Ex. 20:13 π Prov. 18:1; 2nd π Mt. 13:33 π Mt. 24:12 π Mt. 24:13 π Mk. 3:1-6 π Mk. 7:13 π Lk. 5:37-39 π Jn. 16:13 π Acts 13:1-2 π 1 Cor. 5:6-7 π 1 Cor. 5:10 π 1 Cor. 12:26 π 2 Cor. 6:17 π 2 Cor. 7:1 π Gal. 5:9 π 1 Tim. 4:1 π Heb. 12:6 π Heb. 12:11
There is a monstrous distortion floating about that says, “That man is hurt and bitter – nothing he says could possibly be true or right.” This accusation is most often leveled at prophets or other men of God who have something to say that is difficult for the listener to receive. If the prophet were right, the listener (even though he be a “pastor” or “elder”) might have to acknowledge that he or she is wrong –therefore there is not even a remote possibility that the prophet could be right. This accusation is also used to silence or dismiss those who, in their spiritual journey to find truth and light, have run afoul of the entrenched status-quo Nicolaitan clergy who see God’s work in that “nobody” “layman” and are either envious or fearful for their own position and lifestyle (assuming this thought makes it out of the realms of their subconscious!).
That this way of excusing sin and dismissing prophets and dissidents is nothing new is evidenced by A.W. Tozer, a man considered a “20th century prophet” even in his own lifetime, who, in a chapter entitled “The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches,” wrote:
“If I know my own heart, it is love alone that moves me to write this. What I write here is not the sour ferment of a mind agitated by contentions with my fellow Christians. There have been no such contentions. I have not been abused, mistreated or attacked by anyone. Nor have these observations grown out of any unpleasant experiences that I have had in my association with others. My relations with my own church as well as with Christians of other denominations have been friendly, courteous and pleasant. My grief is simply the result of a condition which I believe to be almost universally prevalent among the churches.” (God Tells the Man Who Cares, pp. 204-205)
This quote is from an article that appeared in The Alliance Witness just two days after Tozer’s death in 1963. This article is recognized as his valedictory speech, his parting message, because it expressed the concern of his heart – and even he considered it as “also the burden of the Spirit.” (ibid, p. 204) This quote is at the very beginning of this somewhat lengthy article and from what Tozer is saying, it is quite evident that he was simply defending what he was about to say from these usual dismissals of such “hard words” that were to follow this quote. Had Tozer been involved in contentions, abuses, mistreatments, attacks or unpleasant associations, would it have necessarily tainted the “hard words” which followed? No. But Tozer is simply eliminating tactics used in his day by those who would wish to avoid personal responsibility for their own sinful actions – the same tactics still used to this day.
Paul wrote, “If one member [of Christ’s body] suffers, all the members suffer with it.” ( 1 Cor. 12:26; top ) The sensitivity of one member to the damage being done to other body parts may be greater than even the ones to whom the damage is being done – especially in the case where the victim is spiritually immature. Many people claiming to belong to Christ’s body routinely practice activities harmful to their soul and spirit (or to someone else’s) yet remain impervious to the gentle proddings of the Spirit and their conscience, having been taught that such actions are right and proper. Regular, routine attendance at the weekly lectures of the “pastor” are one such example. But because someone they have trusted has reassured them their actions are right and good, when someone else comes along denouncing their “church” methodology, why, “they’re just hurt and bitter!”
When the hurt is of the kind that embraces envy, jealousy or personal frustration at being passed over for promotion in the “church” hierarchy structure, then yes, the hurts inflicted are likely to taint any “hard words” the speaker may be inclined to share. But when the pain is from a wound incurred because some member of the body is hurting or being hurt (even when that one is spiritually unaware there is even a problem), this is a burden of the Lord. Those who reject this burden reject the Lord and not just the prophet or messenger.
The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives… Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” ( Heb. 12:6 , 11; top ) When the Lord chastens and scourges a son away from deceptive “church” practices, what tools might the Lord use to teach the son to flee from “Christian” idolatry? One such tool will be the abuse the clergy inflicts on the “layman” who dares to dissent against the “pastor’s” “infallible” theological opinions. After having experienced “church” or clergy abuse (assuming there is subsequent forgiveness granted in his heart) a true son of God is very aware of Nicolaitan doctrines and practices – even if he doesn’t know to call them by their rightful name! But the people who want to avoid personal responsibility for their own sins dismiss the sons by saying, “he’s just hurt and bitter” and then practice denial that the clergy or other men of the “church” did anything to hurt that son. The son was hurt (but has recovered nicely) and he never was bitter – but somehow he just received “miraculous, immaculate woundings” inflicted by no one! All this denial of reality and twisted sub-conscious “logic” is just so everyone else can avoid taking responsibility for their own sins and be compelled to change their own behaviors or lifestyle.
