I have reluctantly posted this, as the momentum builds in the Pope/AntiChrist debate increases, in spite of attempts to dissuade the continuance of it. The point is, we can go toe to toe about the issue of "papal infalability", but what about our own, personal, self imposed "pontification"?
[b]The Pontification of the "Modern Church"[/b]
By Aaron Ireland
13th April 2005
[b]A Search Begins[/b]
Over the past year and a bit, God has been systematically pulling down every falsity in my life, and establishing truth. I'm by no means "there yet", but I'm now on the road that leads to life. I was already a Christian and a leader in the church, already understood the "doctrines of the Faith" and principles of revival, yet there was still something in my understanding of God that was a little "off". My "pilgrimage" all began with a deep seated knowledge that the Body of Christ, in general, is living a lie (myself included), and unless we come into the truth, in it's naked form, we may find ourselves utterly condemned on Judgment Day (John 3:16-21).
A year and a half ago, I would have been deeply offended by anyone who would in any way imply that there is anything wrong with the church. I would have risen up in "righteous indignation" toward all who would "disrespect" Christ's bride. Now I understand that most of those, who joint out these "faults" are like the "friends of the bride" who have noticed that she has unwittingly tucked her dress into her undergarment after finishing on the toilet. They simply want to spare her the shame of having her nakedness displayed to all as she walks down the aisle. Not only would her Groom respect this "rebuke" from her friends, but would also appreciate their intervention, as would she. It is with this heart that I write this.
[b]The Death of the Pontiff[/b]
Allow me to present a little background, before stating the issue I hope to address. On Sunday the 3rd of April 2005, I awoke to the news the Pope John Paul II had passed away. Ordinarily this would have passed over my mind as any other world leader's departure, like that of Princess Diana, Ronald Reagan, or someone like that, but I had just completed an ankle deep exploration of the history of the church, in which I learned the meaning of the "Throne of St Peter", Pontiff, and Papal Infallibility. Combine this with a recent learning of the Polish participation into the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews, and you have a significant lump of clay awaiting Divine digits to mould into revelation.
Among the titles of the head of Church of Rome (for clarity, I'll refer to as the Roman Catholic Church) are Holy Father, Pope, Vicar(1) of St Peter, and The Pontiff. Historically, the connotations of each of these titles have been major catalysts of the Protestant Reformations, which led to formation of what is now known as the Evangelical (or Born Again Christian) Church. Reformers, such as Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, and Calvin all took particular issue to the idea of "Papal Infallibility", and this was the major contributor their reforms.
Papal Infallibility is the idea that God will not allow the Pope to be wrong in his decrees made from the Throne of St Peter. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, Jesus assigned the power to "bind and loose" in "heaven and earth" and gave the "keys to the Kingdom of Heaven" to Simon Peter directly, who He called the "rock" on which He would "build His church" (Mat 17:15-19). If this is true then St Peter is like a "liaison officer" in heaven, and a point of contact for earth, representing God. The Vicar of St Peter is therefore St Peter's equivalent on earth, sharing his thoughts and feelings. If Peter can bind and loose, both in heaven and on earth, so can the Pope, from his office. This makes papal decrees as good as God's words, just as an ambassador has the ability to make presidential decrees in foreign nations.
This authority is also implied in the title "Pontiff" inherited from the Roman Imperial title "Pontiffus Maximus(2)". Emperor Augustus claimed this title of the supreme priest of the ancient Roman religion. It was a logical progression, that if there were a "god(3)" walking on earth, he would be the most, suitable choice for high priest. Once christianity became the Roman state religion, and the emperors considered the reasoning behind this title, it was handed over to the Vicar of St Peter (Pope), for after all, He "is" the "bridge maker" between God and man, through his association with St. Peter.
Please consider the ramifications of this line of thinking. If the Pope is the Pontiff, then he is God's appointed means of interaction with man. All our attempts of communication with God require the Pope as a go between. He would be the only qualified world ruler. If he said that you weren't going to heaven, then you're going to hell, period. The main point of issue that transcends all of this is this, if scripture and the Pope contradict each other, then the Pope is right!
