Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why?

Hearing about tragic deaths is not uncommon nowadays—unless the victim is known to you. I had the unfortunate experience of knowing one such victim. There isn’t much I can say or write about since investigations are still on-going. All I can do is share the impact it had on me as a person.

Joe (not his real name) agreed to meet with me in front of City Hall at 10 in the morning. I arrived a few minutes early but Joe was already there waiting for me. He and I then made the thirty minute trip to their house located in the rural area of the city where I was scheduled to hold a home bible study for their family.

It was a couple of months ago that I shared the gospel with Joe’s grandfather (let’s just call him Peter). It was Peter who organized this home bible study hoping that opening the awareness of God’s simple plan of salvation to his family would change their lives and outlook. Peter’s 40+ year old son, Tomas (not his real name) was married with a wife and four children and is an alcoholic and drug addict. Joe, 20+ is the oldest among Tomas’ children.

On our way to their home, Joe showed a level of excitement characteristic of one who recently came to know the Savior intimately. He could not stop asking me about the Scriptures, and was making plans to conduct a bible study in the home of his girlfriend and her family. Our conversation was “intense” as the half hour journey went by quickly.

When we got to their home, Tomas’ household and extended household were waiting for me. Tomas’ asked if we could hold the study after lunch as he had invited a few others to join in. I obliged.

A few minutes after we arrived, as I was drinking served refreshments, I noticed Joe busily preparing to leave. I asked him if he would be able to join the study, but he said that he had work that day and that he had only requested one of his co-workers to cover for him for half a day so he can get to meet me. Joe worked for a known delivery/remittance company in the country. He had a quick bite, and then quickly rushed out the door.

The atmosphere is Tomas’ home was charged with anticipation. Joe’s mother, on the other hand remained reserved and skeptical. That was quite alright with me, as it was not my role to convince. I was simply there to serve as a mouthpiece to share what the bible had to say. Spiritual regeneration is completely and entirely the work of the Holy Spirit. Despite the many years of studying the Scriptures, I never considered the work of conviction and conversion as my work. That was entirely God’s work.

The excitement and positive anticipation of the family turned to mourning when, as I began to open our study with a word of prayer, a young man (who I later found out was a family member) rushed to the door and announced that Joe had been shot at point blank range at what seemed to be a robbery-homicide while making his afternoon deliveries at a nearby city.

I was stunned and speechless. It had only been a little over a couple of hours when I last spoke with Joe, and now, he was gone; tragically taken from this world because of someone else’s greed!

At that moment, my mind was racing, accounting for every single word and gesture I exchanged with him. A felt a thick layer of sweat forming on my forehead and my back; my palms began to sweat, and I didn’t know exactly how to respond.

There was a sense of loss that engulfed me especially when I learned that Joe, at a young age, was the breadwinner of his family who gave up going to college because his father was an alcoholic and drug addict. I caught myself surveying the entire room, particularly the reaction of Peter. I could not quite make out Peter’s reaction as he already had blood-shot eyes probably from pulling an all-nighter of drinking and drug use. Peter was motionless and without emotion.

A few moments later, hysteria broke loose, and Joe’s mother started to beat at Peter with her fists blaming him for the fate of her son. What was discomfiting for me was that the first thing out of her mouth was, “Sino na ang bubuhay sa pamilya natin?” It was as if the value of Joe was limited to being the breadwinner of the family. Through the succeeding moments, I caught myself waiting for cues that would tell me that they valued Joe for more than just the money he brought in every 15th and last of the month.


As I sat there silent, still not knowing how to react, I closed my bible. As soon as I had done so, Joe’s mother turned her attention at me. With eyes glaring, she had blamed me and Tomas for bringing this curse to her family, for bringing in a new religion, and that this was the lynchpin that took Joe (and his income) away from the family. I remained silent and calmly took the blows from Joe’s mother. When she clamed down a bit, drenched from the pitcher of soda Joe’s mother threw at me (thank goodness it was made of plastic and not glass), I excused myself and made my way to the bathroom to rinse-off the traces of soda on my skin, shirt, and trousers.

I spent the entire Sunday with the family, offering what little cash I had to help pay for the meals (as I found out that Joe was supposed to bring home his pay that evening when he returned and that they had no money) as the refreshments that was served came from Tomas and was purchased on credit from the nearby store.

I have gone through a constant stream of struggles and challenges over the past three years, and again, here I am faced with yet another. I tried to muster the strength to ask “what?” I had to learn through all this, but despondency took the reins as I soon found myself asking “why?”

I left the family on Saturday afternoon, and as I made my leave, I will never forget the reaction Joe’s mother toward me. Tomas remained cordial, but somehow distant and ashamed at how Joe’s mother had reacted toward me.

I haven’t recovered from the trauma. I am still asking the question “why?”.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Great Deviation

A couple of months ago, I posted an article that posits changing mental models that govern the gospel ministry. My previous article puts forth the argument that for gospel ministry to realign itself with the New Testament Biblical model its ministers must remove themselves from becoming a financial burden of the ekklesia, or the Church. In this article, I will explore that system of thought, and the sources of such systems to further my proposition that ministers should relieve the church from the financial burden of paying their salaries by working a trade.

The apostle Paul, while referring to the OT model, where priests and temple workers were supported from the abundance of the Temple, clearly introduced a new model for the New Testament Church. Paul clearly stated that though he could very well adopt the very same practice in his present ministry, he chose rather to die than to charge the ministry for work that he, as a believer is compelled to do anyway. Paul states, “But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:15-16).

Paul (as a function of answering the questions laid upon him concerning his authority by the Corinthian believers) differentiated his ministry by establishing his position that he would rather die than allow himself to charge the ministry for the work he should be doing as a condition of necessity and not of privilege or authority. Paul understood how that employing the old Temple model to support the work of the Church will introduce more problems and complications than it will solutions. Instead of serving the purpose of edifying, it will corrupt and destroy.

There is no doubt that Paul was privy to Gentile and Jewish temple practices. Gentile priests came as a result of popularity while Jewish priests came from a single ancestral line. In his travels throughout Asia Minor, Paul witnessed this corruption first hand, how religious pontiffs among pagan communities often used their position to extort and exploit those within their communities. As a scholar of the Law, he was very much aware of the corruption of that overtook Temple activities with those of the Levitical and Aaronic line endlessly vying for positions of power. Rather than cause his good to be evil spoken of, Paul, and those with him, tirelessly worked their profession to support themselves so that they could do the work of ministry without charge.

Oh, how far we’ve departed!

In today’s ecclesiastical communities, virtually every minister is supported by their congregations or mission board. Ministers are charging the Lord for work all believers should be doing (if only to demonstrate gratitude for the salvation freely received by grace through faith from the Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ). What is most interesting is how different denominations and sects have, over the centuries, developed such an elaborate system to justify the continued use of this model. The systemic repercussions have been severe and serve as the greatest stumbling block of all.

