First read: Do Not Neglect to Meet Together
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (John 2:13-18).
In my previous article I raised my concern and my dilemma with what has become of the institutionalised church through all denominations of Christianity. By raising my concern as a dilemma, I did not venture to offer guidance or advice, (yet) – and will only do so, if inspired by the Lord.
However, having raised this matter of concern, specifically as to where and with whom we should gather and meet as Christians. I will further express my observations in this article (which follows on from “Do Not Neglect to Meet Together”.)
In the previous article, “Do Not neglect to Meet Together”, I suggested that the wicked person among us is not usually expelled and the yeast of sin and corruption works through the whole batch.
In this article, I will suggest that we may often have a wrong perception of sin and wickedness which clouds our ability to even identify the wicked person, let alone expel him from the holy fellowship.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 1:5 – 2:1-2).
We may – and do – often sin in a moment of weakness. Then we may feel ashamed, we may repent and we may ask the Lord to forgive us our sins as we mercifully forgive others who sin. To expel the wicked person is not to go on a judgmental witch-hunt imposing a list of strict religious rules and regulations to be conformed to by everyone, by which the humble penitent sinner may often been singled out, ostracised and exploited in their guilt whenever they may unfortunately stumble and sin.
“Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time” (Daniel 11:33-35).
Jesus is the holy one into whose image we are being transformed. Jesus is loving, kind, patient, merciful towards sinners. Jesus is also extremely critical of those who are arrogant, proud, self-righteous, hypocritical and of course who do not have his gentle and graceful Spirit in them, but are false “believers” who have secretly slipped in among the holy assembly. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Jesus in them are not sealed as belonging to him and they are not members of his church even if they gather among the believers and profess to believe in Jesus.
We are known by God when he lives in us by his Spirit and if he lives in us, he will sanctify us and move us to obey him as our Lord and King.
But Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
The apostle John, who knew the love, gentleness and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ and was ordained as an apostle, was attempted to be sidelined, (effectively “excommunicated”), from the church by a controlling, self-righteous, dominant and arrogant person, Diotrephes, who had presumed to take control and to exercise undue authority over Christ’s church. (Don’t annoy the ungodly people who confidently suppose that they happen to be influential and in charge, like Martin Luther did to the Pope and his officials.)
Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honours God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God (3 John verses 5-11).
Those who are proud, self righteous, unmerciful, corrupt, who distort the Scriptures, who show favouritism to the rich and influential people but look down on the humble, those who are harshly judgmental and seek to discredit any weak person who may stumble, those who are arrogant and controlling – who think they are always right and are above correction – do not have the love and mercy in them and they are the wicked people who, instead of being expelled from Christ’s church, they boast in their arrogance and control and force the humble to eventually withdraw themselves. Similarly to Diotrephes, who put the apostle John others out of the church over which he assumed control, there are people “in charge” who are Nicolaitans [the root meaning of Nicolaitans being nico, i.e. conqueror, destroyer, controller – and laitan, i.e. the laity or people] – and because, like Judas Iscariot, they often also gain control the finances of the church, they don’t care or discern who the wicked really are because they are themselves wicked – and they encourage the church membership of the rich and influential people in society. Like the religious Pharisees, they seek the approval of men rather than of God.
If and when the humble may withdraw from such rampant wickedness in the professing church, they are made to feel like they are perhaps sinful and wicked and that they are guilty of withholding their tithes and offerings and that they are guilty of neglecting to meet together with the “true”, institutionalised and established church. To this day, the Pope maintains that only proper membership of the Roman Catholic Church is genuine membership of Christ’s church. Many so-called Protestant and Reformed churches have their own designated Nicolaitans who are in charge.
However, there are many disillusioned people, like Elijah, who see the arrogant, ugly face of the wickedness that has assumed to have taken control over Christ’s church and they find themselves outside of the conventional, institutionalised church. They are often convicted, distressed as they face the dilemma of seemingly neglecting to gather together with fellow-believers.
To all such disillusioned people, take heart, be encouraged, do not become cynical, do not become bitter, do not become sceptical or overly critical because of people like Diotrephes. Rather, “fly-under the radar” and the Lord will open doors for you to meet other Elijahs who also think that they are alone and isolated.
It is not Diotrephes’ church. It is not the Pope’s church, it is not the Baptist’s church, it is not the church compromised with the governing authorities, it is not the church that has a good outward appearance, a big building for a meeting place, with a music band and various speciality groups and ministries.
On the contrary, it is Christ’s church purchased and redeemed by his blood and we are living stones being built into a temple in whom God lives by his Spirit and we are led to obey him through humility and faith as we keep our eyes fixed on him and not on other influential and manipulative people.
Do not neglect to gather in fellowship with the righteous and humble, but do not sit in the company of hypocrites, wicked controlling men. Do not approve of the Nicolaitans who hold sway over Christ’s church. Be wise and discerning.
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly (church) of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction (Psalm 1:1-6).
Unfortunately, the sheep and the goats often flock together. Unfortunately the weeds grow side-by-side with the wheat. Unfortunately, there are many church-leaders who are like Diotrephes and very unlike John and Elijah.