The Church Must be Holy
In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites whom He had delivered from slavery to consecrate themselves and be a holy nation, so that His presence could be with them (Ex. 19:5, 6; Lev. 11:45). When the Israelites led a consecrated life, God responded in a loving manner, took care of them, and even dwelled among them. His presence was fully manifested as His glory filled the tabernacle and the holy temple at their dedications (Ex. 40:34-35; 1 Kin. 8:10, 11). On the other hand, when the Israelites refused to lead a consecrated life, or when the holy temple was filled with idols, His presence departed from them (Ezek. 8:3, 5, 10, 14).
Although it was not God's desire to depart from the Israelites, His glory had no choice but to leave them in the end. His glory first went up from the cherub to the threshold of the holy temple (Ezek. 9:3) and stood over the threshold (Ezek. 10:4). From here it departed the threshold and stood over the cherubim (Ezek. 10:18). When the cherubim departed, it stood still at the entrance of the east gate of the holy temple (Ezek. 10:19), and then went up from the midst of the city to stand over Mount Olivet, which is east of the city. At last it went up and departed from the earth (Ezek. 11:22, 23).
The Israelites have lost God's presence since A .D. 70. Their houses were destroyed and their families were scattered; the whole nation became homeless, drifting from place to place. Had God not delivered them from such a miserable predicament, their nation would have met a tragic end a long time ago!
It is the same in the New Testament. At the onset of the Early Church Period, in order to sanctify the Church, God purged from within by bringing sudden death to Ananias and his wife for the lies they told. After that incident, the Bible says, "And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number" (Acts 5:14). As for Christians today, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself has become our sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30), but God still demands us to be holy in our daily living (1 Pet. 1:15). If the Church wants the reality of God's presence, she has to consecrate herself and be holy. God has repeatedly urged His people: "You shall be holy, for I am holy'' (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:16).
How can we consecrate ourselves and be holy then? First, we have to separate ourselves from "... unbelievers... lawlessness... darkness... Belial. .. idols... come out from their midst... and do not touch what is unclean..." (2 Cor. 6:14-17). Then, we have to perfect i'holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).
In the following pages, I have listed a few areas where we must consecrate ourselves in order to be holy, hoping that it will be useful to the Church of the last days.
Christians Must Be Holy (1 Cor. 6:11)
When the Israelites left Egypt, "a mixed multitude also went up with them" (Ex. 12:38). This mixed multitude caused the Israelites great sorrow and suffering in later days (Num. 11:4-5). Although their physical presence was in the desert, their hearts were still in Egypt-that is, their focus was on earthly things. Self-gratification became their god. From morning till night, they kept on yelling, "Give me! Give me!" They enjoyed luring the hearts of honest men with honeyed words. The adverse effects of their unholiness caused the Israelites to weep and Moses to beg for God to kill him. God was so angry that He wanted to wipe out the whole nation of Israel.
a. Less is better than more
In the early '70s, a young seminary graduate planned to start some pioneering work in a certain city. In preparation, he interviewed an elderly pastor, hoping to gain some insight from the pastor's extensive experiences. The elderly pastor kindly shared with him all the golden rules, such as-always being prepared, knowing the proper spiritual priorities, starting with the basics before proceeding to the profound, and setting examples by one's action. Before concluding his sharing, this veteran pastor solemnly warned him: Less is better than more! He also advised him not to overextend himself, nor set a foundation on the sand, lest he suffer bitterly later on. This young graduate responded with a smile and then left.
Later, it was said that he accepted everyone seeking church membership, regardless of their acceptance of Jesus as personal Savior. His attitude was "the more the better"! Three years later, as he aired his grievances to the same elderly pastor, he wept and begged for advice. Many in his congregation claimed to be Christians but had no eternal life; they fought for privileges but retreated from responsibilities. Such members were apt to mishandle church ministries. They truly were "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7). The elderly pastor said to him, "You've brought all these things upon yourself. Didn't I tell you three years ago 1ess is better than more'? Didn't I warn you not to accept any member without first checking his spiritual life? You didn't listen. And now, you're suffering the consequences of your own doing." When a person brings disaster upon himself, he deserves it.
b. Beware of terminal diseases
The inability to distinguish the spiritual from the carnal, and the acceptance of all applications for church membership, have always been the mortal wound of the Chinese Church. They have already caused the Church to lose God's presence and the opportunities for church growth. If such a situation continues, the numerical increase is analogous to a temporary swollen face from self-inflicted slaps. We definitely cannot say that is healthy! Seats in every pew may be filled on Sunday, but the fact remains there are only a handful of people in prayer meeting, Bible study and Sunday school. How can they be so smug as to claim such an unnatural puffiness as church growth?