For example, the modern church spends a substantial amount of its resources on paying for salaries and benefits of their ministers and pastors, purchasing physical assets, paying debts (church building or vehicles), spending on marketing and branding efforts, but very minimal is allocated to the work the church was intended to do—minister to the elderly, the fatherless and orphans, the widows, and the sick.

The Book of Acts records how the ancient church dedicated its resources to attend to this need. Believers sold what they had so that those the church ministered to would have all things in common or would have the basic necessities met.

Even the most conservative and purportedly fundamental of evangelical denominations design all sort of gimmicks to get people to give. From preaching heavily on tithes and offerings, sacrificial giving, to sponsoring fund-raising activities. Unfortunately, as a corporate body, the church fails to live up to its preaching. Sure they allocate to ministry, but when one examines the financial reports, almost 70% of resources are spent on salaries, facilities, debt payments and savings. Basically all their benevolent work is funded by the remaining 30%. Data and numbers do not lie. If we were to use the financial statements to conduct a spiritual audit of the Church, we can easily conclude that the church does not prioritize the ministry mandated by her Lord and Master. The church's modern priority, it seems, is to build earthly edifices at the expense of her mandated ministry.

Although one could argue that by supporting pastors and missionaries the church actually supports the work, providing for the actual mandated ministry and paying for someone to do the work are distinct and mutually exclusive. For example, when we take Paul’s instruction to the Church about supporting widows (found in 1 Timothy 5:5-16) into consideration we will quickly realize how that Paul intends for the Church to support and provide only for those who cannot provide for themselves. He even instructs believers who have widows in their family to provide for them so that the Church could support those who are widows, helpless, and without family (v.16). It is unlikely that Paul would have approved of the way the modern Church financially supports able-bodied men and women in exchange for work that ALL believers should be doing in the first place, especially when it significantly reduces the capacity of the Church to attend to it Biblically mandated financial priorities. While one could argue that it is Biblical for ministers to live of the gospel, this argument must be tempered and read in the context of Paul’s statement. If understood in context, it would be easy to understand that Paul used this model as an antithesis to the model he introduced. Paul intends for ministers of the Gospel to follow his example, and to support themselves and their families by working a trade so that the ministry remain without charge.

The continued use of this "live of the gospel" model is commonly justified by a "sacred versus secular" mentality.

Throughout the years, I have encountered ministers, pastors , and missionaries who employ sacred versus secular arguments to justify why they need to be financially supported by the church. Those pastors or ministers who hold professional work are considered part-time ministers and are perceived to lack the faith and fortitude to let go in order to let God, and ones who live in a state of conflicting interests. But in a majority of cases, it must be noted, this is simply another way of saying, I don't know any other work...

Let us look into this argument of secular versus sacred. When we examine the Scriptures in its entirety, the doctrine of sanctification and separation pertains to spiritual and lifestyle practices that comes as a result of a conviction for holiness and holy living in everything that the believer does (1 Corinthians 10:31) but, has nothing to do with maintaining a trade or profession to support oneself and family since “working to eat and live” is a clear Biblical mandate (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). With respect to the believer, everything is sacred—we must do all things to glorify God. Isn't this the chief end of man?

Ministers have been trained to think that working a “secular” job will contradict the interests of the ministry since they will be serving a different “master”. This argument is flawed since it categorically stipulates that industry is ungodly and is beyond the sovereign control of the Almighty, forgetting the fundamental principle that all things have been created by Him and for Him. Ungodliness is a condition of alienation from the Almighty and evil is a condition that affects only those with volition or will. The natural environment is affected by evil only as a consequence of the actions of mankind. It is the motivations and purposes of the ungodly that distinguishes them from the redeemed. To presuppose that industry is ungodly is therefore wrong. The proper distinction that must then be made is not secular and sacred, but godly from ungodly.

Serving A Different Master. The believer ultimately serves the Lord Jesus Christ, even when serving unbelieving and ungodly “masters”; in everything he or she does, the believer is instructed to glorify God. Paul clearly instructs believers to “count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed” (1 Timothy 6:1); whether their masters are believers or unbelievers, believers who serve must frame their work ethic so that the name of the Lord be not blasphemed.

The believer serves the Lord and as a consequence of this service, allows even an unbelieving master to benefit from the work of the believer’s hands—a testimony that redounds to the glory of God. For the believer, the answer is singular; so regardless of the type of work or industry wherein a believer is employed (the premise is that the work does not violate moral absolutes clearly stated in the Scriptures), the believer must serve the purposes of the Lord, and by serving, deliver on the expectations of his or her employer. The believer must serve only God to the benefit of all within the scope of relationships that are related to one’s employment.

In situations where the believer consciously and intentionally enjoins the priorities of the ungodly master over that which will glorify God, the problem rests not in the in the nature of the ungodly as such, or the “secular” nature of the work, but in the motivations of the individual. It is therefore not an issue of industry, but of individual motivations and priority on the part of the capitulating believer.

Over the centuries, in what I perceive to be nothing more than a rat race for prominence and ecclesiastical posture, the church has supported the mass production of “ministers” through Bible colleges and seminaries under the premise of preparing men and women to fulfill the Great Commission (this is the second place of departure from the NT model, the first being the institutionalization of clergy which I covered in my previous article). Due to the model employed by the colleges and seminaries of today, a majority of its graduates are not equipped to function responsibly as members of their communities beyond “spiritual theory”. They are not equipped with the knowledge essential to industry since the expectation set is for graduates to find local congregations or mission boards to financially provide for them. They are trained to depend on the support of the congregation; trained to propagate a system that has created more harm than good for the ekklesia; trained to do the charge the ministry in exchange for their “services” a work believers are commanded to fulfill out of spiritual necessity.

This mass production of ministers is intended to produce quantity of converts—a model that is not unlike other industries. Quality and growth of individual spiritual lives are constantly overwhelmed by the priorities of numeric growth. In the end, the metric of “success” these institutions use are all based on quantity, under the assumption that quantity will generate some semblance of quality. This directly correlates the success or limitations of the ministry to individual capability and not as the resulting work of the Holy Spirit.

Ministers tend to view the value of their work on the basis of this quantitative metric. The larger the congregation, the more successful a minister is perceived to be, and the more financially secure—a metric similarly employed by every industry. Prominence and respectability are based on the empirical aspects of ministry and not on the spiritual—the size of facilities, the number of members, the number of active ministries, the substance and amount of the weekly offerings, and the social and economic statuses of the members and those that attend the services of the congregation.

The modern church quantifies her success in much the same way as the world views success, the only difference is that church ministers "spins" these metrics to reflect a more spiritual orientation.

