On “The Gospel You Win Them With” (Be Careful)

Phyllis Nissila

I’ve been pondering an expression spoken by a pastor who was emphasizing the critical need to “preach Jesus Christ and Him Crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) to the unsaved.

“What you win them with,” he said, is what you win them to.” In short, be careful what you preach. They will follow.

And it might not be the right path.

public domain image of arrowsA scan of Christian print and broadcast media reveals there are many gospels (teachings/revelations) ”not Christ crucified” out there, and plenty of people whether out of ignorance or “itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3) follow. *

There is the “prosperity gospel,” for example, promoted by those who are “supposing that gain is godliness” (1 Timothy 6:5).

There are the, as my father used to call them, “Churches of What’s Happening Now” messages, i.e., New Think for a New Age, often derived from the teachings of the actual New Age Movement and ancient pagan “mystical practices” re-packaged for contemporary seekers.

There is the vanilla-coated love message that, lest any turn away offended (and leadership loses “nickels and noses”), excludes any mention of that which Jesus often warned us about: Hell and the real existence and power of Satan.

But perhaps the most distracting and destructive of all the false gospels are those centered on “works,” that is, on the implication that when Jesus took His last ragged breath on the cross and proclaimed “It (His sacrifice for our sins) is finished” He didn’t really mean it. According to these gospels, there still are some behaviors we have to engage in to earn and/or maintain our salvation.

I grew up under the heavy influence of one such gospel, as I’ve detailed in my “Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism” series. The religious milieu of my early years included many gospels, actually.

Jesus Christ crucified is in the mix in that religious system and I became a Christian while yet attending; however, there are many other items, relics, you might say, of Roman Catholic thought and dogma evolved over time under the guise of “sacred tradition” (on a par with God’s Word, they teach) and added to the core Gospel. And the pile-up began just a few hundred years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

There is the Catholic teaching on Mary, Jesus’ mother, for example, deemed by the papacy to be a “Co-Mediatrix/Redemptrix” with Jesus [1].

There is the gospel of papal infallibility, meaning, when the pope speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals, he speaks “as God,” that is to say, “without error” [2].

There are many lesser Catholic revelations one can follow, too, and achieve some kind of blessing, grace, or time off of Purgatory, so to speak, if the instructions are precisely followed. Examples: various kinds of “novenas” and other ways to earn “plenary indulgences (which can also be applied to the souls of the deceased),”  “First Friday,” and “First Saturday” “devotions,” and so on [3].

Roman Catholicism also markets “sacramentals,” i.e., items such as crosses, medals, “holy water,” to name a few, one can “use” or apply to attain some kind of special spiritual accommodation. The list is long [4].

But the Roman Catholic Church is not the only religious system to market a gospel of works. There are many others, some, skilled in much subtler, seductive ways.

There is the Church of the Intelligentsia (equating education with edification) the Church of Emotion (equating feeling with faith), and the Church of the New Revelation (equating titillation with truth).

Not that intelligence, education, emotion, and a new understanding of the Word of God (not to be confused with a new interpretation based on a new worldview) are necessarily not of God. Those achievements and experiences may be genuine by-products of walking with and growing in Christ.

arrow from the public domainBut in this world where truth is so easily diffused by distractions, delights, and demons, we are well advised, as the preacher above noted, to make sure the emphasis—and the experience—of our “message,” our “Gospel,” is on Jesus Christ—the Foundation of the Church; the Alpha and the Omega; the Same, Yesterday, Today, and Forever; The One and Only of Whom God the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, NIV).

We are well advised to preach the only One by Whom we are saved—sans additions, subtractions, bells, whistles and/or apostasies—a salvation of which it is said, “For by grace (charis: gift, blessing, favor, kindness) are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-8, KJV).

And when the gift of this extraordinary Gospel is unpacked for those hungry for spiritual truth, the power of such a great love given us by the Father through Jesus Christ has all the power needed in and of itself to draw all men unto Him.

