R O C K O R S A N D?
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:
and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand:
and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.
Jesus concluded His sermon on the mount with these incisive words as recorded in Matthew, chapter 7, verses 24, 25, 26 and 27. These words are promises. Jesus Christ, being the truth, is incapable of a misleading or exaggerative statement. We have every reason to believe Him. He promises and then fulfills the promises as one responds to them. He releases His words and watches over them, much like the shepherd who releases the sheep from the corral and watches over them. This chapter, and much of this book, is based on the two above promises.
A wise man builds his house upon rock. The rock is the sayings of Christ. The sayings of Christ are actually an echo of the pronouncements of the Father. (“The Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.”) The sayings of Christ, then, is the Word of God.
These two promises are impossible to misinterpret. If my house, which could mean either my entire life or certain components of my life, is founded on God’s Word it will never (never, never) collapse. No matter how vicious the storm or severe the flood waters, I will still be standing when it passes.
The fool builds his house upon sand. Sand is a substitute for God’s Word. The Lord’s second declaration is equally plain. If my life is not built upon God’s Word, it will surely (surely, surely) fall. When the storm passes and the flood waters recede, I will not be found standing.
And great was its fall.
Its fall. To the unbeliever hearing and rejecting (or ignoring) the salvation message, it means eternal doom. To the christian insisting on building her life on sand, it means third-rate living here and loss of eternal rewards there.
That most outside will never embrace Jesus is tragic. That most within the church have accepted a lesser life than what is available through obedience to Christ’s sayings is no less tragic – because the end result of a wasteful life in the church results in fewer persons being saved.
A newly born christian, exuberant in joy and energy, often will eventually withdraw into former timidity. A dynamic Paul shrinks to a doubting Thomas – and occasionally a traitorous Judas. Genesis to Revelation is a sad record of God’s chosen turning back. How could the early church, so powerful and dedicated, so bold and loyal to Jesus, almost entirely disappear within several centuries? Did God withdraw His promises, giving with the right hand and taking back with the left? How could the dark ages have ensnared the world?
Grass fire is an expression I have heard older pentecostals use to describe the moving of the Holy Spirit in earlier days within the prairie provinces. A grass fire is mighty but short lived, and so were the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Miraculous healings, signs and wonders, revival, deliverances – and then nothing. The christian community became as it was.
How many tradition-based churches in the last decade experienced a potent Holy Spirit visitation, bringing new life and hope, and then returned to the same stagnation? How many millions have lost their zest and zeal for Jesus, like salt having lost its flavor, and retreated from the front lines of the great spiritual warfare for men’s souls?
Sadly, most christians, certainly not all, eventually become unproductive and lukewarm, relinquishing their armor of love, shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, replacing them with a white flag of surrender. Having returned to surface living, timid and confused, they refuse involvement in the great commission.
The fire has gone out.
Where there was faith there is now unbelief. The gospel remains in their mouth. They live in memory of yesterday. They used to talk about Jesus – now it’s church and community and methodology and tradition. Reports were exciting – now it’s woe and despair. Testimonies of victories are now testimonies of wilderness experiences. Once hungry and teachable, now critical and angry. Relatives and friends no longer see Christ radiate through their countenances. All the Lord wants to accomplish through these fallen ones will never happen. The candle has been doused. The house has fallen.
And great was its fall.
Don’t believe me? – look around. (Looking is okay. The Lord likes us to look around if our attitude is right. Most books are authored by those who spent much time looking around.)
There is a common denominator for every failure, every misconception, all defeats: In some way the Word of God was not properly applied to a given situation or, worse yet, the Word (the Bible) had not been unquestionably accepted as the standard of one’s life. Again, look around. What do you see?
WHY, OH WHY??
All occasionally stray from God’s Word. At best, we are on the road heading for perfection; none has arrived and none will while down here. None can boast of a perfect record of obedience. The learning of His ways takes longer than a lifetime. There is, however, a major distinction between he who occasionally wonders from The Book and he who ignores it, or worse, substitutes it for another word.
Why would a believer exchange the Word of God for another standard? The proclamations of God for other proclamations? The infallible for the fallible? Why, oh why??
Exchanging is most unreasonable. Like leaving the freeway and traveling a dirt road. Like storing milk in the cupboard. We all have our list of dumb, but for many on the top of their lists is exchanging the Word of the Lord for the word of man. (We’re not talking oopsies – those we will always have. We’re talking betrayal – deliberate, premeditated compromise.)