God's Church must be holy and glorious. But, when she is filled with people dead in trespasses and sins, as the holy temple was once filled with idols, what can our holy God do but depart from her? We Christians love the soul of every person on this earth, yet we should never allow anyone to hinder us from having God's presence, nor permit any person to destroy God's body. We love each and every cell of our body, yet we should never allow the existence of any cell that can poison or do harm to our body. We should always remove these harmful cells completely. Unfortunately, people often allow cancerous cells to be injected into the Body of Christ. This is the reason why some churches today are suffering from terminal diseases!
c.Tidy the couch for guests
How can one be holy? Anyone who wants to be holy must first be in Jesus Christ, because He is our sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). To be in Jesus Christ, we have to believe in His name; to believe in His name is to receive Him (John 1:12). What does it mean by "receiving Him" then? Let me borrow an idiom frequently employed in Chinese letter writing to clarify this point. In expressing one's welcome to friends and relatives coming for a visit, one often writes, "I tidy my couch to wait for your coming." "To tidy the couch" means to remove the dust from the couch; "to wait for" is to welcome with proper courtesy. Receiving (or believing in) Jesus is just as simple as that.
(1) Hand over to our Lord Jesus all the dirt and dust in our hearts, and disclose to Him all wickedness within
us-this is "confession."
(2) Let the Lord bear all our iniquities to a "solitary land" (Lev. 16:22)-this is "forgiveness" and "deliverance."
(3) Invite the Lord into our heart as our Savior and King-this is ''believing."
In other words, no man can be sanctified unless he believes in Jesus Christ! Only when a person willingly hands over his unrighteousness and unholiness to Jesus Christ, and only when he welcomes Him into his heart, can he then be sanctified.
God has told us, "Do not be bound together with unbelievers" (2 Cor. 6:14). Given this commandment, how can we expect God's presence in a church that is full of unbelievers? It is simply a daydreamer's fantasy if we insist on having church growth under such conditions.
Leaders Must Be Holy (Acts 20:28)
Not only should lay Christians be sanctified, but church leaders should also be holy. The failure of church leaders in conducting themselves as leaders and role models has been the primary cause for the stagnation of most Chinese churches in the past. Throughout the histories of Israel and Judah, God revealed to us that the fate of a country depended on the reigning king. When the king did right in the sight of God without deviation to evil ways, his populace would enjoy peace, harmony, happiness and prosperity, and his country would be strong and powerful. Otherwise, his country would either be raided and humiliated by neighboring countries, or infested by robbers and thieves! The importance of church leaders to a church is identical. It is no wonder that the Bible commands all church leaders:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock,
...to shepherd the church of God which He
purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28)
a. The cause of the generation gap
Years ago, I often preached in the Mid-West. The brethren there told me about the seriousness of the generation gap in their churches, but I did not think much of it at first, until similar comments kept coming up repeatedly in other cities. Then, I began to do a study on this problem. The result of my study is this: The fundamental cause of a generation gap in a church is the elders' inability to conduct themselves as leaders, rather than the young people's prideful attitude!
Even though many church leaders may have the title "elder" or "deacon" printed on their business cards, yet they are titular elders and deacons, for they never act as nor serve as deacons or elders. Some will not come even to Sunday service unless the pastor invites them personally. How can they then expect their educated young people, who insist on striving for thoroughness in everything, to say "Amen" to them? Consequently, the two sides become as water and fire that cannot co-exist. All ideas and suggestions from the elderly, no matter right or wrong, will naturally be rejected by the young people. Fighting and quarreling at business meetings become a common practice. New believers shake their heads and sigh; some even stumble. How pitiful it is!
Therefore, church leaders who are "lovers of self, lovers of money...unholy. . .unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips...brutal. ..reckless, conceited...rather than lovers of God" (2 Tim. 3:1-5) should resign from their positions. Their resignation would be a gesture to show their self reproach. Only then may they avoid becoming a stumbling block to others, and thus escape God's judgments later (Matt. 18:6).
b. The possible solution
"If such a generation gap has been deeply rooted in the church for a long time, what should we do then?" My answer to this question is, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26)!
Several years ago, I was invited to preach in a church in Southern California. In that church, there was a leader who did not really know the Lord yet and was, therefore, ignorant of spiritual matters. He intentionally acted against the young pastor of the church by repeatedly forcing the pastor into some very embarrassing situations. The young pastor sought my counsel and I shared with him, "There is only one solution-prayer! You should ask God to either change him or send him away. God will definitely open a door for you." This young pastor took the advice; he fasted and prayed diligently regarding the matter. Shortly thereafter, that elder did not come anymore. Co-workers who love our Lord Jesus, you can try to handle similar problems in the same way too!
c. The neglected principles
A church must have these four essential principles as their crucial pillars of support: knowledge, faith, behavior and discipline. A church is likened to a building. Lacking any one of these principles will cause a slant or even a collapse of the whole church. While the church must have aU four principles, they must also give each of them equal emphasis.