In this day and age, we are experiencing a time, which is a prequel to either a great apostasy or a great revival. As David Wilkerson teaches, every time God is about to do something, the devil hurried sets up a counterfeit. This counterfeit seems to be taking the form of the pontification of the church. To pontificate is to speak as if your word is dogma (dogma being the Roman Catholic term for undisputable doctrine). We've all, no doubt been in a situation where some opinionated person corrects everything you say as if they're always right and you never are. This is what it is to pontificate. Essentially, to pontificate is to be dogmatic. The idea of pontification comes from the idea of papal infallibility. One who pontificates is one who, like the pope, seems to believe that his opinions are infallible.
[b]Truth, Lie or Fad [/b]
The issue of pontification is that of truth. We cannot create truth; it simply is, as God Himself is, because God is truth. There is a word for truth that is created and that word is LIE. As I've already stated, truth cannot be created. It can only be discovered and described. The discovery of truth is called revelation and the description this revealed truth is called prophecy or preaching. Note that the truth was always there, only now it is understood, to a degree. This is why Christians are to base all of their understanding of truth on God's Word, as revealed in scripture (Rom 10:14-17, 2 Tim 3:16). Just as something that is "not known" is "unknown", and something that cannot be explained by a "precedent" is "unprecedented", something that is not found in "scripture" is defined as "unscriptural".
A high proportion of the Body of Christ has succumbed to a cancerous deceit that says, "Just because it's not in the Bible, doesn't make it unscriptural". This mentality has led to a humanistic Christianity being preached, where man's happiness becomes more important than God's glory. The only logical end of this train of thought is a life that is governed by whimsical fads as the last "next best thing" stops working (Eph 4:14). The "five fold ministry" (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher) are meant to be God's appointed method to protect us from being "tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine" until "we all come to the unity off the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God" unto the "stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:11-14). Ironically, the same people who bring these "new truths" (ie, lies) to the church, use these "revelations" as the basis of their claim to be "five fold ministers". We seem to constantly hear the claim that "God is doing a new thing"; meaning the truth has changed, while the expression of that truth (ie, the methods used) continue to stay the same, in spite of claims to the contrary. This is opposite to the nature of God, who is truth, and is the same "yesterday, today and forever", but changes the way His truth is expressed from generation to generation.
[b]The Timelessness of God[/b]
The nature of God is timeless, and any description of Him needs to be consistent from before the beginning of time, till after the end. This is the reasoning behind the wickedness of idolatry. It is impossible to accurately represent God as an image. Any attempt will require us to minimalise Him, rendering it grossly inaccurate (Acts 17:24-25,29-30). The only thing that we can do, is illustrate an attribute of His nature, by comparing it with something tangible. This is one of the reasons that Jesus spoke in parables.
[b]The Lord of heaven and Earth: The Judge of All the World[/b]
While this may seem a little confusing so far, allow me to illustrate from scripture. When Israel was in their desert wanderings, God revealed Himself as someone who would lead them, care and provide for them, and protect and fight for them. Their came a point where they began to take Him for granted, and forgot that He was worthy the respect due to the "Lord of heaven and earth". They expressed this by grumbling and complaining about the way in which He provided for them, thereby claiming the right to rule over Him.
God could not allow them to think this acceptable for them to do, as it would mean that other nations would consider the "Judge of all the earth" to be a pushover. The ramifications of this misunderstanding would be countless souls going to hell, due to complacency on God's part. So rather than simply waiting for Judgement Day to display to the world that He neither can, nor will tolerate insubordination, He mercifully displayed His attribute of justice by releasing judgement upon the camp. The Bible simply says, "much people of Israel died" from bites inflicted by the fiery serpents that the Lord sent among them.