Those that end up in poorer, smaller and less prominent congregations devises all sorts of ways to meet their financial needs, the preference being for believers (even from other congregations) to personally support them financially. Because of the mental models of those in their church boards, any effort on the part of the minister to augment his earnings through a distinct profession, typically results in a great deal of heartache for the minister and his family which in extreme cases could lead to termination (how exactly do you terminate one from being a minister of the gospel? you can't, you only terminate employees). The perception is that ministers who engage in professional work or in a career are less spiritual than those who work full time for the church.

Those that purpose to become missionaries engage in deputation work. Here missionary candidates prepare “canned” materials that are presented to different churches within their associations. Everything from the songs, to the catchy slogans, sound bytes, display boards, material hand-outs and flyers, personal posture, the handshakes, to the sermons are all thoroughly rehearsed. In short, these candidates need to learn how to effectively market themselves so that congregations and individual believers could be convinced to part with as much of their money. The “success” rate of missionary candidates largely depends on how well they presented their case, what mission boards they belong to, and who they know—nothing different from the dynamics that govern the market and industry as a whole. There are only a handful who do the work of the ministry out of a real calling, a spiritual necessity rather than an economic one, and these are typically those who are classified as tent-makers.

While pastoral job descriptions may vary from one congregation to the other, let’s explore what typically constitutes full-time ministry work. The expectation is for the minister to study, preach, evangelize, visit, counsel, mediate, and do everything else the congregation expects him and his family to do. Weekends are the busiest from dawn till dusk, but weekdays are relatively relaxed. An average minister spends less than 4 hours a week in study and 12 hours a week of actual scheduled ministry work (prayer meeting, Sunday school and services, visitation), and about 8 hours of counseling leading and administrative work coming to a total of 24 hours of ministry related work out of a 40 hour work week. If we deduct 8 hours of sleeping and 3 hours of personal time (bathing, eating, travel, and conversations) out of a 24 hour day, we will come to about 12 potentially productive hours every day. Considering a 6-day work week, there are 72 productive hours in every week. If we calculate the daily average of actual work of the minister against a 6-day work week, we will come to an average of 4 hours per day spent on actual ministry related work. This means over 8 hours are non-productive or available per day and 48 hours are non-productive or available per week.

Given that most ministry-related work occurs in the early evenings (since most members are working during the day), basically the entire day remains available. When we quantify ministry related activity in the same way as industry does as a basis for exchanging time for money, we will soon realize that for a majority of churches, the work of a full-time minister is at best a part-time 20 hour per week endeavor, since the 4 hours of study must be a matter of personal discipline and cannot be classified as works made for hire.

If we use this equation, most churches end up paying 66.67% over actual costs since only 33.33% of actual time per week is spent on ministry related work. The church yields only 33.33% from 100% from its salary related costs. This means 66.67% of resources that could have gone to feeding the hungry, attending to the fatherless, helping the aged and widows, and ministering to the sick have been diverted to support 66.67% of non-productivity.

A congregation comprised of mature believers can fulfill most of the work designated to the paid minister. This is actually the Biblical mandate found in the fourth chapter of Ephesians. The reason why there seems to be more administrative work for the minister is because too much non-essential activities have replaced the real priorities of the Church as mandated by the Lord and modeled by the ancient church.

As I stated in the past, the church needs to attend to the helpless, hungry, fatherless, aged and widows, and sick as a matter of priority. Ministers must themselves give to the work instead of becoming a burden of the work. The current paradigm of a mega-church is one that is a natural consequence of great marketing but is not necessarily a result of spiritual revival. The entire thrust of the Scriptures revolves around a qualitative life in the Spirit and guided by the Spirit in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The quality of the believer's life must remain independent of social institutions as it based on a "personal" relationship with the Lord. One’s depth of relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is not determined by the size of the congregation a believer is part of, the degree of piety, or the level of emotional excitement one conjures up to feel good about faith. The quality of faith is based on a progressive understanding of the timeless truths taught in the Word of God, and a corresponding obedience to these truths throughout one's lifetime.

It would be better for the church and the individual ministers if ministers were to work a trade to support themselves, their family, and ministry. The work of the ministry is laborious but it is not a trade. The ministry is the fervent and effectual out working of genuine faith; it is the demonstration of the least we, as believers, could do to show our gratitude for our salvation; it is our opportunity to give of ourselves and substance, and by giving, participate in the fulfillment of the priorities set by the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The ministry of the Gospel is meant to teach people to give, to demonstrate the justice and love of God through the selfless service of her constituency. It is a channel for giving so that taking from her in obligation, in whatever form, will remain forever contrary to the Biblical model.

This present “employment” model is a doorway that allows ungodliness to creep into the work of the church. Wherever an exchange occurs comes the question of equity, relevance, and delivery. But where giving is purely the purpose, one can never go wrong.

This is the great deviation…a deviation from the NT model, a departure that must be rectified, a model that must be changed if the church is to align with the priorities of the Master; priorities which remain immutable and absolute. If we return to the NT paradigm, we will model a pay-it-forward mentality, a mentality that will clearly differentiate the motivations and priorities of the ekklesia from all other human institutions. It begins with a change in the way its leaders think and how effectively these leaders model such a change to those charged to be in their care and guidance.

How do I begin?

  1. Study Acts chapters 18-28 as well as the entire of 1 Corinthians 9, comparing this with Deuteronomy 25 along with 1 Thessalonians 3 and answer the following questions:
    1. How did Paul and his company support themselves? How did other apostles support themselves?
    2. What principles could you formulate that is consistent with Paul’s approach to ministry? What benefits will this bring you and the church?
    3. How are these principles different from what you have been taught?
    4. How can you apply these principles in your life and congregation? What will be your first steps at introducing this change in thinking?
    5. What are popular systems of thought regarding this subject within your circle of relationships and network of associations? How do these systems match up with the standard of Scripture?
  2. Read up on New Testament and Early Church History. Alfred Eedersheim, G.H. Orchard and Thomas Armitage, are good authors well worth your time in study;
  3. Read up on Systems Thinking. You will find the Institute for Creation Research a good source for authors and articles;
  4. Make a couple of lists: a ministry and personal development list. Map out your activities on a daily basis. Make sure to identify ministry-critical work from the non-essentials. Do not include study time in your list of ministry-related activities, instead include this item in your personal development activities.
  5. Quantify the amount of time you actually spend in each ministry per item per week, then define how much time you have to engage in a trade;
  6. Begin researching on a trade that matches your interests and financial objectives and set a deadline for you to learn a new trade;
  7. Discuss these changes with your family, educate them if necessary; then talk to the elders and deacons of the Church concerning a targeted date for completely freeing yourself as a financial burden of the church. Make sure you set a date that will not exceed a period of 12 months from the time you discuss the issue with them.
  8. Commit every step to the Lord for guidance and wisdom, and share this model with others.