Now I want to introduce you to Terry. Terry is an invention of my very imaginative imagination who will help with the Why, oh why?? question. Terry is…. let me see…. twenty-seven years old…. yes, a big man with a soft spirit, a wife and two kids…. let’s make them twins, a boy and girl, sevens years old. My guess is that Terry’s story, a patchwork of real life stories familiar to me, is similar to yours as it is mine.
Please understand, writing about Terry is writing my observations of my colleagues in the charismatic movement to which I was adjoined for nearly five years, and the influx of outside Negotiators, Adders and Subtracters. Fictional Terry represents non-fictional people.
Terry is less than two years old in the family, having discovered his Christ at a charismatic prayer meeting in the basement hall of his catholic church. Didn’t want to go to the prayer meeting that night, could barely tolerate sunday mass, and besides, everything he heard about the prayer thing sounded weird and scary. But Sheri, his wife, was pushing it, and he had to admit to a certain curiosity.
Well Terry’s life was changed that night. Wept openly for the first time since childhood as he experienced the wonderful person of Jesus Christ, and received Christ as Lord and Savior. Terry became one of millions of born-again catholic charismatics. That night he was instinctively drawn to one of the ornaments in the living room, a Bible. The biological marvel of a newborn intuitively extracting milk from mother’s breast is paralleled by the spiritually newborn hungrily feeding on the Word. For Terry, the feeding frenzy lasted months.
Like all of us, Terry entered the family with quirks and bad habits. And a pocketful of pride and fears and prejudices. And a particularly loathsome trait that overshadowed everything else – Terry was cheap.
Terry hated to depart with anything of value, especially money. Major purchases caused nausea. He was gifted at overlooking needs of others, yes, even his own family. Logic told Terry the less he gave the more he would have. And yet he seemed to have so little, sliding deeper into debt.
The Lord’s ways are far above man’s ways. The Bible teaches to the degree we give we will receive. “The generous soul will be made rich.” Since Terry sowed little, he reaped little. His house was built on the sand of human logic rather than on the rock of The Book. A friend – let’s name him Barry – who was more caring than critical, prayed for Terry until he was able to receive with understanding the Bible truth of giving and receiving. Which brought Terry to a crossroad.
A crossroad is a place of decision. A crossroad is a test of loyalty. For a christian, a crossroad will either reinforce one’s commitment to Christ or weaken that commitment. The road of ignorance has come to an end. There is a stop sign. Two choices, turn left or turn right.
To the left is disobedience – more of the same, more bondage, more pain.
To the right is Christ.
The gentle Holy Spirit has revealed a misconception and misbehavior in Terry’s life. And now he has a decision to make. To turn left would be the easy and familiar way, the road of stinginess and hoarding, both of which he had a lifetime of practice. To turn to the right would be difficult. It called for change. And trust.
Terry wavered a bit but eventually made a decision to place his trust in God’s Word rather than the world’s system of human reasoning, and made the right-hand turn. Guess what. Slowly his financial condition stabilized and he is safe now. But that’s not the best part of the story.
Choosing Christ’s words are choosing Christ. Obedience brings bonding. Bonding brings every good thing. The winner is not the one with the most toys; the winner is the one gaining more of Christ.
AND ANOTHER CROSSROAD
Soon after his conversion Terry discovered his family. And noticed some serious problems. An unkind person could have called his children terrors without straying far from truth. Sheri was weakening under the constant strain of their misbehavior. So what did Dad and Mom do? They smothered the darlings in love and adulation, thinking surely the kids would repay them with improved behavior. Didn’t work. The twins enjoyed their power, and challenged both Dad’s and Mom’s authority at every occasion.
Terry had been affected by the world’s ever changing theories of child development. He had been convinced that an abundance of love would replace any need for discipline, and often responded to misconduct with affection. Terry was given a book expounding biblical teaching on child discipline and control. He discovered that he, Terry, was the head of the family under Christ, the shepherd (under-shepherd) and priest. God placed certain demands on him including bringing his twins in subjection to both him and their mom.
The book explained why the kids misbehaved. Just like adults, children are under a constant pressure from unseen forces to rebel and disobey. Unlike adults, they lack the savvy to resist. They must rely upon their parents to keep them from doing what they ought not do. The father must set the guidelines and enforce them by whatever means necessary, yes even if that entails an occasional spanking.