If "knowledge" is unduly emphasized, we will easily repeat the mistakes of the Pharisees, pridefully assuming ourselves as "a guide to the blind, [and] a light to those who are in darkness" (Rom. 2:19). In reality, what we have secured so far is just some unproven knowledge. What good can that kind of knowledge be?
If "faith" is unduly emphasized, we will easily become emotional maniacs. When we conclude that everything in Christ is merely an activity of the emotions, our concentration, of course, will be centered solely on the enjoyment of our sentiments, instead of the cultivation of truth and spiritual edification.
If ''behavior" is unduly emphasized, we will think that all achievements depend on our own efforts. Then, what difference is there between our faith and those of other religions?
If we have the above three but lack "discipline," we are like a man who plants a vineyard without putting a fence around it. Wild beasts can enter, trampling the vineyard at their pleasure. The harvest of the grapes is out of the question, and the destruction of the vineyard is certain.
Therefore, a church has to heed not only the first three principles, but especially the fourth one. Negligence and lack of application of the fourth principle leads to the fruitlessness of many churches today.
d. The leaders' pledge
All deacon candidates of the First Chinese Baptist Church of Los Angeles have to pledge faithfulness to God, to the Church and to their offices. Here is their pledge for your reference.
"Ten 'MUSTS' For A Deacon Candidate In The Church"
(1) Must have the desire to serve the Lord as a deacon and the willingness to honor one another.
(2) Must pursue the requirements set forth in 1 Tim. 3:1-10.
(3) Must study the Bible and pray every day and give tithes cheerfully and regularly.
(4) Must be married and the wife must be willing to assist her husband as a deacon to the best of her ability.
(5) Must be able to teach Sunday school.
(6) Must be willing to serve the Lord in any capacity, especially in visitation.
(7) Must attend all the basic meetings, such as worship services, Sunday school, prayer meetings, officers' meetings and
business meetings; and support all Church organizations and projects.
(8) Must participate in training opportunities and the training of others through the Church Training Program or other
(9) Must set a good example before younger Christians. Never argue with them or get angry with them without a training
(10) Must work with the pastors.
Finances Must Be Sanctified (Prov. 15:8, 21:27;1Tim. 6:9-10)
While Dwight L. Moody was ministering in Chicago, he spoke on "The Path to Wealth." There were three main points to his sermon. During his sharing on the first point, "exert yourself diligently to earning money," loud applause from the congregation resounded through the giant hall. When he talked about the second point, "exert yourself industriously to saving money," again, loud applause rang through the hall. But, as soon as he came to the third point, "exert yourself zealously to offering money," the whole congregation was quiet, so quiet that even a pin drop could be heard!
This incident merely elucidates the reason why many churches often cannot make ends meet. Nowadays,Christians who are willing to demonstrate their love for God through money are indeed scarce.
Aside from stinginess towards God, we have to take precautions on other money-related matters as well. Failure to heed these precautions will cause God's absence in our church, and our financial situation will deteriorate even further!
a. Don't follow the vicious cycle
It is true that a hungry man cannot be too choosy of his food. Likewise, due to financial pressure, some churches are apathetic towards right and wrong. Their attitude of "the more money the better," and their disregard for the intention of the giver or the source of the money, have opened a gate for unrighteous, dirty money to sneak into the holy treasury of God's Church. God has commanded us, "You shall be holy for I am holy'' (1Pet. 1:16). When a church's treasury is defiled, how
can the church expect our holy God to be with her?
The Old Testament records that God's glory (which is God's presence) departed from the Israelites when His holy temple was filled with idols (Ezek. 8). And the New Testament explains that a "...covetous man...is an idolator..." (Eph. 5:5). When a church's treasury is defiled, the church is not only covetous (which is equivalent to idolatrous), but also covetous of unrighteous money. What can God do but depart from her?
Then, the vicious cycle begins. Without God's presence, the apathetic church will surely face financial difficulties. The more difficult her financial situation, the more ways her leaders will try to raise funds. The more they try to raise funds, the more they fall into the trap of being unrighteous. The more unrighteous they become, the greater the possibility of God departing from them. This kind of cause and effect relationship often drives a church into a hopeless situation.
b. Don't confuse right and wrong
"A man of virtue loves money, but gets it in the right way." This is an ancient Chinese teaching. Some churches of the last days basically are not concerned about whether it is "the right way" or "the wrong way'' as long as there is a way to obtain money. (Some missionary organizations are so depraved that they use piety as a means for material gain. Brothers and sisters who love our Lord should be aware of this.) When a holy organization degenerates to such a depravity, how can it expect to have the presence of our God?
