Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Life Beyond Discipline, Part 5, Warner

-- A Relational Faith -
-Wayne M. Warner-

“We Lutherans” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “ have gathered like eagles round the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following    Christ”

In California I heard a humorous story about a Valley Farmer who shingled his roof six feet out into space. Allegedly, that was before he discovered he was off the roof.

Much teaching about the person and presence of the Holy Spirit leaves Christians in a fogbank as thick as those Tulle fogs that regularly rolled into the California valleys and waterways from the waters of the Pacific. Confusion about the third person of the Trinity leaves many living in a spiritual fog.

Christians in most quarters of the Church of God readily define themselves as Trinitarians and that is because they believe in The Creator God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If we accept Jesus as part of the Godhead, we somewhat automatically fall into the camp of those who believe in the Trinity. Some, however, reject the third person of the Trinity and we know them as Unitarians.

As Trinitarians, we find that we face differing viewpoints regarding the work of the Holy Spirit. The reformers of the Protestant Reformation generally agreed in emphasizing solid scriptural authority. They believed everything must be measured in strict biblical terms.    

However, preacher-scholars like James Arminius and John Wesley came to see great value in personal experience that gave a place to the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. They believed in a strong biblical authority, but they also recognized an important relational aspect in the Christian faith.

They insisted belief and behavior must maintain a proper balance. Thus, they believed that Christianity is as much about relationship with God as it is believing the correct creed. Some of the conflicting ideas between Wesleyan Holiness Christians and Pentecostal Christians come at the point of properly defining the right balance between Scriptural authority and the authority of personal experience. 

The Church of God has always taught the ultimate authority of Scripture, while continuing to give an important place to personal experience (the experiential) and private interpretation.

Thus Don Neace issued his small volume he called A Challenge For Clarity, which offers a renewed emphasis on biblical truth about the Holy Spirit. Urging believers to hold to basic biblical principles and doctrines, Neace urges avoiding over-emphasis on the experiential as expressed through personal and private phenomenon such as speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit (Neace/A Challenge For Clarity/Reformation Publishers/2004).

Going back to one of the first century‘s strongest churches, we find it came into existence because the Apostle Paul worked in Ephesus for three years to build a solid foundation. Here was a church known for its good works, patience, sound doctrine, church discipline, and its hatred of evil.

The church at Ephesus reflects the upward beckoning to discipleship that Paul stressed. In reading his or her story, we discover a need every believer has, a discipleship every believer can enhance, and devotion every disciple needs to fulfill.
The rest of the story depends on how we interpret the events at Ephesus and how we personally answer Paul’s question to the believers in Ephesus, “what baptism did you receive?”
An obvious need
(Acts 10:1-7; 19:1-3).
When he found it was time to leave Corinth, Paul gathered together the offer-ing he was collecting along the way for the distressed believers in Jerusalem. He headed for Jerusalem, by way of Ephesus, with Ephesus a likely objective from early on.

As a result, Paul seeded the soil of this East-coast center by reasoning daily in the synagogue and promising to return if and when possible.

Archaeological digs reveal a great city in Ephesus. Several miles of walls surrounded the shops, colonnades, and commercial buildings. One outstanding architectural feature of Ephesus was the Temple of Artemis, which measured 163 by 342 feet, and sat on a slab 234 feet by 418 feet. A Shopping Center surrounded the city’s 360-foot rectangular market place. Later, Paul made his way into the 24,000 seat theater where Demetrius incited a riot. (Acts 18:18-21).

Apollos relocated from Ephesus and further pursued his vision elsewhere, after Priscilla and Aquila more fully discipled him (18:24-28). In the meantime, Paul recognized an obvious need; thus, his inquiry: “What baptism did you receive?”

The Ephesians admitted they knew of the baptism of John but they candidly confessed they knew nothing about this alleged third person of the Trinity. For Paul, this pointed to an obvious need.

An enhancing discipleship
(Acts 19:4-7). The limited teachings of Apollos left the church at Ephesus with a partial and incomplete gospel. The spiritually perceptive Paul diagnosed their need and proclaimed the fullness of the gospel to them. In giving them the whole gospel, Paul reminds us that we cannot follow Jesus very far relationally without moving beyond belief to behavior, from proclamation to practice.

At some point, the gospel always calls us to move beyond merely repenting, challenging us to go on to spiritual maturity. It calls us from a creed to an experiential relationship (cf. Hebrews 6:1; John 14:12, 22-23; 15:26-27; 16:7-11).

When we repent but lack spiritual anointing, it may be because we may lack adequate knowledge of Jesus. Insufficient knowledge of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who transforms followers into prescriptions of peace and joy for a troubled world, often fails to recognize the Jesus who anoints worshippers with joy, and guides the hurting, while empowering learners with effective witness.

When we fail to recognize-and-serve the Jesus who transforms takers into givers, we fail to experience changed lives. Through the Holy Spirit, God reorganizes believers’ lives and converts the passive from a level of non-involvement into a relationship of responsible accountability.

The enhancement of the Holy Spirit brings wholeness to the individual believer, complete with consecration and moral cleansing (cf. Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 5:25-26). Entered experientially by faith, this enhancement grows progressively as

A devotion to fulfill

Spiritual enhancement both allowed and enabled the church at Ephesus to be-come a gospel center for the province of Asia. The gospel went forth from Ephesus in spite of adversity (I Corinthians 16:9). When opposition increased, evangelism multiplied (I Corinthians 19:8-9). While the people heard something new, God did something extraordinary (19:10-11).

False witnesses failed to disrupt church ministries (19:13-17). Passive believers became practicing believers and involved participants. The church filled with “discipled-believers” as converts were taught and learners became doers.

Moreover, false practices were relinquished, allowing the people to truly become the church, the Body of Christ (19:18-20).

Eventually, Paul moved on, compelled by the Holy Spirit. First, however, the church had to first become the church. No longer was the church simply Paul’s mission and ministry. Now properly administered by spiritual leaders, the church at Ephesus dieted properly, fed adequately by God’s word. Moreover, the church exercised properly, utilizing faithful saints who took the gospel everywhere to everyone within reach (Ephesians 1:1, 15-19a).

The Holy Spirit transforms and assimilates groups of disciples into Christ’s Body, without leaving spare limbs and unusable parts to exist outside the body. As God’s church in Ephesus, Timothy and John gave spiritual leadership. As a result, the people ab-sorbed the gospel, and Ephesus became an exemplary stronghold.

Later in his life, John saw Ephesus still orthodox and persistent in service, and strong in discipline although somewhat abated in love (Revelation 2:1-7).

As Paul Harvey loves to say, “Now you know the rest of the story!” But, what will our story reveal? Will the Church of God be strong because we repented of our shortfalls and pushed forward in the maturity of The Holy Spirit? Will we be God’s church? Will non-believers find faith as the Holy Spirit enhances our lives with his sanctifying presence?

How will your story read? And mine? Have you confessed your sins and accepted Jesus? Have you placed yourself on the altar and let The Sanctifier cleanse you of spiritual impurities and sanctify you for His service? 

This is –

While life launches at Calvary. It is through the baptizing presence of the Holy Spirit that life deliver its fullest expression of spiritual abundance.

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