[b]The Brazen Serpent: Illustration of God's Judgement and Mercy [/b]
When the Israelites confessed their sin and cried out for mercy, God commissioned Moses to form an image of a serpent made of brass, and lift it up on a pole, for everyone to look at so they wouldn't die. The purpose of this was for them to understand that the source of the judgement was God, and in order to receive mercy they had to look to recognise Him as judge. The brass serpent was made to illustrate an attribute of God. It was not an image, because neither He nor Moses claimed that God had the form of a serpent, but pointed toward the image as a symbol of an attribute of His nature. The serpents were God's instruments of judgement, and in order to be exempted from the consequences of this judgement, the Israelites were instructed to look toward a symbol of God, in the form of His instrument of judgement. Jesus himself made this connection in referring to this event as a type of his coming crucifixion, as his bearing their punishment in order to display the instrument of God's judgement by taking on is form (John 3:14-15).
[b]The Symbol Becomes an Idol[/b]
Centuries later, the Israelites began burning incense to this serpent, considering it to be their Deliverer, rather than the means of their deliverance. Now the tool that God has commissioned to illustrate an attribute of His nature, was considered to be an image of His being. Rather than God being understood as a one Who "in judgement remembers mercy", He was considered to have the appearance and form of a serpent, which is a type of satan. This misrepresentation led to Hezekiah considering this divinely inspired artefact to be nothing but a "piece of brass" and break into pieces.
[b]Misconceptions About God[/b]
This illustration shows us how easy it would be for our narrow understanding of God's character to distort our knowledge of who He actually is. Sadly, many christians become satisfied with knowing about God rather that knowing Him in Himself. Sadder still, many christians claim to have a knowledge of God, while at the same time knowing little or nothing about Him. The two are inseparable and just because we have understood one part of His character, doesn't guarantee that we understand or have even considered another.
[b]Ignorance of the Past[/b]
We live in a time that is commonly referred to as the post-modern era. This is an era that is ruled and dictated by a mentality of "modern is good, old is outdated". To paraphrase J. Edwin Orr, "Most people think that history is a bore. I, however consider those who think that 'history is a bore' to be a bore." As I earlier stated, the Protestant Reformation sought to rectify the errors of papal infallibility. Over time, reform theology took on an air of complacency, which assumed that every one who attended a church was a christian. This led to the Revival Era, of Wesley, Whitfield, Edwards, Finney, etc who attempted to correct these errors, highlighting the need for the recognition of sin for salvation. Over time, revival theology led to the belief that anyone who said the "sinner's prayer" was a christian. Which is where we are now. My point is to say that no matter how correct you think your doctrine is, it's only a heartbeat from being heretical.
[b]Birth, Death and Rebirth of a Lie[/b]
Catholicism led to a distinction between clergy and laity, which seemed to imply that the priest alone had direct communion with God. Protestant christianity led to the understanding that every believer has access to the throne room of God, clergy and laity alike. Revived christianity led to the understanding of the Holy Spirit's involvement in salvation. Catholicism threw out the Word of God. Protestant Christianity returned to the Word of God. Revived Christianity returned to the Holy Spirit of God.
Understand this, Roman Catholics do acknowledge the Bible with their lips, yet in action, consider papal decrees as authoritative. In the same way, many Pentecostal/Charismatic christians of today acknowledge the Bible in theory, but ignore it in favour of one who comes with a "revelation from the Holy Spirit". The proof is in the living.
On a positive note, throughout every church age, God has kept a remnant pure. Centuries before Wesley was converted, while listening to Moravian preaching on a transatlantic ship, Martin Luther was penning the sermon they were reading from. Half a century before Luther was born, John Hus, who's writings inspired him, was hanged as a heretic. And the list goes on and on right back to Jesus.
