Matthew 28: 16-20 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen”
In the past 20 years, I have noticed a trend introduced into the church experience – that of the ubiquitous “conference.” Many of us are very familiar with one of the most known conferences, which originated here in Dallas, Texas that has become an annual event hosted in various cities and states. From my understanding, the conferences book well-known speakers; they provide seminars on varied topics; they have books, cd’s, DVDs, t-shirts, etc. for sale; and definitely provide some of the best entertainers in the industry.
Since the inception of this trend 20 years ago, I had neither felt inspired nor a sense of urgency to see what this was all about. However, two and a half years ago the Holy Spirit led me to a few women conferences, three to be exact. The first conference I attended was in November 2009, and it ran over three nights. In March 2010, I attended a second conference, which was held over five days; and the last in August of 2010. I began to see some patterns – the conferences were being promoted as the place you needed to be to hear and receive a relevant, timely, inspired word from God – that is, a prophetic word. Hmm. It is touted to be the place to “take you to your next level in your faith walk,” and you were always told to expect to receive your “breakthrough, it’s in the air.” If that’s the purpose of the conference, then what is the purpose of the church?
If you read the scripture cited above, you probably overlooked a very specific instruction Jesus left his disciples and it is the same directive given the church today. Also, in John 21:15, we find Christ eating with disciples this being the third time He’s shown himself to his disciples after being resurrected from the dead. He begins to question Peter’s love for him. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loved him and on each occasion Peter responds in the affirmative, “yes Lord,” to which Christ replied, “Feed my lambs,” “Feed my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.” I’d like for you to read John 21:15-17, keeping in mind the post, The Subject at Issue. Notice that, although Christ is having a conversation with Peter, look at who is the subject of Christ’s command. You are. Christ’s threefold repetition of “my” is a reminder to all Christians who hold responsibility over others that the persons under them belong to Christ. “You” means pastors, missionaries, teachers and parents are under-shepherds to whose care Christ has committed His sheep and He has a standard of care to which you will be held accountable. Teach them!
In Philippians 4:9, Paul instructs the church at Philippi, “whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice and the God of peace will be with you.” In the book of Hebrews, the writer — unknown but assumed to be Paul — has a message of exhortation to hold fast and to go on to maturity. Additionally, II Peter 3:18 exhorts us to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Learn. Practice. Grow.
Notice the four directives given the church by Christ and the apostles:
- Practice (to live out, to do, to observe, to abide)
Of our time dedicated in the sanctuary, although we should gather together for corporate worship and praise, the ultimate purpose of our meeting should be dedicated to teaching and feeding Christ’s sheep, building up the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning of craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive all with the ultimate goal of equipping the saints to go out and make disciples of men.
Instead of teaching, many churches today spend so much time preaching to the saints. I read Face Book posts of those who talk about going to church, especially Bible study, and announce how their pastors or ministers preached a good word. Teaching is for the saved; preaching – while I know many enjoy the charisma of it — is for the lost. You ever wonder why some pastors are preaching a word instead of teaching the Word? I will give you three solid reasons why? First, many of them are self-appointed and not a gift that the Word declares only God Himself can give. Second, many are not equipped to teach the Word and lack the knowledge (not intelligence, but knowledge Himself) to impart to you. And finally, but more importantly, the false teachers preach instead of teach so as to not expose themselves. Many of you have been in various churches over the years, while some have belonged to the same church consistently for years. I ask you to do some serious reflection. Ask yourself how many whole books of the Bible has your pastor taken the time to teach your local body, verse by verse, or chapter by chapter, until finished? Ask yourself how often your church has preaching on Bible study night and not teaching that entails you taking notes and being able to ask questions? Ask yourself if your church has a model for evangelism that is regularly taught to believers to equip you to carry out Christ’s directive? And, if you have a model, how often are you as a church going out to seek to make disciples of Christ? Finally, has your pastor taught any or all of these books in entirety at any point in your membership: John, Romans, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Timothy, James, I and II Peter, I, II and III John and Jude? Why these books in particular? I encourage you to make the time for study and discover it for yourselves. The false teachers will always distort truth of scripture, and will avoid teaching whole books – specifically the ones mentioned above – in their attempt to draw you to themselves and away from Truth in their desire to make merchandise of you. I cannot detail it here, but please read this passage of scripture, Paul’s farewell to the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20:19-38). This is the heart of a shepherd given by the Holy Spirit!
