUICKLY" (Rev 22:20). The word "surely" is to encourage us, and the word "quickly" must challenge us. The Lord frequently used the word "quickly" in His messages to the Churches (Rev 2:5,16; 3:11; 22:7,12). This was literally believed by the Christians of the first century. That was one reason why they had been greeting one another with the word "Maranatha," an Aramaic term meaning, "The Lord is coming!" (1 Cor 16:22).
If the first century Christians had lived with the every-moment-expectation of the return of Christ, how much anxious our expectation today should be! However, the Bible consistently discourages us from any date-setting. In His parting words Christ told His disciples, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:7). He had earlier told them repeatedly, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (Mt 24:42; 25:13). But man is always curious to know what he need not know! When Christ says that He Himself does not know when He would return, why should we be curious about it? (Mk 13:32).
One thing we can be sure of. That is, we in this generation are much nearer to the Second Coming of Christ than the earlier generations. As Revivalist Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994) used to say, "We are not living in the last days but in the last minutes!" Most of what was predicted to happen before the Return of Christ has been fulfilled. One of the most important signs namely worldwide evangelisation is in its final phase, and the work goes on much faster than anytime in Church history (Mt 24:14). Sin is rampant and the "cup of iniquity" is overflowing (Mt 24:12). The Judge is standing "at the door!" (Js 5:9).
Following the pattern of epochal events in the Biblical calendar, it is most likely that Christ would return in this generation. If we had known the exact date, we would not be ever ready but be postponing the preparation to the eleventh hour. It is in His sheer mercy and sovereign wisdom that the Father has kept this as a secret with Himself.
Instead of date-setting, let's set goals for the total evangelisation of "Jerusalem, all Judea, Samaria and the end of the earth!" (Acts 1:7,8). Don't go after signs, visions and voices which claim to give new revelations about the second advent of Christ (Mt 24:23-26). Be satisfied with the vivid Biblical revelations and don't explore mysteries of which the Bible is silent (Dt 29:29).
There is no direct teaching in the Scriptures that speaking in tongues is the only sign or evidence of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. On the other hand there are ample examples of people speaking in tongues when they were baptized or filled with the Spirit.
All the 120 disciples who received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost "began to speak with other tongues" (Acts 2:4). When the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his family members the Jewish believers who had come with Peter "heard them speak with tongues and magnify God" (Acts 10:46). When Paul laid hands on the disciples in Ephesus, "the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:6). In the case of Apostle Paul, though nothing is mentioned about speaking in tongues when he was filled with the Holy Spirit, in his letter to the Corinthians he wrote, "I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all" (1 Cor 14:18; Acts 9:17,18). When the Samaritan believers received the Spirit there was something that a sorcerer like Simon could "see" as a supernatural manifestation (Acts 8:17,18).
On the basis of these examples, we can normally expect a person to speak in tongues while he receives the Holy Spirit in His baptismal power. But in the absence of a direct "teaching" as such we cannot say that a person is not baptized with the Spirit until and unless he speaks in tongues.
However, every believer must be encouraged to seek God to enable him speak in tongues through the Spirit because of its tremendous devotional value. Of all the nine gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Cor 12, tongues are primarily addressed to God in prayer and praise (1 Cor 12:7-10; 14:13-17). Also the speaker is greatly edified (1 Cor 14:4). I speak in tongues daily in my private prayer since the time I was anointed with the Holy Spirit in 1963, and it helps me build up myself and be refreshed (Jude 20; Isa 28:11,12).
It is of course possible to speak in tongues without love (1 Cor 13:1-3). Tongues are not the thermometer to measure one's spirituality. Every tree shall be known by its "fruit" (Mt 12:33). There must be a balancing of gifts and fruits.
"Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away" (1 Cor 13:8). Quoting this Bible text, many Christians believe that the gift of speaking in unknown tongues is withdrawn from the Church or has vanished. Let's examine this issue here.
The first instance of speaking in tongues was on the Day of Pentecost, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Church. Historian Luke reports that the disciples "began" to speak with other tongues (Acts 2:4). He points out the continuance of this phenomenon, especially when new believers received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-46; 19:1-6). There was never a period in Church history all these twenty centuries when speaking in tongues was totally absent. As we have come to the last hours of the last days, we observe that more and more Christians of every imaginable denomination are exercising this gift. Jesus incorporated the promise of the gift of tongues while speaking of worldwide evangelism (Mk 16:15-17). Therefore, history is not in favour of the cessationist view of tongues.
Secondly, the teaching in the New Testament does not suggest that tongues have ceased. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthian Church was written about 25 years after Pentecost. Why should he discuss at such length a gift if it had already been withdrawn? According to him, tongues will cease "when that which is perfect has come" (1 Cor 13:8-10). Both individually and corporately we are still growing. We have not yet attained the perfection or the full stature of Christ (Eph 4:13). When Christ shall appear, we shall be like Him (1 Jn 3:2). From then on we will be seeing Him and speaking to Him face to face. At that time our knowledge will be perfect and no faith or gift will be necessary. Only love will continue and culminate between the Heavenly Bridegroom and His Bride. That's why love is greater than even faith and hope! (1 Cor 13:9-13).
Thirdly, the benefits of speaking in tongues are becoming more and more necessary today. A spiritual discipline in which we need to be stronger than ever in these evil days is prayer (Eph 6:13,18). Speaking in tongues enhances prayer and praise (1 Cor 14:2,14,15). We are called to edify one another. Speaking in tongues is a means of self-edification. (1 Cor 14:4). When I am edified I am better equipped to minister to others. It is generally observed that speaking in tongues gives us the inner release that is necessary to operate the other gifts of the Spirit (Acts 19:6). Isaiah called this enablement as "rest and refreshing" (Isa 28:11,12).
We must not interpret the Scriptures according to our experience or lack of it. Accepting the plain teaching of the Bible as a little child, we should earnestly ask the Heavenly Father for whatever "good things" He has for us (Mt 7:7-11; Lk 11:13).
The phrase "Nine Gifts of the Spirit" is so frequently used in current teaching and writings that an average believer tends to think that there are only nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, and he is not gifted if he doesn't have one of them! But a diligent study of the gift lists in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4 shows that the lists are only samples and the gifts mentioned are just examples. No list is exhaustive. They are all suggestive. There's overlapping but they all blend beautifully as the colours of a rainbow.
If we leave out the repetitions, the passages in the 4 chapters mentioned above give us nineteen gifts. They are Prophecy, Teaching, Counselling, Charity, Leadership, Kindness, Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Healing, Miracles, Discernment, Tongues, Interpretation, Helps, Adminis-tration, Apostleship, Evangelism and Pastorship. Again if this is all what the Holy Spirit can bestow as His gifts, He is too poor! Perish the thought! "He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think!" (Eph 3:20).
There are several other gifts mentioned all over the Scriptures but we fail to recognize them so. Celibacy is an example. Paul calls it a "gift from God" (1 Cor 7:7). Hospitality is another gift (1 Pet 4:9,10). Though all believers are supposed to be hospitable, we know for sure there are some who are hospitable beyond our understanding! That's a special gift, much needed today. Hospitality literally means the love of strangers. Not easy, eh! Then there's intercession. All must pray but not everybody can lament like Jeremiah or sorrow like Paul (Lam 3:48-50; Rom 9:1-3; 10:1). Men like Rees Howells (1879-1950) and Praying Hyde (1865-1912) had this gift. Composing of songs and music is an ancient gift the Holy Spirit is gloriously restoring these days (Eph 5:18-20). This was David's gift and is that of Fr.Berchmann of Tamilnadu! (2 Sam 23:1,2). Artistic workmanship is another covetable gift (Ex 31:1-5; 35:30-35). Can unlearned herdsmen and fishermen write the Scriptures without the operation of the gift of writing? (2 Pet 1:20,21). The list is thus endless. Let's not be like the young boy who tried to empty the ocean by drawing water with a bucket!
Our so-called scientific diagrams and definitions of the gifts of the Spirit have actually limited the Holy One of Israel. The result is a "giftless" majority watching a "gifted" minority in awe and wonder. The gifts of the Spirit are neither nine nor nineteen nor ninety but numberless. Let's revise the syllabuses of our Power Seminars, recognize the hidden gifts in each person and rally the silent majority of the Church to action. Only then can the Church fulfil her mission on earth.
God is a Healer. He revealed Himself as Jehovah-Rapha, meaning "I am the Lord who heals you" (Ex 15:26). He has never changed. His power is still the same.
God's power to heal was manifested to the greatest degree through His Son during His earthly ministry. Jesus healed all kinds of diseases. All who touched Him were made whole. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb 13:8). On the Cross He carried our sins and sicknesses (Isa 53:4,5; Mt 8:16,17). We are cleansed by His blood and healed by His wounds.
The Holy Spirit has bestowed on the Church the gifts of healing (1 Cor 12:9,28). They are in operation.
But our bodies are mortal. We are still subject to death (1 Cor 15:26). The total redemption of our body is still in the future (Rom 8:23). Until the day comes when there will be no more pain and sorrow, we may be subjected to physical ailments common to man (Rev 21:4).
When a believer becomes sick, he must resort to prayer. He must seek the help of the elders in the Church to offer the prayer of faith for him. And he must search himself to find if he had sinned. Under normal circumstances he would be healed (Js 5:14-16).
But there are times when God does not choose to heal. The Bible tells of several saints who walked uprightly before Him but were still sick. Paul had to carry on with the thorn in his "flesh." God promised him sufficient grace (2 Cor 12:7-10). Timothy had his weak stomach (1 Tim 5:23). Epaphroditus was sick unto death (Phil 2:25-27). Prophet Elisha, who worked so many miracles, died of a disease (2 Ki 13:14). History abounds with examples of godly folks who were not healed. Fanny Crosby (1823-1915) became blind when she was six weeks old and remained so till death, but she gave us 8000 hymns, one of which is Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
All good gifts come from God. He is not the author of sickness. But He uses it as a rod of chastisement or for some mysterious purpose we cannot explain. He is Sovereign. Ultimately all things, seemingly good and bad, work together for good to His children (Rom 8:28).
The first Biblical reference to laying on of hands is when Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph (Gen 48:14). Laying on of hands obviously had been an age-old practice. It gained religious significance when God commanded that the Priests would lay hands on animals before killing them for sin offering, burnt offering or consecration (Lev 8:14,18,22; 16:21). This ritual continued throughout the dispensation of the Law (Num 8:12).
Hands were laid also for installing leaders. Moses laid hands on Joshua while commissioning him to lead God's people into the Promised Land (Num 27:22,23). The apostles followed this procedure when they appointed the first team of deacons for the business affairs of the Church (Acts 6:6).
In the Gospel narrative we often read of Jesus laying hands on the sick to heal them (Mk 6:5; Lk 4:40). While giving the Great Commission He said, "These signs will follow those who believe... They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mk 16:17,18). The apostles did so in their ministries (Acts 28:8). They also laid hands on people for receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17; 19:6). Parents in Jesus' day desired that He would lay hands on their children and bless them. He complied with it (Mt 19:13-15).
This Jewish practice of laying on of hands ultimately became one of the foundational doctrines of Christ for the Church (Heb 6:2). Apostle Paul warned Timothy "not to be hasty in the laying on of hands" (1 Tim 5:22). This apparently means that hands must not be laid on people indiscriminately. Its use must be restricted to absolutely necessary situations. Healing can be ministered to folks just by speaking forth "the Word only" (Mt 8:8; Psa 107:20). The Holy Spirit fell on the family of Cornelius without any laying on of hands (Acts 10:45). God through His Spirit distributes gifts and enablements to each of His children according to His will (1 Cor 12:4-11). This is the blessed privilege of every believer because of the ascension of Christ (Eph 4:7,8). Gifts are resident in the Spirit who is resident in us. The "manifestation of the Spirit" through any gift is according to the need of the situation (1 Cor 12:7a). No laying on of hands is necessary for the release of this potential power. Individuals must prayerfully exercise their faith to operate these gifts. However, for special ministerial positions elders can lay hands on the candidates for the impartation of specific gifts (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6; Dt 34:9).
Paul warned a preacher not to lay hands suddenly on any man (1 Tim 5:22). I warn people not to give their heads to every preacher. Beware of getting pushed down by the forehead!
Scented oils were used in the Old Testament times to symbolize gladness (Psa 45:7; 104:15), and were avoided in times of mourning (2 Sam 12:20; Isa 61:3). Guests were anointed with perfumed oils as a mark of special honour (Lk 7:36-38, 46). Anointing with soothing oils was also part of medical treatment in Biblical times (Isa 1:6; Jer 8:22). The disciples of Christ continued this Jewish practice when they went on their healing mission (Mk 6:13). The Epistle of James which was primarily addressed "to the twelve tribes" of Israel (Js 1:1) recommends the use of oil for the sick (Js 5:14). The Greek word "aleipho" used in such instances always indicates a literal rubbing. Also the Greek word for "oil" here is "elaion" which means olive oil. Therefore we are to understand that James was prescribing both prayer and medical treatment for the sick believers.
However, oil in the Bible is also a symbol of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Zech 4:2-6). Prophets, priests and kings were anointed with oil when they were consecrated. Therefore the use of oil, while ministering to the sick, as a point of contact to encourage faith, is not objectionable. It may symbolize the healing virtue to flow from Christ the Head to the sick members of His Body (Psa 133:2). But it is not the oil that is to be anointed, blessed or prayed for. That is close to idolatry. Under the New Covenant God does not anoint or sanctify objects. The anointing will descend only on people (Acts 2:17) and stay on them (1 Jn 2:27).
In this context we must also comment on the use of "blessed cloth" for healing. The plain directive of Jesus to us is to "go" wherever the needy people are and "lay hands" on the sick (Mt 10:7,8; Mk 16:15,18). But at times, depend-ing on the situation, God may work in an "extraordinary" way as He did once in the ministry of Paul (Acts 19:8-20). It was a situation of direct confrontation with those who publicly maligned Christianity, and with the counterfeits and magicians. Use of such cloth pieces from preachers did not become a regular practice in the Church. As we saw earlier, God does not anoint a cloth piece. Advertising "Blessed Cloth" for healing today is therefore in violation of the whole counsel of God concerning the healing ministry of the Church. How these "Anointed Oil" and "Blessed Cloth" have been commercialized is too obvious.
The primary responsibility of ministering healing to believers lies with the local "elders of the Church" (Js 5:14). It must be further followed up by believers praying for "one another" (v 16). Healing evangelists should not urge Christians to immediately write to them or phone-call them for prayer, but encourage the Christians and the pastors to develop the healing ministry in the local context. Returning to this Biblical procedure will put an end to malpractices and exploitations in the use of the "gifts of healings" God has graciously placed in the Church.
Miracle healing crusades have been conducted in almost all the major cities and towns of India. A few healings do take place. But both the Christian and non-Christian public are aware of the hollowness of the tall claims of the handbills, wallposters and newsreports of these crusades. For instance, almost every healing evangelist of international fame has conducted his crusade in the city of Chennai. But until this day no disfigured leper or born cripple or blind known to the public has been perfectly healed in these crusades.
One notable miracle was sufficient to stir up entire Jerusalem (Acts 3 & 4). Even the enemies of the gospel could not ignore it, but confessed, "INDEED that a NOTABLE miracle has been done thro' them is EVIDENT to ALL who dwell in Jerusalem, and we CANNOT DENY IT. But so that it SPREADS no further among the people, let us severely threaten them" (Acts 4:16,17). Instead of satisfying ourselves with explanations which cannot stand the test, let us face the issue honestly. A close examination of the Scriptures gives us five possible reasons for the rareness of spectacularmiracles—
Unless we deal with these issues, we will bring more dishonour than glory to God, and make the Gospel message more questionable than believable.
There are Christians who, because of the absence of spectacular miracles, conclude that the days of miracles are past. I totally reject this view because it lacks Scriptural support. The God of miracles is unchanging. His Word has the same power ever. In fact we need more miracles today than ever because no other generation worshipped so many Baals instead of the Living God!
I am appalled by the extra-Biblical inventions in spiritual circles. Things virtually unknown in Bible times to apostolic leaders are practised without the slightest hesitation. My heart aches for those in the Church who are ignorant of the dangers of the trend of the day.
"What does the Scripture say?" This was the typical response of Christ and the apostles when they were asked apparently difficult questions (Lk 10:25,26; Rom 4:1-3; Gal 4:30). The Bible is our final authority and we dare not go beyond it.
There are only two Bible references to anyone blowing on man, and in both the instances it was "God" who did it. Genesis 2:7, "The Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being." John 20:22, "Jesus breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit." God is the Author of Life and so He breathed into man (Jn 1:4). After death the spirit of man goes back to God (Eccl 12:7). Jesus is the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit and so He breathed on the disciples— typically (Jn 1:33; Acts 2:33). This act of blowing on people is therefore the prerogative of the "Godhead." There is no direct or indirect teaching anywhere in the Bible to prompt any mortal being to do this.
In Ezekiel 37, we read about the breath of life coming from the four winds to resurrect the dry bones into a dynamic battalion. Even here the prophet was not instructed to blow or breathe on the bones. Rather he was commanded to just "speak" to the bones and the wind (vv 7,9,10). Yes, all we are to do is to preach to the people and pray to the Lord to fill them with the Holy Spirit. The apostles did just the same (Acts 8:14-17; 9:17,18; 10:44; 19:1-6). If the apostles had but once blown on people, Luke who repeatedly mentions laying on of hands would have certainly recorded that the apostles blew on the people!
The origin for such presumptuous practices today is obviously the modern Faith Movement. One of the popular teachers of this Movement had made the statement, "You don't have a God in you; you are one!" He bases his theory on Psalm 82:6 and Christ's quotation of it in John 10:34-36. This Psalmodic passage simply refers to the kings and judges of the earth viewed as God's divine council. It finally says that they would die like men! (v6). (See also Rom 13:1-6). Jesus employed the passage from Psalms just for an argument. (Read Chapter 9 of Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff.) We must guard ourselves against any of the characteristics of anti-Christ (2 Thess 2:3-12).
People ask, "How do you then explain the supernatural happenings on people when preachers blow on them?" To this I answer, "The end does not justify the means." In Christian life and ministry, "how" is more important than "what" (1 Cor 3:9-14; 2 Tim 2:5).
I am not a great Bible teacher but only a humble student of the Bible for about 50 years (1962-2013). To me this practice of blowing on people or into the microphone is just not acceptable. Even for mike-testing, blowing into it is not technically correct!
I witnessed this phenomenon first as a teenager (1965) in a healing crusade where the preacher was a lady. People lined up on knees for her touch and almost everyone fell though most of them were not healed. I was a volunteer in that crusade and I somehow did not feel comfortable to associate myself in this part of the service.
This phenomenon has now become widespread and is becoming increasingly popular. People's reaction and response vary widely. Some embrace it as a "new thing" from God, while others eschew it as deceptive and demonic. Which is right?
Surprisingly the Word God records no instance of anyone "slain in the Spirit." The references usually quoted to support this phenomenon do not offer any plain or direct teaching on this. Let's look at the most common proof-texts quoted—
Prophet Ezekiel fell on his face when he saw the vision of God's glory and heard His voice. But when the "Spirit entered him," he was actually set on his feet (Ezek 1:28; 2:2). Similarly when Daniel saw a great vision and heard the heavenly voice, he fell prostrate before God. When a hand touched him, he was asked to "stand upright" (Dan 10:8-11). When John saw the glorious vision of Jesus he fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on him, saying, "Don't be afraid" (Rev 1:17). These visionary experiences of the prophets were unique and they don't teach about the so-called "slaying" phenomenon. The Temple experience of the 120 priests is typical of the upper room experience of the 120 disciples. In neither instance was anyone "slain" (2 Chr 5:12-14; Acts 2:1-4).