And the angels sing…

Stay the path.

~~~

*For a good resource on churches and teachings not aligned with core Christian teachings, here is a good site to explore. There are many others, of course. http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/

[1] On Mary as Co-Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix with Jesus: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/mary-mother-of-salvation

[2] Teaching on Papal infallibility: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm

[3] Teaching on indulgences: https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/indulgences_conditions.htm

[4] Definition, teachings, and list of sacramentals: http://www.sacramentals.com/

Images from the public domain.

Posted in Commentaries, Ex-Roman Catholic/Catholicism, most recent posts, Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism, Purgatory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nickels and Noses”? (On Measuring Success in the Church—More Encouragement for the Remnant)

Phyllis Nissila

I recently heard the idiom, “nickels and noses,” translation, “money and people,” referencing how success is counted in some churches.

Cute, but really?

How about one crown of thorns, two bloody beams, three nails, and success “counted” by our faith in same, that is, by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice no matter the size of the building or denomination.

Although we live in an age when Big Box stores, banks, and now churches are possible, and ultimately members from every tribe and tongue throughout time will assemble at the Throne above, down here where the Church of Terra Firma assembles “success” has little to do with size.

The “Body of Christ” into which we are united ipso facto by the power of the Holy Spirit is, in the spiritual sense, down to the significant One, Jesus Christ, where if even just two are gathered in His name He promised to be in our midst (Matthew 18:20).

Not that big is necessarily bad nor small necessarily good, because, as always, it’s about His presence, not ours. And, granted, we must pay for lights, camera, and action in cold hard cash, but we must also remember that the Light of the Truth—the real focus of the Church—revealed by Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit residing in however many or few are present, was purchased by the precious coin of the cross.

So be encouraged, brethren, especially in an era when the Churches of the Big Box seem to be crowding the street corners. Your little gathering, down to, for whatever reason, a few focused on Jesus Christ and Him crucified, still counts.

This, I think, is an especially good reminder as the Spirit of Antichrist amps up…

those at the foot of the crossImage from Wikimedia Commons.

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“Hey, You: Talk to the Man on the Cross!” (On the Righteousness of Believers)

Phyllis Nissila

Wondering who the You I am addressing in the title is? Who (hint, hint) prowls around seeking whom he may devour? Who likes to snake upside a believer’s brain with Blame and Shame thus keeping the spiritual klieg light on us and our efforts to save ourselves (not good) and away from the righteousness imputed to us through Jesus Christ (good)? [1]

Satan.

Correct.

And the prize? More of that “peace that passes all understanding” promised by Jesus to those who put their faith in Him—the One Who died in our stead, His blood covering our sin, guilt and shame.

Sounds pretty simple, huh? Put the Devil in his place with some power-packed Scripture by claiming our righteousness in Jesus Christ and walk away easy.

But as usual, sigh, not so easy.

Why?

Well, for starters, what earnest, true believer has not looked at him/herself in the spiritual mirror and queried, down-hearted, “Oh, no! I said (or did or thought or wished) WHAT? And I’ve been walking with Jesus Christ ____ (fill in the blank) years, now?!”

And immediately, the Blame and Shame begin…

Not that we don’t deserve the B and S, to be sure. And even though we’ve heard the good word about that in the Good Word: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, NIV), it’s still hard.

The problem is, head knowledge doesn’t always filter down to emotional knowledge–you know, the place where we feel things, where we are wont to curl up in the spiritual fetal position and moan in regret because it seems we came up short. Again.

Even St. Paul had his moments in the mirror (Romans 7:13-20).

And, worse yet, for those of you (like me) reared in the Sacred Tradition of Works (one size fits all denominations), it might not even be the “seven deadlies,” the “frightful five,” or even the “nasty nine” (or whatever other list of sins we come up with) that trip us up and for which we assume the position.

We sweat even the small stuff, or the past stuff.

Something triggers a decidedly non-Christian word, thought, or deed from some unfortunate situation soon forgotten or long past, and we head for the corner where, trapped by the truth of us—and not yet remembering the Truth of Him (see above)—we marinate in misery.

And there (cue the Jaws theme), in the fertile valley of our self-made angst, You enters, locked and loaded with accusations.

“Oh, what a hypocrite are you,” he begins, smiling, I imagine, a nasty little snake smile. “And what are people going to think now! And how many people will turn away from The-One-I-Hate-and-Whose-Name-I-Refuse-to-Pronounce because of what you did!”

Or, worse, “You will NEVER EVER be able to overcome THIS sin!” (Emergency insert: “For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again…” Proverbs 24:1.)

Know what I mean?

Or maybe not. (In which case I think you would be a rare and especially blessed believer!)

But before I trigger too much spiritual trauma, here, let me encourage you with something I am now applying to the situation.

You know the expression, “Talk to the hand,” which means, to finish the statement, “because I’m not engaging with you anymore.”? Spiritually, I go one further.

