Category Archives: Worship

The Right to Assemble

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The first of the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States, known as the Bill of Rights, says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (emphasis mine). Arguably, certain groups today are loudly exercising their “freedom of speech” (while prohibiting the speech of opposing views). These same groups, while adopting one part of the Constitution, ignore the part that allows them to “peaceably” assemble. Instead, they riot, vandalize, and destroy private property. These groups gather in large mobs in blatant violation of all “social distancing” recommendations put forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

There is another group that is ignoring the First Amendment by happily, quietly, and carefully adhering to all the dictates put forth from our beneficent government. Because the Government cares deeply about its citizens and because the Government wants to protect its citizens from the deadly Wuhan Bug, it issued strict stay-at-home orders. All mass gatherings were prohibited and gatherings were limited to 10 or less. Restaurants or any business where people come in close contact with one another were shut down. Such draconian measures affected many small businesses and severely damaged the national economy, but it also directly impacted houses of worship. Most churches fell right in step with Government demands without a peep. Oh, there were some outcries, but these drew immediate fire, not only from the media and local authorities but from other churches that readily complied with “the law.”

Please do not get me wrong. In many ways, I sympathize with pastors of these compliant churches. After all, the CDC painted a grim picture of the Wuhan Bug. It was stealthy. It struck out of nowhere. It was deadly. Pastors, who really care about their congregations, fear inviting a deadly, invisible guest into their congregations that could infect and possibly kill some of their members. If the Wuhan threat were as pernicious as represented by the CDC, pastors cautiously refused to take responsibility for infecting their members.

So, Churches across the country closed their doors. Of course, many churches found creative ways to keep “having church.” Live streaming of church services actually increased the number of church attendance, and many thousands have come to the Lord as a result. Bible study groups took advantage of Zoom ™ to conduct interactive Sunday School classes. So, all was not lost.

Churches have quietly complied with Government (local, state, and federal) demands. However, in doing so they have broken two greater laws – the Law of the Land (the Constitution), and the Law of God.

The stay-at-home orders violate the First Amendment in two ways. They prohibit “the free exercise” of religion and “the right of the people to peaceably assemble.” Some will argue that we have not lost “the free exercise” of religion because we continue to exercise our religion virtually through live stream. Perhaps. However, the second part of the amendment ensures that we can “peaceably assemble” and that is very much a part of our “religion” (see our beginning verse above). Unless I missed something in my high school civics studies, the Constitution supersedes all other laws (except the Law of God). Local and state governments cannot (legally) make laws that supplant the Law of the Land, nor can an unelected body like the CDC. So, by compliance with these unlawful laws, the Church is violating the law of the land.

By compliance with these unlawful edicts, the Church has unwittingly broken God’s law by “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). One of the purposes for our assemblies is “to provoke [one another] unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24). That is next to impossible to do “virtually.” That cannot be done over the internet or even in a Zoom meeting for Sunday School. We need each other. “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 craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:14-16). We can best “edify” each other when “the whole body [is] fitly joined together.”

The last phrase of Hebrews 10:25 reminds us that we should assemble “so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Anyone paying attention can see that “day approaching.” And what is the Church doing? Staying at home watching their pastor on a computer monitor!

Things seem to be winding down with the Wuhan scamdemic, but the CDC warns that it may ramp up again in the Fall. So, will the Church go back into hiding again?

Another observation troubles me. It is the lack of faith in God’s provision and protection demonstrated by the Church’s submission to these unlawful directives. If Jesus has directed His Church to not forsake our assembling together, especially as we see the day approaching, will He not honor that and protect us from any harm? Or, is trusting in His provision just something we read in the Bible that is nice to talk about, but not to be taken seriously? Since the shutdown orders went into effect, I’ve heard many sermons encouraging listeners to take courage and not to be fearful, yet, the pews are empty and the preacher is speaking to a cold, unresponsive camera. Where is the courage in that!

Again, I do not mean to criticize pastors. They are doing what they feel is best for their flock. I understand. How about showing true courage and opening the doors to the church with no “social distancing”? How about behaving as if God will protect His people as He has promised? How about standing up against unlawful orders, and courageously affirming that “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)?

I think it’s about time we assert our right to assemble. If anyone is fearful they should stay home. If anyone suspects they might be contagious, they should stay home. Otherwise, let’s have church – real church!