So that brings our Terry to another crossroad. The sanity of his Sheri and the spiritual, mental and emotional future of the children depend on his decision. Yes, Terry came through again, and sensed the power of the Lord to carry out this righteous intention. Sat the kids down, explained the new rules, explained his no-tolerance policy, explained the consequences of disobedience. Sure they tested him – they had to know if Dad had grit or was he just a wuss.
Terry marshaled them one at a time into their bedrooms. When it was all over he felt weak, his color was gone and his big shoulders drooped. But the kids felt great! Soon the ouch! was gone and so was the insecurity and pressure of warfare. A new respect for Dad and Mom evolved and Terry got more hugs than ever. In the area of discipline, Terry was building his children’s lives upon the rock of the Word.
AND ONE MORE CROSSROAD
There is another crossroad our Terry is facing right now, perhaps the most crucial he will ever confront. Not only is he tempted to stray from biblical teaching, he is actually considering replacing the Bible with another standard. Events bringing him to this precarious situation are bizarre and complex.
Terry has been loitering at this crossroad too long now. He stands there quivering, undecided. I fear for Terry. He is tempted to invite a false god into his life, one that will cause a degree of separation from the Christ who saved him, from the Father who adopted him. The false god is catholicism, and the substitute standard is a mixture of catholic doctrine and the new, ever-changing charismatic teachings.
While Terry is an imagination, his story is not. It is my story and that of many friends and loved ones, of thousands if not millions of traditional charismatics and multitudes not included in the definition of that term. Perhaps it is your story.
Terry’s narrative began with bad advice. After his awesome, life-changing conversion to Jesus, Terry had to swallow feelings of foreboding every time he thought about returning to his traditional church. Everything in catholicism felt foreign to him now, and he just knew he could not remain a practicing catholic without compromising the Word. He took his dilemma to his friend Barry, a pentecostal who had previously witnessed Christ to him. Though Barry had been raised in a Bible-believing church, he discouraged Terry from leaving the catholic church, suggesting that Terry had a unique opportunity to evangelize where he and others had not.
Barry’s advice could well have caused Terry, and Sheri, to get on a path of serious spiritual decline.
A few years previous Barry would never had given such counsel, would never have pointed Terry in a direction he himself wouldn’t go, would never encourage a babe in Christ to place himself in harm’s way. But now Barry was caught up in a strange mentality, a wind of doctrine, that has seized much of the body of Christ.
As I said, Barry is a pentecostal. Barry watches certain televangelists who discourage catholics from leaving their church. Now to see into the heart of many (not all) televangelists, let’s look into the heart of one. Let’s call him…. Gerry.
Gerry is a televangelist with the calling of an evangelist. Gerry aches to lead people of all faiths to Christ. Including catholics. That ache, unfortunately, surpasses faithfulness to Christ’s sayings (and therefore Christ Himself). Gerry regularly invites priests, born-again priests, to his program, and that’s okay. They share the good things of the Lord and give exciting reports of the wondrous happenings in charismatic circles. Great. Gerry wants to be accommodating so he calls his guests Father. Not great. Gerry says positive things about the catholic church and makes favorable comparisons to evangelicalism. Very not great. Now back to listening Barry in a faraway province on the other side of the country.
Oh, oh, thinks Barry, well versed in Scripture, Didn’t Jesus teach us “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.”? And yet, thinks Barry some more, Gerry really is such a well respected televangelist throughout christiandom. Even my local church supports Gerry’s program. Maybe I ought not to be critical.
So compromised logic bounced from televangelist Gerry to Barry and now threatens our Terry. Gerry, you see, had long ago discovered a better way than, “Come out from among them and be separate”, and “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers”, and “Do not touch what is unclean”. That better way is, “Blossom where you are planted”, and “No church is perfect”, and “Do not break unity”. And with passion Gerry preaches that improved word to millions of evangelicals and millions of catholics. So the message of compromise and appeasement, the love gospel corrupted, reached our very young and gullible Terry.
And then there’s Harry. Harry is the leader of the prayer group – let’s call it People of Charity prayer group – meeting every Wednesday in the church basement of…. yes…. St. Mary’s. Both Terry and Sheri esteem Harry, as does everyone. Harry is fervent and Harry is nice. Harry has seen lots of changes in the few years as group leader, and felt the weight of responsibility as the group quickly swelled from a dozen to a hundred and fifty. That’s a hundred and fifty catholics, mostly. Nervous catholics. Catholics wondering Am I doing the right thing?, Does the priest approve?, What does the bishop think? Now Harry has been influenced by a number of books written in the last five years (including a couple by televangelist Gerry).
