We Desire to Know God…and to Make Him Known!

Anthony's baptism!

Anthony Johnson (second from left), a former Muslim and single-parent, was baptized on Sunday!

What a year it has been for our church in Central New York! God has blessed us in ways that we could never expect, and changed our plans in ways we could never imagine. Due to our distress at the present situation of our fellowship of churches throughout the world, God has blessed our sacrifice and vision as we sent out a mission team, led by Chris and Theresa Broom, to help plant the Chicago International Christian Church in May! As we continued the call to our congregation to be sold-out disciples (Acts 2:42-47), some sadly chose to remain uncommitted, became divisive and left our fellowship. Despite the pruning of our ministry, God blessed our commitment to His standard as six people have been baptized in CNY since the beginning of October, and three disciples have decided to move to Syracuse and place membership! In addition to several of our friends who are studying the Bible for the first time, there are also two former disciples who are eagerly studying to be restored to God and His fellowship. Heaven is rejoicing!

rod and sarah engagement 3.jpg

Rod Carter and Sarah Perry were engaged on Sunday, December 17th!

God is working to build a church in Central New York that will be a light to the world! (Matthew 5:14-16). In order to let our “light” shine, we must first be inspired to know and love God with all of our hearts (Matthew 22:37), so we may be inspired and challenged to win the world in our generation for Him! (Matthew 28:18-20)

Recently for my quiet times in the Word, I have been studying a book entitled, “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer, written back in 1973. While I know nothing of his life or ministry, he must have been a man, who despite holding to some theological views with which I would probably differ, had a deep love and understanding for the heart of God. The preface alone was inspiring; his conviction behind the book is that the ignorance of God – ignorance both of His ways and the practice of fellowship/communion with Him – is the root of much of the church’s weakness today. Two unhappy trends seem to have produced this state of affairs, and looking at the present state of the Kingdom worldwide, I believe these issues are more pertinent than ever before. The rest of this article will attempt to surmise these points and apply them to the current situation of our churches.

The first trend that Packer discusses is the fact that disciples of Jesus have been conformed to the thinking of the world. Christians have stopped thinking spiritually and started to think more worldly – something that is very easy to do we are not looking at the world with spiritual eyes. As Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” There are great thoughts of and for man, which leaves room for only small thoughts of God. The worldly way to think about God is to set Him at a distance, if not deny him altogether; and that the irony is that “worldly Christians” have become more preoccupied in maintaining their religious practices than being part of a movement. Living the life of Jesus in our discipleship has been replaced with book knowledge and worldly philosophy. Instead of the church raising its voice to remind the world of what is being forgotten, the church has formed a habit of playing down the issues: being part of a unified movement of God (1 Corinthians 4:17); being part of a fellowship where everyone is a sold-out and committed member (Acts 2:42-47); loving each other in order to present everyone perfect in Christ through discipling / accountability relationships (Colossians 1:28); obeying the biblical principle and command of dating and marrying only disciples (2 Corinthians 6:14-16); and being committed to Jesus’ dream of evangelizing the world in our generation (Matthew 28:18-20). Sadly, the lack of conviction on these foundational issues of the Christian faith will result in drifting and eventually spiritual suicide for those who walk the Christian life.

The second trend that Packer discusses is the fact that disciples of Jesus have been confused by worldly arguments. Due to the fact that foundational facts of the faith have been called into question, worldly arguments have abandoned all idea of a unity of truth. There is a unity of “fellowship” but not a unity of “discipleship”. Sadly, this concept of unity is not unity at all. If everyone has a different standard of life but claims to hold on to a common doctrine, what example is that for the world to see? As Jesus stated in John 14:7,12, “If you really knew me you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him…I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” How well do we know God? Our level of knowledge of God will determine the convictions behind what we do. Are we imitating the life of Jesus (1 John 2:6)? Being aware of correct doctrine (Acts 2:38) is just the beginning. Our maturity of our spiritual walk with God is just as important to maintaining our salvation as well (1 Timothy 4:16).

The lack of conviction concerning the above issues shows the level of confusion in the religious world today, and also applies to the condition of our fellowship of churches. The Scriptures clearly state the heart of God. Once again I must ask, “How well do you know God?” A true knowledge of God should humble our pride, expand our intellect and comfort our worries. I agree with Packer that the uncertainty and confusion about God, his ways, and the practice of discipleship with Him present in our day are worse than anything since Gnostic theosophy tried to swallow Christianity in the second century. Church history reminds me of the fact that church revival is a constant. Many Christians, including myself at one point, suffer from historical amnesia. The time between the apostles and their own day is one giant blank. As a consequence of our ignorance concerning Christian history, we find disciples vulnerable to the appeals of “freedom in Christ”, and respond by accepting a distortion of discipleship as the real thing. I, like many others, have tried to be humble before God and wrestle with the Scriptures in order discern what is best (Philippians 1:7-9). However, without the call of revival to an obedience of the Scriptures, the church will become weak and clumsy in its basic task of holding the church to the realities of the gospel (John 8:31-32).

It is my prayer that by wrestling with the Scriptures, we can grow in our desire to know God, and to make Him known. As Bruce L Shelley, a professor of church history has stated, “Church historians often ask, ‘Is the church a movement or an institution?…The church’s mission in time calls for institutions: special rules, special leaders, special places. But when institutions themselves obstruct the spread of the gospel rather than advancing it, then movements of renewal arise to return to the church’s basic mission to the world.” I pray that as we celebrate the Christmas holiday and the New Year in a day of conformity and confusion about God’s standards, God will use a new movement to restore the true unity and discipleship of New Testament Christianity.

And To Him be all the Glory.

Andrew Smellie