Touched by God - Part 2

by The Old Scot

The Old Scot continues his discussion of the "touch of God" that all true believers experience.

Father God certainly knew what it was to have to deal with a "mixed multitude"-a mixture, that is, of true and imitation believers. Hear His charge in Isaiah 1:2-3: "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider."

Things obviously did not improve with the passage of time: Hundreds of years after Isaiah's day, the Lord Jesus Christ mournfully observed: "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). It was a rhetorical question, of course. He knew He would find a faithful remnant. But He was agonizing over the great mass of mankind which He knew would not have true faith in Him.

Our Lord also told in Matthew 13 a series of sad, prophetic parables which we will find instructive on how to deal with unbelief in the church-but personalize that: "our church; the church I shepherd." Again and again Jesus made the points that a) there would be many in the church who were not saved, and b) that it is not our business to judge anyone into either heaven or hell. This comes through most strongly in the parable of the tares: "He said unto them, An enemy hath done this.' The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?' But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn'" (vv. 28-30).

But if we are not to forcibly expel them (tearing the tares out of the ground), neither should we pretend that all is well with them.

An Unavoidable Subject

The question of judging and church discipline has to come up: We are commanded on the one hand not to judge (Matt. 7:1, etc.), but on the other hand we are told later that judging is the right thing to do in certain circumstances. First Corinthians 5:11-13 spells out a set of circumstances very clearly: "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."

To apply an old farmers' bit of wisdom: "A rotten apple can spoil the barrel." When unbelievers threaten the peace and harmony, the vision, and the striving for holiness within the congregation, they must be dealt with. If they are not, they will become bad examples for weak Christians and impressionable young people. And they will ultimately take the church down with them!

Particularly is this true if these troublemaking unbelievers worm their way into positions of leadership in the church! Such a church is in crisis, and must be dealt with, if possible. I say "if possible," because sometimes it isn't possible. The decline has gone too far, and what leadership exists is of the wrong sort.

Here's an example: It is probably no longer common knowledge that Jonathan Edwards, leader in the Great Awakening movement, and who has been termed America's foremost theologian, was forced out of his pastorate at the Northampton, Mass. Congregational Church in 1748. Almost a century earlier, the synod had adopted the "Halfway Covenant," which permitted limited church membership to non-believers if they acquiesced to baptism-thus giving them "marrying and burying" privileges-but not communion privileges. Edwards' grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, who pastored the church before Jonathan, went further and gave these halfway members access to the Communion Table. Jonathan disapproved of this practice, and after taking over the pulpit following his grandfather's death, he set up a test to limit Communion to believers. When a candidate for admission to membership refused to accept the conditions, the church backed him instead of Edwards.

But Not All Are Troublemakers

As for the non-troublemakers present in the congregation, Christ's injunction is clear: don't judge and don't try to evict them.

I suggest, instead, that they should be considered a field which could be ripening for harvest. Only God can see inside the heart and we cannot know with certainty why individual unbelievers are in our midst. It may be that they are seeking, though they have not yet found Truth.

Implore the Holy Spirit to give you the words that will penetrate their hearts; then beg Him to go before and make those hearts receptive. Preach to them!

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