Books, books, and more books. Books about community living. About submission to authority. About accountability. About structure in prayer groups. Books explaining how to merge catholicism with the new experience, and how the born-again experience wasn’t that at all but just a church renewal thing, and how it would be offensive for catholics to get baptized in water rather than accept the legitimacy of their infant sprinkling. Authored by Negotiators and Accommodaters and Controllers, the writings were a fusion of the biblical and non-biblical. Dutiful Harry read them all, and man is he confused.
It was a thing, especially with those in leadership (called the core group) to carry a Bible around, usually the New Jerusalem Bible. But the Bible was adhered to less and less with every book read. Leaders did not search the Bible for direction, but fretted about which wind of doctrine to adopt. With compromise comes a fog of confusion. Lots of compromise, lots of fog.
Harry made sure the core group consisted of only those who proved themselves loyal to the cc (catholic church), which certainly excluded the few pentecostals who attached themselves. A priest on board, however, added credibility to fretful catholics. The entire core group, then, consisted of those who chose the alternative of catholicism over the Bible. Wednesday night teachers were chosen from this group, and no spokesperson dared confront the issue of clashes between church and The Book.
Can you see Terry’s dilemma? I mean the guy is just a baby christian. All these voices, Barry and Gerry and Harry, as well as friends and peers. And there were other voices….
Terry and Sheri attended a Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship banquet once a month. The food was great, praise time excellent, the speakers quite adept at holding the crowd’s attention. Some speakers wisely stayed within the perimeters of the Word, but others did not. For Terry and Sheri, the line separating Jesus loves catholics and Jesus loves catholicism got thinner with every gathering. It doesn’t matter what church you attend as long as you love Jesus wasn’t said, but was implied.
So there’s our Terry at a most crucial crossroad. To build on the words of Christ and face the wrath of catholics and disapproval of many pentecostals, or give allegiance to alternative words and be accepted by those he loves. Make no mistake, choosing Christ meant getting out of the cc, like now. Don’t think Sheri wasn’t making her case for staying with friends, for staying out of controversy, for just staying.
You see, Sheri was a real mess – emotionally, I mean. Nothing was going right and she was hurting bad. It was Sheri who kept pounding on Terry to go with her to the prayer meeting. It was Sheri who turned the volume up so Terry would hear televangelist Gerry while he was having breakfast and getting ready for work. It was Sheri who introduced Gerry to Harry the leader. And it paid off. Sheri was way beyond thrilled when her Terry got born-again and saved, when her man was transformed from a lukewarm catholic to a radical for Christ. Everything was great…. at least at the beginning of the charismatic cycle. Charismatic cycle?
Having all power in this fiction, I could make Terry a real hero of the faith. I could write of his determination to follow Christ at all cost. “Though none go with me, still I will follow!” “The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God!” He turns his back on the fickle dictates of man, bears his cross gladly, and steers his family away from People of Charity, out of the trappings of catholicism, never to return.
But no. That’s just not the way of most traditional charismatic catholics, and this is all about the typical, not the extraordinary. Sorry, can’t do it.
Terry chooses the path of least resistance, and follows the clearly marked path made for him by Barry and Gerry and Harry and a multitude of other Compromisers and Negotiators, Adders and Subtracters. Perhaps, thinks Terry, I will one day become the Billy Graham of catholicism and lead many into the kingdom. So I have to bend a little. What harm can a little tradition do?
Tradition. One dictionary defines tradition as an inherited pattern of thought or action. For the purpose of this book tradition is defined as inherited patterns of thought or action that conflict with biblical standards of thought or action. Traditionalism is the practice of such patterns, and a traditionalist is one practicing traditionalism.
Man loves custom and ritual and often chooses them as god. He finds security in the familiar, and compliance assures him of acceptance of the like-minded. The traditionalist does not tolerate examination of his package of traditions because that would be disloyal to the group. He is content to live and die for, and pass on to loved ones, the empty causes of unreasonable decrees.
Sadly, a new convert in Christ will often return to the religious society from which Christ has set him free. The old love, so visible and familiar, usurps the love of the One invisible and not yet familiar. Someone got to him before his roots went deep in Christ.
Traditionalism, like drinking and sexual immorality, is not an overwhelming temptation if occasions of temptation are avoided. Making a decision to remain in the company of traditionalists is both folly and dangerous. We are today yesterday’s choices. Good intentions will not keep us from being ensnared once more.
