7. By this all men will know that you are my disciples (John 13:35).
When I was first converted in February 2002, I had an immeasurable zeal and love for all God's children! I was so happy to be saved and to be free, and excited about my new life and calling in Jesus Christ. I wanted to share it with everyone.
You would see me smiling from ear to ear on public transportation. Sometimes, I simply said "God loves you" to someone, and other times, I tried to strike up a conversation. I tried evangelizing on the streets, but I soon realised that it wasn't easy. And it didn't help that I was on my own. Whenever I met a fellow Believer, I felt so close to them, and so joyful that I would give them hugs and want to go on and on about Jesus.
I was feeling the love, but I still didn't have a Fellowship to call home. I was converted by a disciple of the International Church of Christ (ICOC), while I was attending Kingsway International Christian Centre, and was quickly warned not to follow them. They were too extreme, I was told. I didn't think I had to choose... Surely, any Church I attended would be good, because they love Jesus too!!! As they were the ones who had taken the time to show me the Scriptures, I honoured them by attending a few of their gatherings.
I think I was still considering the ICOC, when I met one of the Jesus Christians, about two months later, handing out their book, Survivors, at Stratford Shopping Mall in East London. I was so excited to see others who were so filled with God's love for the lost that they would spend their days handing out literature! I was buzzed as I hugged James, the JC 'distributing' (the term they used) tracts, and gave him my donation. He was also very buzzed and happy to meet me.
When I read what they had to say, I didn't think the ICOC was extreme enough!!! I wanted to go all the way... I was convicted about obeying Jesus, and forsaking everything to follow Him, and from what I could see, the JCs were doing it. So I joined them.
I was still buzzed with love for all the Brethren, when I joined the JCs. I just thought they (those not in our fellowship) didn't really understand, and if only someone would explain the Way to them, they would get it, and forsake all too. But my optimism soon met reality, and it was aided by the JCs criticism of other sects and denominations, and their resignation that only a few special people would accept the truth and forsake all and follow them - and Jesus. It was after all, a narrow way (Matt 7:13-14)! Thankfully, I now have a better understanding of what that means...
Still, I asked why they were so few (less than 30 people worldwide at the time). Why weren't they growing? Especially in light of the Scripture in Revelation, about a great multitude (Rev 7:9), and also the Bible says that thousands followed the first the disciples, and the Lord added to their number daily (Acts 2:41-47). They said that those were the Believers that would come out of the Great Tribulation (Rev 7:14), and they believed God was keeping them small until then.
I also asked why people left, and how come they couldn't plead and reason with them to stay. I was told that at that point, they had made up their minds, and there was nothing anyone could do to change it. It made me so sad.
But after leaving them, I understood. A little. I understood how relationships can severe so irreparably, that you just can't be together anymore. I saw people leave, and people being kicked out of fellowship. I saw that it hurt the JCs too, whenever this happened, but they were so used to it, and resigned to its inevitability.
They even prided themselves in this practice, which they felt they were doing in obedience to Christ, and was their way of preserving their witness, such that, a lot of the time, when a grievance arose and escalated to a third stage, it seemed like it was just the person on the brink of leaving that was struggling for someway to still belong...while it felt like s/he was being pushed out with accusations! At that point, the Believer leaving was seen as the enemy, or being possessed by the Enemy. Pride was always given as the reason why they couldn't repent and accept the truth.
Jesus said that those who were removed from fellowship, following a grievance involving the whole Church, should be considered heathens (Matt 18:15-17), and that is what the JCs do. And that is what every other Christian body, that believes THEY are the true followers of Jesus Christ do. And even those who break away from such bodies, believing that they were right, and go on to set up Churches...do the same thing (like David McKay, founder of the Jesus Christians, who left The Children of God fellowship).
But to those whom they left, they are now unbelievers... So one must ask, is Christ divided (1 Cor 1:13)? If indeed a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25), can any of these bodies and fellowships represent His Church? Is the Church that Christ built still standing...still operating???
The testimony of the Christian Church that is riddled with division is a testimony to the world that JESUS IS NOT REAL! Jesus actually said that it is by our love towards each other - not just any type of love, but HIS kind of sacrificial, unconditional love - that will convict men that we are truly His disciples... And in the absence of such love, how can we claim to have His Spirit? Why are we not like Jesus, walking in both GRACE AND TRUTH towards and with one another?
"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also" (1 John 4:20-21).