“Talk to the Man on the cross,” I now say, when cornered with yet another failure in my “journey in progress,” “because my righteousness is not due to my works, but due to His.

Cheap grace?

One sometimes hears this claim in opposition. But in response to that I wonder if he/she who argues thus has ever really considered the full import of that bloody day on Calvary, the weight of prophecy regarding its full intent, the unimaginable suffering of the only Sacrificial Lamb Who alone, through His flawless sacrifice, has the power to reconcile us with a God Whose perfect love also requires perfect justice?

I often wonder that…

But back to the scene in front of the mirror of (potential) doom.

Just in case Whoever won’t listen and continues his prowl-about in your mind and heart, add the following to your response, at will, and repeat as needed:

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH (Romans 1:17, NASB).

 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith (Romans 4:13).

And my personal favorite:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

And we are also promised help in the process of improving our “spiritual best,” as it were: “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NASB).

NOTE: For those new to all this and who may just now wonder, but how do you get there from here? Yield to the salvation power of God’s call on your life. Acknowledge your sin and ask Jesus Christ to come into your life as Savior and Lord. In short: “for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (sozo, “rescued, delivered out of danger and into (God’s) provisions”) (Romans 10:13). Then get yourself into His Word ASAP for the road map. I’d start with the Gospel of John.

Oh, believers, one more thing.

For those really hard-to-eradicate blames and shames, this additional little reminder for that old Despicable You: It didn’t end at the cross of (our) guilt and sin. There is, you see, this empty tomb…in a garden…outside the old city of Jerusalem…

***

[1] “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB).

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Vanilla or the Full (Spiritual) Meal? (On the Baptism in the Holy Spirit)

Phyllis Nissila

My sister once asked a local pastor, who we eventually came to realize is immersed in the 21st Century Church of the Hip, Slick, and Cool (or something like that),“Will you be teaching on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?”

Without blinking an eye, he replied, “We’re pretty vanilla around here. We don’t get into all that. We’re just into loving Jesus.”

My sister was speechless.

Vanilla?

While the darkness enveloping the world is almost palpable? Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East? The economy is ready to tank? (Not to mention daily challenges…)

Really? Continue reading

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On (Dying) Snakes and (Defeated) Satan

Phyllis Nissila

ON SNAKES

snake-reptileIt is said of a snake that even though its head may be cut off, it takes a while for its slow metabolism to respond. In the interim, sometimes up to an hour, its tail thrashes about destroying whatever is in its way.

Its head also lives on for a spell: pupils dilate and fangs sink into whatever is near as the doomed reptile executes its final reflexive actions fueled by a snake’s brand of terror-laced adrenalin. [1]

If it is we who are near, and the serpent hasn’t been contained, there is still cause for fear.

ON SATAN

How seemly, then, literally and/or metaphorically, Satan slithered into Eden as such a being.

And how equally seemly for us to keep in mind that even after our spiritual arch enemy’s ill-fated head-on collision with the Son of God (ca 33) he, like his reptile counterpart, continues his destructive postmortem thrash-about until his own containment (Tribulation’s end) and fiery finale (1000 years hence). Continue reading

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URGENT PRAYER REQUEST FOR MISSIONARIES IN IRAQ

Prayer Needed

REPOSTED from http://mkayla.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/prayer-needed/:

M’Kayla:

The following is a prayer request from Iraq. It is real. It is not news or a conspiracy theory. Children are dying at the hands of ISIS for their faith…this story has chilled me in a way nothing else has in my life. I don’t have an update, just please pray!

Continue reading

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On Light and “Light” (“Is the Husband in a ‘BMBW’ Marriage Tantamount to Christ?” Part 2)

Phyllis Nissila

public domain sun photoA commenter on my previous post brought up what I think is one of the most frustrating and telling “bad fruits” of the natural tendency to “keep up appearances” when a rigid list of behaviors is imposed on groups of people based on the elements of “the flesh,” i.e., cultural and normalcy biases, human reasoning—and gender (not to mention lesser motivations…) particularly in religious systems, where grace can get lost in the mix.

One might paraphrase, “By bad fruits we shall know…too.”

This prompts me to share some thoughts on discernment based on an analogy that’s been on my mind lately.

SEEN AND UNSEEN

In addition to believing that God does not lie in His Word (yes, I’m a literalist when evaluating Scripture in context and in the original languages, and what I have learned in only my first forty years of growth and study has so far only strengthened this belief), I’m what you might call a “metaphorist,” too.

In this capacity, I’ve been lately pondering the comparison of visible light and the “spiritual light” of God’s Word.

Just as visible light has components that enable it to infuse the nooks and crannies of creation by virtue of the elements of intensity, frequency, polarization, and speed (the complete spectrum of which is not wholly visible to the human eye [1]) the perfect “light of God’s Word” infuses the entirety of spiritual creation, too, and an individual’s or a group’s “spiritual view” may not “see” all there is there, either.

Why not? Perhaps it’s not the “fullness of time,” for one example, for a revelation or visible manifestation of a prophecy or group of prophecies.