A christian dabbling in tradition can be compared to the child who happens upon a cave. The child can see the mouth of the cave is almost as bright as outside. Nothing to be scared of. After entering the cave his eyes focus to the dimmer light, and soon he can see deeper into the cave. From this new perspective the cave doesn’t seem so dark after all because he is now relating it to where he stands, not the sunlight outside. Nothing to be scared of. As he goes deeper his eyes continue to adjust to the darkness. Soon he is so deep he may never find his way out.
BACK TO TERRY
When our Terry made the decision to enter the cave of traditionalism he intended to remain near the entrance – not far from the light of God’s Word. Nothing to be scared of. However, his spiritual eyes soon adjusted to the dimmer light every time he compromised. Now he could see tradition from the Compromiser’s perspective and the catholic way didn’t seem so bad. The problem is not whether or not he can find his way out of the cave of traditionalism, but does he want to.
When Terry first entered his catholic church a few weeks after his conversion experience, he felt a check in his spirit as he was about to genuflect toward the tabernacle. (The tabernacle is a small decorated box containing the leftover communion bread, the bread thought to be the actual presence of Christ.) The Holy Spirit reminded Terry that Jesus now lived within, and he himself was now the tabernacle of the living Christ. Why should he bow to the man-made box as if it were more sacred than his own bodily tabernacle?
But genuflecting before the pretty box is what everybody does. It was expected. Every charismatic genuflected, period. There would be consequences for refusing to do so. Success in the prayer group required a herd mindset, not a smidgen of dissension, complete loyalty to the cause, vague though it be. Oh well, thinks Terry as he genuflects, small payment for an opportunity to witness Christ to catholics.
In the last while songs of praise unto Mary have been revived, perhaps a backlash against the charismatic movement. This put both Terry and Sheri in panic. Sheri used to love Mary. When she discovered Jesus Mary simply disappeared from her mind and heart. Like gone. Now Terry and Sheri were in a real predicament. Worship someone other than Jesus?, thinks Terry. Isn’t that going too far? What would Barry, Gerry and Harry have me do? Harry. Where is that Harry!? Desperately Terry sought out Harry, hoping, hoping. To his dismay there was Harry singing away. And so were all the others in the core group. Not one dissenter.
So Terry and Sheri sang to poor Mary sitting way up there in heaven knowing, through the angel-vine, all these people are praying and singing and carrying on. Wish they would just stop it already! Would friend Barry and televangelist Gerry approve of Terry’s and Sheri’s Mary-worship? How far would Barry and Gerry have them go to gain the approval of their church and prayer group? Would Barry and Gerry have Terry and Sheri pray the rosary? Bless themselves with holy water? Confess their sins to a priest?
Compromise becomes easier with practice, and from Terry’s ever-changing perspective traditionalism didn’t seem so dark. And Terry realized the less he read The Book the less pressure to conform to it. Terry grew resentful of teachings of evangelical fundamentalists, and spoke of the richness of his traditional church. It was us against them. He parroted the charismatic jargon – headship, submission, group discernment, accountability, renewal – always one eye on the prize of one day being invited to join the core group.
The demand to accommodate meant the cross – that is, the preaching of the cross – had to go. Can’t offend. Offending is unloving. Not that Terry ever did preach the cross to another catholic, not once – that was all to be done some unknown time in the future. The need and intention to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified dissolved as Terry’s loyalty drifted from The Book.
Terry was listening to this fellow on television expounding the biblical instruction to be baptized – immersed – in water. (No, it certainly wasn’t televangelist Gerry!) Baptism is a public demonstration of one’s conversion to Christ, a declaration to follow Jesus at all cost. Baptism is the new believer’s first opportunity to prove himself obedient to the One he now calls Lord.
Ouch! Terry couldn’t argue with what he was hearing, and yet he was well aware his hopes of becoming a catholic charismatic leader would come to an abrupt end should he agree to such a public demonstration. He considered getting baptized secretly, but rightfully sensed a secret baptism was offensive to Jesus. Had Terry taken that step of obedience, choosing the command of Christ over appeasement to friends, it would probably have been a turning point. But he didn’t.
You see, Terry is now attached to his church, much more so than before his conversion to Christ. He is loyal to the sacraments, the rituals, the customs, the priesthood. So Terry convinced himself it was non-Christlike to cause disharmony. After all, God is a God of unity, not division. So it was no to baptism, no to the Word, no to Jesus.
Charismatic cycle complete.