When you visit a church, look for these things. Does the church seek to be faithful to the marks of Christ? Or do they cover up sin and deny affliction and oppression? Are they too busy throwing arrows at far away places that they cannot cleanse the filth in their own nest? Are their pastors self-appointed and self-ordained? Are they accountable?
At times it is discouraging. At times, it feels as if God has forsaken her. At times, you wonder how many pastors will fall into scandal, how many children will be abused in her day care centers, how many wives will suffer at her hands, how many husbands will have nowhere to go.
At times, you watch evil men soar away in their 60 million dollar jets paid for out of the pensions of widows they have defrauded and abused.
How many times will the sheep be driven away to make room for the wolves? You find them huddled at home, in caves, barred from the communion of the saints – and you wonder, “Has God forsaken the church?”
I understand the voices of those who have declared that they are done with the organization, that they will never join a church again. I hear the stories and I understand. It makes me sad, though. The church is the bride of Christ, the fellowship of the saints is precious. The preaching and the sacraments are indispensable means of grace. So I understand, but I cannot agree with cutting yourself away from the body of Christ. So perhaps this will help.
Please hear me closely, and think about this, especially if you have been driven away from your church by wolves. My goal is not to throw stones at those who have been greatly hurt. I long for your healing. My goal is only to be faithful in my calling and point you to Christ. Christ still loves his bride and still calls you to fellowship with the saints. So think about this: Were you truly driven from the church? Or were you delivered from a synagogue of Satan?
I was thinking this through as I was preparing a Bible study on King Jeroboam.
The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel (1 and 2 Kings) opens with King Solomon. Solomon is given a great kingdom, promised the blessing and favor of God, and has been granted the privilege and responsibility to build the great Temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem.
The Temple is where God had chosen to place his name. He revealed himself there, accepted the sacrifices and the worship of his people there, atoned for sin there, and there he communed with his people.
But Solomon rebelled against God towards the end of his life, and God divided the kingdom. The ten tribes in the north rejected their allegiance to the house of David in the days of Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam. The northern tribes established their own king. His name was Jeroboam.
Jeroboam made a crucial and deadly theological error. Jeroboam believed that God, whatever he might be named, was an indifferent or hostile being that could be manipulated and controlled through religious ceremonies.Religion, to Jeroboam, was for the purpose of gaining control of the favor and blessings of God, or the gods. The most important thing to Jeroboam was the establishment of his own kingdom, not the fellowship of the one true God.
If Jeroboam had understood the truth, he never would have built for himself temples and calves at Dan and Bethel. God cannot be manipulated or controlled by men. The distance between God and man is so great and profound that it can only be crossed by God himself. Man cannot reach up to God; God must reveal himself to man.
The Westminster Confession puts it like this:
The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 7:1)
Men don’t manipulate, control, or coerce God. God said to Job,
11 Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine. (Job 41:11 ESV)
But God, who was under no necessity and no compulsion, chose freely to condescend to reveal himself to men. This is what we mean by the word “covenant”. He made a covenant with David, that David’s house would be established forever. Eventually, that would be fulfilled in David’s greater son, Jesus. Through David’s house, the usurpation of the devil would finally be overthrown and the kingdom of God established. This was pictured in the kingdom of David and Solomon, but not fulfilled until the King of Kings was raised up on a cross, to finally crush the power of death by his resurrection.
God chose the tribe of Levi to mediate the sacrifices, pointing to Christ who would be the Great High Priest as well as the flawless Lamb of God. God chose the Temple in Jerusalem to picture his own throne in heaven, where we now have perfect access to the God of Mercy because of our true great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, for us and for our salvation. Outside of David’s Seed, through the covenant made to the house of David, there is no salvation. There is no fellowship with God apart from God’s covenant with David.
But Jeroboam was a true pluralist. He believed that there are many ways to God. He offered sacrifices because he thought that God perhaps was hungry or needed something from him. He made his worship huge and magnificent, and devised it from his own heart, thinking that God would be impressed and be forced to bless him. Look at how the bible describes what he did:
26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David.
27 “If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.”
28 So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
29 And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.
30 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan.
31 And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi.
32 And Jeroboam instituted a feast in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast which is in Judah, and he went up to the altar; thus he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves which he had made. And he stationed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.
33 Then he went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised in his own heart; and he instituted a feast for the sons of Israel, and went up to the altar to burn incense.
(1Ki 12:26-33 NASB)
He wanted to establish his own kingdom. He had no interest in obedience and in trusting Jehovah for salvation. He wanted nothing to do with restored fellowship with God. He wanted money and power.
So he appointed his own priests, he devised his own theology, he created his own worship days, he chose his own place and his own architecture. Notice how many times the Scripture says, “which he had made”.
I imagine him as the first Frank Sinatra, singing in his heart as he ascended the steps of the altar,
“I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way.”
But God had commanded him to do the exact opposite: