THE GOSPEL SUBVERTED

"And what shall I more say? for the time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah; of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens. Women received their dead by a resurrection: and others were beaten to death, not accepting their deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yea moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, ill treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves, and holes of the earth, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect (Heb. 11:32-40).

These are but a few of that great host of heroes of faith whom God chose to tell us about; men and women whose faith in God resulted in unimaginable suffering and death at the hands of this unbelieving world.

Gideon was the first mentioned in this passage. Our interest in Gideon's story just now is limited to that short period of time when God called him to lead Israel against Midian. Gideon lacked faith. God performed three miracles before Gideon was ready to accept the responsibility laid upon him by God. When Gideon and his army were finally ready to attack the Midianites, he had 32-thousand inexperienced, untried men to go against 135-thousand battle-tested Midianites. Then God said, "Gideon, you have too many men for me to give the Midianites into their hands. They will vaunt themselves against me, saying 'Mine own hand hath saved me'." Gideon's troops were reduced to 300. With so few against so many God brought about a mighty victory; the enemy was expelled and "the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon."

Our purpose is to discuss "The Gospel Subverted". Subvert means "to overturn, to overthrow". "Sub" means from below. "Vertere" means to turn. "To turn from below". Subversion is always attempted from out-of-sight, from undercover. Paul described "men who concerning the truth have erred saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrowing [subverting] the faith of some" (2 Tim. 2:18). Again he wrote, "there are many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers, especially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped; men who overthrow [subvert] whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake".

Consider this:

When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well she said to him:

"Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman believe me, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem shall ye worship the Father ... But the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshipper shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers".

What do our Church leaders say now about this sweeping change announced by Jesus? They say in effect: "Certainly men do not have to go to Jerusalem to worship, but there is a place where true worshippers must go to worship. Whether that place is Western Hills Church, East Side, West Side, or Main Street Church depends only on where your membership has been deposited." And it isn't just the place that is designated; the time of meeting is just as regimented. Just how far has this subversion of the gospel of Christ been taken? Years ago the elders of the congregation where I met in Port Arthur, Texas seriously proposed withdrawing from any member who missed three Sunday or Wednesday meetings without good cause. A subverted gospel!

Consider this:

Jesus said in explaining the meaning of the parable of the sower, "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God". The sower who went forth to sow broadcast his seed wherever he went in the world, as he went about the daily business of living. Some seed fell by the way side, some fell on the rock, some fell among thorns, and some fell into good ground and produced. Who ever heard of anyone making a living farming that way? Just scattering seed everywhere you go. No, that's no way to farm successfully, and we know it. A farmer wants the best land he can get, river bottom preferably. He clears the land, plows it, harrows it, lays out straight rows and when the season is right, he plants his seed. He does everything possible to insure that every seed planted will produce. But that's not the kind of farming Jesus had in mind. And we know that too. Notwithstanding that very important fact, our religious leaders today go about sowing the seed of the kingdom in much the same way that successful farmers do. And just any citizen in the Kingdom can't do the sowing either. It takes a professionally prepared "sower", one with a degree from the "Christian University of Religious Agri-Business". If the professional "sower" is very ambitious he may have a Masters degree in "Religious Agronomy". And this "professional farmer for Jesus" is not actually a spiritual farmer at all. He is a professional manager of a religious Agri-Business enterprise. What little planting that the "located evangelist" (isn't that a contradiction in terms?) does is not in the field of the lost and dying world where Jesus said to plant the seed; it is from an elevated pulpit in a sumptuously appointed "Church Barn" where the already born-again sheep, whose spiritual maturity never seems to advance beyond spiritual puberty, must come for their occasional feeding. A subverted gospel!

Consider this:

Jesus described a certain man who prepared a great feast and invited many. "And they all with one concent began to make excuse"; they had bought land, oxen, married a wife, just couldn't make it. This angered the host who instructed his servants to go into the streets and lanes of the city and bring the poor, the maimed and blind and lame. This was done but there was still room for more. The host instructed his servants to go into the highways and hedges and constrain them to come in that his house be filled.

We know very well what this parable teaches, but where do we go extending the invitation to our Lord's feast? To the poor, the lame, the blind and the maimed? Hardly. One of our brethren believed what our Lord said and went to the poor, the homeless, the jailed, teaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. He invited them to go with him to worship at the congregation where he was a member in Lubbock, Texas. This is from a letter our brother recently wrote. "The elders there have actually said to me, 'We don't want these people here!'. I can see why. They don't have money to put into the church treasury ... they cannot improve the financial standing one bit with their presence ... the Church might even have some members leave if these lower class are allowed to come in". A subversion of the gospel.

