The Apostle Paul was right and a little thought would show that he was very perceptive in a way that is becoming ever more clear as time passes. This passionate, learned, no-nonsense evangelist who was determined to proliferate the gospel across the entire world decided that his best option for success was to take the gospel to the heart of the West and so set out, by an elaborate, circuitous route to visit imperial Rome. For sure Paul did not need to go to Rome to validate his apostleship, nor to encourage the fledgling assembly in that city nor to meet the movers and shakers of the ancient world in that world-dominant metropolis. No, his calculation was that if he could authenticate this fledging religion called Christianity and give it apostolic credence at the pulsating heart of the known world then it would be permanently grounded and would naturally spread to all parts of the empire. In his efforts to pursue this strategy for world evangelism in accordance with Mark 16:15 Paul told the church at Rome, a church he had not previously visited, these words, "For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established." (Romans 1:11)
It is generally accepted that St. Paul was the Apostle of outreach, the Foreign Minister of evangelism, the man charged with overseeing all efforts beyond the home church in Jerusalem where the church was headquartered and where the apostles resided. It must be remembered that most of the early disciples, as well as the apostles, were convinced that Christianity was nothing more than a sub-set to Judaism and belonged to the Jews and, along with the temple, naturally belong to the City of David. Even when events so transpired and persecution became rampant after the martyrdom of Stephen believers who fled that hounding still sought refuge in greater Israel or adjacent territories.
It took Paul, after his conversion on the Damascus Road, to change all that and using Antioch in the Roman Provence of Syria as his base he ventured forth on three magnificent missionary journeys for which he is rightly famous. Paul evangelised all of Asia Minor (present day Turkey) which was a vital Roman Provence and which would later become the seat of Roman power (Constantinople), evangelised Cyprus and Roman Province Macedonia (present day Greece) and revisited some of these countries later to make sure that they were functioning in accordance with sound biblical principles and apostolic traditions.
Wherever there is mighty endeavour for God, for progress, for freedom there is the countervailing forces for retardation, censure and enslavement. Paul, and indeed all of the early church, were confronted with these countervailing forces in many different forms and had to be on their guard against all of them.
The physical assaults, the persecution, the imprisonment, the killings we know about for there are amply recorded in both the Bible and elsewhere. We know of the various attempts to join the early church and then hamstrung it by a plethora of false prophets and false teachers and a bevy of hypocrites whose aim was not to assist and build but to dissipate and destroy. The apostles were competent in their oversight, quick and firm in rooting out disorder and diligent in ensuring that the foundation was laid exactly as taught by Jesus Christ during his three-and-a-half-year ministry.
The Bible acknowledges the great work done by the apostles, who were all martyred except for John, and describes their contribution in these words, "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." (Ephesians 2:19-20) We know that the church's one foundation is Jesus Christ but the glorious faith on which we stand consist of Jesus Christ and all the doctrines and practices which he taught and communicated to us by the apostles.
One thing that Christianity did not change was the desire of some to elevate themselves above their fellow believers. This has been a constant problem throughout Christendom and today it still afflicts the church.
In Paul's time this dreadful disease showed itself in those who proudly boasted that they were "special" and "above the brethren" because they had acquired "special knowledge". This foolishness was pushed by its adherents to the extent that it caused divisions in the church and Paul dealt with it convincingly. Today we call it by it true name; Gnosticism.
The Gnostics in Paul's day taught it was the acquiring of this "special knowledge" that set them apart from the world and prepared them for everlasting life and only they, the special few, would obtain it and go to heaven. Of course we know that it is not some "special knowledge" that saves us but a person called Jesus Christ. Paul pointed out to the assemblies in Colosse, Corinth and Ephesus the foolishness of Gnosticism and reaffirmed the centrality of Jesus Christ in the salvation of man and Peter also mentioned it (Acts 4:12). Paul's earliest refutation of Gnosticism is recorded like this, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." (Colossians 2:8-10)
But Christians believing Gnosticism was not the only thing among believers that were causing some to, as I said, elevate themselves above their fellow believers. Speaking in tongues was another such divisive practice, as was later the creation of the professional clergy as overlords and the usurpation of divine titles like Reverend and Holy Father and such like.
One can make a strong case that because the church has not stood firm and declared unequivocally its strong stance against all ungodliness without fear or reservation then the world is irresistibly sliding faster towards perdition.
The church cannot make a strong case for righteousness, truth, morality and godliness when among their leadership are perverts, paedophiles, fornicators and misfits who have no place in such honourable company.
The church cannot make a strong case for human values, integrity, the sanctity of human life and holiness when it is divided on same-sex marriage, condones ungodly and unnecessary wars, puts partisan political and other selfish considerations before the wishes of God and fail to be the watchman on the wall telling it as it really is.
In truth a major part of the church has become gutless, currying favour from a sick world, appeasing, apologetic and afraid to stand up for what it teaches and defend what it believes.
The modern church is incapable of visiting the "kings in their palaces" and denouncing them without fear or favour as in the fashion of John the Baptist. Remember he was the one that told King Herod the unvarnished truth, "For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife." (Mark 6:18) Of course John's boldness and attachment to duty had consequences for, as we know, he was later beheaded at the whim of a trashy woman.
The church has a duty to speak forcefully on all moral issues of the day and let the whole world know the mind of God. But what we are getting is a mountain of fudge, obfuscation, uncertainty and compromise.
THE POOR is being marginalised; this needs a forceful response from the church.
THE RULING ELITE is morally bankrupt, contemptuous, bigoted and corrupt and the church needs to hold them to account.
HUMAN VALUES, the values upon which decent, humane civilizations are built are being eroded at ever increasing speed; the church needs to sound the alarm bells and inspire and organise people to act.
THE WORLD IS DROWNING its collective soul in materialism and feeding on the fads that disables, undermines and debilitates; the church needs to rip off the blinkers from the eyes of the world and help them to see clearly the disastrous ends to which they are heading.
INSTEAD THE CHURCH ITSELF IS BLINKERED.
It's blinkered and debilitated by disunity.
It's blinkered and debilitated by homosexual and lesbian priests(hic!).
It's blinkered and debilitated by syncretism and unholy compromises.
It's blinkered and debilitated by a professional clergy not interested in the things of God.
It's blinkered and debilitated by becoming the same as those it is trying to save.
WHEN THE WATCHMAN IS IN DEEP SLEEP the thieves have a riotous time. The Devil, that has so far been restrained by the power of the gospel and the forcefulness of the church, is now in full attack mode. He is even further emboldened as he sees so called "Christian countries" dismantling and removing the old spiritual and moral landmarks that have anchored and sustained mankind for centuries. Satan surely must relish our present world.
These are the reasons why the West is the devil's playground.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013
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