The disciples fell down at the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-6). The security guards fell down as dead when the earth quaked and the sepulchre opened (Mt 28:2-4). Both refer to instances of "fear." Mark 3:11 and 9:26,27 speak of violent manifestations of the demon-possessed. Saul fell down as an arrogant persecutor of the Church (Acts 9:4; 26:14). There's no mention or referece to the Spirit where the officers who came to seize Jesus fell down (Jn 18:1-6). The case in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 is the voluntary prostration of an unbeliever. Falling prostrate before God "voluntarily" like kneeling or bowing is of course mentioned all over the Bible (Job 1:20; Psa 72:11; Mt 2:11; Jn 11:32; Rev 4:10; 19:4).
Thus the Biblical evidence for the phenomenon claimed as being "slain in the Spirit" is inconclusive. We cannot however rule out the possibility of men and women falling down, losing their physical strength when the power of the Spirit descends on them in an unusual manner and measure. Great revivals of the past have had this accompaniment. The ministries of John Wesley (1703-1791), George Whitefield (1714-1770) and Charles Finney (1792-1875) are examples. Of course in their meetings, it was mostly the striking down of scoffers and mockers. In our own Revival Camps, during seasons of outpouring of the Spirit, we have seen a few falling down here and there. But in the absence of any direct Scriptural reference, this experience cannot be taught as normative in Christian life or made a focus. The devil is a master counterfeit. We must beware of the "possession trance" so common in paganism.
The source of this experience can be purely human response to autosuggestion, group "peer pressure," or simply a desire to experience the phenomenon. Lining up people, keeping supporters behind to hold the "slain" to avoid head injury, the preacher going from one person to the other for the performance, etc, etc, can easily create an atmosphere where everyone would expect to "have" it. Psychology and crowd dynamics will play a role. Why folks fall backwards whereas in the Bible it was mostly falling on their faces, is another question.
The laying on of hands is primarily for ministering healing, filling of the Holy Spirit, and commissioning for service. It should not be misused for beating people on their heads or pushing at their forehead. When the apostles laid hands on people, they were either healed, filled or equipped, not slain. This is what we read from Acts and the Epistles. It's safe to stay within Biblical boundaries — even though you may think that you miss some "special blessing," so called.
The Bible commands us to live in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, pray in the Spirit, and worship in the Spirit (Gal 5:25,26; Eph 6:18; Phil 3:3). Let's be concentrating on these essential and spiritual exercises, rather than coveting the merely emotional and sensational experiences. I am not for using the Scriptural phrase of "in the Spirit" to baptize personal experiences and generalise them.
Holy laughing is a phenomenon reported in some Charismatic and Pentecostal groups where people break forth into an uncontrollable laughter and continue in it even for hours. This is claimed to be a manifestation of the joy of the Lord when the Holy Spirit anoints a person with the "oil of gladness." Those who are not thrown into laughter in such meetings are often considered by the "laughers" as having not fully experienced the joy! The craze for novelty is drawing several believers into this excitement.
From Church history we learn that the Church of Christ is influenced by one wave or the other at any point of time. But it is the responsibility of the Church leaders and mature believers to check these waves against the Word for their validity and desirability. "We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:11-16).
Laughter is a good medicine! The Scripture endorses this view when it says, "A merry heart does good like medicine" (Prov 17:22). Who does not like the company of a jovial person? Harmless fun and humour are not out of place in Christian fellowship. In the Old Testament history of God's people, laughter was there in their celebrations of victory (Psa 126:1-3). Foretelling Job's restoration, Bildad said, "He will yet fill your mouth with laughing, and your lips with rejoicing" (Job 8:21). But neither in the Old Testament nor in the New, laughter was encouraged alongside worship, like clapping and lifting of hands, playing music, shouting or dancing. There is no mention of laughing in any of the instances of outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts. Also the Ephesian passage on Spirit-fullness (Eph 5:18-21) and the Corinthian passage on a charismatic gathering (1 Cor 14:26) do not give the slightest hint on laughing.
The true joy of the Lord is the outcome of abandonment to His will and ways. It is actually a "state" of contentment and confidence in our normal life which the world around us cannot ignore to notice. This joy is seen even amidst suffering and pain (Acts 13:50-52; 16:22-25; Lk 6:22,23).
Laughter is not necessarily an expression of joy. "Even in laughter the heart may sorrow, and the end of mirth may be grief" (Prov 14:3). The devil is clever enough to offer cheap substitutes for the genuine and lasting thing from God.
An entire congregation or a large section of it thrown into ecstatic and sustained laughter is quite abnormal as far as the worship in a New Testament assembly is concerned. We cannot imagine Paul or Peter leading congregations into laughter wherever they went!
In this age of heavy rock music and revival of pagan religions, we will do well if our Church gatherings are marked by serenity, and our worship filled with awe. Worship leaders must avoid psychological manipulations of any sort but lead God's people to depths to understanding His greatness and their nothingness. The joy expressed in this process perhaps through tears will be even deeper (Lk 6:21b; Js 4:9,10).
When the laughter promoters are challenged to show Scriptural evidence, their immediate answer is that this is a "new thing from God!" If each group accepts and advocates an extra-Biblical phenomenon as a "new thing from God," where is the standard for our faith and practice? Are we not shaking the foundations?
Matthew and Luke mention fire alongwith the Holy Spirit but not Mark and John (Mt 3:11; Lk 3:16; Mk 1:8; Jn 1:33). When Jesus quoted John the Baptist to His disciples, He did not mention fire (Acts 1:5). Because, the Baptism with the Holy Spirit is a blessings for the believers whereas the burning with fire is a judgment for unbelievers. In none of the four instances of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost in Acts, Luke mentions fire (8:16,17; 9:17; 10:44; 19:6).
Concerning the ministry of Christ through the Holy Spirit, John the Baptist foretold, "His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn" — work of the blowing fan! "He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" — work of the burning fire! (Mt 3:12). Both these symbols of wind and fire were present on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2,3). But they were not witnessed in the subsequent instances.
The Holy Spirit is God. He is a "consuming fire" (Heb 12:29). He consumes with "jealousy" all idols in our lives (Dt 4:23,24; Ex 20:4,5). He commands them all to be burnt up (Dt 7:5). He cannot tolerate anyone or anything take His place in our hearts. In all things He must have the preeminence! (Col 1:18). His anger is aroused when we flirt with the world (Js 4:4,5).
God is like a "refiner's fire" (Mal 3:2,3). He refines our silver to make us a useful vessel for honour (2 Tim 2:21). The process of refining will be painful. It's a baptism of suffering! (Lk 12:49,50). But as we go through the furnace, our faith which is more precious than gold will be purified even more (1 Pet 1:6,7).
When we walk daily in the "fellowship of the Holy Spirit," His fire will keep on purifying us until we become like Jesus (2 Cor 3:17,18). There's nothing as a separate experience called baptism of fire.
Some people testify about feelings of warmth in their bodies when they pray or praise. While we don't say anything against such ecstatic experiences, there is certainly no Biblical basis to call this as the baptism of fire.
"All sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation" (Mk 3:28,29; Mt 12:31,32; Lk 12:10).
Pentecostals use these words of Jesus against non-Pentecostals when the latter question the genuineness of certain Pentecostal manifestations. But what did Jesus actually mean by such strong words?
Blasphemy was punishable by death. It could not be atoned for under the Old Testament law (Lev 24:10-16). But what about the provision under the New Covenant that "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from ALL sin?"
Why did Jesus say that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was more serious than that against Himself?
The Father conceived the plan of redemption; the Son accomplished redemption according to the plan of the Father; the Holy Spirit applies the redemption accomplished by the Son. The Holy Spirit is the only force that can convict us of our sin and lead us to repentance (Jn 16:7-11). Without His help, no one will be able to call Christ as Lord (1 Cor 12:3). If anyone blasphemes the Spirit, there will be no one left to cause him to repent. Jesus Christ is God's first Comforter. The Holy Spirit is God's second Com-forter. There's no "third" Comforter in the administration of God!
Any sin is against the Holy Spirit because He is God. We are warned repeatedly against resisting, grieving or quenching Him. But blasphemy means denouncing with abusive and malignant language. It was when the people and scribes judged Jesus as mad and demon-possessed, He spoke about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In effect, they had called the Holy Spirit as Beelzebub (Mk 3:21,22,28-30).
Immediately after warning against blaspheming the Spirit, Jesus served several analogies like "bad tree... brood of vipers... evil treasure" (Mt 12:33-35). He called His accusers in this context as "an evil and adulterous generation" (v 39). So it is clear that their blasphemy was not merely an utterance of the lips, but an expression of character.
There's a similar reference to this sin in Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-29. The author points out the impossibility of repentance and the awful judgment for those who have "insulted the Spirit of Grace" and "put the Son of God to an open shame." This is obviously outright apostasy resulting from a deliberate and persistent rejection of Christ.
Stanley Horton (1916- ), an outstanding Pentecostal leader, has warned, "Only God knows whether in any particular case a person's denial of the work of the Spirit comes from willfulness or from ignorance." There are thousands who attributed the Pentecostal experience to the devil but who later repented or had their eyes opened and were baptized with the Spirit. Hear Paul: "Although I was formerly a blasphemer, I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" (1 Tim 1:13).
There are many strange phenomena these days which are claimed to be of the Holy Spirit. No one is under obligation to accept these so, when these lack clear Biblical evidence. We must stay cautious but "judge nothing before the time!"
(Read also Christian Doctrine : "What is the sin that leads to death?")
On the face of the following plain and positive promises of God, it is inconceivable how a child of God can be demon-possessed—
"There is no sorcery against Jacob, nor is there any divination against Israel" (Num 23:23).
"I give you authority over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you" (Lk 10:18,19).
"My sheep hear My voice... My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand" (Jn 10:27-29).
"He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 Jn 4:4).
A believer may be afflicted or even controlled by demons in certain areas of his being, but he can never be owned as an unbeliever can be. We may be deceived, oppressed and obsessed but never possessed (Mt 24:24; 1 Pet 5:8,9). Demons may influence our thoughts, emotions and actions when we fail to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Peter was once thoroughly influenced by Satan (Mt 16:23). A post-Pentecost example can be Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3,9). But none of these was possession.
Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit and evil spirits can never coexit (2 Cor 6:15,16). The Holy Spirit can be resisted, grieved and quenched. But He does not quit us when we sin. Even under the Old Covenant, David after his sin did not pray to get back the Holy Spirit. Rather he pleaded with God not to take away the Spirit from him (Psa 51:11).
Jesus was zealous for the Temple (Mt 21:12,13). So also the Holy Spirit is possessive of our bodies. He will not vacate a body that is purchased with the precious blood of Jesus, and leave it to the archenemy of God (1 Pet 1:18,19; Eph 4:30). Vacating even a tenant is difficult these days! Is it possible for a lesser power to vacate the Divine Owner? "When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a flag against him" (Isa 59:19).
Passages like Ephesians 6:10-18 stress the need for believers to be fully armed and be on constant alert to counterattack the enemy. The fullness of the Spirit and of the Scriptures is the insurance against demon-possession. When believers backslide, break fellowship with other believers, become involved in sinful and occult practices, and turn a deaf ear to the repeated warnings of the Scriptures and the Spirit, they are voluntarily walking into the danger zone.
Certain cases of believers possessed with evil spirits are reported these days. There are too many factors involved in it to give a simplistic explanation. In the absence of any clearcut Biblical example after the commencement of the New Covenant, we cannot establish a truth based on uncommon instances.
Can a beliver be demon-possessed? NO, BUT BE WATCHFUL!
Binding Satan today is neither possible nor taught in the Bible. But this is widely practised in several deliverance ministries.
The power over demons was seen and witnessed most spectacularly during the earthly ministry of Christ. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 Jn 3:8). Jesus rebuked and cast away the devil but He never once bound him.
Also during the ministry of the early Church the power over demons was mightily manifest (Acts 8:7; 19:12). But the apostles or the disciples never once attempted to bind the devil. Because, the command of their Lord was simply to "cast out" demons (Mt 10:8; Mk 16:17).
The Bible is quite clear on what we are expected to do with the devil: Give no place to the devil (Eph 4:27); Stand against the devil (Eph 6:11); Resist the devil (Js 4:7); Be vigilant against the devil (1 Pet 5:8). Exceeding these Scriptural limits will amount to presumption and lead to dismay.
There are preachers who have "bound" Satan so many times! Who untied him afterwards? How is he free as ever? Was the knot loose?
Jesus told Peter, "I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on the earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven" (Mt 16:19). This has no reference whatsoever to binding Satan. Is there Satan in Heaven to be bound or loosed? This passage just speaks of our heavenly authority on earth. And in matters of discipline we can declare guilt or innocence (Mt 18:17,18). That would be endorsed by Heaven.
"Binding the strong man" simply means that we release people "from the power of Satan to God" by the Spirit of God and "gather" them with Christ (Mt 12:28-30; Acts 26:18). The Gospel is the "power of God," and when it is preached in the power of the Spirit it releases people from the bondage of Satan (Rom 1:16; Acts 1:8). Before the captivating power of God, which is greater than that of Satan, the latter stands as if bound when souls are released (1 Jn 4:4; Acts 13:6-12). Here again there is no direct teaching that we may bind Satan.
We must wait for the Millennium to see the devil bound. An angel from Heaven with "the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain" will do it! Even after this he will be released for a little while so people may be given a free choice (Rev 20:1-3).
Another common unscriptural practice is to command the devil to go to hell or the bottomless pit. God has not asked us to do that. There is only one instance where Jesus told the devils "where" to go and that too at their request! (Mt 8:31,32). The devil is the prince of the air. If we can send him and all his army to hell today, where is spiritual warfare? (Eph 2:2; 6:12).
I have also heard preachers cursing the devil. We are simply not permitted to do this. Even "Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke you!" (Jude 9).
The devil knows the Scripture too well. He will laugh away when we try to do things we ought not to be doing!
The endtime outpouring of the Holy Spirit which began on the Day of Pentecost is getting intensified as we approach the end of the endtime. The "all flesh" mentioned in the promise of Joel's prophecy has enlisted people of all nations, denominations and sections (Acts 2:17). There's virtually no Christian group which is not affected by what God through His Spirit is doing today. The Roman Catholic Church is no exception. Thousands of Roman Catholics including priests testify of having been baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues and manifesting the gifts of the Spirit. This bothers those Protestants who look at Roman Catholics merely as Mary-worshippers. They question how it is possible for someone to remain a Roman Catholic and still claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Clarity in this matter is vital because Roman Catholicism is the single largest segment in Christendom. Even in India many non-Christians identify Christianity more with the name Mary than that of Christ.
God is sovereign. This is where we must begin. He can do anything. What He did in the case of Cornelius gets repeated so often in Church history. Cornelius was not a Christian. But he was "a devout man and one who feared God, who gave alms generously... and prayed to God always" (Acts 10:2). He was walking according to the light he had received. God who is impartial poured out His Holy Spirit on him and his family even before the preacher had finished his sermon or they got baptized in water (Acts 10:34, 44-46). When God baptizes with the Spirit devout Roman Catholics who worship God the Creator, who are we to stay God's hand? (Acts 11:17).
God's blessings of course do not endorse our practices. In Christian initiation the general order is first repentance, then baptism, and after that receiving the Spirit (Acts 2:38; Heb 6:1,2). Even though in Cornelius' case, the third preceded the second, the necessity of the second, namely water baptism, was not ruled out. Rather, Peter instructed them to be baptized immediately (Acts 11:47,48). Such a positive approach instead of a judgemental attitude will encourage Roman Catholics to embrace all truth.
Even though we the Protestants have come out of Roman Catholicism, the Roman Catholicism has not come out of most of us. We bow before a cross and they before a crucifix. The priesthood of all believers is more a theory than a practice amidst us. We still widely divide God's people into clergy and laity. Special dresses and titles which were unknown to New Testament ministers in the early Church are in vogue among us. Most of our testimonies reveal that we are yet to understand what is salvation by grace and not of works. There is so much of ritualism in our breadbreaking services.
Roman Catholics pray to or through Mary keeping her as the mediator. Protestants use preachers as mediators. Both are abominable before God. Prayers are sold by several healing evangelists as the Pope in the Middle Ages sold forgiveness tickets to raise funds for Churches or monasteries. Roman Catholics burn candles for statues, and we garland pictures. One is three-dimensional idolatry and the other two-dimensional! And someone said, "The Roman Catholics have only one Pope, but the Protestants have many!" The list is endless. This is not to approve of Roman Catholic practices but to alert Protestants to set their house in order. The message to both Roman Catholics and Protestants is this: "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men (both the groups) everywhere to repent (change)" (Acts 17:30).
There are several things we must learn from our Roman Catholic friends. The R.C. Church is basically not divided. Oh, how many denominations, and divisions within denominations in Protestantism! The discipline and dedication of the R.C. fathers and nuns are highly challenging. Corruption is least heard of among them. Unlike us they don't sell Church properties or swindle money. No property is registered in the personal name of a priest. Their accounting is so clean that they don't need to bribe income-tax officials. In the matter of updating Bible translations, we are more sentimental than they. They go all out to bring the Bible in contemporary language to reach non-Christians. No one can beat them in social work. Maintenance of their buildings and campuses shames us. What a reverential fear they show in Church services! God is not unjust to forget all these works and labour of love (Heb 6:10). He accepts works of righteousness whoever does it in the fear of Him (Acts 10:34,35). Let's thank God for His visitation to the Roman Catholic Church.
Father Berchmanns of Tamilnadu, India, who was formerly a Roman Catholic priest, is a classic example. He received the baptism with the Holy Spirit while he was very much a part of the R.C. Church. Who can question the genuineness of his anointing?
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (Jn 16:13). This does not happen overnight. Revelation as well as reformation come in stages.
In conclusion, here are my exhortations to Catholic Charismatics: (1) Read the Bible regularly and diligently. Begin with the New Testament. (2) Be baptized in water as Christ has commanded. (3) Stop praying to or through Mary or any saint. Pray directly to the Father God in the Name of Jesus His Son. (4) Don't worship statues. No more idolatry of any sort. (5) Attend worship services in Churches where the Bible is faithfully preached. (6) Join teams of Christians who go out for evangelism. (7) Support missionary activities and social work among the needy and unreached peoples. "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6).
Undoubtedly there's a spiritual awakening everywhere among Christians of all nations and denominations. Many believe that this is the revival they had been longing and praying for. Several others are quite skeptical about it because of its certain questionable features. How are we to discern the current awakening then?
Revival is not normative for the Church. Only a sick or backslidden Church needs revival. It was when the joy of the Lord among His people was absent, the Psalmist prayed, "O God, will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?" (Psa 85:6). The call to repentance and promises of revival blessing were given in the Old Testament times when the people of God went astray. But God does not desire the New Testament Church to follow the ups-and-downs pattern. We are admonished to be always rejoicing in the Lord, always abounding in His work, and always expecting the return of His Son (Phil 4:4; 1 Cor 15:58; Mk 13:35-37). However, because the Church as it is today is not what it should be, she needs a revival for restoration.
Saints of God over the years have been interceding before the Throne for a mighty visitation of God's Spirit among His people. They have been crying to God for a latter rain with the understanding that Pentecost was the former rain (Zech 10:1). I believe that the present awakening is an answer to that prayer. But it has not fully met our needs yet. As the famous hymn goes,
Mercy drops round us are falling;
But for the showers we plead!
We need a revival of righteousness (Hos 10:12). A revival that will heal our backsliding and lukewarmness and bring us to deep repentance. Such a revival will affect the very moral climate of the society around us (2 Chron 7:14). Revivals under the ministries of John Wesley (1703-1791), D. L. Moody (1837-1899) and Charles Finney (1792-1875) had this characteristic.