Mark records, “And [Jesus] entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And [the Pharisees] watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath so that they might accuse Him. Then He said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Step forward.’ And He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they kept silent. So when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.” ( Mk. 3:1-6; top )
First, let us notice the hardness of the Pharisees’ hearts: they were so zealous to protect their interpretations of the Sabbath law that they were willing to violate the law that said, “You shall not murder.” ( Ex. 20:13; top ) Though they considered it unlawful for Jesus to do something supernatural and good for the man with the withered hand, it was quite permissible for themselves to plot the murder of this young upstart Jesus from Nazareth. Such hypocrisy!
Then let us notice Jesus’ reaction. He was grieved. The man’s life was hampered by this disability – and the Pharisees were willing to use this handicapped man to trap Him, looking to accuse Him of working on the Sabbath because He brought forth God’s healing power on their notion of a holy rest day! And He was angry. One has to wonder if, when the Pharisees went off to plot with the Herodians (a group with quite different moral standards of conduct than the strict Pharisees – politics made strange bedfellows even then!), if at least one of their number didn’t say, “He’s hurt and bitter – and that’s why He leads the people astray. And He’s just mad at us – remember what He did to the moneychangers!”
In our present day, there is as much a revolution away from the institutional “church” as Jesus brought to traditionalized Judaism. The addition of traditions to God’s law is basically the same thing as the addition of institutions to Christ’s body. It is an appendage that must be cut off, a poison that must be vomited from the body. In our day, people have abandoned the “churches” by the thousands, even millions – and have tried to separate themselves from whatever “church” idolatry to which they have been exposed. Unfortunately, nearly everyone who has made an exodus from the “church” has brought other “church” leftover baggage with them because they have failed to see that the whole loaf is leavened. ( Mt. 13:33 , 1 Cor. 5:6-7 , Gal. 5:9; top ) Consider the following quote from Frank Viola, a leading spokesman in the house “church” movement.:
What happens when gifted members of the Body of Christ are reared from a human organization built on unbiblical traditions rather than growing up organically out of the experience of the Body of Christ? To put it another way, what happens when a gifted Christian’s only experience is in the modern institutional church?
The answer? Mixture . . . with a capital M!
Add to that a footnote: Malfunction.
What happens when you remove polar bears out of their natural habitat? If they survive (and some do not), they do not fully function as God designed. They lose their ability to reproduce. What happens when lions are caged and domesticated from birth? They lose their predatory and killer instincts. They lose something of the natural functioning with which God wired them.
Over the last decade, I’ve met scores of men who were self-proclaimed prophets and apostles. Some . . . not all . . . were genuinely gifted. Some of them had the gift of teaching. Others had authentic gifts of healing. Others had a genuine operation of the word of knowledge. A few of them (those whom I never met personally) have been helpful to me in my own spiritual walk, and I respect them greatly.
But most lacked any real depth into Jesus Christ and very little experience in understanding or embracing His cross. Further, I’ve yet to meet one who had a grasp of God’s all-consuming dream and governing intention - His eternal purpose - the central object of all of His workings and dealings in and outside of space and time.
And most of them, if I can be perfectly honest, were very self-willed people who were fixated on their own importance.
Why is this? Because of the institution that raised them up. Or, in some cases, because they raised themselves up in isolation from other Christians. (The latter is an even more abnormal environment for a Christian to be nurtured. “He who separates himself seeks his own desire. He quarrels against all sound wisdom.” – Prov. 18:1; top )
To put it in a sentence, such men did not grow up in their proper environment. Few if any of them grew up in an authentic Body life experience where they were simply brothers among other brothers. Few if any had spent any time in a first-century expression of church life where their weaknesses and blindspots were exposed to others of equal rank. Instead, most were part of several institutional churches and launched out into an independent ministry on their own without any proper training or sending. As Watchman Nee once observed, “The tragedy in Christian work today is that so many of the workers have simply gone out, they have not been sent.”
The New Testament never envisions such a situation. (“Rethinking the Fivefold Ministry”)
Many people in their exodus from the “church” can easily confirm the indictment against institutionally raised apostles and prophets, but this quote betrays a deep misunderstanding of what is occurring to many people in their out-of-“church” experience. Let us look at each aspect where Frank’s analysis comes up short of the spiritual reality he is attempting to describe.