3 Comments

Filed under Apologetics, Christianity, Current Events, End Times, Random Musings, Religion, Second Coming of Christ, Worship

Looking for Antichrist

Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. (Revelation 13:18)

For longer than I have studied end-times prophecy (and I by no way count myself as an expert), prophecy watchers have sought to determine the identity of the end-times Antichrist. Our starting verse above suggests that someone with “wisdom” can know the name of the “the beast,” the Antichrist, by calculating the “number of his name” – 666. By assigning numerical values to the letters of the alphabet, some in the past (perhaps even now) have used this “clue” to determine the name of the Antichrist. However, these overlook the fact that the Revelation was written in Koine Greek, and they apply this method to the English alphabet. Hence, several candidates have come and gone: Napoleon, Hitler, and several U.S. Presidents among others.

Personally, I believe that the identity of the Antichrist should be of no concern for Christians for reasons I will discuss later. When the Antichrist arrives on the scene, how will the world recognize him?

The Antichrist appears first in the Book of Daniel where the prophet characterizes him as a “little horn”[1] that rises out of a ten-nation confederacy. Without going into a lengthy explanation, a “horn” symbolizes a “kingdom” or a “king.” That the horn is “little” suggests perhaps a political leader having little authority at first, but then rises to power. Adolf Hitler is a good example of how this can happen. In my opinion, the “little horn” is alive and politically active right not, but because of his “little” position, he does not occupy the limelight. However, according to Daniel, he will arise and assume great power.

The Antichrist next appears in the Book of Daniel where the prophet characterizes him as a “prince.”[2] The Hebrew word translated “prince” is nâgı̂yd, which means “commander” (civil, military, or religious). “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate” (Daniel 9:27, emphasis mine). The “one week” is a translation of the Hebrew “one seven;” in other words, a group of seven years. This is the final seven years of Daniel’s 70 “weeks” of years determined for Daniel’s people, the Jews[3] that we know as the Tribulation.

According to the prophet, the “prince” will “confirm the covenant” for seven years (one week). This suggests that a covenant (treaty or agreement) already exists that has not been ratified. He does not “make” the covenant, but he makes the covenant effective.

Unless you live under a rock, you should be aware of all the problems with Israel and its Arab neighbors. So persistent are the “wars and rumors of wars”[4] in Israel that the media does not even bother to report on it unless they can somehow vilify Israel. President Donald Trump with the help of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has devised the “deal of the century” to bring peace to the Middle East particularly as it involves Israel and the “Palestinians.” However, the plan finds strong resistance from the Palestinians and other Muslim nations.

Could this be the “covenant” that Antichrist will confirm? Who will rise to make the covenant effective? As noted above, the “little horn” will not be known until he comes to power and confirms the covenant with Israel for seven years. If you are around when that happens, you are in for a long, hard seven years, but even then there is hope.

Daniel foretells that Antichrist will break his covenant with Israel after 3½ years by desecrating the Temple. Right now, there is not a Temple in Jerusalem, but the Temple Faithful[5] have everything needed to rebuild the Temple. The original Ark of the Covenant is hidden for now, though they claim to know its location. In order for Antichrist to desecrate the Temple, a Temple must exist. Jesus said, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation [i.e. the Antichrist], spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16). Perhaps rebuilding the Temple is part of Trump’s Deal of the Century!

The Apostle Paul refers to Antichrist as “that man of sin” and “the son of perdition.”[6] This is the one “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4, emphasis mine). Antichrist is an atheist. He opposes everything pertaining to God and even exalts himself above God. Daniel also makes this point. “And the king [i.e. the “little horn”] shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done” (Daniel 11:36, emphasis mine). Worse than being an atheist, Antichrist will actually worship Satan. “But in his estate shall he honour the [g]od of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things” (Daniel 11:38). The “god of forces” is Satan, who controls the powers and principalities who are the demonic realm.

This “spirit of antichrist” prevails in our world today. Humans reject God, and in effect, make themselves gods. The Apostle John, author of the Book of Revelation makes this point: “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). That applies to many today. “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:3, emphasis mine). “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18, emphasis mine). However, the Antichrist will top them all.