We need a revival that will lead us to reprioritize our lives. The time we spend in prayer should become more delightsome than what we spend in talking to men (Psa 84:10). Bible meditation should be desired more than food (Job 23:12). The extension of the Kingdom of God should occupy our thoughts more than the earthly concerns (Mt 6:33). Giving to God must excite us more than receiving blessings from Him (Acts 20:35b). Selfishness should give place to sacrificial service for the good of others (Phil 2:4,5).
There are traces of such benefits in the modern day revival, but the questionable things seem to outnumber the desired blessings. The focus seems to be more on physical manifestations like falling, crawling, shaking and laughing than on the spiritual aspects mentioned in the last two paragraphs. When God visits His people in a new and powerful way, the devil also becomes hyperactive. He is a master counterfeit. He sows tares and it becomes difficult to differentiate them from genuine grains (Mt 13:24-30). Because there's mixture in any revival, discernment becomes difficult. We are not able to say it is 100% false. The safest way is to keep emphasizing growth in inner graces and not crossing Biblical boundaries. We can be analytical without becoming negative. We must not throw away the baby with the bath water.
The men and women whom God uses in revivals have an awesome responsibility in building up God's people and bringing them to maturity. Merely keeping the people excited and entertained may help the ministers stay popular, but the fires of testing will reveal that such activities are nothing but "wood, hay and straw" (1 Cor 3:12,13).
When we talk about revival, we must not think that everything is going to become glorious. In fact, as per the predictions of the apostles and the Lord Himself, as we approach the end of the age, there will be more lawlessness, more lovelessness, more deception, and more apostasy (Mt 24:12; 1 Tim 4:1-3). There is already a widespread revival in Hinduism, Islam and tribal religions. The long-awaited Return of Christ will be the ultimate revival for us (Acts 3:19-21).
You are already in the Church if you are born again. I mean the Universal Church which is the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit has baptized you or inducted you into Christ's Body (1 Cor 12:13). All believers are members of this Body (1 Cor 12:27).
But what is universal must be expressed locally. In the beginning of the Church age, which commenced at Pentecost, there was only one Church for each locality. We read of the Church at Corinth, the Church at Ephesus and so on. On the other hand, while speaking about provinces, we read of Churches in plural: Churches in Galatia, Churches in Asia and so on. But today the condition is quite different. There are several Churches even in one street. These are denominations or divided units. Because of this complex nature of the situation it is not possible to give an easy answer to this question. Let me however offer certain guidelines—
Every local Church has its plus points and failures, and so don't go in search of a "perfect" Church. "Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things!" (2 Tim 2:7).
New believers are usually told in follow-up talks to attend a "spiritual" Church. What the preacher means and what the people understand may be quite different from each other. If the evangelistic programme is an united effort of various Churches, the preachers would be apprehensive of clearly explaining how to identify a "spiritual" Church. This delicate issue should however be addressed.
Churches can be broadly divided as Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal. The main difference is on how one understands the experience of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. It is wrong to say that the Pentecostal Churches are all "spiritual" and others are not. In the Biblical sense, the word "spiritual" is the opposite of "carnal" or "natural." It is not the style of worship, the form of government, the mode of baptism or the method of breadbreaking that decides whether or not a Church is "spiritual." The deciding factor is its character as a group and the lifestyle of its members. The Corinthian Church was Pentecostal in every sense. It had all the gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation (1 Cor 1:7; 14:12a). But according to Apostle Paul it was not a "spiritual" Church but "carnal" (1 Cor 3:1-3).
If we honestly analyse today's situation, an unbiased assessment would be that no Church is 100% spiritual or 100% carnal. There is always a mixture of spirituality and carnality. The percentage of course varies. Some Pentecostal Churches are more carnal than non-Pentecostal Churches; and some non-Pentecostal Churches are more spiritual than Pentecostal Churches. I might upset some of my Pentecostal friends here, but truth must be faced (Gal 4:16). I have also observed that some of the so-called "spiritual" Churches have more unscriptural traditions than some of the so-called "traditional" Churches.
After rebirth one should choose a local Church where he can really "grow" into maturity. That's God's desire concerning each of His children. Ask the following questions before choosing a Church—
There are several other characteristics one should look for in a spiritual church, but these five are the basic. Aim for the ideal but accept and work with the actual and optimize your expectations. Because no single local Church has it all, do visit other Churches for enlarging your vision and expanding your knowledge. One's strength will help the other in his weakness.
When a person is born again, he becomes a child of God (Jn 1:12), a citizen in the Kingdom (Col 1:13) and a member of the Body of Christ (1 Cor 11:12,13). His name gets registered in Heaven (Heb 12:23). God is his Father, and Jesus is his Elder Brother (Heb 2:10-13). This company of the redeemed of the Lord is called the Church (Acts 2:47; Heb 12:22-24). All the members in it have an equal standing.
To illustrate the mystical union with Christ today, the Church is called His Body (1 Cor 12:27; Eph 5:30,32). To explain her literal and eternal union with the Lord tomorrow, she is pictured as His Bride (Rev 19:7; 21:2,9). Therefore the Bridal Church can be defined as the congregation of God's people who are preparing themselves for the marriage of the Lamb.
No single Church or denomination can exclusively claim to be the Bride. Members of the Bridal Church are found in all the Churches and denominations all over the world. They are not only in the Ephesian Church but also the Corinthian Church (2 Cor 11:2). Christ loves everyone of them. He is sanctifying and cleansing them that "He might present the Church to Himself... not having spot or wrinkle" (Eph 5:25-27).
There are some who divide believers into two groups as "guests" for the marriage and the "bride." This is a sheer misunderstanding of the figurative language of the Scriptures. Guests invited to the marriage of the Lamb are not just friends. They are the very Bride. Jesus Himself called His disciples as the "friends of the bridegroom" (Mt 9:15). Did He mean they would simply attend the marriage of the Lamb and not be married to Him?! Saints are called the living stones of the Household of God (1 Pet 2:5). Does it then mean they would not be the Bride but just be the house where the Bride and Groom would stay?!
Beware of any group or Church which excludes other believers and which claims superiority. Its doctrines may appear to be of a deeper revelation but they will actually paralyse God's people from fulfilling His purposes on earth.
When the Church lost its "first love," it had a form of godliness but no power. The backslidden Church went into total apostasy and that was the "dark ages" of its history. Lest the Church would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord had left a "very small remnant" of true believers (Isa 1:8,9). The Reformation of the 15th century set the stage for the restoration of the lost truths and power to the Church. With Martin Luther (1483-1546) came the restoration of the truth of Justification by Faith. God used John Wesley (1703-1791), Charles Finney (1792-1875) and several others to restore the truths of Sancti-fication by the Spirit, and the Gifts of the Spirit. Refor-mation is not complete yet. As such no single Church or denomination has it all. Each has its strengths and weak-nesses. When Christians are not satisfied with one Church, they join the other. Some Churches are strong in structure but not fervent enough in Spirit, whereas others are aflame in the Spirit but weak in structure. Therefore several believers tend to hold dual membership, one in a well-structured Church and the other in a live spiritual one. Is it right?
It is difficult to find a direct Biblical answer to this question, because in the New Testament times there was only one Church in each town (1 Cor 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; Rev 2:1,8,12, etc.). If it was a province like Galatia, there was more than one Church (Gal 1:2). Today even in a single street or locality we have so many Churches. We cannot say whether this is God's perfect will or simply His permissive will. As such an answer to our question cannot be dogmatic but has to be just pragmatic.
A good percentage of members in the Pentecostal and other free Churches is from mainline and orthodox Churches. Some of these Christians have left their "mother" Churches for good, whereas others would like to take advantage of the plus points of both the old and the new Churches. When children, because of their education in English medium, prefer English services to vernaculars, parents have to strike a compromise. Some Churches may be very spiritual but they don't have systematic and specialised ministries to children and youth. Young people would prefer an enthusiastic youth pastor who addresses their issues openly and practically. They will suffocate in a Church dominated by older people who resist change.
There's another situation where dual membership is thought about. Suppose a Pentecostal man goes on job transfer to a place where there is only a Baptist Church. As long as he is there, he must happily function as a member of that Church. Marriage is another factor. Should a bride be forced to give up her Methodist membership when she marries a Lutheran groom?
Some believers who join new Churches for their spiritual growth would like to retain their membership in the old Churches for the blessing of the members of the latter. Paul and the other apostles did not sever their links totally with the Jewish congregations, even though they started house Churches (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 13:14-16; 14:1; 17:1-3; 18:4). They worked in the existing structures to reach the masses. Once an angel himself told the apostles, "Go, stand in the Temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life" (Acts 5:19,20). On one occasion Paul even performed certain rites like purification in the Temple (Acts 21:26). He got Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). He knew that circumcision had no place in Christian faith, but he acted with practical wisdom. To the Jew he became as a Jew. This he did "for the gospel's sake" so that he might "by all means save some" (1 Cor 9:19-23).
Under ideal conditions, believers should devote themselves to one local Church, and maintain cordial relationship with the members of other Churches. But in today's context, if there are legitimate reasons like the ones mentioned above, it is not wrong to hold dual membership if that's permissible. Single membership or dual membership does not affect or alter our position as members of "One Body" and as sheep under "One Shepherd" (1 Cor 12:12,13,20,27; 1 Pet 2:25; Heb 13:20,21; Jn 10:16). However, what I have written here should not be used as a cloak for indiscipline and unaccountability.
Anyone who is commissioned by the Lord to preach the gospel can baptise those who respond to the message (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15,16).
Nowadays mostly the pastors baptise the converts. But in the Acts record we consistently observe that baptism was administered by evangelists and missionaries (apostles). Philip the evangelist baptised the Samaritan believers and the Ethiopian official (Acts 8). Lydia and her family were baptised by Paul or one of his missionary team members (Acts 16). The jailor and his family were baptised by missionaries Paul and Silas (Acts 16). And so on.
Ananias who baptised Paul is simply introduced as "a certain disciple" (Acts 9:10). When there's a special need and guidance, any Spirit-filled believer can baptise the gospel respondents. But under ordinary circumstances, it is advisable that a minister of the gospel administers baptism. It does not matter whether or not he is a fulltimer. There's however no record in the New Testament of a lady baptiser.
Anyone who thinks that those baptised by him belong to him is not worthy of this holy job. Apostle Paul didn't even remember whom all he baptised! (1 Cor 1:14-16). The Spirit of the Lord snatched away Evangelist Philip before he collected the official's address and the first offering! (Acts 8:39). Prominent ministers should resist the temptation to administer baptism themselves. When they let their associates do it, the emphasis goes to the act and that is important. What an example Jesus set! He let His disciples do the baptising (Jn 4:1,2).
Some Pentecostals in India insist on rebaptising those baptised by Brother Bakth Singh because he never spoke in tongues! Another group calls the baptism administered by married ministers invalid! A little sanctified common sense will expose the folly of these views. While baptising we just assist a believer in making a covenant of clear conscience with the Lord (1 Pet 3:21b).
The highest form of Christian service is the worship of the Almighty. The chief end of all evangelistic labour and missionary endeavour is to raise worshipping congregations to the praise of God's glory (Rom 10:14; 15:9-11). In order to teach the new congregations how to make worship rich and regular, prayers of praise and thanksgiving were written down by Church leaders to be read out in worship services. But in course of time such readings became a meaningless routine and an empty ritual. This led Prophets like A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) to call worship as the "missing jewel of evangelical Christianity!" But in the recent years there is a worldwide outpouring of the spirit of praise and worship as a fresh breeze into an otherwise suffocating situation. Over-excited Christians in response have totally abandoned the old forms or the liturgical pattern of worship and adopted the freestyle. This has created a tension between the older people and the younger generation as well as between the mainline Churches and newer congregations. How to ease the situation?
It was under the anointing of the Holy Spirit that the Church leaders of the yesteryears wrote down prayers for public worship. It is the same Holy Spirit who has raised numerous worship leaders these days to lead congregations into rapturous worship. Maturity therefore demands that both are accepted as complementing each other rather than contradicting.
In His discourse with the Samaritan woman Jesus insisted how worship must be offered both "in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:24). While writing down regulations for the operation of gifts in public, apostle Paul mentioned that praying and singing must be both "with the spirit and with the understanding" (1 Cor 14:15). Liturgical prayers are unquestionably rich in content whereas freestyle praise and worship often tends to be repetitive and of limited coverage of Biblical revelation. At the same time liturgical prayers limit the free expression of the worshipper's inner feelings. One needs the other. Each group must add a little bit from the other for a healthy balance. No form is superior or inferior to the other. As much as many who had been used to only liturgical worship find the new wave quite refreshing, several people grow tired of the sameness and leanness of the content of the freestyle of worship and begin to feel that "the old is better!" (Lk 5:39).
Physical posture in worship is another factor to be considered. Except standing, bowing and kneeling no other posture is generally encouraged in Churches which follow liturgical order. But the other expressions sanctioned in the Bible namely lifting up of hands (Psa 134:2; 1 Tim 2:8), clapping of hands (Psa 47:1) and dancing (Psa 149:3; 150:4) are freely practised in the other group. The first group must come out of its apprehensions if partiality to the Scripture is to be avoided. Of course culture has a role to play here. The Bible was written in the middle-eastern culture. No form of expression mentioned here seems to be totally objectionable to any culture. Emotionalism is unedifying but emotions are God-given to be expressed in our love for Him and our fellowmen (Mt 22:37-39).
Some of those who can intensely enjoy the singing of a thousand voice choir cannot tolerate the noisy worship of charismatics. They criticize it as disorderliness inappropriate for a divine service. Here again the Bible teaches both. Psalm 46 says, "Be still, and know that I am God" (v10), whereas the very next Psalm calls us to "shout to God with the voice of triumph" (Psa 47:1). Zechariah 2:10 calls us to "sing and rejoice" whereas the 13th verse exhorts all people to "be silent before the Lord!" I call upon Pentecostals to do things more "decently and in order" (1 Cor 14:40). I encourage non-Pentecostals to add more enthusiasm and excitement to worship to make it livelier. I remind sober worshippers that silence is rather rare in Heaven! (Rev 8:1). Pentecostals at the same time must stop condemning non-Pentecostal worship as dead. Noise alone is not proof of life. Don't take out of context the verse 2 Corinthians 3:17, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The context is liberty from the Law of Moses (vv 14-16) and it does not mean license to behave as we please in God's presence. Reverential fear can never be forsaken in worship (Eccl 5:1,2; Heb 12:28,29).
A word about music: Oldtimers do not relish jarring music and fast beats. The feelings of elders must be respected to maintain harmony in congregations. At the same time, in order that we may not lose the younger and future generations, the elders must become more tolerant and not resist all change.
The old hymns have no par for their theological content (Eph 5:18,19; Col 3:16). They cover a huge variety of subjects whereas most of the modern choruses repeat just a few thoughts and are not doctrinally sound enough. I would urge composers to sit with Bible teachers before releasing their songs and choruses. Worship that lacks theology (= knowledge of God) is undesirable to God (Hos 6:3,6). Even in Heaven we will be using the ancient Song of Moses (Rev 15:3,4; Dt 32).
I come from high Anglican tradition, but I am comfortable with both Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal forms of worship as long as worship stems from the "heart" and is not merely the sound of "lips" or motion of "hands!" (Isa 29:13; 1:15).
Dancing is a rythmic movement of the body, usually done to musical accompaniment. Throughout past ages, dancing has been linked with worship. The Book of Psalms was the songbook of the people of Israel and it repeatedly called the worshippers to praise God with dance (Psa 149:3; 150:4).
Dancing is a celebration of victory. Led by Miriam, the Israelite women danced celebrating the victory of God's people over the armies of Pharaoh (Ex 15:19-21). Jephtha's daughter welcomed him with dance when he returned after victory over the people of Ammon (Judg 11:34). The women joyfully danced with singing when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistines (1 Sam 18:6,7).
Dancing is an expression of joy and jubilance. But when the people of God backslided and went into apostasy, joy was cut off from the house of God. Jeremiah lamented, "Our dance has turned into mourning" (Lam 5:15,16; Joel 1:16). David cried, "Will You not revive us again that Your people may rejoice in You?" (Psa 85:6). He longed for the days when mourning would be turned to dancing (Psa 30:11).
David danced before God when the ark of God was being brought back to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:12-15). It was a type of the restoration of God's glory in the Church (1 Sam 4:21). We are in the days of revival and restoration. It is therefore not a surprise that this way of worshipping God in the dance is being recovered today (Jer 31:11-13).
Just like singing, dancing can be organized or spontaneous. One is not superior to the other. The Jewish people developed their own type of dancing. The Western world has its own style. The Indian dance is known for its fine and artistic movements. Churches should encourage both solo and group dancing in their worship and witness. It is such a delightful and edifying experience to join the tribal believers in their dance to worship the Almighty.
The Salvation Army used to go on gospel processions in the streets with their highly organized musical band. All the Christian groups can organize such open-air processions with music, singing and dance to celebrate the victory of the Lord and show forth His praise (Psa 68:24,25). The Palm Sunday procession is a classic example (Mt 21:8-11). Such expressions of praise will be common-place in Heaven. Better practise them now! (Rev 7:9,10).
The Preacher wrote, "To everything there is a season... A time to mourn and a time to dance" (Eccl 3:1,4). Times of self-examination and repentance with tears usually result in joyful praise. Another prescription for spontaneous exuberance is soulwinning. The only place where the word "dance" is mentioned in a good sense in the New Testament is the story of the prodigal son (Lk 15:22-25). The angels in heaven also join this dance! (v10). Harvest dances are popular in rural India.
However, no congregation should be pressurised directly or indirectly into any particular form of worship. Each believer is free to choose whatever mode of expression he thinks is best to offer his praise and worship. The psychological make-up of each individual is different. God delights in variety. Unity is not uniformity. Women are generally more emotional than men. This may be one reason why most of the dances mentioned in the Old Testament were by women!
In a New Testament congregation where men and women worship together, any culturally unacceptable expression must be avoided and everything should be done "decently and in order!"
Never! "What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? What part has a believer with an unbeliever?" (2 Cor 6:14-16).
In the early Church, only those who received the Word and were baptised joined in the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42,46). We read only of the "disciples" coming together to break bread (20:7).
The bread is the communion of the Body of Christ. Those who are not organs of the Body of Christ cannot partake of that bread (1 Cor 10:16,17). Only those who are born again or those who are baptised by the Spirit into the Body of Christ have a right to the Lord's Table. If those who have not become the Children of God by repentance and faith dare to participate in the Lord's Supper, those who are born again should not become part of it. We should not provoke the Lord to anger.
The Passover is a type of the Lord's Table. The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "This is the ordinance of the Passover: No outsider shall eat it. But every man's servant who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then he may eat it. A sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat it" (Ex 12:43-45). Today the circumcision is of the heart. Only those who have experienced the miracle of new creation can enjoy the new covenant meal.
If in your Church or assembly the bread and wine are served to those who are not born again, have a chat with the pastor and request him to stop it. If he refuses, you have no other go than to partake of the Lord's Supper in another assembly where only believers are served. There are levels in fellowship and therefore such an arrangement to agree with one's conviction should not be difficult.
During the Passover supper with His disciples Jesus rose up from where He was sitting and started washing their feet one by one. After this beautiful symbolic act He told them, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13: 1-15). Some believers have taken these words of Jesus literally and insist on footwashing before breadbreaking. Whereas others see in this act only a servanthood principle taught by Christ from a cultural practice. Who is right?
In Egypt, Syria and Palestine people washed the dust from their feet when they entered a house (Gen 18:4). After a long journey in a warm climate, washing of feet with cold water before returning to bed was refreshing (Gen 19:2). It was also a sign of warm welcome (Gen 24:31,32; 43:23,24). The Lord Jesus mildly reproved Simon the Pharisee, in whose house He was a guest, for failing to give Him water for this purpose (Lk 7:44). Even today in certain tribal villages in India, missionaries are advised not to enter the village if no one comes out to meet them at the entrance of the village to pour water on their feet. In affluent homes of the Middle East, it is the duty of a servant to give water or wash the feet. But Jesus reversed the role to teach us how to "serve one another through love" (Jn 13:14; Gal 5:13b).