Whatever else may be wrong with the Church, e.g our disagreements over doctrines and practices, and even history; the fundamental reason the world cannot accept our witness is that they do not see our love for one another... They see our pride, fear, ignorance, hypocrisy, religiousity, charity (to the poor)... But sincere love, that keeps us together, that keeps us resolving conflicts and GROWING in unity, is greatly lacking. We can't even keep our marriages together!!!
So, I have been out of fellowship with any body of Believers since I left the Jesus Christians. Not because I didn't want to be a part of one. I have wanted to (and have continued to attend Church), but my JC mentality on what it means to follow Jesus has hindered my ability to submit to the leadership of those who do not practice that lifestyle. And there are still quite a few doctrines I disagree with the Church on.
The problem still remains, can two walk together unless they agree (Amos 3:3)? And since we cannot agree, does that mean we are ALL wrong, because we cannot all be right..? I am still stuck on this one.
I know the importance of agreement for fellowship (2 Cor 6:14-18), and the need for fellowship for love to be experienced, to grow and be nurtured (Heb 10:24-25). I know the need for submission, and for order and authourity within the Body (Eph 5:21), but I also know the danger to subjecting oneself to wolves in sheep's clothing (Matt 7:15)!!! We must be discerning (1 John 4:1)!
How does one believe in Jesus Christ, in the absence of His visible united Church??? As much as I have believed that the Body of Christ is now invisible, I don't think that was or is Christ's will nor intention. He said: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt 5:14-16). He called us to be a visible united witness, so that the world would see!
"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:20-21).
He also said to Peter, "...thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt 16:18). Well, it sure looks like it has... Unless the Roman Catholic Church is still the true Church of God, even with all its issues... But we know that even in the time of Peter, the Church was infiltrated with false believers (2 Pet 2:1, 2 Cor 11:13, 1 John 2:18-19) and doctrinal disputes were common (Titus 3:9-10). I think it would be safe and correct to say that once again, we have all gone our own way!
Christ also said: "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad" (Matt 12:30). That would explain why every denomination that breaks away, further breaks apart into more factions, until there are an innumerable number of groups - and individuals - claiming to hold claim to the Body of Christ! If this was anything like membership to an earthly Kingdom or country, such proclamations wouldn't fly, but today, anyone can be a Christian, simply by saying that they are!
But where is the love? That is still the most important thing! That is Christ's commandment to anyone that would follow Him: "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12).
Even though Paul strove with the Corinthians to cast out the offender in their midst (1 Corinthians 5), he also appealed to them to reach out to that same brother in love, and bring him back into fellowship. He said in 2 Corinthians 2:
1. But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness.
2. For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?
3. And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all.
4. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.
5. But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all.
6. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.
7. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
8. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.
9. For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.
10. To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;
11. Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices."
The Spirit of reconciliation sent Jesus to the Cross to die for mankind. Jesus said that He would leave 99 sheep to go after one that is lost (Luke 15:1-7). We go after a world of unbelievers (as we rightly should), yet ignore the many who still claim to hold faith in God and Jesus, who are lost, broken and dying in or out of the Church... They don't feel our love, yet we want to invite more people into our mess, our failing system, our crumbling house of discord and confusion? No wonder they keep leaving!
The Church lacks Christ's heart for reconciliation. Unless we are content to believe that we have the truth, while others do not, we need to think about how we can be a united witness again. It is common to hear Pentecostals chastise those who do not go to Church, by saying that the Church is not perfect because no one is perfect, and neither are they. But I doubt such wisdom would compel Pentecostals to return to fellowship with Catholics... Or would it?
It is also written: "And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us" (Luke 9:49-50).
It may sound contradictory, but therein lies the Spirit of Grace and Truth! There is wisdom and humility in it. We must keep those that God brings into our Fellowship, while remembering that He still has sheep that are not of our fold...and that HE WILL BRING THEM in (John 10:16). The unifying of the Church as one visible body, is the work of the Holy Spirit. However, we do our part by loving as many as we come across and extending grace to all men, knowing also that we also stand by God's grace alone.
1. I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
2. With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3. Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5. One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
7. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
The whole world, and all of nature is waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom 8:19-25)!!! That can only happen when we heed Paul's teaching here, and obey Christ's command to love one another, the same way He loved us...even dying for one another. Whatever our differences, whatever past offences, done by the Church or sects or cults or individuals, they can be forgiven, and we can seek true reconciliation and unity (Matt 5:23-24). And this is the way...
"...if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
To my Jesus Christian brothers and sisters, I hold nothing against you. You taught me a lot and, for that alone, I will be forever grateful to have known you. Though our fellowship on Earth may not continue, I hope to meet you again in Heaven, as we worship the Father together in Spirit and in Truth. May God keep each and every one of us, as only He can!
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