Nehemiah 13: 23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. 25 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?”
As we vacation in a British territory, we see a couple of identities. There is that identity that is native to the people on the island. And then there are cultural elements that are clearly foreign. They emanate from the “motherland”. Since there’s a harmonious relationship here there is no issue or conflict. There’s a healthy blending of cultures that complements both people groups and makes this a popular tourist attraction. But as we think in spiritual terms, some differences are simply non-negotiable.
Israel was a theocracy. And as such, there was a necessary separation required to preserve their spiritual identity. Otherwise, all that the Lord called them out to be would be lost as His chosen people faded into the cultures of the people who surrounded them. At the place of restoration referenced in the scripture above, Nehemiah recognized the corruption that took place when people ignored God’s word and made covenant relationships with people outside the Jewish “kingdom”. One of the casualties was language: By intermarriage, the exiles reproduced and raised children who had no idea who they were. They spoke the language of the cultures married into. I would suggest God’s people have done the same. It is the product of “Roman” captivity of the Church. (For those of you who don’t know what this means, I would suggest reading “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola, or “Houses that Change the World” by Wolfgang Simson) I also believe it’s time to zealously call for restoration in this area. I don’t advocate cursing, beating, and pulling out the hair of people who misspeak in this way and forcing them to take oaths to change their ways. I do believe it’s time for those of us who are serious about Kingdom living to “take captive” our own thoughts and words so they may properly reflect who we are.
Since our “paradigm shift” last summer, I’ve increasingly become sensitive to the use of language in Christian circles. Probably topping the list of words in question is “Church”. Sometimes people use it to refer to a building, other times to a meeting. Some examples:
Going to church
Either use is not biblically correct. This is not some petty nitpicking over some insignificant matter. It is really fundamental to our understanding of who we are as a people. First we have to reject the way “church” is wrongly used. Then, as we embrace what the word really means, I’m betting the Father will begin illuminating us, revealing the key issue: who we are to be!
After Peter’s bold proclamation of understanding as to who Jesus is, the Savior promises that “upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”. We must ask, did He come through a virgin, live a perfect life, die on a cross, and rise from the grave on the 3rd day so we could go to a building or a meeting?
It is clear that He called us out to experience something much more extraordinary than the standard religious fare available in most “church” circles in our communities. I would suggest that based on His 2 Great Commandments, He purposed two things relating to the Church: dynamic fellowship with the Father, and a supernatural walk with a spiritual family… in this life.
John 17:3 says this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. . The very essence of life is: knowing God, not simply knowing about Him. I’m reminded of the wonderful Hymn “He Lives”. Remember the words of the chorus, “He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way”. Is this a reality in your life? If not, it can be. Maybe you’ve known this walk and you’ve simply settled into a life of religious routine. You can repent and experience restoration of this intimate daily walk with the Father.
But there’s more. God did not simply call individuals to this life. He called “a people”. The challenge now is to “be” a people. I find it amazing that at the beginning of the church in Acts 2, we see that they “devoted themselves” to: the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. We learn that “all who believed were together and had all things in common”. They sold possessions and belongings and distributed proceeds to those in need. Day by day they met in the temple and broke bread in their homes. Think of this folks. This is before years and years of “expository preaching”. They heard Peter’s sermon at Pentecost where he exhorted them to “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who gladly received his word were baptized and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”(Acts 2:40-41) People, this isn’t rocket science. And the more years that pass the more I realize many of us are simply walking a walk that is foreign to this and yet professing to be believers. In other words, we’ve invented ways to profess that we “believe”, without really believing.
In I Peter we’re referred to as a “living stone”. But notice the next verse, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”. I find it interesting that He starts by referring to us individually, but goes on to speak of “stones”… plural! We cannot be who God calls us to be, alone! Western rugged individualism has no place in the Kingdom of God.
Peter continues down in verses 9-10: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people’; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” This is what the world needs to see, that “city on a hill” that cannot be hidden! But they will not see that city as long as we practice “lone ranger religion” and attempt to pass it off as Christian.
I believe the enemy loves our talk about going to church and having church because it obscures the glorious truth that we ARE the church. And the longer we fail to embrace and walk in that identity, the longer we perpetuate backsliding and lukewarm religion. I believe it’s the single reason so many professing Christians feel so “lost”, miserable, and bored! How many of us have “gone to all the required “church” services and events, only to find emptiness and powerlessness? We were made to know Him and walk with Him. We were made to love and walk with each other. Anything less is not Christianity. It’s merely empty religious expression.
If we wrongly define “church”, we make it all too easy to settle for something much less than our Father intended. I appeal to you to seize the true meaning of this word in your life, and cry out to Him with others that we may be the church that will give Him honor, glory, and praise… not simply in a meeting, but that our very lives would be the message… that Jesus Christ is alive and that He rules and reigns today. Otherwise all the world around us will experience are empty religious words they can, and frankly should, ignore.