There are three criteria by which an ordinance is determined. It must have been (a) commanded by Christ (Gospels); (b) practiced by the early Church (Acts); and (c) explained by the apostles (Epistles). Thus only Baptism and the Lord's Supper are qualified as the ordinances of the Church. Of course there's nothing that prevents believers from washing one another's feet in a worship meetings or a breadbreaking services or any gathering. I love to do this whenever there's an opportunity. The staff of the Blessing Youth Mission used to wash one another's feet in their special gatherings and we found it extremely meaningful. But it cannot be insisted as an ordinance. Those who see only a spiritual lesson from the act of footwashing by Jesus but who never practice it literally are not wrong. Maturity grants liberty in such matters.
The New Testament admonishes us atleast five times to greet one another with a "holy kiss" (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14). But we don't generally practise it in our Churches because this is not culturally acceptable in many parts of India. Footwashing is similar to kissing as an act of greeting and welcome (Lk 7:44,45). Let's not fight over cultural practices and lose the greater virtues of love and acceptance.
In the Old Testament there was a distinction between the members of the congregation and the ministers. Only the prophets, priests and kings were anointed. But under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit comes on "all flesh"— that is, all the people of God— "sons, daughters, young men, old men, menservants, maidservants" (Acts 2:16-18). All believers in Christ are kings and priests to God now and in eternity (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:4-6). There are no two groups called clergy and laity. All of God's people are clergy. Each believer is a minister to God and people with varying responsibilities and various gifts.
Even before the New Covenant was actually established, Jesus spoke against the Jewish synagogue practice of using special titles and wearing special dresses (Mt 23:1-10). His twofold argument was: "One is your Father who is in heaven... You are all brothers." In any matter, the words of Christ are final and we dare not modify it.
The apostles followed Christ's teaching closely in the Church. We don't read of Rev. Paul or Rt. Rev. Peter or Father John in Acts or the Epistles. Peter addressed Paul simply as "Brother Paul" (2 Pet 3:15). One of the outstanding Indian apostles, Bakht Singh (1903-2000), never let anyone call him Rev. Bakht Singh. Pastor G. Sundaram of Chennai (1908-1989), one of the godly pastors of India, had his name printed anywhere as Brother G.Sundaram only. Once upon a time the Pentecostal pastors were making fun of the ministers of the mainline Churches for using clerical titles. But now they themselves are hunting for the same. What a shame! If we change anything it must be to get closer to the Scriptures and not another manmade tradition. Even the angel, who brought the Revelation to John, introduced himself as a "brother" (Rev 19:10; 22:9).
The introduction of clerical titles was made in latter years when the Church went drifting away from the simple New Testament Church pattern to hierarchial systems. The great Protestant Reformation was not a total restoration of the New Testament Christianity. In fact the reformation is not complete yet. Every step of restoration is both costly and painful. But that is the call of the Head of the Church: "Remember from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else..." (Rev 2:5).
The act of ordination is only for appointing a person for a specific function and not for awarding any "title" (Acts 13:2,3; Tit 1:5). For example, Paul and Barnabas, who were "prophets and teachers" in the local Church at Antioch, came to be known as "apostles" after they were ordained and released for a translocal ministry (Acts 13:1; 14:14). We can say Apostle Paul, Evangelist Philip or Pastor Timothy, because these are ministerial or functional titles with Biblical approval. But not Reverend or Father. "Holy and Reverend is HIS Name!" (Psa 111:9).
The present craze among Indian preachers is for honorary Doctorates. Titles don't make one great. Some of these doctorates are two a penny these days. I thank the Hindustan Bible Institute, Chennai, for honouring me in 2000 with a Doctorate in Divinity as an acknowledgement of my contribution to the Body of Christ. Some people now call me as Dr. Stanley but I prefer to ever be addressed as Brother Stanley.
One may argue that there were many great men mightily used of God in Church history who had used clerical titles. This is no reason for continuing the practices of the "times of ignorance." God's tolerance does not mean His sanction. The earlier we discard the old wineskins, the more we can enjoy the new wine!
A major portion of Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians deals with problems which existed in their Church. He gives his "frank answers" to more than ten of their questions. God in His Sovereign wisdom has included this Epistle in the canon of the Scriptures because the issues dealt with by the apostle are timeless. The first half of the eleventh chapter of the Epistle discusses the matter of head covering. I urge you to go through verses 1 to 16 atleast thrice without prejudice before reading the comments below.
"Women's hair was a common object of lust in antiquity. To fail to cover their hair was thought to provoke male lust. Headcovering prevailed in Jewish Palestine and elsewhere, but upper-class women eager to show off their fashionable hairstyles did not practise it. Therefore Paul had to address a clash in the Church between upper-class fashion and lower-class concern" (The IVP Bible Background Commentary).
It is beyond doubt that the apostle took a positive stand in favour of headcovering. He gave atleast four reasons for his conclusion. First, the headship of God, of Christ and of man (1 Cor 11:3-8). Secondly, he presents God's purpose of creation of man and woman (v 9). Thirdly, he speaks of the angels who observe our worship and are concerned about God's order of administration in the Church (v 10). Remember, the archangel who rebelled against God's headship became Satan? Lastly, Paul reminds us of "nature" (v15). This verse implies that for a woman to have a headcovering in addition to her long hair is to say amen to the divine ordination.
It is unwise to totally set aside the matter of headcovering as merely cultural. Such an approach will ultimately discard so many precious New Testament passages as irrelevant. For example, the Lord's Supper, which is discussed in the second half of the same chapter, is essentially symbolic and it was also instituted in the Jewish cultural context! We must guard ourselves against losing the power of symbolism in Christian life.
Modern hairstyles and dress fashions are erasing the sex distinctions. Keeping the apostolic "traditions" will save us from a cataclysmic collapse (v 2). Anyone who understands the trend of the age with the mind of the Lord will only urge for a conservative conduct in the House of God where men and women gather for worship (Jer 6:16; 1 Tim 3:14,15).
Moreover, covering of head by women in the Church generally offends no one whereas if they don't cover, it does offend atleast some. What do we lose by embracing an ancient symbolic custom upheld by the apostles? Eighty percent of Indian population is rural and this is the most unevangelised sector. Headcovering by women in villages as a mark of respect and reverence is deep-rooted in culture. Let's preserve it while planting Churches here.
There are many sincere believers who hold an exactly opposite view in this matter of headcovering. The conclusion of Paul to his argument will help us maintain a spiritual unity in spite of such differences: "If anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the Churches of God" (v16).
Apostle Paul, while writing to Timothy instructions on how men and women should conduct themselves in the Church, said, "I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Tim 2:8). In the very next verse he exhorted women to dress modestly and concentrate on inner virtues rather than on outward appearance (v 9). This has given rise to the question whether women can lift hands like men in worship.
The passage does not suggest that Paul would not allow women folks lift hands in worship. In fact the 9th verse begins with the phrase, "in like manner also!" He did not begin his exhortation to women with the conjunction, "but!" Paul's intention here was not to say that lifting up of hands was allowed for men only.
Lifting up of hands for praise and prayer was normal in Hebrew practice. Moses told Pharaoh, "I will spread out my hands to the Lord" (Ex 9:29). David prayed, "Let my prayer be set before you as incense; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psa 141:2). Solomon "spread out his hands toward Heaven" while offering the prayer of dedication of the Temple (1 Ki 8:22). The grief-stricken Ezra fell on his knees with fasting and spread out his hands to the Lord God (Ezr 9:5). God in His anger over the wickedness of Judah said, "When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you" (Isa 1:15).
Obviously the practice of lifting up of hands as a normal posture in prayer was not limited to the male members. "Miriam took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances" (Ex 15:20). How is dancing with timbrel possible without lifting up hands ever? Similarly the women who came to greet King Saul in appreciation of the new champion David were "singing and dancing... with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments" (1 Sam 18:6). Imagine such a hilarious expression with hands hanging down or folded! Were there not women folks in the great crowd which came out with palm branches in their hands to meet Jesus and sing hosanna? (Jn 12:12,13).
In tribal culture, men play the instruments and women dance. It's an accepted fact that women in general are more graceful in dancing than their male counterparts especially in fine movements. In mission fields we encourage tribal dance in worship. It's beautiful!
Those who oppose women worshipping with uplifted hands belong mostly to the section in which women wear sarees, and have to use one end of the saree to cover their heads. Those who wear salwar kameez or frocks or similar dresses have no problem. In any case, during worship men are supposed to keep their eyes closed in such conservative culture!
Some women are less expressive in physical postures of worship. They must not be pressurised directly or indirectly to lift up their hands or dance. Those women who find lifting up of hands in worship very natural and relaxing should not be criticized or discouraged. This is not a doctrinal issue at all. "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor 14:40).
Women are not second class citizens in the Kingdom of God. In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female (Gal 3:28). Both men and women have equal standing before God. The Father loves both alike (2 Cor 6:18). The husband and wife are "heirs together of the grace of life" (1 Pet 3:7). Women are not inferior to men, because one is not independent of the other (1 Cor 11:11,12).
However, in the life and ministry of the Church there are certain boundaries set for women, for their own and common good. They can prophesy, that is, speak words of "edification, exhortation and comfort" under the anointing of the Spirit (Acts 2:17,18; 21:9; 1 Cor 14:3; 11:5). But the Bible does not permit them to "teach" (1 Tim 2:12). That is, a woman cannot teach doctrines in the Church. The teaching of doctrine carries with it a sense of authority and great responsibility (2 Cor 13:10; Js 3:1). This women are not called to do. Apostle Paul gives the reason why. "Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression" (1 Tim 2:14). Women in general are more prone to deception than men.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians that it was shameful for women to "speak" in Church, he was not referring to prophesying, praying or testifying (1 Cor 14:34,35). The Corinthian women were interrupting the speakers in the Church asking questions. Paul felt it was not decent and orderly. Therefore he suggested that the wives clear their doubts by discussing with their husbands at home (v 40).
Each one should remain with God in that calling in which he is called (1 Cor 7:24). Instead of coveting the responsibilities delegated to men, women should specialise in areas where their gifts and talents can be gracefully used for the glory of God. Why touch the forbidden fruit when there are so many other fruits?
For example, women can teach women how to fulfil their God-given role at home and in the society (Tit 2:4,5). We need Miriams to lead women in praise and worship (Ex 15:20,21). There is always a scarcity for Dorcases to show love in action (Acts 9:36,39; Prov 31:20). Women can serve as helpers in the ministrial teams, both locally and translocally (Lk 8:1-3; Phil 4:3; Rom 16:6). We read about a deaconess in the Church at Cenchrea (Rom 16:1,2). Undeniably women are the best teachers for children, because of their motherly character (Prov 1:8; 31:28).
God has greatly used many women in the mission fields. In a country like India, especially in the rural areas, women alone can reach women. Nearly fifty percent of Indians is women! Wanted women like Anna to go on sharing the message of redemption! (Lk 2:36-38).
As long as they don't assume a dominant role, wives are not prohibitted from sharing in the ministry of their husbands, like Priscilla (Acts 18:25,26). They can very well involve in counselling individuals or explaining the Scriptures even to men. The authoritative teaching in the common assembly is what is discouraged. They can always share words of edification and testimonies of God's grace.
In the Bible about twenty apostles are named and all were male. The pastors or elders were always men. Note, an elder was to be the "husband" of one wife! (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:6). The leadership in the Church is reserved for men as in the home. Let's not reverse roles!
Tithing was commanded in the Law to the Jews under the Old Covenant. But the New Covenant which came into force with the death of Christ (1 Cor 11:25; Heb 9:16,17) does not teach tithing as a "law" for Christians. Even though Paul was an ardent Jew, he never once mentioned tithing even while he was writing on giving. On the other hand we are taught to give liberally, cheerfully and sacrificially (2 Cor 8:2,3; 9:6,7). In the absence of a "law" of giving in the New Covenant, there are no set rules as to where the money should be given. However, the following guidelines can be evolved from the Bible—
Quoting Malachi 3:10, there are some who teach that the "tithe" belongs to the local pastors only. This interpretation is wrong. Pastors are only one of the five groups of ministers of the New Testament Church. The other four are apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers (Eph 4:11). Of these five ministers, some are mobile or translocal and others are residential or local. Whereas the ministry of the mobile ministers is primarily to the universal Body of Christ, that of the residential ministers is to the local Church. Whatever money we set aside for God should be distributed to both these types of ministers, according to the nature and needs of their work. If a pastor demands "all the tithes" for himself, he is robbing the other four ministers of their legitimate share.
Both Paul who plants as a pioneer worker and Apollos who waters as a pastoral worker should share the Lord's money given away by the Lord's people. The shepherds who tend the sheep which are inside the fold (1 Pet 5:2) as well as those shepherds who go in search of the sheep which are outside the fold (Mt 9:36-38) are equally important. Both need the right hand of fellowship and partnership of God's people.
Praise God for the missionary-minded pastors. From what God's people give them, they take just a bare minimum for their own needs and turn over the rest to outreach ministries. It's safe to trust such ministers with large sums. But there are others in India who oppose missions and such parachurch organisations tooth and nail but open their mouths wide for dollars and deutchmarks from parachurch organisations overseas! Why this double standard? Let them refuse funds from overseas missions which thrive on the "tithes and offerings" of Christians in those lands.
The distribution of the Lord's money is a personal matter between the Christian and his Lord. Someone suggested to give half of what we set aside for the Lord's work to the local Church and distribute the other half to others. This sounds good. In any case, never yield to any threat or pressure but stand firm in the liberty by which Christ has made you free!
Beware of giving to Churches where the pulpit is used to promote modernism and shake up the faith of Christians. Don't support such apostates (2 Jn 10,11).
Make sure there's financial accounatability wherever you give the Lord's money. The civil law requires all monies to be accounted for and audited, in whatever name it's received. Beware of those who say they are accountable to God only (2 Cor 8:20,21). Invest your money in ministries that build the Kingdom of God instead of blindly giving to ministers who build their own empires and promote self-interests. Unless you give to the right hands, it may not be credited to your account in Heaven!
The numerical strength of congregations has become the status symbol for many pastors. There's a rat race among them, especially in cities and towns, as to who would have the biggest Church. Undeniably it's God's will that every congregation experiences a phenomenal growth. But pastors must count the cost of shepherding huge congregations and beware of the associated problems when "the number of disciples multiplies!" (Acts 6:1).
God's will in general is that we get scattered everywhere. Following the deluge God said to Noah and his sons, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" (Gen 9:1). But the people launched the Babel project lest they be scattered. They worked diametrically opposite to God's plan because they wanted to make "a name for themselves" (Gen 11:4). We know how God intervened and "scattered" them all over the earth (vv 7,8). The early Church in Jerusalem made a similar mistake. The plan given to the disciples by the Head of the Church was that beginning at Jerusalem they should go out as witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). But they got stuck in Jerusalem being lost in the "spiritual enjoyment" of daily gathering, daily growth and daily breadbreaking (Acts 2:46,47). God allowed severe persecution to the Church over there because that was the only way He could get them out to go everywhere! (Acts 8:1).
Already in most of our fellowships there's no fellowship. When the number increases too much, interaction between believers and mutual ministry to one another become almost impossible. Exalting the Lord together in worship is there, but edifying one another is usually absent (Eph 5:18-20). We sacrifice the horizontal dimension of fellowship and get satisfied with the vertical. Members may feel good but they don't grow (Eph 4:16). People become impersonal in their relationships.
Many pastors suffer burn-out because their ministries outgrow their capacity. They fail to consciously work within the "measure of faith" God has granted them, and exceed "the limits" He has set for them (Rom 12:3; 2 Cor 10:13). No doubt some pastors are exceptionally gifted to handle huge congregations, but their successors usually do not have the same level of anointing and they struggle even to maintain status quo. The sheep suffer malnutrition. Also pastors who have enjoyed leading big congregations usually hesitate to hand them over to anyone other than their sons or sons-in-law even though some of their fellow-elders might be more experienced and gifted. This sad trend is frequently observed in Pentecostal circles.
When the strength of a congregation exceeds a few hundreds, it is advisable to split it into smaller units and plant them in various localities. This would give opportunity to the secondliners to grow in leadership and there will be room for variety and creativity. The "chief" pastor should not be in the Sunday Service of the "headquarters" assembly all weeks. Rather he must participate in the "branch" Church services by turn and as far as possible without the prior knowledge of the people. David Wilkerson (1931-2011), the author of The Cross and the Switchblade, was the senior founder-pastor of the multinational Times Square Church in the city of New York, USA. He decided with his associate pastors as to who would preach in the next Sunday Service, but this was kept a secret until the last hymn before the sermon was sung! Pastor Wilkerson did not want people come to the Church just to hear him.
Neighbourhood evangelism will be more effective with the visible presence of Churches in various localities. Salt is useless until it is shaken out of the saltcellar. Unless we decentralise our gatherings, several communities cannot be penetrated. The secret of the amazing growth of the early Church was the numerous house Churches (Acts 2:46,47).
If congregations are not split into smaller units, too much of time, energy and money will have to be spent for construction and maintenance of buildings. Having come to the end of the age, more and more of our resources must be invested on people rather than on properties. We should be content with simple structures. Persecution is becoming widespread in India. It is easier to attack one mammoth structure than ten smaller units. Besides the hand of the Lord, "the favour of the people" of various localities will be an added strength (Acts 2:46). In military strategy all the Generals do not travel in the same vehicle!
World evangelisation is the top priority in God's agenda for the endtimes (Mt 24:14; Acts 1:7,8; 2 Pet 3:9). If this is so in our Church budget, we will not sink millions of rupees in Church buildings in the South Indian towns and cities but spend them in the States like Rajasthan and Bihar where the percentage of Christians is much less than the national average (Rom 15:20-22). This will also end secret competitions between pastors.
Paul Yongi Cho of South Korea is known as the pastor of the world's largest Church. Truly he is an inspiration to ministers but he is not the universal pattern to follow. Church history presents different models. This is not to decay mega-churches but to promote Biblical principles of Church growth.
Not only Churches but also missionary organisations should not go on increasing their size. Better to have five agencies with two hundred missionaries each than one organisation with one thousand workers. We must "lengthen" only to the extent we are able to "strengthen" (Isa 54:2). Otherwise it is presumption and not faith or vision.
Most of the Christians believe that unless a person is definitely "called," he should not enter fulltime Christian service. Others are of the opinion that it's a matter of "choice." Confusion over this matter is one of the foremost reasons for insufficient number of workers for the harvest. What has the Bible to say on this?
The text which is frequently quoted to stress the need for a definite call is Hebrews 5:4, "No man takes this honour to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was." We must not fail to notice two things here. First of all, the reference here is not to general priestly service but to the special position of a "high priest" (v 1). Secondly, the priesthood is changed under the New Covenant. Christ our elder Brother is not after the order of Aaron but that of Melchizedek (Heb 7:11-13). He arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood (v 14). Therefore the use of Hebrews 5:4 to answer our question is inappropriate.
You will be disappointed if you keep waiting for a dramatic call as in the case of Moses or Paul. Men like them were called to fulfil unique roles in the founding of the Jewish nation and the Christian Church. This is the "eleventh hour" in Church history. Those who excuse themselves saying, "No one hired us," will be fired by the Lord of the harvest, "Why have you been standing here idle all day?" (Mt 20:1-7). They were not supposed to be waiting for a call at the "marketplace." Rather, they should have gone to the "vineyard" to find out if they were needed. While searching for secular employment we knock every door and accept as God's will for us that which opens. Why not apply the same logic to get into God's work? So many Christians are unemployed or underemployed, but they never bother about the Kingdom work that is understaffed (Mt 9:37).
