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Life and Doctrine

by Murray Cornelius

We are required to love God supremely, and to love others as we love ourselves. If the focus remains only on the here and now, we will have lost the primary half of the great commandment. Our ultimate mission is to make disciples, not simply to care for the needy.
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
I Timothy 4:16

My heart has always been drawn strongly to matters of care and justice. During 20 years in Zimbabwe, my greatest sense of ministry fulfilment came while feeding, caring for and sustaining the hungry, the orphaned and the widowed.

I seek to be kind, tolerant and respectful regarding the worldview and ideology of others. I confess that I have drawn inspiration from Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela, as well as from those who are fully devoted followers of Jesus.
However, pitfalls stalk the open-minded! Paul warned Timothy to be attentive to his own life and doctrine in order to secure salvation for both himself and his audience.

Our mandate leads us to alleviate suffering and injustice. But that’s only part of the solution. Even while we rescue the poor, the vulnerable and the abused, we all have appointments with both death and the Creator. God’s justice demands that we be more concerned with people’s eternal destiny than with their temporal needs.

We are required to love God supremely, and to love others as we love ourselves. If the focus remains only on the here and now, we will have lost the primary half of the great commandment. Our ultimate mission is to make disciples, not simply to care for the needy.

The second danger is a subtle universalism that is being advocated in the church today. Tolerance is perhaps the most valued of Western virtues. The cult of the open mind forbids claims of an exclusive truth. The temptation to shun absolutes while accommodating every opinion in the hope of influencing the postmodern generation creates an environment of confusion for those attempting to define good and evil, right and wrong. We respect humanity and seek to associate without being intrusive, patronizing or arrogant, but we must do so humbly and gently—having been transformed ourselves by the love of God. In an increasingly pluralistic Canada, we must stand firm in our conviction that people without Christ are eternally lost. We must be courageous as we embrace fully the message of authentic Christianity.1

Watch Your Life!
Authentic Christianity shows up in transformed, Christ-centred lives. Its evidence is: joy instead of anger; love instead of lust; hope instead of fear; and generosity rather than selfishness.

... as aliens and strangers in the world ... abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:11-12).

We must watch our lives and ask ourselves these questions. Am I a living witness to the grace of God? Am I a reflection of Jesus, practising forgiveness, generosity, faithfulness and empathy? Are my motives and imaginations pure? Have I set boundaries for what I watch and read?

Richard Foster makes an important distinction between contemptus mundi (hate the world) and amor mundi (love the world).2 These apparent opposites tear our hearts in two directions. One speaks of holiness and separation while the other rouses our empathy for the sick, the marginalized, and the poor.

Our devotion to God moves us away from the desire to gain possessions and social recognition, allowing us to experience a glorious detachment from this world and all it offers.”3 This is contemptus mundi, a call to hate the world.

As members of God’s created family, we are compelled by the pain and suffering of humanity. We are drawn to relationship and motivated to bring good news with caring hands. The Lord doesn’t allow us the luxury of selfishness. This is amor mundi, the call to love the world.

Watch Your Doctrine!
Society demands that we be nice and play well with others. Many think this means we cannot affirm the exclusive claims of our faith. Christianity, as a worldview and belief system, is the most intolerant of all religions. It claims without apology that Jesus is the only way to reconcile with God, and that there is eternal separation from God for those who are not in Christ. From beginning to end, the Bible is a missionary religion. It demands that we present the gospel not just locally to friends and neighbours, but globally to everyone.

“Without apology, we may love others in many ways: seeking their health, promoting justice, advancing education. But above all, we should love them into eternal life, away from eternal death.”4

In studying the rise of the early church,5 Rodney Stark, a professor at Baylor University, sought to understand how a small band of obscure, marginalized people following a leader who was executed by the government of His day, could so totally transform a society in just a few hundred years. He concluded that the church transformed a nation through the demonstration and proclamation of its faith.

He notes that Christians, while non-judgmental, were distinctly moral in a highly immoral age. They upheld truth with gentleness and conviction in the face of incredible persecution. Christians cared for the sick and dying, rescuing abandoned babies and dignifying womanhood at a time when children were treated as refuse and women as basic property. Stark also notes their clear confession of Christ’s lordship and willingness to die rather than deny His unique status.

... in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord ... be prepared to give an answer ... for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (I Peter 3:15-16).

The watchwords are clear. This is how we proclaim Jesus in a pluralistic world.
  • Set apart Christ as Lord.
  • Give a reason for your hope.
  • Be gentle and respectful.
  • Keep a clear conscience.
  • Demonstrate good behaviour and deeds.
By all means and with great passion, let us proclaim that Jesus is the answer.e

FOOTNOTES:1. David F. Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008). 2. Richard Foster, “Spiritual Formation Agenda.” Christianity Today. January 2009, Vol. 53, No. 1.3. Ibid.4. Robertson McQuilkin, “Lost Missions.” Christianity Today. July 2006, Vol. 50, No. 7.5. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).

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The 24/7 Kind of Truth

I used to be convinced that truth was something to think about, to know, to believe in my mind until one day I began to understand that Jesus teaches that truth is more than cognitive, more than what happens in my brain. For Him, truth is just as much what you say and what you do as what you believe. If I neglect my children, kick my dog around the backyard and have a bad attitude behind the wheel, my neighbour will find it easy to reject my gospel—and rightly so! But he won’t be rejecting the truth; rather, my own warped version of it! And what about this Pentecostal tradition that says we pastors should maintain a rather formal approach with people and not get too close to them because of our position? What don’t we want them to see? I practised this until the day I decided I was not only going to tell people (believers and non-believers alike) what I believe, but also how I drive, play softball and treat my cat. And guess what? Now I’m a happier man because I can just be myself—24/7!

REV. DENNIS J. DONNAN - Église Pentecôte de la Vallée du Richelieu Otterburn Park, QC

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