In the Book of Revelation, John describes the Antichrist as a “beast” rising “up out of the sea.”[7] Symbolically, the “sea” refers to the masses of humanity. He receives his power from “the dragon,”[8] i.e., Satan. Apparently, sometime in the first half of the Tribulation[9] he receives a deadly head wound from which he revives.[10] This “miracle” imitates Christ’s resurrection from the dead so that the people of the world “worshipped the dragon that gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast” (Revelation 13:4). After this, he gains power for the remaining 3½ years of the Tribulation. This seems to be the time when he desecrates the Temple. Perhaps after “rising from the dead,” he convinces himself that he is god. “And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven” (Revelation 13:6, emphasis mine). “Tabernacle” and “Temple” are synonymous. Further along in the chapter, a “second beast” is described. Prophecy students understand this beast to be the “false prophet” imitating the Holy Spirit. He erects an image of Antichrist and forces all people of the world to worship the image. Some think that the false prophet erects the image in the Temple, which is actually what desecrates the Temple. Note the counterfeit trinity: Satan in the place of God, the Beast in the place of Christ, and the False Prophet (the second beast) in the place of the Holy Spirit.

In brief, this is how Antichrist will be recognized. I do not believe that Christians will be around when Antichrist makes the scene. Paul assures us that the Rapture of the Church will take place before the Antichrist is revealed. He says, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; (2 Thessalonians 2:3, emphasis mine). That “falling away” is apostasia in the Greek, which refers to a defection or turning away from “the faith.” We see that happing all around us, as churches and denominations reject the teachings of the Bible and substitute entertainment for true worship. I wonder if churches closing out of fear of the Wuhan bug demonstrates a lack of faith for God’s protection and His admonition to “Not forsak[e] the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25, emphasis mine).

The “falling away” continues. Paul goes on to say that Antichrist will not show up until the “restrainer” is taken out of the way. “And now ye know what withholdeth that he [the Antichrist] might be revealed in his time” (2 Thessalonians 2:6, emphasis mine). “Withhold” is the Greek word katechō, which means to “hold down fast.” Paul admits that iniquity exists even now, but its full power is restrained until “he who now [katechō] will [restrain], until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8). That “Restrainer” is the Holy Spirit who resides within every true believer that makes up the Church, the Bride of Christ. When the Holy Spirit departs, the Church departs because Jesus promised, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18). He said, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter [i.e., the Holy Spirit], that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16).

So, don’t waste a lot of time and effort trying to figure out who the Antichrist is. Rather, study the signs of the last days given in the Bible. Pay attention to what is going on in the world around you. Especially, look at what is going on in Israel. The time is very near. And if you are unsure of your position with God, Read my page on “Securing Eternal Life.”

Notes:


[1]  Daniel 7:8

[2]  Daniel 9:26

[3]  Daniel 9:24

[4]  Matthew 24:6

[5]  The Temple Faithful – http://templemountfaithful.org/

[6]  2 Thessalonians 2:3

[7]  Revelation 13:1

[8]  Revelation 13:2

[9]  The Tribulation is detailed in Revelation 6-19

[10]  Revelation 13:3

4 Comments

Filed under Apologetics, Atheism, Bible, Christianity, Current Events, End Times, Evangelism, Politics, Resurrection, Salvation, Satan, Second Coming of Christ, Theology, Worship

Too Good, Too Late

For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made. (Isaiah 57:16)

Of all of God’s attributes, one is that of patience or longsuffering. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God’s patience is infinite, as He is infinite. However, God sets a limit on His patience as our starting verse makes clear; He will not “contend” with us forever. The Hebrew word translated “contend” is rı̂yb and it means “to toss, that is, grapple; to wrangle, that is, hold a controversy; to debate.

The earliest example we find in the Bible appears in the account of the Global Flood.[1] For almost 1600 years following Creation, men grew progressively perverse even though God’s witnesses existed in abundance. Their original father, Adam, lived for more than half of that time.[2] The letter to the Hebrews records that “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5, emphasis mine). Jesus’ half-brother, Jude, noted, “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 1:14-15). Yet, with all these witnesses over the many years, the wickedness of humans only increased. “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6). God’s patience reached its limit, and He sent the Flood.

However, God’s plan for the redemption of man never deviated. God’s salvation would come through Abraham and through his “seed.”[3] Abraham’s seed went through his son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob/Israel. Israel, that is the descendants of Jacob, soon put God’s patience to the test shortly after He rescued them from Egyptian bondage.

Not long after their exit from Egypt, they fell into idolatry by worshipping the golden calf[4] even though God earlier gave them His Ten Commandments. Then, one generation after entering the Promised Land, they fell right back into their old idolatrous ways. God would punish them, they would repent, God forgave and they would do it over again. This remained true throughout their history.