[b]Bible? What Bible?[/b]
The gross error of the "modern church" is one of scripture neglect. This resulted in two tragic things. In the pew, a lack of discernment, resulting in their acceptance of anything delivered from "recognised ministry". In the pulpit, a distortion of truth which has allowed humanism to rule in the church. The way this all manifests is that, rather than preaching "scriptural sermons" that risk being offensive because of their uncompromising adherence to truth, we preach "soothing sermons" that are "rationalised using scripture". The distinction between being "scriptural" and being "explained by scripture" is extremely subtle, and that's what makes it so dangerous. The former is a presentation of what God has been revealing to the preacher as he "studies to show himself approved". As God deals with his heart, he becomes a vessel, which not only preaches the sermon with words, but actually personifies the message. The later, on the other hand, is the preacher attempting to "trouble shoot" an issue that "he" thinks needs addressing, which leads to him searching the Bible for verses to refer to. Perhaps the preacher is seeking to have people attend meetings, get "revved up", or some other motive that will lead to his self-satisfaction. On the other hand, the scriptural preacher's sole motive is that God will be glorified, regardless of the sermon's affect on him personally. Better to have the congregation run from him, and to run to God, than for him to win their heart away from God. This is his constant fear.
It is entirely possible for a "scriptural sermon" to have little, or even no actual reading from a "Bible", as the preacher expresses the heart of God. He may even present some things that aren't entirely "correct" and yet truth is presented, because the hearer is directed to scripture to judge the words of the sermon. However, it is also possible for an unscriptural sermon to be riddled with Biblical quotations, which are taken out of context, therefore rendering the sermon a lie.
[b]So What is a Lie Anyway?[/b]
Satan demonstrated this fact in both his temptation of Eve and Jesus. In both situations, the statements were factual (with Jesus, he even quoted scripture), yet the things that he said were to be considered lies, due to glaring omissions. As I've already stated, any statement claiming to be "truth" needs to be timeless. If there is a statement in scripture that appears to contradict another, then that shows that you have interpreted one of these statements wrong. God is utterly consistent, and if His Bible begins with "In the beginning. God...", without explanation, then any opinion to the contrary must be wrong, and therefore is a lie. This may seem rudimentary, but tell that to an atheist. In the same way that an atheist weeds out of the Bible references to God, leaving nothing but an excellent moral guide, the modern christian weeds out the statements that contradict his "humanistic gospel", by calling them "hard sayings" and ignoring them. This in effect is the same as what the Popes do, when they encounter scriptures that contradict their doctrines. If something doesn't change soon, we'll find ourselves at the point (if we're not there yet), where every believer will be his or her own "pontiff".
[b]Too Judge...Or Not To Judge?[/b]
Consider the widely believed doctrine that says that Christians are not permitted to judge. This is often justified by referring to Jesus' words "Judge not". However, Jesus didn't stop there. He said, "Judge not, that ye may be not judged, and with whatever measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matt 7:1-2) This could be understood as an incentive not to judge. Why then did he command us to "Judge not by appearance, but judge righteous judgements"? (John 7:24) Also, Paul wrote, "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged" (1 Cor 11:31), but then, "..I judge not mine own self" (1 Cor 4:3). Now Paul seems to be contradictory. Either the Bible has an inconsistency or I do, in my opinion of what it says. I need to ask God to show me where I missed it, so He can change my mind, because He won't change His. The answer is in 1 Cor 11:32 - "But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world".
[b]Sweet Merciful Judgment[/b]
Now we see something of a principle of judgement. Judgement in this lifetime is really an expression of mercy, because His judgement leads to His chastening, which in turn leads to our repentance. It's our repentance that is God's only condition of forgiveness. We will not be judged, unless we judge. In order to keep us from becoming prideful, in our judgement, He warns that He will use the same measure that we used on our brethren, when His "merciful judgement" comes on us. Therefore, to prohibit christians from judging others is to use a measure that says, "I have no need to repent". Any christian that refuses to "judge righteous judgements", according to Christ's command, is as negligent as a christian who claims to love the lost, yet fails to warn them of hell. They are denying another the right to repent, while at the same time denying their need to do the same (see Rom 1:32). To quote David Wilkerson, "Any man that has sin in his life will not talk about in the camp." (Reproach of the Solemn Assembly).