- “Mixture” and “malfunction” are the results “when a gifted Christ’s only experience is in the modern institutional church.” Since almost everyone brings something of the institutional “church” along with them (and this is consciously or unconsciously incorporated, even in many a house “church”), it is almost completely impossible to grow up in North America and not learn one’s basic Christianity in a “church” setting – one simply does not know not to go “the house of God” to look for God! Thus even people like Frank are teaching a mixture of ideas leavened with distortion and deception. The understanding that belongs to Christ and His Spirit of truth is substituted for however deep one’s spiritual understanding goes – and this is taught as the ultimate truth rather than as the next phase of progressive revelation (an early step in hardening a wineskin – see Lk. 5:37-39; top )
- “Separating” or “isolating” one’s self from other “Christians.” Many teachers, like Frank, will make this statement yet in other places and at other times will admit that not nearly everyone who claims to be a Christian actually is a genuine follower of Christ. Thus many “churches” – even house “churches” – are filled with people practicing idolatry in the name of Christ (most often serving the “I-god,” doing what is right in their own eyes and often tolerating others just to be tolerated in turn, and thus sacrificing the sacredness and holiness of assembling to the Lord). God still says, “Come out from among [the ‘Christian’ idolaters] and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you [as sons and daughters.]” ( 2 Cor. 6:17 - emphasis added; also see 1 Cor. 5:10 ) This clearly refutes Frank’s out-of-context usage of Prov. 18:1 (top). The one whom the Lord tells to separate himself from “Christian” idolaters (which is all of us who read the Bible for ourselves and truly learn from the Spirit of truth) is a fool to blindly join himself to some other group which only practices a more subtle form of “Christian” idolatry!
- “Such men did not grow up in their proper environment.” Neither did John the Baptist, Paul, Jude, James, Agabus, Baranabas, Silas, Timothy – not to mention the twelve apostles! There was no ekklesia when these men were young! How about Moses? His first 40 years were spent in Egypt and his next 40 years were spent alone in the wilderness of Midian. What about Jesus? His first 30 years are virtually unknown to us but surely included working as a carpenter, the death of his human step-father and, as the oldest son, shouldering the responsibility of providing for his mother, brothers and sisters. Frank’s reliance on a “proper environment” is more often just another first step in creating a standard by which a hierarchy can be established which in turn creates yet another hardened wineskin.
- “Workers have gone out but not been sent.” Luke records, “In the ekklesia that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers… As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” ( Acts 13:1-2 - emphasis added) Where is there any ekklesia today whose prophets and teachers (with their inherent differing views of the word of God) are in unity and whose only agenda is to minister to the Lord so that they might be used for whatever work He has mind? And if the “church” organization to which a worker belongs or is attached in some way is unable to recognize the worker’s gifting from the Lord or they are unable to hear the Holy Spirit’s call to that worker, should the worker just stay home or just sit quietly in a pew and rot away with the rest of churchianity? I think not. Jesus said that lawlessness would abound and the love of many will grow cold. ( Mt. 24:12; top ) The worker who goes out “on his own” (but truly in response to the call of God’s Spirit) may well have more genuine agape love than those who bow down to and wait upon some “church” organization or group to send them out.
- “The New Testament never envisions such a situation.” Of course it does! The New Testament clearly portrays the ability of individuals to overcome all aspects of the apostasy, the great falling away from the faith, modern churchianity. No, individuals cannot, by themselves, be ekklesia – but it is still true that “he [singular] who endures [in the face of rampant lawlessness and lovelessness] to the end shall be saved.” ( Mt. 24:13 - emphasis added) Part of being guided into all truth ( Jn. 16:13; top ) is the gathering together, at the Lord’s leading, of those who truly belong to Him. But no believer can be faulted for not going to the place of the dead (the “church” even many a house “church”) to seek the living! When genuine believers, truly led by Christ’s Spirit, live in close proximity to one another, they will regularly come together to minister to the Lord and to one another. It is inevitable. When “believers,” who are led by their own understanding of even the Bible, live in close proximity to one another, they will often drive past their Christian neighbors, honking and waving as they go by, completely unconcerned, oblivious and unaware of their neighbors’ condition, struggles and difficulties. But these neighbors are – if there be any genuity to their claims of belonging to Christ – the ekklesia, the brothers and sisters in Christ, to whom they first and foremost belong!
The man who separates himself from all “Christian” idolatry so that he might purify himself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit ( 2 Cor. 7:1 ) so as to regain what the Lord considers it to mean to minister first, foremost and truly unto Him, is in a better place than any man who builds an organization that incorporates any traditions of men ( Mk. 7:13 ) or any doctrines of demons. ( 1 Tim. 4:1; top ) The man who is inwardly wounded by the rampant lawlessness, lovelessness and faithlessness of modern churchianity ought not be lightly dismissed as “hurt and bitter.” He may very well be another weeping prophet like Jeremiah or an angry radical like Jesus.
Let he who has ears hear.
I’d love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!