After King Solomon died, his son, Rehoboam failed to keep the nation united and the northern ten tribes seceded and formed their own nation, Israel. The southern kingdom survived with two tribes, Benjamin and Judah and went by the name of the larger tribe, Judah.

Israel immediately fell into idolatry and all her kings “did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD.” God’s patience with Israel reached its limit after 200 years, and the Assyrians under the King Shalmaneser[5] invaded and expatriated the entire population of Israel and deported them to “Halah and in Harbor by the river of Gozan, and the cities of the Medes” (2 Kings 17:6), which is somewhere in present-day northeastern Iraq.

Judah fared somewhat better. Most of her kings “did that which was right in the sight of the LORD;” however, they tolerated idolatry in the land even though they themselves may not have practiced idolatry. It all began with Solomon who actually built temples to the gods of his many wives and even joined them in the practice while maintaining the worship of God. After Solomon, the kingdom of Judah survived for 333 years, about 100 years longer than Israel. Judah had many “good” kings, but the ones that were bad were very bad.

Manasseh probably ranked as the worst of Judah’s bad kings. Not only did he follow “after the abominations of the heathen” but “he reared up altars for Baal,” “worshipped the host of heaven, and served them,” “built altars in the house of the LORD … in the two courts of the house of the LORD,” “he made his son pass through the fire,” and “he set a graven image … that he had made in the house, of which the LORD said to David … I will put my name forever”[6] Manasseh “seduced [Judah] to do more evil than did the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the children of Israel” (2 Kings 21:9).

Judah encountered the limit of God’s patience with Manasseh. “Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations … Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. … I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; Because they have done that which was evil in my sight, and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even unto this day” (2 Kings 21:11-15, emphasis mine).

Manasseh’s son, Amon, followed in his father’s footsteps, but his reign lasted only two years. However, his grandson, Josiah, was arguably Judah’s best king ever. He was only eight years old when he took the throne, but he did what his predecessors failed to do. He destroyed all the places of idol worship throughout the land and executed the pagan priests. He renovated and rededicated Solomon’s Temple that had fallen into disrepair and had been desecrated by Manasseh, Ahaz[7], and others. In the process of cleaning up the Temple, Hilkiah, the high priest, discovered “the book of the law in the house of the LORD.”[8] “And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes” (2 Kings 22:11). Of Josiah, Scripture records, “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him” (2 Kings 23:25).

Judah made a great turn-around because of good King Josiah. It was almost too good, but it was too late. “Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal. And the LORD said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there” (2 Kings 23:26-27, emphasis mine). About eleven years later, Nebuchadnezzar came and subdued Judah and took her children off to Babylonian captivity. Josiah was too good, too late. God’s plan would not change.

When I read the history of Israel in the Bible I cannot help but draw a parallel between that nation and the United States of America. There are many comparisons that can be drawn. However, there is one major difference that we often overlook. Israel was chosen by God for a specific purpose that is yet to be fulfilled. The United States was not. As we see the “end of days” on the horizon, Israel is very much in the picture; the U.S. is not.

However, there are some similarities, especially in the spiritual sense. Both nations had a strong foundation on the Word of God, and both nations lost their moorings from that foundation. The founding of the U.S. started long before 1776 or the signing of the Constitution in 1787. It began with the arrival of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock in November 1620 “for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith.”[9] If the U.S. is chosen by God, it is chosen only because of His people who maintain and uphold the Christian Faith, but those numbers are diminishing. Israel was chosen by God with a non-conditional promise made to Abraham, and regardless of Israel’s lack of loyalty or devotion to God, God will not renege on His promise. The U.S. does not enjoy that kind of commitment from God. We are nothing special.

Truly God has blessed this nation because of His people that inhabit this land and because our nation has, for the most part, obeyed God’s word and maintained that “In God We Trust.” However, over the years, that loyalty to God has waned, and we have allowed pagan gods to influence and even to dominate our government and our society.

After World War II the moral state of our nation took a downward turn. We banned prayer and the Bible from public schools. Then we sanctioned abortions on demand. At first, abortions were limited to the first trimester, but now many states accept infanticide as “a woman’s right.” Homosexuality was once a shameful practice kept “in the closet,” but now every kind of sexual perversion is not only tolerated but encouraged.