Blessings to All!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Real Faith

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, KJV)

The eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews provides an explicit model of what living by faith means and what it entails. The entire chapter shows the direct relationship between belief and physical action. In every instance, action was not based on clarity of direction or on a complete understanding of the purposes of God. Neither did believers require God to fully disclose or detail what He would consequently require of them following their initial step of obedience.

In every instance, these patriarchs chose to completely trust in the Word of the Almighty rather than allow their own intuitions and uncertainties to determine their courses of action. They were convinced that trusting in the character of the Almighty as being much more easier that to dwell on their own wisdom and on conventional thinking to head towards a future which they regarded as secure and certain.

These patriarchs had to obviously contend with every day decision making processes—the what, who, where, how, and when. Modern day believers have the benefit of knowing how the saga of faith will ultimately end as it has been clearly spelled out in the Scriptures for our edification. But these patriarchs of faith were not given a preview into things to come, neither did they have the benefit of opening a book that encapsulated all the promises of God in the same way we, as modern believers have the New Testament to aid our understanding. It must also be further noted that, unlike modern day Christianity, believing in a God they did not see was not popular or even culturally accepted. All the patriarchs had to hold on to was the instruction of God. They knew the who and the what, but did not know the where, how, or when.

Faith, when viewed through the testimony of these patriarchs, is where the supra-logical imposes itself over the logical. The reason why man cannot fully explain even the revealed purposes of God is because God’s purposes, methods, and means transcends human logic. It is not illogical but supra-logical.

Foresight and Faith

Foresight and faith are indissolubly bound to each other. Foresight is not omniscience. It is the ability to frame one’s actions toward the ultimate rather than the immediate and to do so requires faith. The veracity of faith is tightly bound to the object of faith. For one to simply act on faith that is not bound to an absolute is not faith but an emotional response to a specific circumstance, as such it is folly. The kind of faith the Bible speaks of is bound to the person and character of the Almighty God. Hence the faith of the patriarchs, their foresight to frame their actions toward the ultimate, was not based on an emotional response to a specific circumstance, but on the absoluteness of the Almighty. This is why it was not important for the patriarchs of faith to completely understand the where, how, or when simply because the Who and what are clearly established.

Actions and Faith

The actions of the patriarchs, following their decision to obey God, provides believers with a clear model of faith by demonstrating how that faith and action are eternally bound. Their belief in God framed the basis of every action.

As we peruse through the pages of Scripture, we will immediately come to realize that actions framed in faith were not easy. In fact, we will always find difficulty as the twin of living by faith. Could you imagine what difficulty Abraham faced as he bade farewell to his Father Terah, or how he explained what they were about to do with his wife Sarai? Or the difficulty Moses had endured as he led the children of Israel to wander in the wilderness for forty years when Canaan was within reach?

Apathetic Faith

Modern day believers have divorced faith from action. Worse still is that the modern day description of “living by faith” is bound to omission rather than to commission. A faithful Christian is characterized by what he or she does not do, but hardly are they characterized by what they do. So that as long as Christians are not involved in open sin, he or she is considered to be living a life of faith. The problem with this is that it is contrary to the model prescribed in Hebrews 11, where the emphasis was more on what they did to demonstrate faith, rather than what they did not do in order to prove their faith. This is not faith but ascetism.

I am utterly disconcerted by believers who get easily dissuaded the moment the first sign of a struggle or challenge to prove faith appears. They spiritualize their actions by falsely assuming that challenges make it clear that the present course of action is not the will of God. This is a pathetic and unbiblical attitude towards the purposes of God in their lives. It is a clear indicator that apathy and complacency—not faith—governs their thought processes and actions. They are not living by faith but by fear, and where fear is present, faith is non-existent.


When confronted, some believers would even go so far as to equate this fear with the will of God. How further can you get from the Scriptural model! This mindset now governs the lives of a majority of believers and is the reason why most believer live despicable, defeated, and hopeless lives. Modern day believers have somehow conditioned themselves to believe that as long as they attend all the services, read their Bibles everyday, and avoid sin, they are doing the will of God. Modern day believers have forgotten that the Christian faith is all about action; action that demonstrates the power of God despite our human frailties and weaknesses.

The Biblical Model of a Life of Faith

The believer’s life is one that by faith moves against the current; defying the logical in pursuit of the supra-logical. We have been tasked to rise above the realities and constraints of this present age in pursuit of the high calling of our Lord and Master. For the believer to live complacent and apathetic lives is against the purposes and calling of the Master. The fact is, as Paul states, it is impossible for men to please God apart from faith. It is impossible for bench-warmers or Christian spectators to please God regardless of pious speech or demeanor. He is not the God of words or appearances, but the God of action. Even the Greek word for the Word (logos) denotes activity and action.

The believer’s life must demonstrate a life that believes God in everything that he or she does—whether in Christian service, or in attending to the needs of the home, or in earning a living through business (1 Cor. 10:31)—and by belief I do not mean a simple mental or emotional agreement about what the Bible says, but a belief that drives believers by faith to defy the natural in pursuit of the purposes of the supernatural. As James clearly puts it, faith without works is dead and the dead cannot honor or glorify God. Paul clearly states that we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. By the use of the word conqueror, Paul intended to communicate that the believer’s life must be of faith in action. No conqueror withdraws from battle, and no conqueror ever conquers anything in mediocrity or at arm’s length. A conqueror is completely engaged and exposed—defying the elements at the forefront and frontlines of battle. We should not live in withdrawal but in engagement—a life of action that demonstrates the power of God through our frailties and weaknesses.

The believer’s life is not life of omission but of God-honoring commission—actions vividly demonstrating the veracity of our faith in the Almighty God; it is characterized by faith and action and by faith in action. Modern day believers have been led to live in ascetic sophistication where their withdrawal from anything and everyone becomes the bar for holiness and faithful living. A majority of believers today live in fear—fear that they might do wrong, fear that they might fail, fear that they might cause others to stumble; fear that they might rock the boat; fear that others might think ill of them; fear of this and fear of that.

Consequently, believers have convinced themselves that is safer to omit than commit. Such a mindset is regressive and is unbiblical in every respect. By omitting that which we should do, we commit that which we should not. By failing to commit to action, we immediately sin by omission. James makes it clear that if anyone knows to do good (the operative word being “do”) and does not commit to doing it, sins.


Modern day believer’s are so accustomed to “reel” faith and are oblivious to “real” faith. Their exercise of faith is framed by the perception and reception of others, much like an actor in front of a reel of film; they so clamor for the attention and approval of their peers that they completely minimize the approval of the Almighty. They act in piety but think in vanity.

Real faith is a result of a pure conviction and commitment to action. Actions that show how God works through earthen vessels to accomplish His purposes. Real faith cannot be divorced from action. A faithful life can only be characterized as such if it is dominated by faith and action and faith in action. Everything else is pious folly.

