Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Identifying the 'True' Church

July 8, 2010

Various breakaway groups in Christianity have at times tried to use chain-links of prooftexts to bolster their claim to being the sole true "church". Without exception these claims are based on a certain kind of obedience to a particular "test" command or some point of knowledge that you need to know in order to be worshiping the true God (such as how to spell His "original" name correctly, etc.). Each of these groups believes that the heart and core of Christianity --Christ and Him crucified-- is insufficient to save. One needs the group's special knowledge in order to ultimately be saved. Each of these groups believe that their message actually *is* the heart and core of true Christianity.

The one book in the New Testament that seems to be devoted to knowing who is His and who is not is the book of 1st John. In this book "knowledge" means knowledge of Christ Jesus, the Son of God. And in this book, "commands" explicitly means loving our brothers and loving one another as He loved us (3:23). This all arose out of how Jesus Christ Himself said the world would know who His "true" disciples were: by His love in them for one another (Jn. 13:34-35). Jesus didn't say that His people would be known by their knowledge, doctrines, healthy bodies, or even by their holiness. He said they would be known by love, agape love. It seems like in various churches and breakaway groups the whole "church ID" question is made to be about everything else *but* what Jesus said.

This love (agape) is shown to us in this: God loved us while we were His enemies, long before we ever obeyed or disobeyed anything, and He gave His Son to atone for our sins. And we are called to the same love, to love even our enemies and bless those who curse us. This is the message and truth that only Christianity carries. When we let go of this agape love, we let go of loving our brothers, and we do not know Father or His love for our brothers. We begin to react to their sins with judgment instead of according to God's calling to give them agape.

This is why Matthew 24 says that the love (agape) of most will grow cold -- *because* they have reacted to the increasing wickedness in the world by ceasing to love (agape) their enemies. This is also why the same John who defined "commands" as meaning "loving one another" writes about "commands" in the book of Revelation in the context of the church being persecuted. They are known and shown to be His by their obedience to His command to love one another, even their enemies, instead of growing cold by reacting with judgment and vengeance. In all of John's writings, "commands" speaks of loving one another, even in Revelation.

Although all generations in Israel before had heard the law of Moses and experienced great miracles & judgments of God, none had yet seen Father until Jesus Christ came. All of the holy displays and rules of holiness in the Old Testament did not reveal the express image of God (Heb.1:1-3) and outshining of His character until Jesus Christ came and showed that God is love (agape). In the same way, God's children (the "true church") are not truly known by the holy displays and rules in the Old Testament, but rather are known by Christ's grace and love. The law came through Moses, and men did not know Father. But "truth" came through Christ, and now we have seen the Father in the face of Jesus Christ.

This means that just as Scripture says, we are neither judged nor proved to be His by external measurements such as foods, drinks, holy days, Sabbaths, etc. The "ID" book (1st John) speaks of knowing we are His by something that is fundamentally internal (love!) and extremely difficult for us to ultimately judge one another about. Moreover, the same book echoes Paul's numerous statements by saying that we know we belong to Him because He has given us His Holy Spirit. The Spirit, too, is invisible and can only ultimately be seen by God Himself and by our own hearts. The Spirit is the seal of our redemption (Eph.1:13-14). The "witness" that we belong to Him is not how well we keep a certain commandment or know a certain amount of knowledge. Rather it is the Spirit who witnesses that we belong to Him: "The Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God" (Rm.8:16).

Friend, I don't know if you have children or not, but I have two young children. If someone wants to see whether my children are truly my children or not, are they going to look at the works my children do? No, they'll simply do two things: First, they'll ask me if I am the father. Second, if they need more proof, they'll call for a medical test to determine parenthood. If my son grows up and wonders if he was adopted, what will he do? First he will ask me! And if he still doesn't believe me, he can go for the DNA test. In the same way, God has testified that we are His by two things: first by the witness of the Holy Spirit (Father's witness that we belong to Him) and second by the witness of our own born-again spirits (our deepest DNA) who cry out, "Father, Daddy!"

Children are identified by their parents and by their blood. Children aren't identified by their duties, works, or even by their obedience. Of course every parent wants their child to obey. But did the Father say that His son ceased to be His son when he went away to live in a far away country? Did the son only become a "son" again when he returned? Not in that Father's eyes! In the Father's eyes we belong to Him based on our spiritual DNA, not based on the obedience we render to Him (especially not based on obedience to the already-fulfilled shadows of the Old Covenant).

