The most frequent criticism leveled against me (apart from not being “loving” enough) is that I am an unabashed promoter of sectarianism and denominationalism by being such a strong partisan for the Pharisee denomination. I am sure that just like me, you fail to see what is wrong with being a “partisan” for the Pharisee denomination. To paraphrase a quote of that great American patriot, Barry Goldwater, “extremism in the defense of doctrine is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of Truth is no virtue.” Aside from that, these clueless critics of contemporary compromise act like unity and a big interdenominational group hug are what Christianity is all about. They seem to think that my unwillingness to give up a commitment to Truth is some sort of impediment to being supportive of Christianity. What balderdash.
Just because I was born into a Pharisee family, raised in a Pharisee church, attended a Pharisee Bible college, and now pastor a Pharisee church, is no reason to assume that I am a “denominational hack” as some assert. I am a Pharisee by conviction, not by enculturation. I am a diligent seeker of the Truth and it is crystal clear to me that the Pharisee denomination that holds to the full council of God (and not every church with the Pharisee name on the sign is truly a Pharisee church in practice). When my critics say, “Pastor Gamaliel, you should fall in love with Jesus, not your denomination,” I reply by stating that they should fall in love with the Truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, THE TRUTH, and the life…” (Emphasis mine) indicating that anyone who loves the Truth, by extension loves Jesus. My critics don’t seem to think that one can love doctrinal truth and Jesus at the same time.
I have been told that denominational boundaries are nothing but man-made distinctions that unnecessarily and sinfully divide the Body of Christ. They try to tell me that the biblical thing to do is to abandon these artificial appellations and all just go by the name of “Christian” as if this will solve the problem of sectarianism. That way we can practice an open minded acceptance of all true believer regardless of their faith tradition. What hogwash!
First of all, the notion that there could possibly be true believers outside the confines of the Pharisee denomination is their first blunder. Every good Pharisee knows that if one is TRULY a believer, they will eventually come to see the truth of Pharisee doctrine. If they don’t, then clearly they are only pretenders to the cause of Christ and are false professors of Christianity. But the main reason for maintaining denominational distinctives is because failing to do so ignores the apostasy that is so much a part of all the non-Pharisee denominations.
Beyond that, breaking down denominational walls means that we are ignoring the importance of Bible doctrine. The primary focus of the Bible and the New Testament in particular is to highly exalt doctrine. Since most of the real differences between denominations is doctrinal in nature, abandoning denominational segregation is merely a ploy to get true Pharisee churches to relinquish their hold on the Truth and embrace the syncretism that has infected all of the other liberal denominations today.
All denominations, with the exception of my own Pharisee denomination, are infected with varying degrees of doctrinal error. When someone is making mud pies, it does nothing to their final product to add more mud to the mix, but if you are making apple pies, no amount of mud is tolerable. If false denominations and churches filled with doctrinal error like the belief that there is nothing wrong with reading modern translations of the Bible or it is okay for Christians to listen to so-called Christian rock music, want to associate with one another free from the constraints of denominational distinction, then that is fine with me. They can all make mud pies together. But the Pharisee denomination contains the pure, unadulterated water of God’s word, plus nothing and minus nothing. Any mixture with the corrupting mud of false denominations is too much to tolerate.
“But what about uniting with them in good causes? Surely you can join with them in opposing abortion and promoting the Republican agenda, can’t you?” they ask. While I agree that abortion is wrong and that all True Christians support the Republican Party, that is no excuse for budging the least bit from the firm foundation of Truth upon which we stand. The believer is instructed in the book of Jude to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" There is no hint here or anywhere else in Scripture that some part of the Christian faith is of such little importance that it is to be disregarded for the sake of a broader unity. Biblical admonitions to “come out from among them and be ye separate” cannot be ignored in such lesser pursuits as poverty relief, famine relief or providing medical aid for HIV victims.
Despite the fact that there is no mention of denominationalism in scripture, the ecumenical push to break down denominational walls is unscriptural and must be resisted. Those who have the most to lose from the ecumenical call to dissolve denominational walls are those faithful Pharisee churches like ours whose doctrine is based upon the Word of God. None of the other error-ridden churches has anything to lose since mixing error with error does nothing to corrupt their already apostate condition any more, but as the only denomination which preaches and practices the WHOLE council or God, it is incumbent on us to remain staunch in our refusal to join with them for any reason, no matter how high-sounding the cause may be.
This stand does not come without a cost, however. I do truly regret that we cannot in good conscience support the Gideons because of their compromising ways in taking money from non-Pharisee churches. However, we draw consolation from the fact that there are plenty of other churches out there willing to sell-out to popular acclaim and support them. If the Gideons would take money only from good, sound Pharisee churches, then we would possibly consider supporting them financially, but alas, I doubt that day will ever come.
While a good Pharisee like myself is thankful all year long, Thanksgiving is typically the time we set aside as a culture to return thanks to God. Fulfilling my responsibility as a good thankful Christian, I would like to tell everyone what I am thankful for and ways in which you can be thankful too. Let us look to the gospel of Luke to find Jesus’ instruction on how to be truly thankful. He instructs us to pray like this, “I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all I possess.” This passage highlights two primary things that we should thank God for.