[b]The Kingdom of God ... Or Utopian Counterfeit? [/b]
This issue of the doctrine of judgement is but one example of this pontification. The major issue of deception in the church right now is the present teaching on the Kingdom of God. This teaching isn't new, in fact it was a major catalyst for the introduction of the humanist mindset into the Body of Christ, around the turn of the 20th century, and in the 1960s and 70s it was called "Kingdom Now" theology. The teaching goes like this, the church is called to establish the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. We are to influence the world with christian values, so that business and government become godly in their practices. We'll do this by raising up believers into positions of influence, so that we can make the world "christian".
This teaching is sinister in the subtlety of its error, and history has revealed instances when these things have happened and in turn hindered the work of God. Constantine was the first to "legislate christianity" and the progression that followed this led to the whole "papal fiasco" in the Church of Rome. A thorough study of Jesus' discourse with Nichodemus, in John 3 will reveal that God is not concerned with "society being converted" but with "people being converted". The Bible teaches that the "sinner" is lost, and the only way to save him is to alert him to the fact. Paul wrote, "our righteousness is as filthy rags".
[b]Christianising vs Conversion[/b]
It would do more damage to a sinner to "teach him to be good" than to let him continue in defiance until God was to stop him. Consider how hard it is to see a "good man" converted, when compared to a "dirty sinner" who's hit rock bottom. What "favours" do you think would you do by "cleaning up" the sinner at the point where he is ready to receive forgiveness from God? Like the Pharisees, you'd "stop up the way of salvation" to them. To quote Art Katz "There is more hope for a man in error, who's been persuaded of his rectitude, but is in error, but is going some place in his error, ... in his well meaning intention & zeal, however wrong, .... than some starchy stick in the mud pew sitter, who has the technical qualification and can recite its credo, as a phraseological saint, but is not in motion." Sin is meant to be ugly. What an insult to God to attempt to "beautify" this sinful world, by creating a "utopian society" and calling it the "Kingdom of God"?
[b]Kingdom Sought vs Kingdom Built[/b]
Am I claiming that God doesn't want to influence society, or that there is no place for moral laws? Am I saying that christians should be prohibited from public office or management positions? Of course not. Am I claiming that we shouldn't be "seeking the Kingdom of God"? Ahh... Here's where we get to the point. Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom Of God, and all of His righteousness", he preceded this statement by saying that we aren't to worry our food, clothing and shelter, and followed it by saying that the food, clothing and shelter will all be sorted out if we did it. Rather than agreeing with the words of Jesus, the teachers of this "false Kingdom" teach that we are to attain wealth so we can earn respect from the world, in order to influence them, and by doing so, we'll "build the Kingdom". Jesus said, "seek", where they say, "establish". "Who cares?", you say, "What difference does it make?" Well, christian, let me ask you this. Did you "find" God, or did you "establish" Him? You "found" Him when you "sought" Him, because He was already there, waiting for you to seek Him (Acts 17:27). In the same way, we can't establish the Kingdom of God, because it's already there.
We tend to think of kingdoms as geographical boundaries. In reality, a kingdom is a realm of influence. To have a kingdom, requires there to be a king and subjects. Not only that, but the king expects obedience to his laws, disregarding those of surrounding kingdoms. The key to this idea, is Jesus tying together the seeking of "His righteousness", with His Kingdom, and Paul separating the "righteousness off God" from Israel's perception of what they merely assumed it to be, all the while having a "zeal of God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom 10:1-3). The validity of a kingdom is only as good as the allegiance of the subjects. History is riddled with rebellions that were either quashed, or established the next regime, to illustrate this point. Therefore, His Kingdom coming "on earth, as it is in heaven", is about us, as God's subjects obeying Him, as the angels do in heaven. This obedience is entirely dependant on our considering our life as dead and yielding to the Spirit of God to "guide our paths in righteousness for His name's sake" (Gal 2:20).