Consider this:

"For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and the base things of the world, and things that are despised, did God choose, yea the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are: that no flesh should glory before God" (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

What is difficult to understand in this passage? Nothing? Then why is it that it is the wise, the highly educated, the mighty, those in positions of power and influence, the noble, those in upper levels of society, who are so diligently recruited by the institutional church? Who are the men in positions of influence and leadership in the Church? Are they not, hardly without exception, men who have achieved substantial success in the very areas of human endeavor that God rejected? Are we not too much impressed with those who have risen to positions of considerable importance in their professions and businesses? It is rare to meet such a person who still does take himself or herself too seriously, who still has priorities in proper perspective.

Of the professionals I have heard speak publicly, I can remember only one who clearly fits this category. Perhaps you have heard of more than I. I hope so. This one was the Commissioner of Higher Education for the state of Missouri. The MC who introduced him read his pedigree: his credentials, all his academic degrees, all the prestigious positions he had held, his research publications, and reminded us of how fortunate we were to have such a renowned authority speak to us. When the speaker was finally allowed to address us, he said, "Ladies and Gentlemen: After an introduction like that one, I can hardly wait to hear what I'm going to say".

Consider this:

Jesus said, Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few are they that find it" (Matt. 6:13).

Peter wrote that, "God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water" (1 Pet. 3:20)

I have serious doubts that I have ever fully understood and accepted and responded to what God has said on this point. But I have no doubt at all that the religious world has never understood and accepted what God has said on this point. I believe that few of us have the capacity to understand the value to our Father of one righteous soul.

Listen to Luke: "Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him to hear him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.. And he spake unto them this parable saying, What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them cloth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?... Or what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a lamp, and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she find it? And when the one sheep and the one piece of silver is found they call together their friends and neighbors saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found that which was lost. Even so, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of angels of God over one sinner that repenteth".

I believe that we have long since lost interest in "one" lost soul. One? One!?

Who can succeed at anything in this highly competitive world while limiting our objective to one sale, to one new customer, to one recruit? We are in the age of mass marketing and the institutional corporate church has bought the entire package. We insist on addressing hundreds at public meetings, thousands by radio and our publications, and millions by television.

Many hundreds of years ago Roman Catholic Church leaders decided that entire national populations would be members of the "Church". And it happened. The entire populations of Spain, France, Italy, England were considered "members of the Church", and each one of them had been a "member" since birth when a priest daubed the baby's head with a drop of water. The Reformation Movement hardly changed the general view of "National Churches".

The "Restoration Movement" began by repudiating this concept of response to the gospel. Creeds and Confessions of all kinds were discarded and the simple gospel message was preached, believed, and obeyed, one person at a time. The response caught fire. Conversions spread so fast that in time some of the movement's leaders behoved that the message they were preaching would sweep the country bringing down denominational sectarianism in its wake. They were elated with their success. The numbers grew at such a pace that very soon some system of organizing the relationship and directing the activities of so many converts was essential. And you know what happened. They organized into congregations, albeit "autonomous" congregations. They gradually became very similar to what the early converts came out of; they became local autonomous institutional corporate churches. I believe that they were seduced by their own success.

Why do you suppose that the "called" are limited to so few? Consider this.

A certain ruler asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal live. Jesus said to him, "You know the commandments. Do not commit adultery, kill, steal, bear false witness; Honor your father and mother". The ruler replied, "All these things have I observed from my youth up." When Jesus heard this, he said to the ruler, "One thing thou lackest yet: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me." The ruler became exceeding sorrowful; for he was very rich. And Jesus seeing him said, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!"

This entire world is upwardly mobile. We all work hard for a "better life" for ourselves and our children. On average, the standard of living of the entire population of the world has been steadily rising since about 1900. It was instilled in me from my youth up to work hard, be an achiever, make something of myself. I instilled the same thing in my children. I have more of practically everything this world has to offer than my parents had. My parents had more than their parents. Is this true for you too? This is good, isn't it?

Consider this:

"Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hob. 12).