Don't pray, "Lord, call me," rather, "Lord, send me!" (Mt 9:38). God did NOT ask Isaiah, "Shall I send YOU? And will YOU go for Us?" Instead He said, "WHOM shall I send? And WHO will go for us?" (Isa 6:8). To a general call, Isaiah gave a personal response: "Here am I! Send me." Then God said, "Go!" (v9). It is when we volunteer to "go," God will "send" us.
"Many are called, but few chosen." Jesus made this statement twice in the Gospels, once in the parable of the vineyard and next in the parable of the wedding feast (Mt 20:16; 22:14). Both these parables teach human responsibility to respond to God's call properly. In other words, those who obey the call are the "chosen!"
God also honours the desire of parents when they commit their children for His service. Hannah, of her own self, promised God that if He would bless her with a son, she would give him away for His service. God granted her heart's desire and she kept her promise. It was after several years that God personally called Samuel (1 Sam 1:11,27,28; 3:8,9). When parents these days motivate children from very early years that they should become doctors or engineers and spare no pains to make them so, why not do so for God's work?
My mother had dedicated me, her firstborn, for God's work several years before I decided to enter fulltime ministry. I had a growing desire to invest all my time, talents and treasure in God's cause, even though I was doing quite well in my engineering profession. I realised that it was God who was planting such "desire" in my heart (Phil 2:13). I neither heard an audible voice nor saw a vision. It was a simple guidance. My wife was more than happy when I shared my decision with her. My mother embraced me with tears. My parents-in-law simply said, "Let the will of the Lord be done." Under normal circums-tances, the wife may go with her husband as he steps out into fulltime ministry. Abraham's call is good enough for Sarah also (Gen 12:5).
I have not come across instances where God has asked candidates, "Why did you come when I called you not?" Rather there are just too many Christians whom God will question, "Why didn't you come when I called you?" The disobedient outnumber the obedient.
Beware of overconsultation! Even seniors and prophets at times may misguide you (Gal 1:16; Acts 21:8-14). I encourage you to read my articles, "How to make Decisions" (Chapter 9, ENLIGHTENING ESSAYS) and "How we miss God's will" (Chapter 5, FIRE IN MY BONES).
Don't mistake me. I don't say that God expects all His children to leave their jobs and enter Christian ministry. What I say is this: Need is great. Time is short. Choice is yours. Take the first step. Proceed. If you turn to the left or to the right, God will correct you (Isa 30:21).
Jesus as a boy learnt from teachers by listening to them and asking them questions (Lk 2:46). Paul as a young man studied the Old Testament at the feet of Gamaliel, a highly respected teacher of his time (Acts 22:3; 5:34). God has placed "teachers" in the Church for the equipping, educating and edifying of the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:11-13). Teaching is therefore ordained by God. Systematic learning is a must for every believer and especially for those who enter fulltime ministry. The pulpit is polluted by preachers not trained in "rightly dividing the Word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). Someone said, The Bible today suffers more in the hands of its exponents than its opponents!
The other side of the coin is equally distressing. Liberals and modernists have somehow entered the faculty of many of our theological colleges. Imagine we have professors who are not even born again! Lot of head knowledge without a jot of heart experience. But the teachers in Bible times were quite different. Samuel was a teacher bathed in the spirit of prayer (1 Sam 12:23). Ezra had "prepared his heart" in order to teach the people (Ezr 7:10). Paul, Barnabas and the three others who were teachers in Antioch were men given to fasting and prayer (Acts 13:1,2). The apostles taught under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and not with human wisdom (1 Cor 2:13). Jesus demanded that the teachers should first be doers (Mt 5:19). Paul challenged those who divorced their life from their teaching (Rom 2:21).
Several young people in India lose their early vision, faith and zeal after entering a theological college. I have personally known some of them. Of those who are mightily used of God as Revivalists and Evangelists in India, very few are theologians. Even in the international scene, this is so. Billy Graham is not a theological graduate!
In some seminaries the teachers are mere academicians. They cannot teach their students how to hear God, fast and pray, operate spiritual gifts, cast out demons and so on. I recently came across the following lines concerning one of our well-known seminaries: "At present we have two teachers having Ph.D. in missiology. Both of them do not have firsthand missionary experience." Alarming and appalling?
In the light of these facts, one should very prayerfully decide for himself what sort of training he should have for the type of ministry he is called to. For example, a course on the principles of Church growth and a short-term missionary training are ideal for a missionary career. Besides theology, some seminaries offer courses on Christian arts, communication, music, counselling, management, youth ministry and so on. These are quite helpful. A systematic training disciplines the mind for right thinking. We thank God for the colleges which have produced some of the finest preachers, teachers and pastors.
If only one has discipline and capacity for self-study, there's an ocean of study materials to profit from. Even after entering the ministry, systematic study should continue for life.
Nothing we have is of our own. Whatever we have is what we have received from God (1 Cor 4:7). No one is original. Nothing is original. God alone is original and we are created in His "image."
Paul received most of his revelations directly from God. But he told Timothy to teach others whatever the latter had learnt from the former. And he wanted the chain to continue (2 Tim 2:2). This is God's general method of communication.
Therefore in the strict sense there is nothing wrong in using someone else's outline for preaching. But preparing one's own outline gives greater authority and confidence while delivering the sermon. We must be a voice rather than an echo!
There are several dangers in using others' sermons. There sets in a tendency to become lazy and the discipline that goes with the hard work of preparing an outline is left undeveloped. Flexibility in the pulpit under the guidance of the Spirit is very important, but with borrowed sermon outlines it is not easy. When proper acknowledgement is not given to the source we steal the credit due to another.
Books of sermon outlines by preachers of old like Charles Spurgeon abound. When one begins his public pulpit ministry, it is advisable to study some of these outlines to get an idea on how to construct sermons. To start with, some of these readymade outlines can be used with suitable modifications. But sooner one learns to walk without these crutches the better.
Quoting others while preaching will spice the sermon. Someone said, "He who does not quote will not be quoted!" When God calls a man to preach He equips him. He can freely use others' labours in sermon preparation but he must be watchful lest he misses the peculiarity God has designed for him.
The answer to this question is both "yes" and "no."
There are two categories of apostles we find in the Bible. The first is the twelve disciples Jesus personally chose during His earthly ministry and named as apostles (Lk 6:13). This group was frequently referred to as "The Twelve" (Mt 26:20; Jn 20:24; 1 Cor 15:5). They had known Jesus intimately and were eyewitnesses of the special events during the three year period. The Lord also appeared to them personally after His resurrection. This uniquely privileged group received its special authority from Christ who is "the" Apostle (Heb 3:1). He promised the twelve that they would "sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" in the recreated world (Mt 19:28). As foundational ministers of the New Testament Church, the names of the twelve apostles would be written on the twelve foundations of New Jerusalem (Eph 2:20; Rev 21:14). When Judas died suicidally, his position of apostleship was taken up by Matthias who also had been an eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus from the beginning (Acts 1:16-26). Thus these twelve formed an unique circle and there's no successor to any of them. The Bible does not suggest any addition to this category of apostles.
God however chose Paul in a special way, especially as an apostle to the gentiles, and granted him the fullfledged apostolic authority. He also received unparallelled revelations concerning the Church. Not to pride of his calling but to establish his ministry, Paul over and over again declared himself to be an apostle by Jesus' call (1 Cor 9:1; Gal 1:1,15,16).
The New Testament speaks also of other apostles who were never counted as part of "The Twelve." They were Barnabas (Acts 14:14), James (Gal 1:18,19; Acts 15), Andronicus and Junias (Rom 16:7), and several others unnamed (1 Cor 15:7).
Apostleship is the first of the five ministries the ascended Christ has given to the Church. They are meant to continue functioning in the Church "till we all come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:10-13; 1 Cor 12:28). If we say that the apostles have ceased to be, then on what authority can we say we still have evangelists, pastors and teachers, who are listed in the same passage? We dare not be partial in interpreting any portion of the Scriptures.
The word "apostle" comes from the Greek word "apostolos," meaning "one who is sent forth." In the NT times, "apostle" meant an envoy, one sent on a mission as the personal representative of the one sending him. The Latin equivalent of the word "apostle" gives us the word "missionary." They are essentially translocal and mobile ministers, visioned for pioneer work to lay the foundations for the Church where Christ is not named (Rom 15:20, 21; Acts 13:1-4). Those with an apostolic ministry can be generally identified by their readiness to suffer and sacrifice (1 Cor 4:9-13; 2 Cor 4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:23-33; Gal 6:17; etc.), spiritual authority for leadership, training and discipline (1 Cor 4:21-5:5; 2 Cor 7:8,9; 2 Tim 2:1-3), and the presence of signs, wonders and mighty deeds in their ministry (2 Cor 12:12). At the same time if we keep measuring everybody by the standard of Paul, we may fail to recognize several apostles developing from among us.
Functioning is more important than labelling. Thank God we do have apostles today. They give direction and impart vision to the Church to fulfil her call. We need more of them in these closing days.
If you are a soulwinning Christian you are already doing deliverance ministry, because salvation from sin is the greatest deliverance Jesus came to bring for mankind (Mt 1:21). It is erroneously thought that only those who are involved in the ministry of praying for the sick and casting out demons are in the deliverance ministry. This is only a part of the wholistic deliverance the Bible speaks about. A Biblical ministry of deliverance includes atleast seven aspects—
a) Deliverance from the bondage of the Law
Even though Christ has delivered us from the bondage of the Old Testament Law, numerous Christians do not enjoy the liberty in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:2,3; Gal 5:18). They live under the yoke of legalism which says, "Touch not, Taste not, Handle not!" (Col 2:20-22; Gal 5:1). This is due to a lack of understanding of the difference between Law and Grace (Jn 1:17). They never bubble with the joy of salvation. A spirit of gloominess and heaviness will surround them. They can be delivered from this state only through a practical exposition of Apostle Paul's Epistles like Romans, Galatians and Colossians.
b) Deliverance from the power of sin
Deliverance from the penalty of sin is instant at rebirth, but deliverance from the power of sin is a moment-by-moment exercise. This is otherwise called walking in the Spirit to overcome the works of the flesh (Gal 5:16-25). By "standing" we are already perfect and complete in Christ (Col 2:10); but by "state" we are growing into perfection (Col 1:28). Our sinful nature is not "eradicated" from us in this earthly life, but we can be "emancipated" from its power by the indwelling Christ and His Spirit. Without the knowledge of this liberating truth, Christians live miserably under guilt and condemnation (Rom8:1,33,34).
c) Deliverance from the curse of sickness
Though all sickness is not the direct result of sin in an individual's life, there was no sickness or death before our first parents sinned. Jesus commanded His disciples to heal the sick when He sent them to preach the gospel (Mt 10:7,8; Lk 9:2). Even though all may not be bestowed with the "gifts of healings," any Christian believer can "lay hands on the sick" and offer the "prayer of faith" (1 Cor 12:30; Mk 16:18; Js 5:15,16). Medical work done in the spirit and compassion of Christ is not inferior to miracle healing. God is the Healer in any case.
d) Deliverance from the oppressions of the devil
The devil plays havoc in the lives of people who know not God. Christ came to "destroy the works of the devil" (1 Jn 3:8b). Some Christians are exceptionally used by God in exorcism, but every Christian has the "authority" over the "power" of the enemy (Lk 10:19). Demons obeyed the seventy disciples of Christ even when they had least expected it (v17). He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4). Stay full of the Holy Spirit and deliver people from demonic oppression and demon possession (Acts 10:38). Learn from mature Christians and be a part of a team as you set out to deliver people.
e) Deliverance from social bondage
The prophets of old invariably called God's people to fight for justice on behalf of the poor, the fatherless and the widows and deliver them from the oppressors (Isa 1:17; Am 5:15,24). Patriarch Job testified, "I broke the fangs of the wicked and plucked the victim from his teeth" (Job 29:17,12-16). Missionary William Carey (1761-1834) alongwith Rajaram Mohan Roy crusaded against the "sati" system and persuaded the Government of India to ban it. Missionary Amy Carmichael (1861-1951) fought against temple prostitution. It is for such daring acts that the Lord has "anointed" us (Isa 61:1). Do whatever you can to enlighten the minds of people to be delivered from superstitious fears (Isa 42:6,7). There are more and bigger thieves outside the prison than inside. Ministry to prisoners is Christly (Lk 4:18; Heb 13:3).
f) Deliverance from bad habits
Even after a genuine experience of rebirth lots of individuals are unable to come out of certain addictive habits like smoking and drinking. The cry of these people is, "Don't tell me why; show me how!" If you desire to help them, you need lot of patience and compassion. Never condemn them and add guilt to their burden. Meditation and memorisation of the Scriptures, fullness of the Holy Spirit, close fellowship with believers, kind shepherding, good reading and busy occupations are the rehabilitation helps to be offered. All deliverance may not be instant. Give a helping hand to voluntary organisations which are committed to help such victims. There's nothing unspiritual about such partnership.
g) Deliverance from doctrinal deceptions
Doctrinal deception is a killing captivity. Paul says that one can escape this "snare of the devil" only if he comes back to his senses (2 Tim 2:24-26). Too many Christians are unaware that they hear only "doctrines of demons" from several pulpiteers who speak under the anointing of "deceiving spirits" (1 Tim 4:1). Bold Bible teachers are wanted to confront these agents of Lucifer and deliver people from their craftiness so they may not be "destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hos 4:6). There is too much of preaching and too little teaching these days. Though not from a pulpit to large gatherings, give yourself to share sound doctrinal truths with individuals and small groups. This is the deliverance ministry desperately needed in the Church today.
Wherever Jesus went He preached the Gospel and healed the sick (Mt 9:35). Miracles were quite normal in His ministry. People came to Him "to hear Him and be healed of their diseases" (Lk 6:17). Miracles of healing were the attesting signs of His Messianic ministry (Mt 11:2-5).
When Jesus chose and commissioned the twelve to preach the gospel, He clearly commanded them to "heal the sick" (Mt 10:7,8). Also in the Great Commission to the Church, the ministry of healing is included (Mk 16:15-18). The "gifts of healings" bestowed by the Holy Spirit are to continue Christ's healing ministry on earth today.
But, the modern practices followed in the healing crusades make several fair-minded Christians and leaders to dismiss the ministry of healing with contempt. This is not justifiable. The remedy for abuse or misuse is not non-use but proper use!
Let me highlight a few areas where several of the healing ministries bring more dishonour than glory to God's Name. The evangelist becomes the centre of attraction and heroworship is common. The emphasis unconsciously shifts from the salvation of soul to the healing of the body. The evangelists make certain statements which are highly questionable in the light of the Scriptures. For example, "Today God is going to heal people with ailments below the hip and tomorrow above the hip!" During the healing sessions photographic tricks are freely played. Exaggerated reports in magazines and periodicals are normal. Funds appeal is professionally interwoven. Special prayers are promised for special offerings. Financial accountability is usually absent. Showmanship is at its highest. These and such things are contrary to the teachings of the Carpenter-healer from Nazareth!
The ministry of healing for Christians should primarily function in the context of the local Church (Js 5:14). And evangelists with gifts of healing should not be freelancers but be closely linked to the other leaders of the Church for safety and accountability (Acts 8:12-17). Then the result of all such ministries will be Church planting and Church growth and not building of individual empires!
With the renewal of interest in the subject of intercession and spiritual warfare has come the practice of organized walks across the streets of cities and towns called Prayer Walks. Though this appeals to many believers, several others are quite bothered because to them this practice does not sound very scriptural. As prayer walks are becoming increasingly popular, a Biblical analysis of this exercise has become necessary.
First and foremost, it must be pointed out that, according to Jesus, prayer must be essentially offered in secret. He condemned the intentional habit of certain religionists of His day who loved to pray "on the corners of the streets." He taught, "When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Mt 6:5,6). According to Jesus, the secret of prayer was praying in secret. Rarely do we read of Him praying in public. Rather He withdrew to places of solitute for this holy exercise. Even for the sick He never prayed in public. He simply healed them.
When Jesus commissioned the seventy disciples to be sent out to evangelize towns and villages, He told them, "Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops" (Mt 10:27). In other words, praying should be in private and that must be followed by preaching in public. This was the Lord's prescription even for hostile and non-receptive places (v28).
We do not come across any passage in the Acts of the Apostles which suggests prayer walks across cities. The spirit of Paul was deeply provoked within him when he saw the city of Athens full of idols. He did not immediately organize a prayer march against the spirit of idolatry. Instead he reasoned with people daily in the marketplaces (Acts 17:16,17). When Peter was imprisoned, the believers did not march around the prison walls shouting praise and prayer. Rather they were praying in houses behind closed doors, and the Lord miraculously delivered him (Acts 12:5,12,17).
The seven day march of Israelites around the walls of Jericho is the oft-quoted Biblical example to support and promote prayer walks (Joshua 6). But this incident is not meant to directly teach us about spiritual warfare prayer in the New Testament era. Apostle Paul's teaching on this subject in his Epistle to the Ephesians is explicit and conclusive. According to him, the active sphere of evil powers is "in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12). Christ is seated "in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion" (1:20,21). We as believers in Him are seated with Him at this level "in the heavenly places" (1:3). As such the warfare is not at the horizontal plane. We fight the enemy from above him. This principle is best illustrated in the battle scene of God's people against Amalek. Moses, Aaron and Hur on the hilltop represent intercessors. Joshua and the people who confront Amalekites in the plains represent Gospel communicators (Ex 17).
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem also does not suggest prayer marches. "Hosannah" simply means "Save us, O Lord!" It was just a cry of anguish by the Jews to be delivered from the rule of Romans.
It is my conviction that we have not preached the Gospel enough. There is no substitute for sowing the seed. As important and as powerful prayer may be, it can never be a substitute for systematic and tireless preaching of the Gospel. The harvest is poor because we sow sparingly and not bountifully (2 Cor 9:6). Prayer walks may be exciting but it won't get the job done. Like the early adherents of Salvation Army, believers must boldly go for open-air evangelism. The need is for gospel processions rather than prayer marches. Jesus has commanded us to go into all the world and PREACH! (Mk 16:15). He said, "Whatever city you enter... PREACH!" (Mt 10:7; Lk 10:8,9). The seventy disciples were sent out to PREACH. As they were preaching, Jesus saw Satan falling down! (Lk 10:18).
Individually and as groups, let us infiltrate into communities to share the Gospel. Let's "fill" cities with the doctrine of Christ (Acts 5:28). Let there be non-stop proclamation of the Gospel for months and years so that "all" who dwell in countries and continents may hear it (Acts 19:10). Let's go house to house on visitation evangelism (Acts 20:20). It's such saturation evangelism which will earn us the nickname, "THOSE WHO TURN THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN!" (Acts 17:6). Though tough, this is the only way. Anything else may be thrilling, but will not be fulfilling the job.
The promise that one will inherit whichever place he treads was a national promise given to the Old Testament Israel. It was geographical (Dt 11:24; Gen 13:14,15). In the Gospel dispensation it is not places but people. Even among people, not everyone we talk to will accept our message. There's no such promise. Very few will choose the narrow gate against the broad way. We are not called to christianize the world but just evangelize it. "India for Christ" is an empty shout, but "Christ for India" is a meaningful slogan.
In conclusion I would say that prayer marches are not wrong but they are unnecessary. It makes no difference whether prayer is offered in site or from inside the closet. "Am I a God near at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off?" (Jer 23:23). What matters is how close our hearts are to God's and how much of His burden we really share (Rom 9:1-3). If the time and energy spent to organize prayer marches are invested in aggressive gospel preaching, the Great Commission will be fulfilled much sooner.
