One of the things I am passionate about as a minister, is seeing other Christians become whole-hearted disciples of Jesus Christ, and making sure they are established soundly in the fundamentals of the faith once and for all handed down to the saints. In spite of spending billions of dollars annually on books and other training materials dedicated to this end, it is my discernment that the Church of Jesus Christ has by-in-large failed to do this important task. But such isnt merely my discernment or opinion on the matter. I have also been blessed by the findings of evangelical Christian pollster and sociologist, George Barna, who has been pointing out the facts of these things for a long time in his research.
Not only has the Church failed in its task of making sure every Christian has become established in the fundamentals of the faith, it has also failed to produce many strong and mature Christians. Yet in spite of this heartbreaking thing, the show goes on. We continue to pour billions upon billons of dollars into Christian education, books, seminars, conferences, and training materials. And to what end? What have we gained from it all?
It is my conviction that the last thing we as a Church need is another book, program, or class on how to produce well rounded disciples of Jesus Christ. Rather, it is my conviction that what the Church has the greatest need for today is for men of God who will rise up and be men indeed. What the Church of Jesus Christ needs above all are men God who are truly fathers of the faith. And until such fathers arise and play their proper role in the body of Christ, we will continue to fail at this task.
### Crowns of Glory ###
A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness. (Proverbs 16:31, NASB)
In todays culture, having gray hair is something that is almost considered a shameful thing. Nobody wants to look old. Store shelves are full of hair dye and coloring products to help those who are aging to cover up their gray. Why? Because we have made an idol out of youth. Billions of dollars are spent every year on cosmetics, hair dye, and plastic surgery so that the aging process might be slowed down or somehow reversed. We see nothing glorious about getting older, and thus, do everything in our power to make sure we look and stay young, vibrant, and fresh.
The spirit that is at work in our culture is setting forth a mindset that is ultimately contrary to the mind of Christ. And to observe the Church today, it looks like many within the Church have embraced the spirit of this age as well. Indeed, many of us are very aware of some preachers who are in their fifties and sixties, who by now should show some signs of graying, yet oddly enough, have jet black hair. Its sad to see that even the heralds of our faith have bought into what our culture has embraced. We simply do not want to get older, and forever want to drink from the fountain of youth.
Yet in the Scriptures, as greatly as the strength of youthfulness is celebrated and glorified, a higher esteem is given to having a gray head. As the verse I quoted from Proverbs says, a gray head is viewed as a crown of glory for a man. Why is this? Because, back in the Bible days, the average man did not always live long enough to see the hair on his head turn gray. Often people died at a younger age for a number of reasons.
Whatever the various reasons were, men who lived long enough to see their hair turn gray were highly esteemed and honored individuals. They were individuals who were seen as wise, and masters of life, because they managed to live such a long life span. Indeed, as the proverb says, the gray head that is the crown of glory that adorned an older man was found in the way of righteousness. Such men had lived such a long time, generally speaking, because they were righteous men who did not get caught up in the many follies of youth, follies which often brought a quick end. Discovering and practicing a life of righteousness at a young age, these men lived a long time. Thus, honor was bestowed upon them in the Hebrew culture, out of recognition for this accomplishment. Such men were considered elders, whose lives were deemed worthy of imitation.
Such is not the case in todays society. Indeed, to live to see an old age is expected. No doubt, dying young may happen still due to folly, but generally speaking, living to be sixty and older isnt such a big accomplishment. Indeed, often there is no inherit wisdom accompanying the aged of our society. For in our society, we recognize there are many old fools, whose gray hair is no more glorious of a crown than the paper crowns handed out with Burger King kids meals. With such a mindset then, is it no wonder we seek to hold on forever to our youth?
But this spirit which has permeated the Church has done so at a great cost. As a result of the Church embracing the spirit of this age, we have Christians who have been Christians for ten, twenty, and thirty years, but they have never advanced beyond the ABCs of the faith and pressed on to maturity. They are retarded in their development, and are no different than the old fool that our society has such disdain for. Instead of being a fountain of wisdom and a great source of blessing, many have become great burdens and liabilities, that often cause great trouble because of their old age yet great spiritual immaturity.
### Living Examples ###
Things have not always been this way though. Indeed, there was a time in the history of the Church where newly saved men went from being infants in Christ to fathers of the faith within but a few years. This was before we had Bible colleges, Seminaries, Sunday Schools, PowerPoint presentations, or even a completed New Testament. In Acts we read about how the apostle Paul planted churches, and then within a few years was able to come back to those very same churches, and appoint men as elders in them. We seem to have so many great resources and blessings available to us, yet for all these things we seem to lack what one thing that they had: men of God whose faith and lives can be imitated.
I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would have not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Corinthians 4:14-17)
The apostle Paul with his life and ministry established a means by which the Church might not only grow numerically, but also qualitatively as well. He knew of only one way to produce well nourished disciples, who in turn could produce well nourished disciples. What he did wasnt rocket science, and probably wouldnt make the cover of Christianity Today. What did he do? All the apostle Paul set out to do was to live a life that was in keeping with the gospel message, that followed Jesus Christ fully, and then exhorted other believers to fully follow his example, so that they might do the same.