Children aren't identified by their works. But *slaves* are. Employees, slaves and servants are identified by their jobs, their peformance, being "owned" as a commodity and being valued primarily for their productivity instead of who they are. This is where mankind was prior to the coming of Christ, kept under law as slaves until the Son came and brought adoption to all who believe in Christ. So we no longer measure if we are His or not based on law, based on the terms of slavery, but instead we look to the Spirit of adoption because of what the Son accomplished for us -- purchasing us, redeeming us from slavery so that we are now heirs and no longer slaves.

In other words, yes, it is all about Christ and Him crucified. It is all about loving with His love. The heart and core of Christianity is more than sufficient to save. And in fact, it is by resting in the heart and core of the gospel that we are identified as His in His eyes, and it is by His love that the world will also know we belong to Him. If any group makes the matter of identifying "God's true people" to be about anything other than God's identifying "commands" in 1 Jn.3:23 (believe on Christ and agape one another), then the hard truth is that such a group is actually drawing people *away* from God and His commands.

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  • At July 23, 2010 1:59 PM, Blogger Ramone said…

    This note I've written above came about as a reply to a friend of a friend. My friend had asked in sorrowful shock, "How can any denomination or church group say that they are HIS church to the exclusion of others?" My friend's friend replied defending one church's claim to being the "sole" church. My reply to the friend's friend is the article above.

    However, my original reply to my friend's sorrowful question ("How can any denomination or church group say that they are HIS church to the exclusion of others?") is here below:


    Imagine it like a son saying to his brother, "I am my father's only son." How would the father feel?

    If we tell God who He does and does not have the right to adopt as His own, it probably means we don't understand His adoption at all and think we are "His" based on our own criteria for "adoption" rather than His adoption by His loving grace alone. If we don't understand that, and then make our own criteria, it probably means our own adoption papers may not have come through yet, so to speak.

    In other words, the only way people can claim they are the Father's only children is if some part of them *does not know* the Father. God may have accepted our hearts even while we didn't know Him and His grace fully, however if we don't know what Father is really like, we might go through life living like the elder brother (slaving away) instead of enjoying Father's unconditional free love.

    Part of us wants to naturally smack the elder brothers across the head for such arrogance or boasting, etc., however I don't believe that's the direction God wants us to go with them. I believe He's calling us to ask for & receive His heart for "elder brothers" whose hearts are living in a far-away country, in slavery to their image of Father instead of knowing His loving, free releasing acceptance. I hear Him calling us to pray for and love "elder brothers" instead of condemning them. They seem to condemn others, yes, but most often they're condemning themselves and desperately need freedom from slavery. (Lord, help us see past the prideful words on the surface to the tired and suffering heart beneath, in Jesus' name!)

  • At July 23, 2010 2:00 PM, Blogger Ramone said…

    Additional comment:

    Among a certain breakaway group, I know where a certain view of "commands" will inevitably lead (because it has been foredecided), however what is in 1st John is very clear and simple. 1) Believe on Christ for He is your atonement, your complete salvation, and 2) Love one another as He has loved you. That is the whole of it.

    Breakaway groups attempt to attach certain knowledge or commands onto these two simple things. Effectively they *use* these two simple commands to point to the "critical-and-overlooked" knowledge or command that the breakaway group champions (and usually champions alone). In other words, the goal is to use "love" and "Christ" as a means to end up at the specific knowledge or command the breakaway group points to.

    It is very like using the words "the testimony of Jesus" to point to one's own writings, pet doctrines or messages instead of pointing to Jesus Himself. Breakaway groups use the name of God's Son and the name of His love to support *their* case instead of supporting *God's case* -- the testimony He has given about His Son (1 Jn. 5:9-13).

    A real way to test if it is Christianity or a breakaway group calling itself the "true church" is whether or not they can allow these two central commands to be "enough" to please God and be saved. In other words, if you say to someone that "Christ Jesus and agape love" are enough, and they can't quite rest comfortably with that but need to add something to it, then you're probably looking at a breakaway group. If they can't let the commands be enough, but need to add "Yes, but you need to know/do this..." or "Yes, but that means this and this..." (etc.), then it's not resting in Jesus Christ as one's salvation, but rather is a sort of extra "insurance" they believe is necessary just in case faith & love are not enough to make Him happy & keep you safe to the last day.


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