God in His sovereign grace and wisdom is using para-church organisations, so called, all over the world to further His cause. But they are an eyesore to many a pastor and Church leader. The scriptural validity of these organisations is repeatedly questioned. Dialogues between both sides have helped to improve mutual understanding, but tensions do exist. Do we have any light in the Bible over this difficult issue?
I believe that we have the seedbed for missionary societies in Acts 13. The Holy Spirit actually called Barnabas and Paul "out of" a local Church for a wider ministry. After their first missionary journey, they returned to the Church, which released them, to report the works of God (14:26,27). But thereafter we don't see Paul and his associates tied up to any one particular local Church. Their style of functioning became that of a missionary society.
Para-church organisations are essentially translocal in their ministry. Our understanding of the Church should not be limited to the local assembly. The universal aspect of the Church helps to explain the place of para-church organisations in God's Kingdom.
There are not only "diversities of gifts" but also "differences of ministries." There are not only differences of ministries but also "diversities of activities." But it is all by the "same" Spirit, "same" Lord, and "same" God (1 Cor 12:4-6). This knowledge is basic to Christian ministerial maturity. No one can tell the other, "I have no need of you" (v 21). We are not to compete with each other but complement each other.
I understand para-church organisations as the scaffolding, and the Church as the building. The mission of missions is Church planting; and the mission of the Church is missions. We need Bible Translators and Bible Societies so pastors and their congregations can have Bibles to study. Relief Agencies assist the Churches in their social concerns. Theological Colleges train men and women for various responsibilities in the Church. Missionary Societies reach out to "hidden" peoples who are not normally covered by neighbourhood evangelistic programmes of local Churches. We can go on giving such numerous examples. Nurses, pharmacists, technicians and the like are called para-medical staff. What they are to doctors is what the para-church ministries are to the local Church. They are not a substitute but a supplement to the local Church.
No single local Church can boast of having all the gifts. Para-church organizations help to bring together gifts from various Churches for common programmes and wider ministry. This way we can influence and impact communities, and not just affect the neighbourhood.
In the early Church period, there was only one Church in each locality. The condition is quite different today. Each denomination wants to establish its branch in a place even though a dozen Churches may be already functioning there! Para-church organizations serve as common platforms and meeting points to foster unity and fellowship between congregations. When we pool our resources, lot of duplication can be avoided. Para-church organisations are strictly "inter-church" organisations! They are definitely in the plan of God for the unity and maturity of the Church.
Paul rejoiced even when some preached Christ out of "envy and strife" (Phil 1:15,18). Let's praise God for any ministry that brings gains to His Kingdom. Why stop someone from prophesying just because he is not with us "inside the tabernacle?" Let's not be narrowminded like Joshua but be largehearted like Moses (Num 11:26-29). Who could ever think of a deliverance ministry other than that of Jesus and His team in His own times? John could not accept such a possibility. He actually stopped that preacher! But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him... For he who is not against us is on our side!" (Mk 9:38-40).
A message to King Saul: "Don't consider David as a threat. He will actually help in your battles!"
In the old dispensation, all the religious activities were centred around the Temple. People were not allowed to offer sacrifices wherever they desired (Dt 12:5,13). But under the New Covenant "wherever" two or three would gather in the Name of Jesus, He would be there in their midst (Mt 18:20). No place is more sacred than the other to offer worship from or perform any religious duty (Jn 4:21-23). In the Old Covenant, priesthood belonged to just one of the twelve tribes. But now all the children of God are royal priests before Him to offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5,9). Misunderstanding of this privilege has led to the mushrooming of thousands of independent ministries.
Some Pastors call all ministries outside the local Churches as independent ministries. This is not correct. Individually all Christians must associate themselves in the worship and witness of local Churches, but there can be so many ministerial activities which may not be governed or administered by local Churches. Bible translation ministries, Bible societies, relief organisations, medical ministries, and pioneer missionary movements are some examples. Apostle Paul and his team were a missionary movement and they were not directed by any single local Church. They fellowshipped with local Churches wherever they travelled.
Whether it is a local Church ministry or a translocal ministry, if there's no accountability of ministers to one another, such independence is unscriptural. As far as local Churches are concerned, there can be no singular leadership. Pastors or elders or bishops or overseers are different names for the same office and they are always mentioned in the plural (e.g. Acts 20:17,28). Translocal ministries also must have plurality of leadership. Jesus sent His disciples two by two. Paul always had associates in his missionary team.
Independence in financial matters leads to corruption. Independence in message content leads to deception. Independence in ministerial methods leads to unscriptural practices. Independence in administration leads to misuse of power. Several independent ministries end up as a family business. Accountability is more when a ministry is registered with the Government.
We cannot accomplish much when we work indepen-dently (Eccl 4:9). Independence may give us job satisfaction, but the Kingdom of God will not be benefitted much. Independent ministries result in duplication which wastes the Kingdom resources. Interdependence is the law of the Kingdom. Team work with accountability is the New Testament pattern. Team work is difficult but it strikes a deathblow to selfishness. Most of the independent ministers are those who fell out of established structures because of indiscipline or relationship problems. Love of money is another major reason.
The observations I have made here, however, do not totally rule out the possibility of any minister of God functioning independently. There can be exceptions. Prophets may find organizational structures suffocating. Bible teachers may find denominational structures straitjacketing. Lions hate cages. However, it is safe for such ministers to voluntarily become accountable to senior and seasoned ministers of similar gifts.
Some independent ministers boast that they don't receive salaries but live in faith. Those who work in ministerial organizations also live in faith. They exercise "collective" or "corporate" faith that God would send in offerings from His people month after month for their needs. After all the Lord did not teach us to pray, "Give ME this day MY daily bread," rather, "Give US this day OUR daily bread!"
As a trainer, preacher and Bible teacher, I am happy that I had been a part of a missionary organization for thirtythree years (1971-2003) until my retirement. I thank God profusely for my fellow-leaders and fellow-workers who will be rewarded richly for helping me fulfil my ministry.
"I was with Such-and-such organisation; but now..." We come across scores of Christian ministers who say such things. People are confused over this phenomenon. As a leader of a Mission for over thirty years and being associated with several Christian organisations inland and overseas, I have painfully observed this regular occurrence. I list here what I have understood as common reasons when I analysed the cases of defection. Many of them can be illustrated Biblically. I am also trying to find how defections can be atleast minimised if not totally prevented.
Let's first of all look at some of the positive and inevitable reasons for defections.
Now let's look at some of the negative causes of defections.
Time is too short and the task too staggering. In a country like India and in times like these, any more divisions, defections and duplications are not affordable. Let our motto be: "I must decrease; He must increase!"
The Bible teaches us to be "followers of God as dear children" (Eph 5:1). Jesus was exactly like His Father. He bade His disciples, "Follow Me" (Mt 4:19). Then comes the third stage. Apostle Paul urged his converts, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). The teaching of the Bible confirms that this chain should not be broken but continue from generation to generation.
A chain smoker cried, "Don't tell me why; show me how!" We are desperately in need of men and women who can lead by example, being role models. We have often heard preachers say, "Don't look at me; look at Jesus!" This is nothing but escapism and sheer hypocrisy. Concerning such debasing examples among the religious leaders of His day Jesus warned the people, "Whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works" (Mt 23:3). On the other hand Paul challenged, "Join in following my example... the things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do" (Phil 3:17; 4:9). It is the sacred responsibily of everyone in any leadership capacity to present before his "little ones" a lifestyle that's unoffensive and praiseworthy (Lk 17:1,2).
This does not mean that we must be looking for "perfect" leaders to emulate them. We have to observe only the overall "outcome" or fruit of their lives (Heb 13:7). Ask these basic questions concerning a leader you desire to follow: Is he committed to the authority of the Bible? Is he a man of prayer? Does he maintain a distance with the opposite sex? Has he given himself to simple living? Is his own house in order? Is he honest in financial matters? Is he dead to seeking popularity and self-interests? Does he embrace all believers and work for unity? Is he passionate about world evangelism? Does he train secondline leaders? It is normally safe to follow a leader who has these sterling qualities.
Each leader has his strengths and weaknesses. No one exemplifies in everything. This I believe is one reason why the New Testament consistently promotes plurality of leadership (Tit 1:5; Acts 20:17). This way we can avoid heroworshipping any one person. Unfortunately we have produced more fans than followers, more devotees than disciples.
Following a leader does not mean copying his style of preaching or ministry. Imitating one's performance on the pulpit is easy, but we will miss the spirit. What is essential is to learn the leader's prayer closet and study exercises. Otherwise we will become "clouds without water." I mourn over young people who have lost their God-given originality because they have gone mad imitating star preachers.
God clothes the secondliners with His anointing and authority when they humbly and faithfully watch and follow the first leaders. Secondliners must devote themselves to this painstaking study. Joshua learnt from Moses. Elisha learnt from Elijah. Peter, James and John learnt from Jesus. Timothy and Titus learnt from Paul. And so on. Right during his lifetime Paul certified of Timothy, "He does the work of the Lord, as I also do" (1 Cor 16:10).
What if the leader backslides? The hurt will be deep in the hearts of the followers but they need not discard whatever the leader has preached or written. King Solomon ended up with one thousand women in his life and went after idols (1 Ki 11:3,4). He had wisdom for others but not for himself. But God has not removed his writings from the canon of Scriptures. Similarly if Psalm 23 is the most favourite of all, next comes Psalm 51 which David sang as his sin confession. As you follow a leader, pray much for him that he may not fall.
Sadly, not only the pew but also the pulpit is stained with backsliding. When Christian leaders backslide, the devil rejoices and the world ridicules Christianity. The fall of leaders causes agony and anguish in the Church. The following are the common causes of backsliding of preachers and leaders.
The people of God should intercede with tears for leaders who have fallen. God can use them again, even more than before (Rom 14:4; Judg 16:30). Broadcasting their sins gives advantage only to the devil. Though Saul was a backslidden leader when he died, David said, "How the mighty have fallen! Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcision triumph" (2 Sam 1:17-20).
The untimely death of God's servants is one of the hardest things to explain. I shall however attempt here to list out some possible reasons. This is for our own admonition and not for judging the dead.
There can be some negative reasons also—
As much as the people expect preachers to pray for them, they should also pray regularly for the safety, protection, health and long life of the preachers. The labourers are already few!
If Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven and there is no salvation without Him, what is the destiny of those who die before they hear about Him? (Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12). This age-old question perplexes both Christians and non-Christians alike. Various answers have been put forth, but none seems to be totally satisfactory. God has perhaps purposely withheld a direct and explicit answer to this mindboggling question in His Scriptures because it is not absolutely necessary for us humans to know it. However, an overall understanding of the subject will be helpful especially for those involved in reaching the non-Christians with the gospel.
God is a Saviour and because of His very nature He does not desire anyone to be lost. He desires "all" men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:3,4). He is not willing that any should perish but that "all" should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). Foretelling His crucifixion Jesus said that He would draw "all" peoples to Himself when He would be lifted up (Jn 12:32). He shed His blood not for a selected few but for the sins of the "whole" world (1 Jn 2:2). It is God's grace that brings salvation and it has appeared to "all" men (Tit 2:11). God is the Saviour of "all" men, not only those who have believed (1 Tim 4:10).
The Scripture texts quoted above assuredly tell us that God loves all men and women equally. He plays no favoritism. If a person has not heard the Gospel, it is not his fault. It is the failure of the Church. Even before Cornelius became a Christian, his prayers had been heard and alms remembered in the sight of God. Apostle Peter, though he had been biased by his exclusive Jewishness, testified, "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:31,34,35).
Man will be judged only according to the light he has received. God is a righteous Judge (Gen 18:25; 2 Tim 4:8). Those who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and those who have sinned in the Law will be judged by the Law (Rom 2:11,12). So with the Gospel. Judgment for those who have never heard the Gospel will not be the same as for those who have rejected it. "To whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Lk 12:48).
Even though God has revealed Himself fully in the Person of Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-3), He has also other means of revelation of His grace and goodness. One is nature and the other is man's conscience. Here are a few key texts: "God did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heavens and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17). "The heavens declare the glory of God... There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard" (Psa 19:1-4; Rom 10:18). "Gentiles who do not have the Law... show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness" (Rom 2:14,15).
Some suggest that those who die without hearing the gospel will get a chance to hear it in the spirit world. Such an interpretation of the text of 1 Peter 3:19 quoted to support this view is not consistent with the general teaching of the Bible that "it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). It is not right to use an obscure passage to establish a doctrine.
The destiny of the unevangelised is too high a subject for our finite minds distorted by fallen nature. God's thoughts and ways are as higher than ours as the heavens are above the earth (Isa 55:8,9). Instead of arguing over what is not clearly stated in the Bible, let us accelerate our efforts of reaching the unreached with the Gospel. Those who die without hearing the Gospel enormously outnumber those who die after hearing it. How shall anyone believe in Christ of whom he has not heard? (Rom 10:14). How shall "we" the believers escape if we neglect—to proclaim—so great a salvation? (Heb 2:3). The delay in the Return of Christ is mainly to give "us" the believers more time to proclaim the Gospel (2 Pet 3:9). It is late, but not too late.
In the parable of the lost sheep, one sheep was lost but ninetynine were safe. The condition today is that ninetynine are outside the fold. Let's not rest until we find them and bring them in. Let's do our best and leave the rest into the hands of God. This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of non-Christians.
There's of course no direct reference to masturbation in the Bible. But this is one of the major problems people face today, especially youngsters.
Men of God are divided in their opinion about this act of self-indulgence. Some feel that it's a safety valve or an outlet for sexual tension. They see nothing wrong in masturbation during periods of separation, illnesses and in conditions where one partner's sexual needs cannot be coped with by the other. Dr. James Dobson, America's foremost Christian family counsellor, says that this act cannot be condemned because it does not harm others and it's purely a personal matter. Others opine that masturbation is contrary to the laws of nature. David Wilkerson the Founder of Teen Challenge argues, "Uncontrolled masturbation stamps the whole personality with feelings of inferiority and guilt. Like a form of addiction, it causes some to withdraw into a fantasy world all of their own."
Because masturbation is a questionable act, my personal advice is that it should be avoided. Referring to the cravings of the body Paul testified, "I am allowed to do anything, but not everything is good for me. Even though I am allowed to do anything, I must not become a slave to anything" (1 Cor 6:12-20).
Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that's indispensable both before and after marriage (Gal 5:22,23). Saying no to the desire to masturbate before marriage strengthens the will power and disciplines oneself in sexual behaviour. For the married, the act of masturbation is selfish. It doesn't benefit the partner (1 Cor 7:33,34).
If you have the habit of masturbating, don't feel hooked or condemn yourself. Look to God for help. Avoid suggestive pictures and tempting situations. Fill your mind with the Scriptures (Psa 119:9). Seek the fellowship of other believers. Involve in spiritual activities and social work. Don't neglect games and sports. Read good biographies. Never be lazy. Boredom leads to trouble. Be doing something positive. If you fail, don't feel guilty or ashamed. Rise again. Look to Jesus. He understands. Never give up!
Sex is a beautiful gift from God. The physical intimacy between husband and wife was ordained by God even before sin entered the world. The man and the woman were made to become one "flesh" as husband and wife. Their physical nakedness before each other caused no shame (Gen 2:24,25).
The Bible admonishes the husband and the wife to give their bodies to each other without any reservation. It says, "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." Except with "mutual" consent for a time, and that mainly for the purpose of giving themselves exclusively to fasting and prayer, the partners are not to refrain from the rights of marriage (1 Cor 7:4,5).
1 Corinthians 7:29-31 is often misinterpreted. This passage deals with five aspects: life partner, life's problems, life's pleasures, life's possessions and life's profits. The message is that all these are earthly and temporary, not eternal. For example, it is not wrong to weep when there's a death or loss; but we should not forget our hope of resurrection. Similarly, there's nothing wrong to buy things; but we must remember that we cannot keep them for ever and carry them to Heaven. In the same way, the husband and wife relationship is meant only for this "passing" earth. The partners won't be as husband and wife in Heaven, but they will be like angels (Mk 12:23-25).
It is a wrong idea that sex is only for procreation. Sex is created by God both for pleasure and procreation. The Bible says, "Rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love" (Prov 5:18,19). Sexual enjoyment within marriage is perfectly legitimate. Only extramarital sex is sin. In the very next verse there's a question: "For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman?" (v20). "Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Heb 13:4).
Paul predicted that one of the doctrines of demons in the last days would be forbiddance of marriage (1 Tim 4:1-3). These hypocritical teachers will not let God's people enjoy God's provisions but deceive them by their cloak of super-spirituality. Beware!
Who then are those "not defiled with women?" (Rev 14:4). This passage must be understood in the total Biblical context. The very word "defile" suggests sexual perversions and immorality, because God has already declared that the marriage bed is "undefiled" (Heb 13:4). The names of the twelve apostles were written on the very foundations of the wall of New Jerusalem (Rev 21:14); and most of these apostles were married and several of them took their wives with them in their missionary journeys (1 Cor 9:5). More-over, the Book of Revelation is allegoric. The word "women" in the text may also mean the ungodly world system. Therefore when the Bible so plainly teaches elsewhere in various places about the sanctity of sex within marriage, it is wrong to deduce from a single text what it does not say.
The world is filled with sex appeals everywhere. No man or woman is beyond the reach of the devil to be tempted in this area. Therefore let each man "have" his own wife, and let each woman "have" her own husband, and let them "come together again" and again and again! (1 Cor 7:2,5b).
Marriage is a yoke. The Bible forbids unequal yoke (2 Cor 6:14). "You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together" (Dt 22:10).
Both the Old and the New Testaments strongly condemn intermarriage with unbelievers. Intermingling the "holy seed" with the unconverted is called as "trespass, transgression, iniquity and guilt" (Ezra 9:1-6). Even a widow who is a believer is not permitted to marry an unbeliever. "She is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, but ONLY to someone who is in the Lord" (1 Cor 7:39).
Even if your parents press you to marry an unbeliever, for whatever reason, you can firmly refuse. Obedience to parents also must be "in the Lord" (Eph 6:1). If you have fallen in love with an unbeliever, break the affair unless your fiance or fiancee gets genuinely converted. Beware of baptisms just for the sake of marriage!
True in some cases the unbelieving spouse gets converted after marriage. But no truth can be established from this. The Bible challenges, "How do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?" (1 Cor 7:16). Marriage is too serious a matter to take risk. If you have already made the mistake of marrying an unbeliever, you can now do nothing but pray and believe God for his or her salvation.
When young people from non-Christian background embrace the gospel, they find it extremely difficult to find suitable believing partners. Casteism is prevalent even among Christians in India. Christian leaders and pastors must voluntarily take sincere efforts to settle marriage for the non-Christian converts. Believing young people from Christian families should come forward to marry non-Christian converts. Why not? Sometimes the families of these converts may throw them out of their community. The Church should support such with all sensitivity and understanding.
Having a ministry to young people in a land like India, I cannot avoid this question but must address this burning issue honestly. India is not just a country but a country of countries because of its multicultural dimension. There's virtually no field here where casteism does not play a part. Marriage is one of them where cultural background is a major factor of consideration for compatibility.
The Bible nowhere discourages directly or indirectly cross-cultural marriages. The only thing it speaks against is a believer in Christ marrying an unbeliever. It challenges, "What part has a believer with an unbeliever?" (2 Cor 6:14,15). The one condition the Bible lays down for a child of God is that he or she must marry only a person who is "in the Lord." Otherwise he or she is at liberty to choose whom he or she "wishes" (1 Cor 8:39b). Abraham's plea with his servant not to go to the Canaanites to find a bride for his son Isaac but take a bride for him from his own country and kindred was not against a crosscultural marriage. Abraham did not want his son to return to the land from where God had called him out (Gen 24:1-19). God got angry with Miriam and Aaron who spoke against the crosscultural marriage of Moses (Num 12:1,9). Joseph's wife was a non-Hebrew (Gen 41:45).