A church in a big city in North America was experiencing some financial difficulties due to their church building project. In order to raise funds, they organized the congregation into small groups to solicit donations door to door in Chinatown. The brothers and sisters of that church, therefore, went knocking on doors for money. As soon as the door of a certain family was opened, they could clearly see that people inside were in the heat of gambling. After the gamblers realized the reason for their visit, one gambler picked up a five dollar bill from the gambling table and threw it to them. These brothers and sisters accepted the bill, said "thank you" and left! Since they used such dirty money to build God's holy temple, how could they expect God's presence to be with them? Immediately following the completion of the building, the church split apart. The pastor left with a group of brothers and sisters, leaving the rest of the congregation dumb-founded. It was such an irony to the whole church building project.
After Judas "threw...into the sanctuary" the thirty pieces of silver which he obtained from betraying Jesus, the chief priests picked up all thirty pieces of silver and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood" (Matt. 27:5-6). Even these priests and Pharisees who used piety as a means for material gain, could distinguish the sacrilegious from the holy. The Church of the last days, however, purposely ignores the distinction between right and wrong, and thus knowingly permits unrighteous money to defile the holiness of God. It comes as no surprise, then, that God's presence will depart from her (Ref. Ezek. 8-10).
c. Don't fantasize
The Bible says, "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD" (Prov. 15:8), and "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, I How much more when he brings it with evil intent!" (Prov. 21:27).
Who are the "wicked" ones? According to the definition in the Bible, they are not the unforgivable, heinous criminals, but "those who forget God" (Ps. 9:17; 50:16, 18). To God they are abominable and wicked because they forget God they forget His love, His righteousness, and His holiness! It is true that they bring forth their offerings to God, yet there is no fear of God in their heart, but evil intent.
What does "evil intent" mean? "Evil intent" is an intention to bribe God and to defraud one's own conscience. For instance, a man who has knowingly accepted some unrighteous money, is bothered by his own conscience afterwards. Although no one else has any knowledge of his evil deed, yet it is clear to him that God knows about it and his own conscience knows about it as well. This deed keeps coming up in his thoughts in the quiet of the night. Burdened with guilt and shame, and overwhelmed with feelings of unworthiness, he still does not want to, nor dare to, face the reality. Instead, he fantasizes that, perhaps, with a large contribution to a church, God may be pleased (or should we say "bribed"), and therefore disregard his evil deed.
Alas, this man does not know that Jehovah God is the One who
. . .will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting
the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren
to the third and fourth generations. (Ex. 34:7)
Our God is willing to "sympathize with our weaknesses" (Heb. 4:15), but He will never make any concession to our sins! He has clearly warned us, "Truly I say to you, you shall not come out of there, until you have paid up the last cent" (Matt.
5:26). Because of His righteousness, He has prepared for us the sin offering through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. God does not want our bribe, but desires our confession of sins! He has promised us, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Praise the Lord!
d. Don't be greedy
The Chinese in North America often describe Christians as lazy and greedy! The first description that Christians are lazy is a pure conjecture out of ignorance. In order to satisfy the desire, or the necessity, of earning more money, most first-generation Chinese immigrants often work with extreme diligence from dawn to midnight without any break. When they observe their Chinese Christian acquaintances going to church so frequently, they immediately conclude that attending church is just an excuse to avoid working hard. Therefore, Christians are lazy. This observation, of course, is uncalled for.
As for the second description that Christians are greedy, there is a good reason for this. Many Chinese churches are uninformed concerning the cultivation of love for God, but they are experts when it comes to squeezing money from their congregations. Some pastors will ask for monetary donations as soon as they are at the pulpit; basically there is no other sermon aside from this topic. One Lord's day, a Christian came to worship with us. When asked why she did not go back to her own church, she replied, "Whenever our pastor preaches, he asks for donations. It bores me to death!" Since some churches have such an insatiable covetousness towards God's holy offering, how can unbelievers not draw the conclusion that Christians are greedy?
As a remedy to such a bad reputation, one church in North America determined not to accept offerings from unbelievers. Of course, there were leaders who did not agree to this decision in the beginning, thinking that when people had the willingness to offer to God, it must be good. Nevertheless, after a careful study on the warnings in the book of Proverbs, they not only refused to accept any unrighteous money, but also announced clearly before the collection of offerings, that unbelievers were not to participate in the worship with offerings. The total offering in that church is now over twenty-five thousand dollars each Lord's day! We can truly say that with God's presence, everything is blessed.
In short, "the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil" (1 Tim. 6:10)! This warning is not only for individuals but also for the Church as well. If a church does not heed this warning, but longs for money and defiles her finances, not only will she
subsequently lose God's presence, but she will also wander away from the faith as well as pierce her pastors, elders, deacons and congregation with many a pang of guilt (1 Tim. 6:10).