There are also “flesh reasons,” you might put it, for truncated or incorrect interpretation, such as “cherry-picking” Scripture to “fit” into the aforementioned “external framework” of argument, insufficient exegesis, assumption, or presumption–no matter what authorial position the interpreters or group of interpreters might represent or claim to represent.

We are all fallible.

But just what is it I am saying, here, in reference to the “male headship” teaching in the BMBW movement?

Just this: when we or someone (or “someones”) else put a cap on God’s Word from an external or mankind-centered motivation, though it might align somewhat or even entirely in some places with the full “intensity, frequency, polarization, and speed” of Scripture, THIS SHOULD BE A RED FLAG. Particularly when the “fruit” of the teaching, such as the frustration my commenter referenced, conflicts with the fruit we are to look for that stems from correct teaching and practice (see Galatians 5:22-23).

In other words, is a husband’s “Christ-type” positioning in a marriage, at least as is implied in advice to wives in the movement (see previous post), really a truth infused in all of Scripture, or has it been presumed so?

But how can we know what is the “light of God’s Word” versus mankind’s limited “light of understanding” in this, or any other teaching that emerges? This is my focus, today.

STUDY

Encyclopedias of information exist on the properties of physical light. I noted only a few facts.

Likewise, spiritually speaking, as the famed Bereans illustrated (Acts 17:11), a careful study of God’s “light” might also require “discerning through” spiritual encyclopedias of information, if you will.

But, whew! How is ANYBODY, then, to “get it”! Particularly in view of the fact that we, as Paul metaphorized, “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) when it comes to our limited understanding of all things God on this side of the pearlies!

And who has time to do all that work?!

Thankfully, God also provides benchmarks, i.e., “spiritual best practices” and perspectives to help the discernment process.

Here are three key verses:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 54:1, NIV).

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement (1 John 5:7-8).

For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24).

Next question: so how are we to know who is speaking in alignment and who is not? How are we to possibly be able to  “prove all things” so that we can “hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)?

In addition to observing the afore-referenced “fruit of the spirit” emanating from aligned teachings and practices, here is another guideline when we don’t have the luxury of studying over time:

It’s not just about the text, it’s also about the context.

FOLLOW THE PROMPT

From my perch back in the English teacher’s classroom, this time the subject is literature, I offer this illustration.

When teaching students how to “unpack the prompt,” to discover fully the instructions for answering a test or assignment “question,” literature instructors stress the importance of proving one’s opinion with specific references—in appropriate context—to the text. This is critical for success.

In other words, a student might have a seemingly correct opinion as to some element or elements of a play, novel, essay, or poem, but without references to substantive elements in the work itself, he/she will have only accomplished half the assignment. It’s about opinion and  adequate support.

How does this relate to discerning Scripture?

The answer circles back to the discipline of the Bereans: study.

But how is the average person, without a Bible degree of some sort, supposed to figure things out, then?!

Fortunately, God does not leave us without guidance here, either, particularly on occasions when we don’t have access to teachers, preachers, prophets, counselors, and so on.

Our help?: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jesus, as quoted in John 14:26).

(This teaching is not gender-specific nor gender-restricted, by the way.)

And over the years I have also employed this wise advice a pastor once gave:

If the focus is centered primarily on us and our behavior, be very careful, no matter how educated and/or well-meaning the preachers/teachers may be, or how big and/or well-financed the religious institution may be.

Conversely, if the focus is on Jesus Christ (the real Christ, not a christ proxy, a Christ type, or someone actually claiming to be Christ), this is teaching in the right direction.

And where is this verified in Scripture? “He (the Holy Spirit) will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you” (Jesus, as quoted in John 16:14).

But, you might now think, taking a little bit closer look, what does “glorify” mean, exactly?

Excellent question!

And the Grand Adventure starts here, my friends: http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/doxazo.html

But let me encourage you further.

LET HIM SHINE

As you follow Jesus’ prompts through the Holy Spirit infused in you at re-birth, sent to illuminate every “jot and tittle” of God’s Word, frustrations will ease, confusion will abate, and the joy and lightness of another kind, emanating from your relationship with the God who loves you inestimably more than even the elements of His exquisite creation, will “shine you through” to that day when every dark glass will be shattered, every false Christ vanquished, and in the company of all others who worship Him and Him alone you will bask forever in the eternal light of God’s love.

And I have faith that once “home” we will all find that it will have been well worth the study, the process—and the “unpacking.”

***

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light

Photo from the public domain.

You might also enjoy be encouraged by this related post:

http://pnissila.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/eyes-to-see-devotional/

Posted in Christian Women Topics, Commentaries, encouragement in hard times, most recent posts, Patriarchy/Complementarianism | Tagged , | 3 Comments