The Obama Administration saw the morality of the nation cascade like going over Niagara Falls. The sins of the nation brought with it a sharp decline in the prosperity of the nation. Things looked grim. Then came Donald Trump. Perhaps not the perfect picture of a Christian, but he has done more to promote the Christian Faith than any president before him. He declared Jerusalem the rightful capital of Israel and moved our embassy there. He blessed Israel and God says, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee” (Genesis 12:3). President Trump has done more to turn this country around than any previous president.

Then the Wuhan Bug hit. Many economists believe that our country may never recover. This downturn in the economy affects the whole world, not just the U.S. Many of our leaders and leaders of other nations are calling for a one-world government to fix the mess in which we find ourselves. The Bible warned that such would be the end of days. So, for all the good President Trump has done, it may be too good, too late.

Christians everywhere claim 2 Chronicles 7:14 hoping for a turn-around. However, that verse was specifically for Israel. The U.S. is NOT Israel, and we, the Church, are not Israel. When God’s patience reached its limit and Nebuchadnezzar surrounded Jerusalem, Jeremiah prayed fervently for deliverance. God answered, “Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence” (Jeremiah 14:11-12, emphasis mine). If that was God’s attitude toward His “chosen people,” why should we expect better? Instead, “I the LORD have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent; according to thy ways, and according to thy doings, shall they judge thee, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 24:14).

Since the “lockdown” went into effect, I hear that many are “seeking the Lord.” Online Bibles are being downloaded and read. Churches are seeing a rise in “virtual” attendees. I have seen this before – Y2K, 9-11. As soon as the crisis subsides, things go back to “normal” and society continues on its moral decline. I doubt this will be any different. Don’t get me wrong. I rejoice that some are truly turning to the Lord, but Jesus’ Word will not fail. “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14, emphasis mine). For all the good President Trump, like Josiah, has done, it may be too good, too late.

Reader, Jesus is coming very soon. Everything that is going on in the world today tells us that His coming is very near. Are you prepared to meet Him? If not, please read my page on “Securing Eternal Life” and settle it once and for all.

Notes:


[1]  Genesis 6-9

[2]  Genesis 5:5

[3]  Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:16

[4]  Exodus 32

[5]  2 Kings 17:3

[6]  2 Kings 21:1-7

[7]  “Trading Old For New” – https://erniecarrasco.com/2020/05/10/trading-old-for-new/

[8]  2 Kings 22:8

[9]  Mayflower Compact, November 21, 1620

1 Comment

Filed under Apologetics, Bible, Christianity, Current Events, End Times, Evangelism, Politics, Pro-life, Religion, Second Coming of Christ, Theology, Worship

Trading Old For New

Replica of the Arch to the entrance to the temple of Baal erected in Washington DC

For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8)

Things get old and lose the attraction we once held for them. Certainly, this is obvious with material things like cars, houses, stuff that goes in houses, jewelry, gadgets, etc. There are few things more exciting than getting a new car – the new-car smell, the sparkling paint, the way that it handles on the road. After a few years, though, the interior smells of stale hamburgers, wet dog or baby vomit. The shine fades and obscures the dings, dents, and scratches from parking too close to the entrance at Walmart. Driving then becomes just a thing you do to get from here to there. That car we fell in love with is just a thing now, and we take it pretty much for granted.

We do the same with traditions and relationships. It is bad enough when we take human traditions and relationships for granted, but it is worse when we treat God and the things of God the same way. We find a good example of this in the account of Ahaz, king of Judah.

No doubt Ahaz was brought up in the traditions and ways of God. He came from good stock, beginning with King David. His father Jotham, his grandfather, Azariah (a.k.a. Uzziah), great-grandfather Amaziah, and great-great-grandfather Jehoash (a.k.a. Joash) were all “good” kings and “did that which was right in the sight of the LORD.”[1] However, even though these kings faithfully obeyed God for themselves, they failed to lead the nation in that regard by not removing “the high places” where the people followed pagan practices. By allowing idolatry to continue, rather than stoning idolaters to death,[2] God’s commandments were largely ignored or followed only by rote. The recommended capital punishment for idolatry may seem extreme to our liberal ears, but God’s reasoning is impeccable. “And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you” (Deuteronomy 13:11).

So, even though Ahaz had good, Godly fathers, what he observed around him caused him to regard the things of God of little value. Perhaps the pagan practices he observed looked like a lot more fun. He could enjoy all the sex he wanted, and if his promiscuous acts produced offspring, he could sacrifice those to Molech[3] – all the fun and none of the responsibility! (Sound familiar?)