Conclusion

If your life is governed by the fear of the unknown, then you need to get to know the Lord and Master more deeply. It is indicative of compliance to human standards and not obedience to the Almighty. It is telling that you give more importance to how others would think of you rather than what God would think of you. Jesus Christ very clearly says that let our yes be a yes, and our no, a no, for anything beyond this is evil. He very clearly calls us to action, we must decide to act and we must make good on our commitment to action. Nothing pleases God more than for His children to prove His faithfulness, and experience His power in their lives on a daily, even on a moment by moment, basis.

God never promised us a trouble-free life, but He did promise to be with us and to guide us, and to provide us the power to overcome every obstacle or challenge we encounter(1 Cor. 10:13). I challenge you to remove yourself from complacency and apathy towards an engaging life, a life that proves the power of God on a daily and moment by moment basis.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Changing Mental Models That Govern The Gospel Ministry

The apostle Paul was explicit concerning how believers ought to progress in the faith when he told the Ephesians, “And be renewed by the Spirit of your minds” (Eph. 4:23). This instruction is universal in nature and pertains to all believers without exception.

Our actions as believers are determined by the processes that govern the way we think as individuals. The Lord Jesus Christ condemned tradition that imposed itself over the authority and the purposes of the Scriptures (Mark 7:7). The apostle Paul understood the power tradition had over the lives of people in general. Paul understood how that tradition could be employed to further the purposes of the Lord for the church and how traditions could easily contradict these very purposes. While human will or tradition has no power over the sovereignty of God, as God’s purposes will be accomplished whether or not we want it to happen, it can prevent believers from actively participating in the work of God and thereby prevent the believer from personally experiencing the blessings and victory that comes through a complete submission to the Master’s will.


A great part of the New Testament is dedicated to instructing believers how to live. Paul dedicates the second half of a majority of his epistles and letters to providing his readers with practical guidelines on how to effect the principles and doctrines into daily living. Paul considered this to be important being that most of the converts were accustomed to traditions that could easily impose itself on an unambiguous understanding and application of the Holy Scriptures in much the same way as the Talmud has gained more prominence over the Tanakh in the lives of devout Jews. He made it a point to set the proper understanding of those to whom he ministered to. The same practice was also employed by Paul when dealing with Gentile churches. He had to provide explicit instruction so that heathen practices do not corrupt the church and the lives of believers.

But despite the clarity of the New Testament, the ministry of the church is now overtaken by practices that serve humanistic purposes rather than sovereign purposes, where convenience overtakes principled living, and where a rich wellspring of faith is subverted through ascetic, pontifical, and ecclesiastical practices that have no place in the believer’s thought or life.

The ancient church grew in dramatic proportions as a result of the powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit as recorded in the first five chapter of Acts. This is the Lord Jesus’ continuing work through His apostles—a work that began three years before. Popular teaching that led many believers to think that the church suddenly grew in number as a result the presence of the Holy Spirit is not accurate. The Holy Spirit was tasked to empower the apostles and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 24:49). The Lord Jesus Christ already had a significant following by the time of His ascension. Luke accounts for 70 disciples that the Lord commissioned to go into every city (Luke 10:1), and 120 disciples at the time of Pentecost (Acts 1:15). Following the instructions of the Lord, the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles and disciples to equip each to fulfill their commissions. Again, Luke accounts for instances when “thousands” were added to the church over the span of a few days from Pentecost. But if you do the math you will find that if each of the 120 disciples preached to a crowd and convinced three persons to repent and believe, there would have been a population of 1.7 million new converts within a few days from Pentecost. If every single convert led at least one individual to the knowledge of the Savior, that would mean 3.4 million believers within a span of a few days from conversion. It is therefore no wonder that the disciples of the Lord immediately gained the reputation of turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6). No other religious movement known to the world at this time had demonstrated such cataclysmic results in a span of a few days. The preaching of the Gospel was at first limited to the Jews. Hence, the amount of converts who came to follow the Lord Jesus Christ was truly threatening to the very institution of Judaism. This demonstration of power was in itself a strong testimony of the enduring work of the Lord Jesus Christ through His Church.

Throughout the first few chapters of Acts, Luke records activity that catches his attention: those who came to believe in the Lord did not have to be convinced to give of their abundance to the furtherance of the work of the Lord. Since the Scriptures does not record preaching from any apostle that stressed the need to give, the Holy Spirit is the only logical source of this instruction and conviction. This may very well be why in Acts 5, Peter classified the sin of Ananias and Sapphira as a sin (lying) against the Holy Ghost (Acts 5:3). In retrospect, we now know that this was to prepare the church to minister to the community in Jerusalem during the famine that was forthcoming, which need occasioned the apostle Paul to instruct believers to take up a collection to help the needs of the believers in Jerusalem.

This is the first instance where a change of mindset was made evident in the early church that was consistent with the Lord’s command for believers to take up their cross (Matthew 8:38-48, 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23), and in keeping with the principle the Lord taught the apostles and disciples that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Early believers gave willingly and without hesitation as they were led and instructed by the Holy Spirit, and the church in Jerusalem not only grew in numbers but also in financial capacity. It was beyond the practice of tithing for they gave substantially and not sparingly.

In Acts 6, it was evident that the ministry of the church revolved around attending to the daily requirements of believers (Acts 6:1), attending to the poor, sick, caring for the homeless, the aged, orphans, and widows. The attendance to such work necessitated the appointment of deacons so that the apostles could dedicate their time to the study and preaching of the Scriptures. If we are to estimate the number of believers by the numbers earlier stated by Luke, the work of daily ministration then would have been an overwhelming task. Disciples were added to the church and were obviously taking turns to serve the church and the deacons were selected to organize disciples so that the needs of all believers could be attended to. This manner of organization is not alien to members of the ancient church. Being Jews themselves, they were familiar with how Levites organized themselves to attend to the daily laborious rituals of the Temple.

This organization was to address practical necessities. The disciples had to attend to their personal occupations and trades in order to feed themselves and their households. Conversion to Christianity was not tantamount to abandoning their trades, rather conversion entailed a change in financial priorities and lifestyles. The Scriptures tell us that believers gave of their substance, but does not tell us that they abandoned their livelihoods. This principle applied to the all believers as much as it did to apostles who had to prioritize their time to the study and preaching of God’s Word. The delegation of work was designed so that each could attend to the daily needs of their households and those to whom the Church ministered to in an orderly and organized manner. Although the Scriptures do not explicitly state the rationale for organization, it is implicit—they have to work to attend to support their households (1 Timothy 5:8). Jewish boys are required to take up a trade as a requirement of process leading to Bar Mitzvah which is celebrated on the 13th birthday. Work was an inalienable part of Jewish social life and is inculcated in the minds and lives of young boys and girls at the earliest possible time of their young lives. This standard was not abolished by the Lord Jesus Christ—believers had to work a trade, and this means every believer.