It was a bold thing for Paul to say: Be imitators of me! He didnt merely say, Follow those areas of my life that are like Jesus, and ignore the rest. Rather, he exhorted believers: Be imitators of me. Paul lived his life in such a radical way, that if he were a book, you could read it from cover to cover, and see Jesus Christ on every page. He walked like Jesus. He talked like Jesus. He handled his finances like Jesus. Everything Paul did was for the sake of the gospel, and as a result, his entire life became so transformed, that to tell Jesus and Paul apart would be an impossible task.
Paul was a man of God if there ever was a man of God. He was truly a father of the faith. He wasnt merely a professional minister, who guarded his life from the flock, so that they couldnt see those private areas where his life and message didnt line up. He realized far from protecting his authority by keeping people at a distance from his private life, that the only authority he had was the degree to which his life matched the gospel message and followed Christ, while allowing others to see how the two were alike.
Paul lived the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that imitation of the Christ life is what gave him authority as a minister. Indeed, this above all other things is what qualified Paul to be an apostle. There are a growing number of people going around today claiming to be modern day apostles. And they base their apostolic credentials on some grand revelation theyve had, their charismatic ability in the pulpit, or because of a personal word of prophecy spoken over them by somebody else who is said to be a so-called apostle or prophet. Yet as great as those things are, none of them measure up to the authority of a man whose life has been so touched by the gospel, that his very life has become the life of Christ. If any man wishes to claim to be an apostle today, let him show me how his life is entirely like Christ's, and I will believe him.
Indeed, to be an apostle means to be one who is sent. But that sent one, isnt merely just some courier or messenger who has some detached relationship from the one who sends him. Rather, the one who is sent fully represents the one who has sent them. The sent one has a seamless identification with the sender. Thus Jesus could say of the apostles, He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. (Matthew 10:40) This is more than just some abstract theological truth Jesus was preaching. It was a reality He wanted His apostles to embody of Him, just as He had embodied it of the Father. Just as Jesus also said, As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you. (John 20:21) To see Jesus was to see the Father, therefore, anybody claiming to walk in the authority the apostle Paul had must be able to humbly and truthfully say the same thing of themselves. For to see Paul was to see Jesus.
As a side note: It is highly doubtful that so-called modern day apostles such as C. Peter Wagner, and those who are part of his New Apostolic Reformation movement are men who are even close to living up to this standard of what it means to be an apostle. For, to be an apostle is ultimately to be an individual who is truly a father of the faith. It is to be one who so lives their life of faith that they are worthy of complete imitation. So far as I have been exposed to the men involved in this apostolic movement, I have seen nothing of the sort. Indeed, I have seen nothing but men who call themselves apostles, but when tested, are found to be not.
For fathers of the faith are ultimately individuals whose lives we can pattern our own after, and when we have done such, to encourage the next generation of Christians to imitate the same life we saw in these men of God. This is what Paul did in his relationship with Timothy. Paul lived a life of excellence, a life which the young Timothy saw and learned to follow. Thus, Paul could confidently send Timothy in his place to various churches such as at Corinth, Ephesus, and other locations. Because Paul knew Timothy was following the example in Christ that he had modeled for him, he trusted that Timothy could live such an example in front of younger Christians, who would in turn learn to imitate him, and pass his imitation along to others.
What the Church of Jesus Christ needs beyond anything else today, is for men of God to rise up and truly be men of God. We need men who will truly be fathers of the faith. We need men who can humbly stand up, and exhort us to follow them, for they follow Christ. We need men who are willing to be open books, and share their lives with all. We need men who are willing to be naked, exposed, and above all things, who will let us see into every aspect of their life all so that we might see Jesus Christ, and become followers of Him. If we were to do this, the Church of Jesus Christ would become the people God has called it to become.
### A Closing Remark ###
Hopefully, you have found the words of this article challenging and truthful. I pray the Lord awakens you with these words. But I want to be honest and open. As much as I believe this message I have proclaimed to you is the word of the Lord, I must stand before you and confess that what I am preaching is an ideal that I have yet to achieve in my own life. And I say that to my shame. I am not yet a father of faith. I cannot say with Paul, imitate me.
While there are many things in my life that you would do well to follow and imitate, if you ever have the chance to interact with me, I must confess there are some areas in my life that dont always line up with Christ. There are some areas in my life that have are not in full conformity with the image of Christ. Though I am running well in my life of faith, Im still not where I want to be. But I am pressing on, and would like to encourage you to press on with me. Strive for this ideal. For I believe with all of my heart that this ideal is not something that is out of reach for any single one of us. I believe it is something we have all been called to attain to, and that we can attain to it. But we will not attain to it until we take the first step toward that calling, and to do so in faith. Let us be like the apostle Paul, for in doing so, we will become like Christ.