Personally, while I am not against crosscultural marriages, I am not advocating them either. Because, even if the bride and the groom are from the same cultural background, there would be so many differences—temperamental, intellectual, spiritual, etc.— they would have to work on to keep their marriage work. Cultural difference will certainly be an additional stress factor. When the Bible says that there's no difference between Jew and Greek, it is relating to our salvation and standing before God. Jews are not higher than Greeks, and Greeks are not higher than Jews. But the social distinctions do not go off instantly. In the same text the Scripture says that there is neither "male nor female" in Christ! (Gal 3:28). What it then means is obvious!
When whites marry blacks or Easterners marry Westerners, in most instances, the children have identity crisis. When the mother tongue of the bride is different from that of the groom, they do not have a heart language for communication unless they are fluent in a common language. When a man from a civilized mainstream society marries a tribal girl from a hidden people group, all sorts of complications would develop after the honeymoon or even before it's over! In most of the South Indian communities the groom takes the bride to his house whereas the practice in certain northeastern States is for the groom settling in the bride's house, and be submissive to his mother-in-law!!! No wonder according to a recent opinion poll of 18-21 year olds, 84% declared they would prefer marrying within their community. (India Today, 27 Sept 1999). Such a mindset of this segment of Indian society, numbering 56 million, may sound too conservative but it is quite practical.
We do not encourage crosscultural marriages among the field believers in pioneer missionary work, as this hinders mass movement of people groups as communities embracing the Christian faith. But the prevalent casteism among mature Christians and in old Churches is a curse. When young people from caste Hindu families come to Christ, we must do all that's possible to find them life partners among believers of their own communities. Otherwise their family folks will become more and more hostile and bitter towards anything Christian. Social reformation is not the priority in evangelism. Otherwise Paul in his time would have compaigned against the slave trade. On the other hand to the Jews he became as a Jew and to the non-Jews as a non-Jew (1 Cor 9:20,21).
It won't please the Lord to reject a marriage proposal purely on caste consideration if other factors are satisfactory. Stern refusal to cross a culture sometimes results in marrying cousins, nephews and nieces which is unhealthy from the medical point of view. I have had the privilege of arranging several crosscultural marriages which are working well. My wife and I gave freedom to our daughter to marry from any community as long as it was in God's will.
"Thank You, Jesus, for choosing us from Gentiles to become Your bride!"
Arranged marriages, until recently, have been normative in Indian culture. But now the number of love marriages is on the increase. Arranged marriages are an inconceivable idea for the Westerners. Even though the Eastern culture is considered to be too conservative, divorce rate is much less and family ties much stronger here. The modern young people are terribly confused over the issue.
The Bible was written in the middle-eastern culture in which marriages were mostly arranged by parents. God the Creator was the parent for Adam and Eve, and it was He who found the bride for Adam (Gen 2:22). It was Abraham who initiated the bridal hunt for his son Isaac (Gen 24:1-4). Of course there were rare instances of love marriage also, like that of Jacob (Gen 29:18-20).
When parents arrange marriages there's a tremendous advantage of their wisdom and experience of years incorporated in the choice. As long as they don't force their sons and daughters to accept their choice, this procedure is welcome. Even in the ancient times, parents gave perfect freedom to their children to accept or reject their proposal. In some Indian homes, even educated girls have no say in this matter. This is wrong. Abraham's servant was very anxious to take Rebekah to be married to Isaac. But her brother and mother said, "We will call the young woman and ask her personally" (Gen 24:56,57).
Parents must not quote Ephesians 6:1— "Children, obey your parents in the Lord"— in the matter of accepting a proposal made by them. They can suggest... recommend... encourage... and so on, but never force. A son or daughter at marriageable age is not a child but an adult and he or she must become wholly responsible for the final decision of the choice. Both the Testaments speak of this principle (1 Cor 7:39; Num 36:6).
Falling in love is not sin, but love at first sight is risky. Go slow. Consider the pros and cons. Consult your parents, trusted elders and senior Christians before giving word. Commit the matter to the Lord and wait before Him for a season. See if you have peace over the matter. If you are open and sincere, God will guide you with confirmations. If due to some reason or other, your parents don't agree, but you are assured of God's will, take time and do all that's possible to get them reconcile to the matter. Parental blessing is wonderful. Don't forget that in the Asian setting marriage brings not only two individuals but two families together. Avoid unnecessary conflicts.
Even though love marriages are becoming more and more common in India, a recent poll in some of the major cities reveals that nearly 80% of the young people prefer arranged marriages. This is encouraging. However no two young people are alike. Even within a family one child differs so much from the other. King Saul had two daughters, Merab and Michal. For the first one it was arraged marriage and for the next love marriage (1 Sam 18:19,20).
In conclusion let me give my personal opinion. Parents should sit with their grown-up sons and daughters and ask them whether they would like to make the choice themselves or have the parents make proposals. If the children opt for the first, there must be an understanding that the choice must be made known to the parents very early before making commitments. If parents would choose the candidates, they should assure the children that they would not proceed with the matter without their wholehearted consent. Whoever makes the choice, don't marry in haste lest you worry at leisure!
Eve was younger than Adam! The headship of the husband and submission on the part of the wife are naturally easier when the husband is older than the wife. But when the wife is of the same age or older, factors like the maturity of the spouses, their intelligence and experience will play a significant role for a good relationship.
Age difference is also reckoned to be an important factor for sexual compatibility between husband and wife. In India the average age of menarche is 13 years and that of menopause is 45. There's a declining sexual desire when menstruation ceases. An average boy enters puberty at 14. Most men begin to experience a slowly declining sexual function in their 50s. Therefore an age difference of about five years is considered ideal.
Men usually marry between 25 and 30 years of age and women between 20 and 25. In appearance women seem to age faster than men due to childbearing and such stressful ordeals. Medical science also does not recommend childbearing after 35.
With the number of arranged marriages on the decrease, boys and girls choose their partners in the campuses, workspots and from among their peers. Unlike olden times, girls also spend five to seven years in college after they are 17. Due to these social changes, the age difference between spouses nowadays seems to be small.
The Bible is not explicitly against a man marrying someone elder to him. The younger brothers of the husband marrying his widow for the sake of procreation was commonplace. In one instance a man's sixth younger brother married his widow! (Mt 22:24-26).
In certain sections of the Indian society a girl has to earn atleast for five years to supplement her father's savings towards the huge expenses of a traditional marriage. Several non-Christian girl converts get their marriages inordinately delayed because of problems within their own communities, and that Christian boys marry too early or they are unwilling to marry an older girl convert. Christian boys should relax the age factor for such cases. The ideal condition may not always be the best. My wife is one year elder to me, and that has not been a major problem.
The groom's parents demanding large sums of money from the bride's people is a social evil that every fairminded citizen and faithful Christian must fight against. In spite of the Anti-dowry Bill passed by the Government, the dowry system is not cracked yet. Newspapers still report of bride-burning due to torturous demands of husbands and in-laws. What should be the Christian stand on this crucial issue?
In the ancient Middle East, a man was expected to make a gift to his bride's father (Gen 34:12). The word "dowry" thus originally meant "bride-price!" But today it's the groom-price! The bride-price was not always paid in money. Jacob worked for seven years in order to marry Laban's daughter Rachel (Gen 29:18). King Saul urged David to marry his daughter, saying he wanted "no other price for the bride" than evidence that David had killed a hundred Philistines (1 Sam 18:25). The bride was also given gifts by her father, which she brought into the marriage. Laban gave women servants to his daughters (Gen 29:24,29). Caleb gave a field and water springs to his daughter (Josh 15:17-19). The groom also gave gifts to the bride (Gen 24:53). Christ loved His bride the Church and gave Himself for it (Eph 5:25). The Father God who gave Christ the Bridegroom to us does not withhold any good thing from us (Rom 8:32).
When money transaction becomes a major factor in marriage, all sorts of evil will creep in. Money does matter but it does not matter for Christ-centred marriages. Many a Christian young man has missed God's best in the choice of his life-partner because he has yielded to the pressure from his parents to make money in the marriage deal. It's not cash or complexion but character that lasts (Prov 31:30). Boys must have the backbone to resist parental pressures. Throwing the entire blame on parents is not manliness.
In some circles the major chunk of properties goes to the boys, and the girls are treated as step children. This again is a violation of spiritual principles and the law of equal rights. When parents treat both boys and girls alike, it will be a major step in the eradication of the dowry system.
Both my wife and I had anti-dowry convictions and we wanted our marriage to be a testimony to it. But she was proposed to me when I had just finished my studies. I studied under a loan scholarship and my parents had nil bank balance. So my daddy asked her parents if they could wait because I had not started earning and there was no money even to buy a wedding suit. To this her father replied that they were interested in the boy and not the job. And he voluntarily gave Rs.20,000/- to my parents towards the wedding expenses. I thank God for my parents who got satisfied with this amount in those days (1970) when the dowry offers for a rankholding Engineering postgraduate ran to lakhs. However I was not happy about this transaction. After marriage I told my father-in-law that I would repay this amount to him in course of time from my earnings. He answered, "The amount was neither big nor demanded. It's the minimum I could have done to help your parents in the wedding expenses. You can go with a clear conscience."
In the repentance messages preached by late Brother N. Daniel of the Laymen's Evangelical Fellowship, Chennai, in the fifties he often condemned the dowry system. In response many husbands either returned the amount to their in-laws or settled the matter with them in order to get right with God and with men. Modern pulpits hardly address social evils. On the other hand there are pastors who bless the dowry amount so they get one-tenth of it. Shame!
Instead of standing on formalities, the richer party must help the other family conduct the marriage decently. Pushing the less affluent family into heavy debts is not Christian. If we Christians would not set up an example, who else will?
Family planning is of recent origin. Therefore one cannot find a direct teaching in the Bible on this subject. Considering the general principles of parenthood laid down in the Scriptures, we must evolve guidelines for today's context.
God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and to multiply to fill the earth (Gen 1:28). This was a specific command given to the first couple when the earth was empty! But today several countries like India are overcrowded! Christians like other citizens have a moral responsibility to cooperate with the government to restrict population growth and thus solve the related problems.
Christ has taught us to count the cost before "building" a tower or "battling" against an enemy (Lk 14:28-31). Should we not count the cost before "bearing" children also? There are atleast three aspects each couple must consider while deciding on the size of their family—
First, health considerations. The husband should be very considerate towards the health of the wife, the weaker vessel (1 Pet 3:7). For him it is a pleasure, but for her each childbirth is an ordeal (Gen 3:16). The health of most women in modern times is permanently impaired if they bear more than two or three children. Medical advice should be respected.
Next is economical considerations. Majority of us belong to middle or lower income groups. Days are very expensive. More the number of children, less the share for each child (2 Cor 12:14b). Bringing forth children beyond one's means, saying "God will somehow provide," is an act of sheer irresponsibility.
Thirdly, the time considerations. Ours is a busy world. To make both ends meet, the husband as the breadwinner and the wife as the jamwinner have to work so many hours each day, outside and inside home (Prov 31:13,24). Unless both father and mother give sufficient and quality time to each child, they are failing in their parental responsibility (1 Tim 3:4,12; Tit 1:6; 2:4). No doubt children are a heritage from the Lord and are like olive plants all around the table! (Psa 127:3; 128:3). But is the man able to find time to sit leisurely with the children each day around the table? If not, let him not quote the above passage, please!
Jesus and Paul spoke of those who voluntarily remain unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt 19:12; 1 Cor 7:32-35). So also there can be those who voluntarily keep the size of their families small so they can give more time, money and energy to the Kingdom. Why not?
One of the passages used against family planning is Genesis 38:8,10. God got angry with Onan not because he emitted on the ground but he failed in his duty of a husband's brother (Dt 25:5-10). Onan played a hypocrite and cheated Tamar and Judah.
There are those who are against artificial methods of birth control but do practise natural methods. This is also family planning! Notwithstanding, the latter leads to psychological problems. Still others fight tooth and nail against family planning but become wiser after bearing more!
When we thus say that there is nothing in the Scripture against family planning, we don't condone abortion. Once the embryo is formed, it is life.
Many sincere believers and preachers hold a different view on family planning than what's presented here. I respect it. Disputes don't edify. Each couple must prayerfully decide what's best for them.
"Children are a heritage from the Lord" (Psa 127:3). But for reasons we cannot understand, several godly couples don't have children.
When they saw a man born blind, the disciples asked Jesus, "Who sinned, this man or his parents?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him" (Jn 9:1-3). Let not childless couples condemn themselves. Barrenness is a physical defect just like blindness or deafness.
The abundance of cases of barrenness in the Bible comes as an encouragement to those who go childless. Abraham was childless when God called him. Nowhere the Bible indicates that he was under a curse till God gave him a son. Isaac was a God-blessed man but he was childless for twenty years (Gen 25:11,20,26).
Childless couples should not become desperate but deal with the situation positively. Keep on believing like Abraham and Sarah (Rom 4:19-21; Heb 11:11). Keep on praying like Rachel (Gen 30:22) and Hannah (1 Sam 1:15). Keep on walking with God and serving Him like Zacharias and Elizabeth (Lk 1:6-8). The Lord in His own time in His own way shall make His promises good.
Both husband and wife should have a medical check-up. But before investigations, they should agree that one would not blame the other. If the defect is in the wife, the husband must shower on her extra love like Elkanah (1 Sam 1:5). If the problem lies with the husband, the wife should reaffirm her respect for him. Don't give place to anger and bitterness but take everything to God in prayer (Gen 30:1,2; 1 Sam 1:10).
Should the condition be medically untreatable, as the couple continues to believe God for a miracle, they can adopt a baby. Time should not be wasted. There are so many unwanted children who need a home. It honours God when these angelic little ones are helped (Mt 18:10; Mk 10:14). Several women conceive after they adopt a child, perhaps due to hormonal changes or that God honours their noble act. It's an added blessing! In a world where parentless children outnumber childless couples, adoption is the best option, both socially and spiritually.
If husband and wife cannot agree on adoption, they can give more time for the things of God and beget spiritual children (Isa 54:1,4; Gal 4:27). They need not weep over their reproach. Everytime someone enquires, it will be like an arrow piercing through. But God's grace will be sufficient.
"Indeed the days are coming in which they will say, Blessed are the barren!" (Lk 23:29).
Enemies for a Christian are essentially those who are the enemies of the Cross and so those who oppose the Christian witness and the preaching of the Gospel (Mt 5:44). Occasionally there could also be some who, because of their differing tastes and temperaments, would hate you for what you do and how you do it. Sometimes it become really impossible to get along with such folks. That's why the Bible admonishes, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Rom 12:18).
I have found the following guidelines helpful to improve my relationship with those who oppose, contradict or hate me—
First, meditate on God's love on them too! "He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt 5:45). Each person is precious to God. Christ died for every man and woman, good or bad, so called.
Secondly, remind yourself of how patient God has been towards you! He has not given up on us though we have failed or disappointed Him so often. Because He is abundant in mercies He expects us to forgive others—not less than seven times seventy! (Mt 18:22).
Thirdly, pray for your enemies (Mt 5:44). Love grows in the soil of prayer. It always becomes easy to love or forgive someone who hates us when we start praying for that individual. Confess to God your inability to love and He will pour out His love into your heart through His Spirit and enable you to do what otherwise you cannot.
God does not allow us to curse even the devil (Jude 9). Guard your tongue lest you abuse someone. Let not bitterness ever take roots in your heart. If defiles you and others as well (Heb 12:14,15). Vengeance is the Lord's. Don't take that weapon in your hand. You will perish in that process (Mt 26:52). Look for opportunities to do some good to the one who has hurt you. You will be an overcomer (Rom 12:19-21).
"When a man's ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov 16:7).
Obviously you have in mind Ephesians 5:18 wherefrom one can perhaps infer that only excessive drinking is prohibited!
Let me begin with a few Bible verses about liquor. "Wine is a mocker, intoxicating drink arouses brawling and whoever is led astray by it is not wise" (Prov 20:1). "Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a snake, and stings like a viper" (Prov 23:31,32).
It's true wine is served alongwith regular meals in certain countries. But we also know where it has led to. In most of the cases it is occasional drinking that has led to addiction. Here is Paul's doctrine: "I am allowed to anything but not everything is good for me. Even though I am allowed to do anything, I must not become a slave to anything" (1 Cor 6:12; 10:23).
We are to avoid even the very form or any appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22). Beware of dangerous beginnings! First it will be just "walking" there, then it will be "standing" there a while, and finally you will be "sitting" there! (Psa 1:1).
We must be like Timothy. He abstained from wine totally, so much so Paul had to ask him add a little wine for his illness (1 Tim 5:23).
Another question can be, "Can I smoke occasionally?" The answer is the same. Don't! Every cigarette pack contains the statutory warning: Smoking is injurious to health. Smoking and drinking injure us and others as well. These are both social and spiritual evils. Steer clear of them!
Over 80% of Indians worship idols. Christians are hardly 3% in this country. We are constantly challenged to befriend the non-Christians, especially the Hindus who are the largest segment of our society, in order to share the message of the love of God with them. When invited they gladly join us for our birthday parties and Christmas dinners. They have no problem in eating the food we serve after offering thanksgiving prayer. But when they invite us to their festival dinners or send us pongal or sweets, we hesitate and they are offended. Relationships get strained. Some believers eat anything freely, whereas others are apprehensive. What does the Bible say about this?
Conditions similar to ours existed when the New Testament epistles were written. Eating food offered to idols was one of the hot issues apostle Paul addressed while writing to the young Churches. In his first Corinthian Epistle he discussed this issue at length in two chapters, 8 and 10. Read them carefully. Here is what we learn—
To summarise: Don't compromise on the truth; Don't antagonize idol-worshipping friends; Don't despise weak believers. 1 Corinthians 10:32 can be paraphrased as, "Give no offense, either to the nominal Christians or to the non-Christians or to the born-again Christians!"
A decade ago the question was, "Can Christians go to cine theatres?" The answer from adult Christians and preachers was a stern "no" and the most powerful Biblical quote was Psalm 1:1. The argument was how could God's people be seated in "the seat of the scornful?" The situation has totally changed today. You don't need to "go" to theatres to watch movies. The theatre has "come" to our living rooms. The television explosion has changed the entire scenario.
I was brought up in a home where going to cine theatres was considered an awful sin. Cinema was called "sin-ma," the mother of all sins, by our Church leaders. However, my younger brother and I used to bother mummy to let us watch atleast one film per year. She would reluctantly concede to it and give us just four annas (25 paise) for a floor ticket. When we returned home, she would narrate how she had been on her knees during those three or four hours praying with tears that our minds should not be corrupted by obscenity. As I look back I don't regret such strictness in our upbringing.
If born-again youngsters would positively decide that they would never watch any commercial and secular movie, it is still good. They will not lose anything in life. At the same time, outrightly condemning all movies as bad is not right. There are films which convey forceful messages on moral, ethical, social, political and cultural issues. Such films educate our minds and challenge our thinking. Meaningless traditions and empty rituals are shattered in these stories. A few film directors are committed to restore age-old family values and uphold time-honoured principles. The Christian movie "Joni" and secular movies like "Mayuri" inspire the invalid and the disabled not to give up. It is welcome that teachers take their students to watch such films.
In the developed nations there are organisations which publish film guides in which each new film is reviewed objectively. Depending upon the doses of violence, crime, sex, etc, these reviewers give their recommendations or otherwise for various age groups. Parents go through these notes and discuss and decide with their children whether they can watch a particular movie or not. This practice is not much in vogue in India. Therefore youngsters must be extremely cautious in their choice. If they do want this sort of entertainment, they must wait for sometime after the release of a film to gather informations to find out if the film would do them any good. Don't go by the wall-posters and TV advertisements alone. These are your formative years. Anything will grow in the virgin soil of your heart. Weeding is not easy. Go slow. Your thoughts and judgments are now emotionally charged. Discernment comes by growth and maturity (Heb 5:14).