That the apostles, disciples, or early church converts reverted to a life of withdrawal and ascetism where they abandoned their livelihoods in exchange for a life of piety is not supported in the Scriptures. In fact, even the apostles built their ministries in close proximity to their sources of income. The instructions provided by the Lord in Luke 10 in His commission to the seventy, in no way suggests that these disciples were to travel in want, or that they be busy bodies feeding off the abundance of their hosts. Clear instructions were given not to go from house to house (Luke 10:7). That they carry neither purse nor script, simply meant that they were to travel without the burden of earthly possessions to encumber their work as it was in every way practical and efficient.

Consistent with contemporary customs, Jewish travelers were often welcomed into the homes of fellow Jews especially when visiting new cities. This is especially practiced during the Feast of Tabernacles. The common place were traveling Jews would go to meet fellow Jews is usually in the market place where they would establish relationships with those in the same trade, or in the local synagogue. The Lord instructed them to carry nothing, but also implied that these seventy labor so that they could sustain themselves (Luke 10:7). The point is that the seventy should work in order to eat, and whatever is set before them in the house of their abode, they must eat without question or complaint.

As the seventy would seek out those of the same trade, it would be safe to assume that laboring entailed working in the place of business of the host (Acts 18:1). These seventy were not instructed to go into the Gentile communities yet, so they would have clearly understood that they were to go to the synagogues throughout the land which, according to Josephus, numbered around 300 at the time of Christ, to preach the good news or gospel.

Perhaps the seventy would have understood the command in this explicit way: “Do not carry anything that would encumber you. In the place you go, find work and take up residence, and preach the word in the Synagogues as often as you meet. The synagogue met only on specific days (Sabbath) and on special holy days and high holy days. Members of the synagogue would spend other days attending to their businesses and livelihood. This was true even for the Rabbis of each synagogue. The concept of a full-time minister or clergy who was supported entirely by the contributions of the members, as we know it today, did not exist then.

It is unlikely that the Lord Jesus Christ would have meant for the seventy to become busybodies, eating without working, and simply preaching every day for the following practical reasons:

  1. They would have been ineffective. For the seventy to be jobless would have disqualified them from being heard in the synagogue. Laziness is eschewed in Jewish communities. Rabbis were especially required to be productive members of the business community as much as model a spiritual life;

  2. And, the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures was customarily done in the synagogue, or in especially appointed locations which were held only after the close of the business day. It was only on the Sabbath that services in the synagogue lasted throughout the day. To preach and teach in the synagogue in other days would mean that they would be preaching to the walls of an empty room, hence it was impracticable.

For any of the seventy to go into a city to preach, consume resources, and become an added burden to a household would have been completely unacceptable, and would have worked against the purposes of the ministry since it would have been contrary to acceptable customs.

Each of the seventy could not have lived off the abundance of the synagogue since it would not have been acceptable. Each of the seventy could not have entered a household, become a burden to that household and justify such a disposition simply because they were gospel preachers. Evangelists and missionaries were expected to support themselves through ministry. The ministry of preaching resulted from who they were as believers, their calling to serve the purposes of spreading the gospel, and not because it was their primary trade or means of livelihood.

This passage in Luke 10, along with those that occur in the Pauline Epistles have been used as a foundation upon which the modern church built its assumptions on how it should manage its financial affairs. Unfortunately, the various applications and postulates derived from a misunderstanding of the contemporary conditions governing these passages, especially when viewed through the lens of sound exegesis, will show that the present applications are inconsistent with the models provided in the New Testament.

If we examine the ministries of the apostles we will find that their ministries revolved around areas that were related to their individual trades. Paul, and his fellow servants such as Timothy, Titus, Aquila, and Priscilla, were tent makers. Peter’s livelihood limited him to coastal areas as he was a fisherman. There is no indication that the Lord Jesus Christ told Peter to leave his trade and depend solely on the contributions of the Church especially in its infancy. Paul, as a tent maker, allowed him to go further inland as his trade was portable and is not limited to any one specific geographical area. As a consequence, Paul traveled to areas that are farther removed from Jerusalem while still being able to support himself and his fellow ministers by the work of their hands. There is every indication that Paul continued in his trade to support his ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:9). The New Testament does not provide an example that directly supports current “support” and “deputation” models to finance the salaries of pastors and missionaries. One would have to eisegetically manipulate Scripture in order to justify present models employed by even the most fundamental or conservative of denominations.

1 Corinthians 9:1-27 has been a popular reference employed by the modern local church to justify the model for salaried or deputized ministers. Let’s look into this in a little more detail. To begin with, 1 Corinthians 9 is part of the third response (1 Corinthians 7-16 – “Corinthians C”) of Paul to the inquiries or questions raised by the Corinthians. Since the letter to which Paul was responding to is no longer extant, we can only derive the nature of the questions from the responses that have been recorded in this epistle.

Given the opening remarks of Paul in this epistle, and the context of the previous epistle (1 Corinthians 1-6) it would be safe to deduce that the Corinthians were:

  1. Questioning the legitimacy of his apostleship and authority;
  2. Questioning the intent and motivations behind the collection he had requested for Jerusalem;

Using rhetoric, Paul poses several questions that do not require an answer simply because the answers are evident by themselves. We can only assume that the church in Corinth were accusing him of using the collection for his own purposes in order to fund his own interests in the fa├žade of ministry, this we derive from the way Paul argues his points (v. 4ff). Paul uses commonly understood constructs such as funding a war, planting a vineyard, managing a herd (vs. 7-8) and alludes to Deuteronomy 25:4 to set the context of his response in rhetoric. What is the most popularly used verse is found in verse 14, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” This verse could only be understood as an interpretation of Deuteronomy 25:4, since the New Testament does not record such an instruction coming directly from the Lord Jesus Christ.

While the apostle Paul alludes to familiar practices, he introduces a superior model in verse 12 and 15: “Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ…But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.”

The conjunction of separation (“but”) is employed to distinguish privilege from the gospel minister’s disposition. Although, based on common temple practices the priest and all the servants of the Temple were allotted a portion of the offerings for their daily provisions (it would have been acceptable to sustain themselves through the offerings of the Church), Paul demonstrates how his disposition was not to hinder the gospel of Christ, so that those to whom he ministered to would realize that his ministry was not contingent on the benefits he could extract from the work of the Lord, but out of the necessity of obedience to what Paul refers to as the dispensation of the gospel (v.17) that was committed to him.

The Inter-Testamental period was rife with incidents were the Aaronic line contended for the high priestly office and the privileges that came with it as this office was afforded the respect, privileges, and distinction exceeded only by royalty. Being a student of the law, this knowledge was without doubt prominent in the mind of Paul. He realized that applying the model of sustaining themselves through the traditional means (workers of the temple, eat of the abundance of the temple) would hinder the gospel. He understood the negative social effects and perception this would introduce into the local church, and so decided to support himself as well as those of his number through personal labor so as to make the gospel of Christ without charge.