During his short reign of 16 years,[4] the Assyrian Empire was rising up. At that time, Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Syria joined forces to come against Jerusalem,[5] but they could not overcome the fortified city. Ahaz needed help, so rather than turning to God, he sought help from Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria. In order to buy the help, Ahaz robbed the treasures of the Temple of God (which had been robbed in the past beginning with Rehoboam.[6]). When one reads the spare-no-expense details of the building of Solomon’s Temple, it is sad to think of what had become of the once “wonder of the world.” Now, it was just a rundown building useful only for buying alliances. It was of little value to Ahaz, and the LORD God was not better than any other god in Ahaz’s eyes.

After Tiglath-pileser defeated Rezin, king of Syria, and carried off all the Syrians, Ahaz paid a visit to Damascus, the capital of Syria. There he saw the temple of Baalshamin (Baal), and he was deeply impressed by the altar to Baal. Not having a cell phone with a camera, he sketched a drawing of the altar along with the exact dimensions and sent them to the Urijah the high priest with orders to build a replica in the Temple in Jerusalem.

When Ahaz returned from Damascus, he instructed Urijal to move the original brazen altar built by Solomon to the north side of the Temple. In its place on the east side before the entrance to the Temple, Ahaz erected the Baal altar and offered sacrifices to God on a pagan altar.[7] The brazen “sea” (it was a mikvah for the priests) that rested on the backs of twelve brass oxen was removed.[8] Ahaz was trading the old for the new. More than that, Ahaz erected other altars to pagan gods around the Temple. In his estimation, this new way of worship exceeded the way that had been around for hundreds of years.

Many churches these days follow Ahaz’s example. Oh, they don’t build altars to pagan gods. However, perhaps in some ways they do. Some “worship services” seem more like rock concerts. The house lights are dimmed while the “altar” is ablaze with stage lighting, spotlights, and strobe lights. As the “worship team” rocks out their worship tunes, the congregation stands with arms waving in the air swaying as if in a trance. This is new! The old way of singing hymns out hymn books accompanied by piano and organ is too old-school. We need something new and “vibrant” so that young people can “experience” worship. Too many sermons from such pulpits are designed to make the congregants “feel” encouraged. No need to talk about sin and hell, much less warn about Christ’s soon return. Talk like that might turn people off, and they might not come back, or worse, they may stop contributing to the church. Such churches sacrifice the Gospel (old) for the audience (new). The Laodicean Church[9] flourishes in our day.

Ahaz’s reign only lasted 16 years. His son Hezekiah, a “good” king, restored the Temple[10] and the Temple sacrifice. However, the Scripture does not record whether the altar Ahaz built was dismantled or not. We can assume that it was. We can be sure that sacrifices offered on a pagan altar would be unacceptable to God. Scripture notes that following the first Passover celebration in the restored Temple that “Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to [God’s] holy dwelling place, even unto heaven” (2 Chronicles 30:27). That tells me the sacrifices were done properly and on the proper altar, the old fashioned way. Hezekiah did the opposite of his father; he traded the new for the old, and that pleased God.

I can only hope that we could learn that lesson before God “smites” our nation. Perhaps the smiting has begun. When governors boast that “we” have beaten this pandemic and chide that God had nothing to do with it, we may be beyond help. I hope not, but either way, my hope is in Christ. How about you?

Notes:


[1]  2 Kings 12:2; 14:3; 15:3,34

[2]  Deuteronomy 13:6-11

[3]  2 Kings 16:3

[4]  2 Kings 16:2

[5]  2 Kings 16:5

[6]  1 Kings 14:25-27

[7]  2 Kings 16:14-15

[8]  2 Kings 16:17

[9]  Revelation 3:14-22

[10]  2 Chronicles 29

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, Christianity, Current Events, Religion, Worship

The Church

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

Today is Sunday, and June and I just got out of “church.” We enjoyed a wonderful time of worshiping God our Savior, Jesus Christ, and listening to the Word of God exposited by our “under shepherd,” our pastor. Then we gathered in our Sunday school classroom to enjoy family time by fellowshipping with our brothers and sisters and enjoying a time of deeper study into the Word of God. Currently, we are studying the book of Isaiah. We have been in the book of Isaiah for nearly a year, and we are only halfway through the book. I really appreciate our Bible teacher and his dedication to the careful study of God’s Word.