All of us have either participated in or watched track meets. I went to school with Bobby Morrow, the Olympic gold medal winner. It was a genuine thrill to watch him run. I ran the 440 and the 880 long ago in high school. We trained hard. In the race we wore light shorts, jersey, and track shoes without socks. We removed every hindrance, anything that could possibly interfere with our performance. And then we gave the race all we had. From this passage I have preached that we should be stripped-down runners in our race toward the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus. Who among us clearly teaches and has practiced these principles? More money, the next promotion, my own business, more responsibility, the next degree, may interfere with my spiritual life. I consider the consequences: it's not worth the risk, so I'll turn down the opportunity. That's silly, isn't it?

Consider this:

For ye are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for all are one (the same) in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26-28).

Since the dawn of history all societies have separated into classes: Patricians-Plebians, Aristocrats-Peasants, Masters-Slaves, Upperclass-Lowerclass, Management-Labor, Men-Women. And generally, classes of people living in the same society have been hostile to each other. The ones at the top have to keep the ones at the bottom "in their place", because the class at the bottom has to do the work, the class at the top has to manage the class at the bottom and the work they do, and profit from their labor. The bottom class never chooses to be the bottom class. Most often class membership is determined by birth, the color of one's skin, or his ethnic origin. God had nothing at all to do with organizing societies and separating people into classes; we do that ourselves. Are we Christians a part of this system? Yes, indeed we are. But we are to be "in" this system, not "of" it, as we are "in" the world but not "of" it. Because we are children of God, we cannot, we must not view our world in terms dictated by the world. What am I talking about, exactly?

Every "social system" ever developed by men has assigned women a subservient role in all areas of life. Some of us are just now beginning to recognize that it is we who have assigned her this role, not God, and we are just beginning to change our view. But let us understand and acknowledge that we (men) are not granting women anything; it is God's way. Our problem has been a lack of faith all along. We should read again and study what our brother Norman Parks has written on the subject.

"In Christ there can be neither Jew nor Greek". This distinction is based on racial, ethnic origins. When the prophet said that "all Nations" would flow into the spiritual kingdom of Christ, it was not political subdivisions but "ethnos", peoples, of which he spoke. One primary characteristic of the sociology of people is racial division. The Samaritans were considered "inferior" by the Jews, but it was a Samaritan, the "Good Samaritan", that Jesus said we should be like. Racial prejudice and bigotry are still alive and well, and our brethren are not immune to its influence. When we were baptized we "put on Christ". All things became new. Our view of the entire world and its operation changed. Old things passed away, all things became new, and prejudice, bigotry, and hatred are no part of the new man in Christ.

Consider this:

"For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first. For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them. It happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog turning to his own vomit again, and the sow that had washed to wallow in the mire" (2 Pet. 2).

That is a very graphic view of what Christians came out of; and that is where the unbelieving world still is. The gospel calls men out of that kingdom of darkness and translates them into the kingdom of light.

How can anyone believe that that kingdom of darkness, that pigpen, can be changed into the kingdom of light? Who believes that? I believe that all the efforts of religious people to impose our spiritual views on the world is just that. We are trying to transform the world into a "Christian community". The process has been subverted. That's backward. Cleaning up the pigpen will not change the spiritual condition of a single pig. Each one, one at a time, must come out of the world because he believes on Jesus, be washed in the blood of the lamb, and he will be a new creature in Christ. What do I mean specifically? Examples:

A.Christians trying to pass civil laws against what we consider sin.
B.Christians trying to pass civil laws requiring the unbelieving world to behave as we believe Christians should. Like what?

1. Alcohol prohibition
2. Blue laws forcing businesses to close on Sunday
3. Abortion prohibition

Peter said, "Submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake". That includes all of them, whether we consider them just laws or not. Nothing is said anywhere in the scriptures about Christians making the laws that govern the world; nothing about Christians being civil ordinance makers. Our responsibility is to submit to the ordinances!

A local preacher was arrested and jailed for participation in attempts to force the closure of an abortion clinic. He said to reporters,"I know what the Bible says about Christians submitting to every law, but I believe that abortion is so abhorrent to God that I must try to stop it, whatever it costs".

Consider this:

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing"... "But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is faith? No! "The greatest of these is love".

In practice this passage is made to say "the greatest of these is faith". Received faith, orthodox faith, has long been the standard for extending and withholding fellowship. Consider the religious divisions, the strife, the bitterness, the hate, the destruction of faith caused by faith inspired by a sectarian spirit. Certainly this passage does not reduce the importance of faith; it inspires a faith motivated by, driven by love. If "love covers a multitude of sins", why don't we see it at work?

"There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death ... For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward ... What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?" (Rom. 8). Protrepo