We must also look into the aspect of priority. In these days of unprecedented academic competition, when students don't even have time for evening games, how can they waste precious hours before the TV? Working people complain of not having sufficient time for waiting before God, reading His Word and going out to witness for Him. Then where is the time for movies? Stewardship of time is a decisive factor in Christian discipleship.
The question concerning movies is one of those which cannot be given simple yes or no answers. However the overarching Biblical principle is: "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God Himself... sanctify you through and through" (1 Thess 5:21-23).
This question is repeatedly asked when we work among students. Some youngsters when they get saved start spending their evenings and all leisure time in prayers, Bible study groups and such spiritual activities. A few others find it difficult to leave sports and games. In course of time the second groupists develop a guilt because they begin to wonder whether the time they spend for sports instead of the soul is a waste. Is there a Biblical answer to this question?
Though the Bible does not directly encourage sports and games, it nowhere condemns it. The knowledge of the public games of Greece and Rome provided the New Testament writers with rich source material from which to illustrate spiritual truths. Paul alluded to wrestling, boxing, running, etc. (Eph 6:12; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7; 1 Cor 9:24-27). The other apostles have also employed sports language (1 Pet 1:4; Heb 12:1,2; Js 1:12). Moses must have been a good boxer (Ex 2:11,12). He was also an expert in mountaineering. David was skilled in shooting. As a shepherd boy he must have practised catapulting (1 Sam 17:20,40,48-50).
Sports and games have many positive effects on the participants. A good sportsman is known for the discipline of his body, that is so vital to Christian life (1 Cor 9:24-27). Then there's obeying of the rules. In Christian ministry also, it is not "what" but "how" that matters (2 Tim 2:5; cf 1 Cor 3:10). Nowhere else do we learn the importance of team spirit than in games. How sadly we lack this in Christian circles! Perseverance is another character developed in the field of sports (Heb 12:1,2; Acts 20:24). Sportspersons aim for the medal. They won't settle for anything less. Because this spirit is missing in the Church, very few Christians do their "utmost for the Highest!"
Churches and ministries must motivate their young people to participate in sports and games. I always believe that a Spirit-filled doctor will be a better doctor; a Spirit-filled architect will be a better architect; so also a Spirit-filled player will be a better player. Did not Prophet Elijah run faster than the chariot of King Ahab when the hand of the Lord came on him? (1 Ki 18:44-46). Did not Evangelist Philip overtake the fast Ethiopian chariot when the Spirit propelled him? (Acts 8:29,30). It was like a cross-country race! With the favour of the Almighty God on them, Christian athletes can be "ten times better" than their non-Christian counterparts (Dan 1:20). Why not? (Rom 9:16). David boasted, "By my God I can leap over a wall" (Psa 18:29). High-jumpers and pole-vaulters, please note!
For the last many years India has not been bringing much from the Olympics. Just a bronze medal or a silver medal for our big nation has not removed the shame. Will the Indian Christian young people accept the challenge to turn away this reproach? Who else can? When Christian players testify to their faith, it has a convincing appeal to the younger generation.
How shamefully some of our top cricket players behave! Only those who are dead to covetousness and corruption can restore dignity to this game in India. Will Christians take up this challenge?
In these days of stiff academic competition, parents tend to discourage their children from all extra-curricular activities. This is bound to affect their wholesome growth. Jesus grew not only in "wisdom" but also in "stature" (Lk 2:52). If youthful energy is not channelled into profitable activities, it will flow into sinful avenues. As a student I took active part in Literature & Debate Society, National Cadet Corps, Scouts, Drama, etc. None of these things went useless in my ministerial and leadership respon-sibilities. But I was too concerned about my academic excellence to spend enough time in the playground. Until this day I have not even learnt swimming!
I advise young people to maintain a balance. There's a time to study and a time to relax; a time to pray and a time to play. Don't neglect or overdo any one thing. All the best!
A controversy arose some years ago when a group of Indian Christians refused to salute the national flag. It was then cleared by the Church that the group in question was a cult and it did not represent the mainstream Christianity. However, there are some sincere Christians who keep wondering whether saluting the national flag is not amounting to idol worship.
The word "salute" simply means "to greet with respect." In India we greet one another with bowed heads or folded hands. These postures vary according to cultures. This is not worship. Apostle Peter rebuked Cornelius because the latter exceeded the level of greeting and literally "worshipped" Peter (Acts 10:25,26). What the three Hebrew young men sternly refused was the "worship" of the gold "image" set by the King (Dan 3).
Christians may not be nationalistic but they must be patriotic. The Bible has nothing to say against patriotism, which means love and dedication to one's country. Apostle Paul was proud of his Roman citizenship even though the Roman empire was pagan (Acts 22: 25-29). The Jews became homesick when they were scattered all over the world. Read Psalm 137 to understand how much a Jew loved his homeland. Jerusalem was his "chief joy" and as dear as his "right hand" (vv 5,6). Our ultimate citizenship in Heaven does not negate our present citizenship on earth. Otherwise we would need to go "out of the world!" (1 Cor 5:10). The flag represents the nation. When we salute the flag, we publicly declare our love and respect for the country.
In the Western world there's a custom of keeping the national flag inside the Church buildings. This is perfectly in order. Are not all governing authorities from God? (Rom 13:1). Why should we not hoist our national flag atop our Church steeples or inside Church compounds, atleast on the Independence Day and the Republic Day? We can have special programmes and prayers for the nation right inside the Church. This will serve as an occasion to renew our commitment to obey the laws of the nation and be faithful citizens. If we have spiritual retreats or camps during these two important days, which are public holidays, we may begin the programme with flag-hoisting, praying for the nation and singing of the national anthem.
Praise God for the organizations which organize fasting prayers on Independence Days and Republic Days in strategic cities of India to pray for a nationwide revival and evangelism. According to Paul, this must be our supreme prayer concern (1 Tim 2:1,2).
On the 15th day of August 2012 we have entered the 65th year of Indian Independence. Hallelujah! India is the most religious country in the world. This country is unique in many ways. No other nation is so diversified in its languages and cultures. Let's look at the huge population of our country as masses of potential candidates to be reached for the Kingdom of God. Mr. Emil Jebasingh of Transworld Radio rightly composed a stanza in one of his Tamil songs that Indians would fill Heaven! True our nation is full of corruption and confusion. But is there a nation free from these? Let's develop a positive attitude towards India.
Look forward to the next flag-hoisting ceremony with enthusiasm. Our national flag is simple yet attractive. To guard ourselves from the disrespect that comes from ignorance, an understanding of the symbolism would be helpful. The deep saffron colour at the top speaks of valour and sacrifice. White stands for truth, purity and simplicity. The green represents our fertile land with vast natural resources. The chakra (wheel) with 24 spokes signifies motion, progress and dynamism. As you salute the flag, rededicate yourself to these lofty values so the nation may be blessed and God glorified!
Every Christian must be patriotic. We can't afford to be indifferent to what's happening in the political front. Shed the "let-anyone-rule" attitude. Catch the Esther spirit—"How can I endure to see the evil that will come on my people?" (Esth 8:6).
Our first responsibility is PRAYER. There are unseen powers behind political leadership. The present crises in the country are a spiritual warfare. Apostle Paul urges us, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (1 Tim 2:1,2).
Pray for all the candidates in the fray. Ask God to touch the nation's millions of voters. Make your prayers specific by focussing on the following—
Righteousness: We must have leaders who are free from corruption and selfish interests. They must be men of sincerity and integrity. This may look too ideal to expect in politics. But God's Word emphatically declares, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a shame to any people" (Prov 14:34). There's no other way.
Secularism: Our constitution provides freedom of religion, to practise and propagate one's faith. But there is a steady erosion of secular values in the Nation. It's impossible to be a Christian without obeying the Great Commission of Christ: "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them... teaching them" (Mt 28:19,20).
Uplift of the Poor: Political instability affects the Nation's economic development. The multitudes under the poverty line keep swelling. Their cry goes unheard. God blesses a government which has pity on the poor (Prov 19:17).
National Integration: Jesus said, "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand" (Mk 3:24). Instead of fighting the cranker of communalism, some politicians are actually flaming communal passion. By hook or crook they want to seize and sustain power. Animosity between the South and the North is growing. The message of Christmas is "good will toward men!" (Lk 2:14). May God give us leaders who will hold the country together. We have had enough of murder and mayhem.
Social Reforms: Our Nation is plagued by social evils like untouchability, child marriage, dowry system, sati, devadasi system and scores of others. We need leaders bold like a lion to crusade against such inhuman practices and lead people out of darkness. Leaders must not sacrifice principles for the lure of office and lucre.
These are some of the basic expectations if a nation is to prosper. Besides these, add whatever comes to your mind to the prayer list and intercede regularly before God. Organize fasting prayers. The Lord is on the Throne!
Pray for the Election Commissioner and all the officials in the election machinery. Pray against rigging, booth-capturing and such malpractices. Pray for a fair and free poll.
Prayer alone is not sufficient. Faith without works is dead. Study the election manifesto of each party. Discuss with responsible and mature elders. Avoid arguments. Don't be pressurised by anyone or carried away by the heady, extravagant and high-sounding promises of irresponsible politicians. You are an individual with rights and responsibilities. Think, pray and exercise your franchise.
Lottery is nothing but gambling. The State-run raffles are simply official gambling. Our Governments don't have absolutes in their moral standards. One government closes the liquor shops and the next government opens them by its "honourable" ministers!
From an Editorial in Moody Monthly I read, "Gambling violates the Christian concept of providence. It's no coincidence that gamblers are notoriously superstitious. Having lost sight of the sovereignty of God, they grope for any method, no matter how dubious, to manipulate the forces of fate."
Lotteries appeal to greed. The Bible sternly warns us against get-rich-quick philosophy. "An inheritance gained hastily at the beginning will not be blessed at the end" (Prov 20:21). "A faithful man will abound with blessings, but he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished" (Prov 28:20). These statements are proved again and again in the lives of most of the lottery prize winners who have only become more miserable (1 Tim 6:9,10). But when God makes one rich, He adds no sorrow!
Beware of the beginnings! Lottery players usually begin with one or two tickets. Suppose they get a small prize of 100 or 1000 rupees, they are irresistably tempted to buy more tickets. Oh how many families are denied bread because the husbands and fathers are addicted to lottery! Money is like sea water which never quenches one's thirst but only increases it.
Lotteries make a handful of millionaries by stealing from millions. Most of the lottery players belong to the middle and lower income groups. Can we anger the God of the poor? (Prov 22:16). Lotteries are also used by the rich to turn their black money into white.
Some Christians justify lottery by saying that they would give 50% to God if they won! Beloved, God abhors unclean money. Preachers and pastors should politely refuse offerings from lottery prizes.
If you are not able to make both ends meet, seek to do some extra work to supplement your income. Streamline your budget. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Ask God for daily bread and ask Him to bless it. "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content" (1 Tim 6:6-8).
The Supreme Court of India recently ruled that "it is not permissible in law for any educational institution to charge capitation fee as a consideration for admission to the said institution." The Bench pointed out that "the capitation fee brings to the fore a clear class basis. It enables the rich to take admissions whereas the poor has to withdraw due to financial inability. A poor student with better merit cannot get admission because he has no money whereas the rich can purchase the admission. Such a treatment is patently unreasonable, unfair and unfit." The Bench calls this "an evil practice" whatever name one might give to this type of extraction of money. Even if a few State governments may allow their self-financing colleges to collect capitation fee, Christians must take a bold stand against this "legalised bribery."
Parents who admit their sons and daughters in professional colleges by paying huge sums of money actually destroy the moral values of their children. These youngsters will grow with the worldly philosophy, "Money makes many things." But the Biblical teaching is that promotion comes from God. The anger of the God of the poor is aroused when injustice is done to the poor but meritorious students by the capitation fee system.
The capitation fee system leads to other evils. One of them is the practice of following up the examiners with "gifts" if a student has not fared well in a subject. Here again there are rates. And having spent lakhs of rupees, parents try to make it good in the marriage market through dowry. Most of the money in these transactions is black.
What is grabbed by money will have to be guarded by money only. Jehovah is a God of justice and He cannot endorse gains made by false and dishonest methods. Your son or daughter may earn a degree and secure a job. But where is "God's" blessing? Do you know God refused to include Ishmael in His redemptive line whom Abraham had brought forth by his own strength?
When the capitation fee candidates become doctors or engineers, I shudder to think of the patients they would treat and the buildings they would construct!
I come from a poor family. Though I passed my Pre-University Class in first class, I wanted to join only a Polytechnic course because my parents could not afford to send me to an Engineering College. But the Principal of the Polytechnic refused to give me an application form but urged me to apply for the Engineering degree course. I applied and the Lord granted me a seat in the Engineering College in Karaikudi. After graduation, daddy wanted me to take up a job immediately to relieve the financial burden of the family. But I had a desire to go for postgraduate studies and so I applied to three institutions of national repute: Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai; Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; and College of Engineering, Guindy, Chennai. Without any human influence, I was selected for all the three! I remembered Matthew 6:33, "All these things shall be ADDED to you." Recalling the past, I can boldly testify that the blessing in my academic career was neither by money nor by influence but by God's grace.
Parents should not think that their children have lost the best in life if they failed to secure a seat in a professional college. God has a unique plan for each of His children and that's best for them. I sincerely recommend to all parents and children to say no to the worldly ways, and give God an opportunity to show His strength on their behalf (2 Chron 16:9).
Some Christians visit the graves of their dear ones on their death anniversaries or on special occasions to pay their homage. Others don't turn that side once the burial is over. To support their viewpoint they quote the words of the angels who were standing at the open tomb of Jesus, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!" (Lk 24:5,6). But I wonder why several people belonging to the second category travel all the way to Palestine to see the Empty Tomb! Atleast Mary Magdalene and others had not known that Jesus had risen. But why oh why more than 2000 years after His resurrection folks still want to visit that Tomb? There is yet another funny thing: There's more than one tomb claimed to be that of Jesus! No one knows for sure which one was really occupied by His body!
The Bible has nothing to say against visiting a tomb in memory of the dead. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter while talking about David said, "His tomb is with us to this day" (Acts 2:29). This obviously meant that they had been maintaining the tomb of David as a memorial. Whitewashing the tombstone was an annual routine (Mt 23:27). It was an accepted Jewish custom to visit tombs with spices for the bodies (Lk 24:1). In India we take flowers or incense sticks. If it is wrong to visit a grave, why should we build a structure at all over the pit?
My daddy is buried in our native town Nazareth in southern Tamilnadu. Mummy is buried in Vellore where we live from 1971. I visit mummy's grave once or twice every year and daddy's whenever I go to Nazareth. No doubt my eyes become full when I stand before these graves, but the tears are mostly an offering of gratitude to God for what my parents had meant to me and my younger brother (Jn 11:31,35,36). I think of the values they had taught us and rededicate myself to practise them. I also pray that God would raise many such parents who would give away their firstborn for the Kingdom sake. Just like the material substance of bread and wine enables us to "remember" the Lord in a special way, visits to graves inspire us. Whenever I visit these cemeteries I also spend a few minutes before the tombs of great missionaries and notable saints who sleep there. Whenever I visit mummy's tomb, I do spend a few minutes before the tomb of that unforgettable missionary Dr. Ida Scudder (1870-1959) who founded the Christian Medical College in Vellore. Of the places I visited in England what remains fresh in my mind is the grave of John Bunyan and that of John Wesley. What an inspiration! My visit to William Carey's grave in Calcutta is always green in my mind.
There are certain things we must not do while visiting graves:oWe cannot pray for the dead. "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). There's no second chance. Baptism for the dead was a non-apostolic practice, simply quoted by Paul to make his point (1 Cor 15:29). oWe should not pray to the dead also. The Bible strongly condemns any attempt to communicate with the dead. "Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?" (Isa 8:19c). o Having sentimentality is not wrong, but ascribing sanctity to the place of burial will lead to idolatrous practices. A dead man revived when his body touched the bones of Prophet Elisha (2 Ki 13:21). But in the case of Moses the greatest of all prophets, God buried his body in a place known to none. "No one knows his grave to this day" (Dt 34:5,6,10,11). Rare incidents do not teach anything normative.
When the Church of England slammed its door against John Wesley, he preached from his father's tomb. God has used funeral sermons to break the hardest of hearts.
It was only a pagan belief that tombs were haunts for evil spirits. Both Gergesenes and Gadarenes were "Gentile" cities (Mt 8:28; Mk 5:1). One need not be afraid to visit cemeteries anytime, day or night.
Christianity in India is still thought to be the religion of the white man. This idea gets strengthened especially during Christmastime when our non-Christian friends observe how we celebrate the Birth of Christ.
Christ was not born in the East or the West but in the Middle East. Announcing the birth of the Son of God the Angel told the shepherds that it was good tidings of great joy to "ALL people"—not just to the Jewish or any particular community (Lk 2:10).
Britishers were not the first to bring the Gospel to India. It was Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, who came to India in the very first century with the message of Jesus Christ. Christianity is thus over 2000 years old in our country. It's a crime if we the Indian Christians still wrap the message of Christ in the Western jacket. The gospel of Christ is transcultural. Here are some tips to celebrate Christmas the Indian way.
Carol rounds is the longest prelude to Christmas. Why go to Christian homes year after year to tell them what they already know? Why not plan carols in vernaculars to non-Christian homes in the neighbourhood? Carols have degenerated to dignified begging! It has become a collection campaign. To me carol rounds is nothing more than sleepy Christians disturbing sleeping Christians. Practise songs set to Indian music. Let the words be simple and clear. Present each of the non-Christian families you visit with a Christmas-message greeting card or a New Testament.
Send Christmas cards to as many "non-Christian" friends as possible. Avoid sending cards with Western trees, leaves and scenery. For example, what's the meaning of a snow deer picture card in India? I call upon Christian artists to design Christmas cards with Indian cultural settings in mind. Instead of a candle you can draw a lampstand (kuthuvizhakku) which is more Indian. It will be appealing if the greetings can be in vernaculars.
We can bring about a change in Christmas decorations also. Instead of using casuarina or pine leaves, we can go in for mango leaves which are typically Indian. Don't tell me that mango leaves are associated with Hindu festivals. Do you know that several things associated with the Western style of Christmas celebrations have a pagan origin—like the very date of December 25, Santa Claus, Christmas tree, etc.?
Include non-Christian children in Christmas plays. Don't leave them out for Christmas tree functions. The angel need not be fair in complexion. He can be in Asian brown or African black. Why not?
Sit with your pastors and elders to plan a special Christmas service for non-Christians. Get the choir practise bhajan songs on the birth of Christ rather than hymns. Let each Christian bring atleast one non-Christian to this service. Before, during and after the service in the Church premises the Christians must behave as hosts for the non-Christian guests. As far as possible remove your shoes when you enter the Church. Indian non-Christians cannot think of walking into a place of worship with sandals on. (Hanging of stockings overhead with gifts inside is totally unacceptable to the Indian mind!!!) Stay sensitive culturally.
Invite non-Christian neighbours to your Christmas dinner. In certain areas Christians are known as those who eat pork, drink and dance! Let's repent of revels which have brought a reproach on the name of Christ. Feed the poor who cannot repay you.
Apostle Paul liberated the Gospel from Jewish clothing. Martin Luther liberated it from Latin clothing. It's our responsibility to liberate it from Western clothing.
Some of what I've written here may be objectionable to many. But missionary-minded Christians will agree with me that unless such radical changes are effected in our personal and corporate lifestyle, we will not leave an impact on the non-Christian masses even if we are given another two thousand years.
(Read also Question, "Is it right to celebrate Christmas?")