First of all we should be thankful that we are not like others. I am thankful that I am not like those well-meaning Christians who are caught up in error and apostasy. They may be saved and have good intentions, but for the most part they fall short of God’s expectations. They fail to preach a doctrine of strict separation from the things of the world and they employe modern ministry methods like contemporary worship music, or the syncretistic, “anything goes” church growth methods espoused by Rick Warren on www.pastors.com. I am so thankful to God for the fact that I have never been tempted by such worldly concerns as modern innovations, big crowds and other errors of the church growth movement. Many pastors are driven by envy and ego to pursue the largest congregation they can assemble. I am grateful that my ego is easily contained within my tiny congregation of faithful Pharisees and my vast internet ministry.
I am also thankful that I am not like the ungodly sinners out there. As Jesus instructs us in this model prayer of thanksgiving, I am thankful that I am not like other people who are guilty of extortion. It is easy to be thankful for not being like Jeffery Skilling or Kenneth Lay, but other extortioners are less obvious. I am thankful not to be like modern media ministers who extort funds through appeals to social causes. Instead of using force, they use guilt and manipulative techniques to get innocent Christians to take funds that rightfully belong to the local church and give them to such alleged causes as feeding the hungry or caring for orphans. You can rest assured that my congregation knows where I stand on this issue - if I ever find out any one of my church members has given any money to any cause outside of our church’s mission efforts, they will be kicked off the rolls faster than you can say “Feed The Hungry.”
The second thing that Jesus expects us to thank God for is the abundance of good deeds that we do. Because God has saved me, he has made me a better person than those around me. He has given me the power to live a better life than everyone else. This is not to say that there is anything worthwhile within myself, but rather I am chosen purely as an act of God’s grace. Any goodness or righteousness that I have is strictly a response to the operation of God in my life and is nothing I work up myself. This is what makes me better than most people - God’s gracious unmerited favor that has elevated me to the heights of spirituality and devotion.
Some would say, “Pastor Gamaliel, the passage says that the man was thankful for fasting and tithing and I have never seen you do either. How can you say then that you are thankful for being a spiritual Christian?” While it is true that I rarely practice fasting, we need to keep in mind that we can easily get too legalistic about the word of God. To require the discipline of fasting would be an example of adding to God’s laws and making one person’s convictions and personal preferences set a spiritual standard that is not found in the Bible. I would never do such a thing. I think fasting should be a matter of personal conviction between the Christian and God. While I would encourage others to practice fasting, I am neither going to mandate when they should fast, nor discuss whether or not I do it. I fear that if I do, others would take my example as an example and seek to copy me, thus making my convictions their own and I would never want that to happen. Mature Christians should have their own convictions rather than acting like robots waiting to be programmed by their pastors.
As for the tithe, there is a reason I do not practice tithing. A tithe just means “a tenth” or a tiny portion given back to God. I would never give such a paltry sum to God. My spirituality compels me to give all of my income to him. Since every penny of my earnings comes 100% from God and every single dime I spend is in the service of God, instead of giving 10% as nominal Christians do, I give 100% of my income to God’s service. Because I work 24 hours a day for God, then I am always giving to Him, every time I spend anything. The advantage I have as a pastor is that I do not have to go through the church treasurer to put my money into service for God. Because I have dedicated my life to Full Tim Christian Service, anything I spend is spent to support the work of my ministry, so everything I buy is on God’s behalf. In order for you to provide for the cause of Christ, you need to drop your checks and cash into the offering plates each week. In order for me to provide for the cause of Christ, I go to the grocery store.
And that brings up another thing I am thankful for - my high calling in service to God that sets me apart from those around me. Not only am I not like other men, I am also not like other Christians. For that I offer up my deepest thanks to the Father.
The broad success of Joel Osteen’s ministry is proof that he can’t possibly be teaching the truth. His phenomenal success (by worldly standards) at building a church in excess of 30,000 members, founding a broadcasting empire and the release of his latest best-selling book are proof that he has abandoned the truth once delivered to the saints. Everyone knows that the mass of humanity (as well as the bulk of casual Christianity) doesn't love the truth, aren’t seeking after it and try to avoid it when they can. We know that the natural man does not receive the things of God and that these things are revealed only to the few, the faithful remnant, the elect, the Chosen of God.
So what makes Joel Osteen and his ministry so dangerous? It is the allure of his message of optimistic positivism. The very title of his book, Your Best Life Now, speaks to a gospel of instant gratification. Every true Christian knows that the Christian life is one of constant suffering, turmoil, tribulation and woe. God is not interested in giving us happiness in the here and now but only in the hereafter. Anyone who tries to persuade people that this life is anything more than a vale of tears and constant sorrow is proclaiming damnable heresy.