I have said this before, and it is still true. I love church! But what is church? Some people think of a building where people meet on Sundays for some unknown reason. Others have a vague notion that people gather there to sing and listen to some preacher talk. Many Christians consider church attendance as some kind of obligation. It’s just something one does.

Before going into what “church” is, perhaps we should understand what it is not.

“Church” is not a building. The first definition of “church” found at Dictionary.Com says that it is “a building for public Christian worship.”[1] While that may be the modern, accepted understanding of the word, it is nonetheless in error. The second definition says that a church is a “public worship of God or a religious service in such a building.” That comes closer to a correct understanding; however, it is still false.

Some people who attend church services select their place of “worship” based on the style of music that is played. They want to hear stirring music that stimulates the emotions and elevates their spirits to euphoric heights. Many church leaders are keenly aware of this “need” and they go to great expense and effort to tailor music that attracts the most number of attendees. Many “worship” services employ loud, screaming guitars, jungle-beating percussion sets, laser-light shows, and even smoke machines to stimulate the emotions. After 45 minutes or so of ear-splitting, pulse-raising “music,” the speaker comes up to give a 15-minute motivational speech specifically intended to maintain the hearer in a happy state – no talk of sin and the need for the Savior, or the prospect of hell; only talk about God’s love and how He loves you just the way you are (a partial truth originating from the “father of lies”).[2]

No, the church is not a place to be entertained, emotionally elevated, or encouraged in your sin. Even churches that still sing the “tired old hymns” can degenerate into places where we can go to just feel good about ourselves. That is not what church is. Neither is the church intended to attract unbelievers, which the modern “church growth” movement emphasizes.

The word translated “church” in the Bible is the Greek word ekklēsia, and it could be translated the “called out ones.” Immediately we notice that the definition precludes a building of any kind. So, the “church” is not a building. The church is people, and not just people, they are people that have been “called out.” The question that immediately comes to mind is, “called out of what?” Simply put, the church is an assembly of people who have been “called out” of the world. To use a “churchy” term, the church is a body of those who have been “saved” out of the world, out of sin, and out of an eternity in hell.

Jesus said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain …” (John 15:16, emphasis mine). The Greek word translated “ordained” means “to place” or “to set.” In other words, Jesus has “chosen,” i.e. “called out,” His church and set it in a place to do His work on earth – to “bring forth fruit.” “Bringing forth fruit” does not necessarily mean increasing the number of attendees in a particular church body. Indeed, Jesus said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The “call” goes out to all, but only a few will respond. “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14, emphasis mine).

Jesus said these things before the church was established at Pentecost.[3] The church, therefore, consists of individuals who are “called out” by Christ through the Holy Spirit, regardless of man-made “branding” – Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, etc. The unifying theme of the Church is a belief in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross in payment for our sin, His resurrection from the grave (after three days), His ascension into heaven and His soon return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, emphasis mine). If one trusts simply in that, that one is included in “the Church.” If, on the other hand, one is trusting in the practices observed by their church, they are probably not included in “the Church.”[4]

The Bible refers to the body of all true believers, the “called out ones,” i.e. “the Church,” as “the Bride of Christ.”[5] This is the Church – not a building or a particular “Christian” denomination. The Church is a body of “called out” individuals who join together to worship God, to “feed” on His Word, to grow and mature in the Spirit, to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, to fellowship and encourage one another, and to work together to “bring forth fruit,” i.e., bring others to Christ.

The purpose of the local church is to build up the body – the Church – for the work of the kingdom. It is not to entertain, nor is it to gain numbers for the sake of numbers. The Church is not confined to a single building; however, the smaller gathering that meets in a “church” building plays a major role as part of the “greater” Church. Therefore, “… let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

One day soon the Church will gather together from all parts of the earth in one great assembly forever to be united with our Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ. I so yearn for that day! In the meantime, I enjoy the little piece of Heaven God has provided here on earth in my local church with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Notes:


[1]  Church – https://www.dictionary.com/browse/church?s=t

[2]  John 8:44

[3]  Acts 2

[4]  See my articles on “False Religion”

[5]  Matthew 25:1-13; Revelation 19:7-9

2 Comments

Filed under Apologetics, Christianity, End Times, Gospel, Hell, Religion, Salvation, Second Coming of Christ, Theology, Worship