There are other factors that may have dissuaded Paul from sustaining himself through traditional means. First, these privileges were limited to those of the Levitical order and no other. Second, the work of the Christian ministry is hardly as burdensome as the daily ministrations of the temple work (which by every means can be likened to a slaughter house)—the final sacrifice had been made and so there was no need to continually offer up sacrifices. Finally, Paul clearly taught that a change of priesthood had already occurred (Hebrews 7:12), which necessitated a change from law to that of grace. Peter also reckoned believers as a spiritual priests who, unlike their Aaronic counterparts, are now required to offer up spiritual sacrifices rather than physical (animal) sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5,9).

The references to Deuteronomy in the first 14 verses of the ninth chapter of first Corinthians were clearly employed by the apostle Paul to strengthen his rhetoric in answering the allegations of the believers at Corinth and as an opportunity to introduce a better principle of ministry, one that will not inhibit the gospel, and a ministry that furthers the gospel of Christ without charge. Paul’s disposition was that the ministry was part of his life and not his livelihood. Even in his instruction to Timothy, when Paul states: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, "The labourer is worthy of his reward,” (1 Timothy 5:17-18) is not by any means suggestive of supporting an elder, minister, or pastor with a “salary.” Paul encourages the church to give, but by no means intends for ministers or elders to use this as a basis for the minister to compel the church to pay him a salary in exchange for his services. Hired servants have no need to be counted with honor simply because they are doing precisely what they are paid to do.

Paul’s conviction about how believers should work to support themselves was so strong that he openly commanded the believers in Thessalonica that “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). There were members in the church who, perhaps in anticipation of Christ’s immediate return, ceased from working, going from house to house, eating from the abundance of another, being busybodies. To this Paul instructed the believers in Thessalonica to make such a person ashamed and to admonish him to walk orderly, to work, and to eat from the labor of his own hands. This instruction was not qualified, it was universal in nature and so it applies to ministers or elders and the ordinary members of the church—then and now.

It is important for us to realize that Paul considered the work of the ministry his life but not his means of livelihood. By his instructions to the Thessalonians it is clear that he intends for ministers to follow his example (2 Thess. 3:7) of working a trade to support the ministry so that they be not chargeable to the believers to whom they ministered to.

In consideration of these things, we now have to ask why we pay pastors or ministers a salary. When did this practice become part of the ecclesiastical model? It is clear that the model from which the ancient church was patterned after did not practice this as there were no salaried Rabbis, neither did the primitive church pay salaries to its ministers.

There are no references to ministers receiving any form of payment in exchange for the services they provide in any of the writings of the early church fathers. In fact, it is more likely that even the church fathers supported their ministries by their trades. The earliest possible time that this practice would have penetrated the church would have been around the 3rd Century CE when Grecian organizational and associational models were first introduced into church polity. This is also considered as the period of corruption by most conservative and orthodox Church historians. It was at this point when positions that distinguished laity from clergy were first introduced, and also when the title of bishop was given a higher place of authority over other New Testament titles that were equal in meaning and application. This practice introduced Grecian organizations into the local church and with it came a higher risk of corruption through a hierarchical model of leadership. It is at this point when authority and power substituted godly submission and service.


After the Edict of Milan (313 CE), or what is also known as the Edict of Toleration, was issued, and the persecution of Christians being made illegal, the church gained a prominent status as they began to enjoy liberties that were not available to the church beforehand. Sanctioned by the State, clergy were now financially supported by the empire and the amount of support bishops received were more than likely determined by the size and political importance of the diocese they controlled (as consistent with Roman practices). Basilicas began to replace pagan temples under the rule of Constantine and religious integration became a quick path for clergy and bishops to exercise power, authority, and political sway in the affairs of the Roman Empire.

The introduction of such distinctions in the church (laity and clergy) took a life of its own, albeit contrary to the Scriptural model, and introduced new traditions that now makes it difficult for the modern church to part ways with. Clergy was now considered a profession where one goes through a system of education, where those who aspired to become a salaried clergyman worked to develop their skills in homiletics and other sciences, who, upon successful completion of their studies could look forward to a lifetime of salaried ecclesiastical service. Such practices remain as the de facto ecclesiastical model today.

Such a practice introduced different problems that now confront the church. The ministry is now recognized as a profession rather than a consequence of conversion. Schools now offer theological instruction to prepare aspirants for a life of ministry. This meant that the church began to take on pastors who were theologically trained but lacking in life and faith experience as most were under 30 years of age. The instruction was largely based on theory rather than one derived from a mentor.

The church now pays someone to attend to responsibilities that were in the first place intended for every believer to fulfill – attend to the sick, the aged, the poor, the widows, feeding the hungry and caring for orphans. Its financial priorities moved from attending to Scriptural priorities to that of building large edifices, purchasing property, beautifying facilities, supporting mission agencies and associations, buying vehicles, or installing state-of-the-art sound systems.

Ministers spiritualize what would otherwise be a purely material requirement – the church that can pay the highest salary often wins. Rather than supporting themselves so that the ministry becomes without charge, present day ministers opt to charge the ministry for their time and effort, for the church to pay for their dedication and service to the Lord. Present day ministers end up idle and unable to support the needs of their families unless they could find a local congregation who will be willing to employ them. They became busybodies.

Churches now see the role of the minister as an employed resource and not as a spiritual leader. Ecclesiastical employers impose upon their ministers standards of measure that most corporations impose on their employees – number of converts and baptisms, number of bible studies, increases in offering, vibrant services, etc. These ministers have to perform if they wish to keep their posts. Otherwise, the pastoral relationship can be terminated at will. Even churches who cannot afford to pay the full living requirements of their salaried ministers consider it unspiritual for their salaried pastor to engage in a trade or find employment. They would rather see their minister in a state of poverty, than have him work to uphold a sound testimony of faith by supporting his family.

This practice needs to be broken if we are to return to the New Testament model of the Church and ministry as modeled by the Apostles. The change is simple:

  1. Ministers ought to learn a trade to support their households and their ministries. We should remove ourselves from the idea of charging the ministry for our time and services; We should work to support ourselves and our families rather than expect others to support us.

  2. We should learn to give of our substance and God given talents freely and without expectation of compensation or reciprocation; Rather than expect to receive support from the church, we should ourselves be the biggest givers in the Church.

  3. We need to depart from the measures the world employs to determine success and instead submit to what the Lord considers a success. We will remove ourselves from the pressure of quantification if we remove ourselves as a financial burden of the local congregation.

The Bible clearly encourages all believers to give of their substance. This much is Biblical. What is not consistent with the New Testament is for ministers to charge the church for their services that in reality is expected of every believer as a living sacrifice, a spiritual sacrifice (1 Peter 2:5) offered unto our Holy God and Savior Jesus Christ the Lord. (Romans 12:1-2).