Churches have become occupied with so many events, so much entertainment and very little teaching. Pastor and wife anniversary; founder’s day; church anniversary; choir anniversary – these were the events of the past. In addition to those events, they have added youth conferences; women’s conferences; men’s conferences; pastor’s conferences; single’s conferences, marriage conferences, musicals, banquets, concerts and the like. Ever wonder why they are having all these conferences? Christ himself has given the directive to feed his sheep, but they have learned how to make the gospel big business. It is a lot easier and beneficial for them to make members than it is to make disciples. Look at the business world model. Anyone who goes to school, gets a degree, attains let’s say twenty years or more in a given field, can then with certain credentials be labeled an expert and hire themselves out at exorbitant rates for those who need what they have. And so it is in the church now. Thus, anything labeled conference, symposium, seminar, or summit comes with a price for which, if they truly are gifts given by God, they received it freely. Observe and discern these events, and the people who sponsor them, for what they can be – distractions – meant to keep you busy, but unfocused to lead the sheep astray. Do you recall the account of Christ feeding the five thousand (Mark 6:32-44)? There is much to expound on, but I will point towards a few key facts. First, if you are not being taught where you are, then you don’t have a shepherd. The shepherd seeks to meet the needs of his flock, not having the flock meet his. When Jesus saw the need of the people, he had compassion toward them as they were as sheep not having a shepherd and he taught them. Second, when the work is of God, He sustains it (II Corinthians 9:8-9). The disciples, concerned that it was getting late and because they were in a desert place, became concerned as to how the people would be provided for. Notice Jesus gave the command to the disciples first for them to feed the people. If Christ said it, they should have known that with Him they could do it. They failed to see the power that was amongst them and, greater things could we all do in His name, if we surrender to the power within us. Finally, never look to man. Place no confidence in the flesh, but always look up to God. When they brought Jesus the five loaves and two fish, Christ looked up to heaven – the source from which all blessings flow and where His help came from. A good under-shepherd will always help you focus your eyes on The Shepherd of your souls in all things, in all your ways, at all times.
The enemy is the prince of this world, but his agenda is still the same; he wants to exalt himself above God (Isaiah 14:12-14). Christ has forewarned us to beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Did you notice the revealed truth? Not just that there will be false prophets who appear to be sheep, but the fact that they will come to you? Thus, we should be on guard for them in the place you least expect — the church!
Practice and you will grow! If they teach, you should learn. Are you learning? If so, then it is required of you to practice so that you may grow. Both 2 Peter 3:17-18 and Colossians 1:9-10 clearly show the importance of growing in knowledge. On the one hand, we are called to knowledge of the Truth – the unalterable revealed Truth that contains no error – and we are told to hold fast to that Truth. On the other hand, we are admonished to grow in grace and knowledge. In order to realize that one has grown, one must have a starting point, a point of comparison. We should drink in God’s Word like newly born infants, crave pure spiritual milk that we may by it be able to grow. In light of the fact that many churches today have made various doctrinal adjustments over the years, wisdom shows itself by asking, “if God’s word has not changed, then why have they?”
We can certainly understand that growth is essential. Yet, do the scriptures provide any specific indications of how to grow? Indeed they do. At the beginning of 2 Peter is a clear description of what it means to grow and neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:3-10 reads :
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue, through these he gave us the very great and precious promises that by them we might participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. Because you have these blessings, we need to make every effort to add these things to your lives: to your faith, add goodness; and to your goodness, add knowledge; and to your knowledge, add self-control; and to your self-control, add patience; and to your patience, add service for God; and to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love. If all these things are in you and are growing, they will help you to be useful and productive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, if anyone lacks these things he is blind and cannot see afar and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
Please note that faith, virtue, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity are characteristics that are not acquired through personal study and intellectual prowess. Many intelligent individuals in this world are sorely lacking in these attributes. These are characteristics that we obtain and develop, over our lifetime, only with the help of the Holy Spirit.
In like manner, the “knowledge” that Peter is referring to also is not acquired through study. We cannot grow in spiritual knowledge on our own – we need the help of the Holy Spirit. While it is mandatory to grow in knowledge, what is often overlooked is that there is more than one type of knowledge. The book of Colossians addressed this very issue. There were those, a group called Gnostics – derived from the word for knowledge – who claimed that the possessed privileged supernatural knowledge necessary for salvation. Satan is a deceiver, he is a liar and the father of them and his knowledge is earthly, sensual and demoniacal. God’s knowledge is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. I serve an all-knowing, all-powerful omnipresent God who desires to be known by those who are His. Thus, growth in this knowledge is not about coming up with new doctrines, but it means that our behavior will begin to reflect His behavior. Our actions will begin to reflect His actions. Our thoughts will begin to reflect His thoughts. One does not grow in grace and knowledge by adding additional restrictions to the revealed Way of life. Neither does one grow by taking away any requirements from the revealed Way of life. We cannot change the Truth of God. What we must do is persevere in our application of the knowledge of the Truth, for “perseverance must finish its work so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4). We should labor fervently, that we “may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12).
In the final analysis, it is the Christian’s responsibility to diligently remain faithful to the Truth, firm and unwavering, from the beginning to the end (Heb. 3:6, 14; 1 John 2:24). If we are members of the church of God in these last days, then we are recipients of the Truth. This is not just a physical, letter-of-the-law truth, but also spiritual truth, which can only be comprehended through the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. This does not imply that we have all understanding about everything. Far from it. We still have partial understanding with regard to many things. However, those called during this present dispensation are given knowledge of the Truth, while others are ever learning, yet never able to come to it. Sadly, some would have been better off not to have “known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Pet. 2:21).
In case you didn’t see it, the purpose, the work, the mission of the church should reside within the walls of the heart of each individual believer because, unfortunate as it may be, you may not see it residing within the walls of the church!
Jesus said the harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. If you aren’t being trained for evangelism, if you aren’t being equipped for spiritual warfare, if you aren’t being exhorted to remember all that Christ has commanded of you and if making disciples is not your focus, then what is the purpose of your church? Make your calling and election sure!
© April 2012 Belinda Powell