LOOKING for GOD?
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
JUNE 10, 2016
The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway
“I was found by those who did not seek me: I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (Romans 10:20, NIV)
The inspiration for this writing came from a book sent me recently by my old friend Tom, entitled, Four Witnesses, The Early Church In Her Own Words, by Rod Bennett. I found the book compelling, to say the least. In his Introduction, the author writes, “I have been familiar with the Scriptures since childhood, to my eternal benefit. Raised in a strong, Bible-believing branch of Protestant Evangelicalism, I was taught to glory in the famous Reformation rallying cry of “Sola Scripture,” the fiery conviction that the Bible alone constitutes the basis for Christian belief. We saw this as the only way to prevent mere ‘traditions of men’ from creeping into our religion.” End Quote.
When I read those words, my anxiety relaxed because, clearly, here was a kindred spirit. The church I grew up claimed they spoke only when the Bible speaks and kept silent when the Bible is silent. It didn’t always work out that way, clearly, but the fact remains that I am hardwired to consider scripture first before anything man may say. That doesn’t always work out either, but it’s the way I’m programmed.
The four witnesses whom the author celebrated were Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons. All were totally unfamiliar to me, but since I felt pressed by the Spirit to read the book, I knew there would be something I needed to hear to overcome my previous prejudices, or just to enjoy. The book did not disappoint.
Rod Bennett does an excellent job of explaining why the tradition of the fathers in the early church is worth our attention. He pointed out that in that day, and even today, when one wanted to learn a trade or a craft, he went to the master craftsman and signed on as a journeyman to him. The master taught the journeyman personally and at length so that the product he produced would bring honor to the master, rather than shame because of lackluster workmanship. This principal is at the heart of discipleship.
Christians today have information of all types available to us via the Internet, and before that, we had excellent translations of the Old and New Testaments. Neither source of information was available to the early church; so they esteemed discipleship. Clement was tutored and discipled by the Apostle Peter, who conveyed the word of God which came to the Apostles from Christ.
We know that the Apostle Paul had many such disciples, such as Timothy and Titus, Barnabas, John Mark and Silas, to whom he poured out the wisdom he had gained from God Himself, since Paul had not walked and talked with Jesus as the other Apostles had.
I knew there would be a writing based on the book, but so many topics presented themselves as worthy of consideration, that I had to back off and wait for the Spirit’s guidance, lest I be like the man who got on his horse and rode off in all directions.
Those of you who know me well, know that I’m a passionate person, given to much introspection and yes, even self doubt. I’m hard on myself to the point that the Lord spoke to me softly last week end, saying, “You’re beating yourself up again.” He didn’t tell me to stop, but I knew that’s what He meant. When I learn something new, my first inclination is always to see if this means I’m supposed to change my mind, my direction, or my suppositions about whatever topic it is.
Confession is good for the soul, so here goes. I was brought up to regard Catholic doctrine as suspect, falling short of the Scripture, and in regard to the “tradition of the Fathers,” to view that in light of Jesus’ scathing condemnation of the First Century Jews, of whom He said, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9, KJV)
Likewise, Paul warned us to pursue sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), so we would no longer be, “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” (Ephesians 4:14-15, RSV)
These are sober warnings which most church leaders have taken seriously: Catholics by following the tradition of the Church Fathers, and Protestants by following the Bible. After reading Rod Bennett’s excellent presentation of his diligent scholarship about the early church, I realized that my early conclusions were way off, and as usually happens, I took it to heart wondering what this means for me now. Was God telling me to become a Catholic? The answer to that is that once God had opened my eyes to see that He loves all men, and plans to save all men, I did become catholic (small “c”), which means “universal.”
The Apostle Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9, KJV) Many Christians have come into this revelation in spite of church teaching to the contrary, because God has opened their eyes to see the truth.
Before He opened their eyes, He had first blinded them to the truth, a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, repeated in Acts 28:26, Matthew 13:14; Mark 4:9-12; Luke 8:10; and John 12:40. God had blinded the eyes of His chosen people for a time so they could not know the truth. It sounds harsh, but it didn’t last forever, for Isaiah prophesied, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (Isaiah 65:1; Romans 10:19, NIV)
The Lord often speaks to me when I’m on the potty in the middle of the night. Strange? Indeed, but true, probably because my mind is at a low ebb and the Spirit can make a more powerful statement to me. Regarding the fact that I have never regarded the tradition of the early church fathers as truth, and therefore, have not followed it, the Lord reminded me of Paul’s statement to the Galatians: “But when God who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.” (Galatians 1:15-17, NIV)
Remembering that Paul did not follow the tradition of the Fathers, but learned the Gospel message from God Himself, took a great weight of concern off my shoulders. It proves that there have always been at least two bona fide ways for followers of Christ to learn how to follow Him: 1) Tradition of the Fathers and 2) direct revelation. Of course, we need to remember that there were no scriptures available for the masses until the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440. Even then, how many people could actually read?
Therefore, the need for men who had passed the important information down from the Apostles was apparent. We stand on the shoulders of such men as Rod Bennet presented in his book.
This brings me to my last and most important point. Paul did not say that God revealed His Son to him, but rather in him. Many Christians are like Job who after his long ordeal was over, confessed to God, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6, NIV) Of what did Job repent? The text does not say, but after plowing through the first 41 chapters over the years, I believe it was that he didn’t know that God was totally in control of all things, all the time. Job believed that he could do something to save his children and himself. His self efforts did NOT produce the result He hoped for, to put it mildly, so he had to repent of thinking he could please God on his own terms.
The older I get, the more I know that that neither Scripture alone nor the Tradition of the Fathers alone will draw reluctant people to Christ. Only the unconditional love of God will produce that result. God’s presence must be felt by some to be believed. Isaiah’s beautiful words are a balm for any self doubt or fear of failure to please God we may have: “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, RSV)
My thanks to our dear friend and former Pastor John Gavazzoni for his account of baptizing a Jewish woman into Christ in a mutual friend’s swimming pool. I was there the night it happened, but not close enough to hear what transpired between John and this woman. Here’s his account of it, which says it all, I think.
“As I recall, what I asked (typically) of her was, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He died for your sins?” I waited a few moments for her to reply affirmatively, but she said (and I think this recollection is quite accurate), “I don’t know about that; all I know is that He is love.” At that point, and this came to me as a mental picture/impression, Jesus, stuck his elbow in my ribs, and said, “Baptize her stupid; I’ll take care of the rest.” End Quote.
Father, You are a wonder, a marvel of love and grace and mercy for all your children, in the pews and out of the pews. You have provided us with Your Spirit to lead and guide us into all Truth, and better still, Your Presence allows us to FEEL Your love, mercy and grace. You are our Father who is above all and through all and in all. Because You are, we join our voices in praise with “the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” To God be the Glory, world without end. Amen.