Giving is a matter of obedience for all believers and introduces thinking processes and behavior that are consistent with the standards of Scripture. Expecting to get paid for fulfilling our responsibilities as believers, or charging the ministry for our services only serves as a vehicle for destructive mental models, materialism, carnality, as well as ungodly and unregenerate leadership to influence our minds, lives, and congregations.

If we are truly called to ministry, then we need to find a job or take up a trade to support our families by the work of our hands without charging the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ for exercising our spiritual gifts or for attending to the purposes and priorities of the local church. If we use the issue of not enough time, then our problem is not that we do not have enough time, but that we are unwilling to give our time sacrificially to the work of the ministry.

We need remove ourselves as a financial burden to the Church to allow the Church to dedicate its resources to the priorities stated by the Lord Jesus Christ through the Apostles. So that in the end we may, much like the apostle Paul, say:

“Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ…But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.” (1 Corinthians 9:12,15-19)

“For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Fallacy of Unconditional Love

The title of this article may completely shock the living daylights out of some readers—this is to be expected. But this is precisely what the concept of unconditional love is—a fallacy. Believers have been fed with the idea that God’s love is unconditional, but nothing can be further from the truth. God’s requirement for a propitiation and His conditions for man’s salvation was nothing less than perfection so that the only acceptable sacrifice for the atonement of our sins was the Lord Jesus Christ alone. So where in the world did we ever get this idea that God’s love was unconditional? The price Christ paid to freely offer us the gift of salvation was too high a price for just any man to pay!

In this article, we will explore the implications of this concept and the conflicts it brings to the life and thought of the believer. We will also look into the primary Greek word, agape (agaph, agapaw) which has been popularly rendered to represent God’s unconditional love.

Nothing more than a concept

Unconditional love sounds good as a concept, but there is no Biblical basis for this concept. Unfortunately, evangelical believers have constantly referred to unconditional love as the reason why the Lord came to die on the cross for this sins of mankind. Preachers have used this concept to spice up their Sunday sermons, in order that they may “touch the heart”, or more accurately to exploit the emotions so that their listeners respond affirmatively to their preaching. The word agape is the popular “brand” employed to mean unconditional love. In its popular state, it became the entry for heresy to penetrate the pulpits of evangelical churches. Unconditional love, as purportedly demonstrated by God, became the subtle gateway for unbelievers to influence believers and is also at the heart of the Church’s systemic departure from the foundational doctrines of the faith.

The Meaning of Agape

The noun agape is from the root verb agapao (agapaw) which technically means, “to love”. There are a couple of key words employed by the New Testament that is translated as love, these are agapao and fileo. Of the two words, agapao occurs more frequently than fileo in the New Testament. Although both words mean love, the choice of word used is largely dependent on the context. The word agape is used primarily when describing the love of God towards man and as an example of how the church should love each other. The word fileo is used primarily when describing love in human relationships.

It is interesting to note that despite the abundant occurrences of the word agape in the New Testament, nowhere does it provide the context that compels us to interpret agape to mean unconditional love. In every case, the message imparted by New Testament writers has to do with divine or sacrificial love, both of which in no way suggests unconditional love. The concept of unconditional love goes against the expressed revelation of God about Himself, His ministry, and plan for the ages.

The Fallacy of Unconditional

Nowhere does the Scripture teach us that God’s love is unconditional. The fact of the matter is that God required a perfect sacrifice that necessitated the death of Christ on the cross of Calvary. While God’s love is infinite, it is not unconditional. This is why, it was necessary for Christ to shed His blood so that those that believe in Him will be covered and reckoned righteous in the sight of the Almighty (Romans 5:8-11). To suggest that God’s love was unconditional would render the death of Christ worthless and unnecessary. The free gift of salvation, much like freedom, is not free—it is a free gift offered to us but paid by another. We can now freely avail of the gift of salvation because the Lord Jesus Christ paid for the price of our individual redemption, and now exercises the right to give it to whomsoever He will. In every essence, by His death on the cross, Christ literally purchased the title deed that reckons those that believe in Him justified and reconciled with God. Paul states: “1Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God... 8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:1-2,8-11)

The condition the Almighty required was personally settled entirely and in full by the Lord Jesus Christ. The requirement for a perfect offering for the sin of mankind was paid in full by the Lord Jesus Christ. Again Paul states, “12Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: 13(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. 15But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 16And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 17For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. 20Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21).”

This idea of unconditional love is nothing more than a manifestation of aberrant albeit, poor theology. Not only does this go against the soteriology of the Scriptures, it also goes against the anthropology of the Scriptures and the fundamental doctrine of sin and the complete depravity of man. As long man is a free agent, choice will exist, and as long as choice is present, conditions that make choices essential will always exist. Christ Himself, stated, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. " 19"And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. " 20"For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. " 21"But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:18-21). Here, the condition required of man to be saved and escape condemnation is belief in the Son of God.

This aberrant concept, turned false doctrine, opens the gate to all sorts of heresies and, is an attempt of man to frame the Scriptures within acceptable boundaries of human thought and subjectivism. This is at the heart of pseudo-Christian movements that over-emphasize the love of God at the expense of His holiness, righteousness, and justice. This aberrant doctrine generates a great deal of confusion for the individual believer in understanding the nature and character of God as revealed in the Scriptures. For if God’s love were truly unconditional, then how will the believer understand the constructs of God’s holiness and justice that calls for every one who professes the name of Christ to depart from iniquity? How will the believer reconcile God’s purported unconditional love with the coming judgment?

This is why a lot of believers have great difficulty reconciling God’s love with His holiness, judgment and justice. Much like unbelievers they ask, “how could a loving God allow men to go to hell? how could a loving God allow mankind to suffer?” Their faith is built on subjective faith, hence they so easily become offended; they gravitate towards the emotional rather than the spiritual (based on the objective truths of the Scriptures); they emphasize emotion-driven action rather than principle-driven actions; they adhere to methods than are unscriptural and worldly; they tend to focus on form and not substance; and, they base their standards of holiness on the ways of man (touch not, taste not, do not), placing so much on ascetic constructs and entirely missing the truth that true holiness is a spiritual change, a state reckoned (not earned) to mankind by God before the sight of God.

For those of us who have been saved by the grace of God through an objective faith in the person and finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must always remember (and not confuse) that we freely received the gift of salvation not because God’s love is unconditional, but because Christ settled in our debt in full and all the conditions for atonement required by the One True and Holy God, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Salvation is a personal matter. It is not collective. And people will go to everlasting damnation unless we tell them of the free gift offered to them by the Holy God. Our role is to tell, the Holy Spirit is responsible for conviction and conversion. We must tell, we must teach the whole counsel of God.