Osteen is dedicated to preaching a version of
Some negatives of the gospel:
· We are all worthless scum in the eyes of God (We are straying sheep, filthy rags, and generally unfit for any godly endeavor)
· Denial of all worldly pleasures (Any worldly pleasure we may hope to enjoy is merely an occasion for us to satisfy the flesh, something we should avoid at all costs)
· Emphasis on sin and condemnation (Since sin is our biggest problem, it should receive our greatest emphasis. Those who would preach grace to the exclusion of sin, miss out on why we need grace in the first place. A strong emphasis on sin means we need to spend less time on grace because people will be more prepared to receive it.)
· Emphasis on hell and the hereafter (Any pleasures we may aspire to are all in the hereafter. There is nothing in this life for us now other than suffering and woe. To teach otherwise is to lead people to perdition before their time.)
· Preaching against false teachers and other purveyors of positivism
§ False messages
§ False methods
§ False minions
We need to be positive about the negatives because the Bible places so much emphasis on them.
· Weeds out the wannabes - Matthew 23:4 "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers," teaches us that our role is to burden those who would enter the kingdom so they know how hard the Christian life is.
· Concentrates our efforts - the apostle Paul teaches us the we need to deny ourselves in Colossians 2:23 "Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh."
· Creates satisfaction - Jesus expressed his great love for the Rich Young Ruler but pointed out that despite all the good he had done, his unwillingness to eschew wealth in the cause of Christ made him unfit for the Kingdom. Thankfully, I am a poor, humble preacher of the gospel, so I am guaranteed an entrance into heavenly bliss and I am not going to jeopardize it by having any bliss in this life.
I would like to conclude by saying that it is about time we had more negative messages so we don’t end up falling for Your Best Life Now or even the heresy of so-called Christian hedonism from such liberal libertines like John Piper.
Mean & Wild
I just finished reading Mark Galli’s new book, Jesus Mean and Wild, and I think he’s off to a good start. Unfortunately, like most modern writers, he does not go quite far enough, and certainly not as far as I have gone in exploring the real mean and wild Jesus. I have grown weary of the namby-pamby approach to ministry so often espoused by those self-esteem gurus of laissez faire, anything goes Christianity like John McArthur, John Piper, and D. James Kennedy. Mark Galli has finally found the Jesus of the Gospels that these maudlin ministers of meek and mild have missed all these years.
Jesus Mean and Wild tells of a Jesus who is much like myself. Eschewing any pretense of being nice, I seek instead to administer loving rebuke to those in need. The loving thing to do to a child about to touch a hot stove is to shout out a warning. And that is the focus of my ministry – shouting out timely warnings to those who are about to be burned by sin. And when the shouted warning doesn’t work, just like Jesus wielded the whip in the temple, I bring out the heavy hardware to keep people from turning God’s house of worship into a pagan bacchanal like they do in those “praise and worship” services at most contemporary services. It is my duty to loving drive out all of the insidious influences that infect the innocent purity of our devotions including contemporary music, lewd clothing and tattoos.
But modern conveniences aren’t the only thing that needs to be driven out. Just like Achan’s sin that cause the death of his fellow Israelite’s we need to purge out the sin of doctrinal error. Every time the twin demons of compromise and syncretism pay a visit to our church, it is time for me to drive them from our church just like Joshua took care of Achan and his family. Just last month I had to fire another Sunday School teacher for attempting to use one of the modern per-versions of the Bible in reading to the little ones. Doesn’t she know how impressionable these young minds are and how easily they are led astray? Even worse, letting her bring her forbidden Babylonianish trappings into our sanctuary had the potential to bring down the whole church, just like that wicked, selfish Israelite of old. If I come across as cruel and insensitive, it is ultimately for the good of the whole church so we are not all brought down by her sinfulness. Ultimately, I’m being cruel to be kind in the last measure.
So when I shout warnings about the dangers of movies, contemporary Christian music, card playing and immodest dress, I am attempting to save them from a worse fate than the momentary unpleasantness at having to listen to my rants and screeds. I am seeking to rescue them from the certain doom that is to befall them, their families, and the innocent bystanders in the church. By slapping a Playstation 2 out of the hands of a witless teen-ager I may be preventing the next Columbine massacre. When I jerk the earbuds of an iPod from the ears of a hapless youngster listening to the latest John Reuben song, I just might be saving him from a gruesome death in a gangland shooting. And parents should thank me from the bottom of their hearts for sternly rebuking their daughters for wearing flattering makeup and clothing that highlights their nubile feminine assets because I just may be saving that child from an unwanted pregnancy that could bring grief to her whole family.
Yes, my ministry is just like that of our Lord. When I spot the merest wick of smoldering passion lighting the eyes of a church member I stamp it out. And for those reeds who have been bruised by their flirtations with the world, I bend them over until they are broken before God in abject shame, guilt and repentance. And where Jesus spent his ministry rebuking the overly religious and self-righteous, I have found my calling to rebuke the sinners, the defiled and those who would adulterate the faith once delivered to the saints with all manner of vile modern innovations. I will make sure that every lukewarm carnal Christian knows the error of their ways and drive them like cattle to follow the straight and narrow. My mean and wild side could keep temptation at bay and save the souls of many a wayward sinner – if only they would heed my message and mend their ways.