This kind obedience would require us to disregard the laws of the kingdom of the world (where we are but transient, and sojourners) when they contradict God's commands, even when they appear to be "righteous" in nature. Therefore we pay taxes, but we don't pay homage to idols. We do all that our earthly masters request, but we stop short at lying, cheating, stealing, etc, even for "noble reasons". If every christian obeyed God, in this way, then the Kingdom of God would come on earth as it is in heaven, because we would be living Jesus' life on earth, by the direct leading of God, in the person of the Holy Spirit. The people would request laws that reflect God's values. There wouldn't need the values to be forced on them by a "christian president", because God's values are now their values. If employers saw this silent witness from employees who are sold out to God, they would be forced to see that God has "set them in slippery places...utterly consumed by terrors" (Ps 73:18-19) and have to "choose this day whom (they) will serve" (Josh 24:15). This is why both John the Baptist, and Jesus hit the ground running with, "Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand." It has an air of, "God's officially in charge again! Choose to bow your knee now before the choice will be made for you! Don't say I didn't warn you!" not, "Please be good, or God will get you." As Leonard Ravenhill put it, "Jesus didn't come to make bad men good, bat to make dead men live."
[b]Godliness or Comfort[/b]
The other test is, what's in it for us Christians? Are we seeking comfort so we can be at "ease in Zion"? The apostle Paul, rather than running for emperor, to quash the Roman persecution of the church, ran around warning the christians that "all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution". Is it possible that the fact that we aren't suffering for our faith means that we aren't living godly? Why then do we seek to improve our conditions, by electing godly government? Whether the ruler is godly or ungodly, God will lead the nation through him. In fact, an ungodly ruler forces us to resist our flesh, that wants us to play along with ungodly practices, where a godly one presents a temptation to be complacent toward God. I only say this to bring out the old christian cliché, "just because it's good, doesn't mean it's God".
[b]The Seed of the Deception[/b]
How could we fall for such a lie? Simply because what God asks seems to be "too hard". We say, "Yeah, I know I have to submit my life to God, but surely He understands me holding onto this part of it. After all it is really important? He would know that I couldnt live without it." By permitting this thinking, we display either a belief that God is a liar, or that He is a "hard taskmaster" who expects too much, and that there must be another way. "But, isn't it much better to delegate the role of authority figure to someone on earth? After all, everyone always says, 'I wish God would just step down from heaven and Speak audibly.' And anyway, doesn't yielding one's life to the leading of the Holy Spirit show an immaturity that says, 'I can't do what God asks?' And isn't this a shifting of the blame for my disobedience?"
Although this appears to be a noble assertion, and highly proactive, it ignores the fact that the cross is all about the fact that we are selfishly immature and need to shift the blame for our sins onto Jesus, to rectify the problem.
As Paris Reidhead put it in his sermon, Ten Shekels and a Shirt, "If you've ever seen yourself, you'll know that you're never going to be anything else than you were, because in me and my flesh there is no good thing." We need the Spirit of God to take the steering wheel of our life in order to obey Him. There is no other way. Christ's own prescription for the church is, "Take up your cross and follow me." Follow him where? Up the proverbial hill to the place of the skull, that we "might KNOW HIM, in the fellowship of his SUFFERINGS". There is no other way!
In conclusion, the present "fad teaching" on the Kingdom of God, is a subtle satanic counterfeit to God's Kingdom coming upon earth as a result of a massive end-time harvest of souls, which is being spread by well-intending preachers and businessmen alike. The effect of this teaching is a great rush to accumulate wealth, rather than to save souls. To teach people to be good, in order to make the world a better place, rather than to teach people that the world is doomed, and they need to flee to Christ, while he will still take them.
I am not claiming that money is evil, only that it shouldn't be the priority of our affection. As Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also". It you're spending more time scheming to win a buck, than to win the lost, then that says more about you're heart than any words can. We still need to be "good stewards" of what we have and we do have needs, but Jesus promised that if we faithfully seek God's Kingdom, and all of His righteousness as our number one priority, He'd sort all that out for us.
The overall point is, let the Bible lead you into truth and obedience, and beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.
(1) From adj. vicarious, which has connotations of sharing imaginations and feelings of another person.
(2) In Latin, Pontiff meaning "bridge maker", and Maximus meaning "supreme". Therefore "the supreme bridge builder between god and man"
(3) Roman emperors were worshiped as gods