31 December 2019 The West's Church Problem Posited: A Perspective on Its Source This is what occupies my thoughts as we move into the New Year. In the series to follow, I hope we can thoroughly engage with one another in fruitful discussion, debate, and thought. The following post is written in a sermon style, and seemed to be the best way for the initial exposition of my position on these matters. I sincerely hope that you will engage with the matter honestly, inasmuch as I claim to speak on God's behalf and not merely share my perspective. Let us consider God's revealed will together, that we may understand it appropriately, for God welcomes us to do such and commands us to come to Him. Though I speak with as much force and passion as I can muster, with the authority of the "oracles of God," I am willing to change. I pray the same is true of all of us. God be with us in Your Spirit, Amen. Text: 1 Samuel 2:12-36 (AKJV)Ichabod, the priest Eli's grandson and the name of Phinehas' son in the book of 1 Samuel, means "no glory" or, alternatively, "the glory hath departed." Phinehas' son was named such after Israel's armies were handily smitten by the Philistines on the plains between Ebenezer and Aphek. Hophni and Phinehas were destroyed and accursed from the land of the living for "abhorring the offering of the Lord," (v. 12-17) as evidenced in their decision to alter the liturgical structure of tabernacle worship in their own manner, by taking raw flesh after their own devices, in a way not commanded by the Lord. When given an opportunity to repent after the pleading rebuke of their father Eli, they would not and could not, for "the Lord willed to slay them" (v. 25) for this wickedness. This context lends added weight to the statement "the glory hath departed" from the Western Church, whenever we hear an old preacher say such a statement. Such a statement speaks of great death, destruction, and apocalypse. A statement such as this must receive due consideration.Why hath the glory departed? What leads an old preacher to say such things? If we are struck with a pestilence, is it a pestilence unto death or a pestilence from which we might recover? Or, terribly, is our illness the judgement of God, He willing to harden and condemn wicked lukewarm persons, for truly the Lord may do whatsoever he wills, for "He hath mercy on whom He will, and whom He wills he hardeneth?" Does the knowledge of His power to prune and cut branches fill us with trembling, or do we in pride consider ourselves out of reach of the Master's pruning sheers and cleansing Fire?Oh, brothers I hope we tremble at this Word, for "blessed is he who is of poor and contrite spirit and trembleth at My Word." (Isaiah 66:2) Then it is that we may be broken, yet rejoicing, when we consider ourselves in relation to God rightly. May it ever be so with us!Thus, at the very least, if the old preacher's declaration "Ichabod!" bears any weight at all, it deserves our sincere consideration, for the reins fall upon our hands, whether we will or not. "One generation comes and another goes" (Ecc. 1:4), but the charge to each remains the same: "Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of Man" (Ecc. 12:13). We all will be judged for our deeds in the body (Romans 2:4-9), whether good or evil, and every careless word will bear the scrutiny of His Holy Judgement seat (Matthew 12:36), from which nothing is hid in heaven, hell, or earth, before which all things stand naked and open, thus we walk circumspectly, fearfully, and reverently; thus, we must consider the land in which we walk, whether our children will be able to walk in it with all godliness and simplicity (1 Timothy 2:2), or if it will become ever more like the Babylon of Revelation, a bed of filth for the False Prophet and the Whore of Babylon. We are salt and light to prevent such, but what if salt hath lost its savor (Matthew 5:13) What is the salt's Savor? Whence comes our Light?Has it truly gone and departed? Where do we see the evidences for such? Perhaps a comparison and contrasting of Samuel to Hophni and Phinehas will lend light to our present debacle. First, let's consider the qualities of Hophni and Phinehas:They were sons of Belial, who knew not the Lord (v. 12). They evidenced discontent with God's provision (vs. 13-15), demanding raw meat, not sodden, even though they were granted leave to take as much as they desired without price. (v. 16) God's way was not pleasurable or desirable to them, but their own way, He ruling as a Gracious Giver of All Good Gifts notwithstanding. (Psalm 145:16). They were not above using human means and human force to take what they felt was needed (v. 16 b), for "Jehovah Jireh" was not enough for them.They caused the Lord's People to transgress against the righteous Law (v. 24).They abhorred the Offering of the Lord, a sin so great, that the Lord sought to destroy them. (v. 17) The name Jehovah Jireh, "The Lord will Provide", to them was not enough. The Sacrifice provided was trampled under foot. (Hebrews 2:1)While alive, they stood condemned (v. 34), and their judgement does not sleep (2 Peter 2:3)The Word says that Hophni and Phinehas knew not the Lord. This was true in spite of their privileged place as members of the tribe of Levi, placed directly in the line of God's most direct revelation to the people of Israel of the day. How could it be that they knew not the Lord? How does one know the Lord? Is it through mystical visions or through signs of the stars? Is it through the entrails of beasts or the doctrines of priests? Is it through strong feelings that we deem to be from the Spirit of God, apart from any grounding in what is written? How might Hophni and Phinehas have known the Lord? They knew the Lord through the Law of Moses, the record kept by their fathers showing the testimony of the Lord their God (Deuteronomy 4:35-39). Though not present at the Exodus in body, they knew the words transmitted orally from generation to generation, as well as the book of the Law held in reverence by the people. They knew through the Words. They did not believe Moses, and did not believe the Lord (John 5:46).The Word also says that the institution of God had made it plain what was to be done in worship. He did not leave the people of God to stumble in the dark without knowledge but gave a way to them in the record of His testimony. The prescribements of God were not sufficient for the minds of these men, and they proceeded to do beyond what had been commanded, thinking themselves in need of more, and considering God unable or unwilling to satisfy their requests. Though Isaiah had yet to speak, how clear was Isaiah's message in Yahweh's provision in the wilderness, where he provided manna from heaven without price and without limit! See how they might have come to God in their desire to buy meat and wine without price and receive satisfaction like unto the satisfaction of fat and rich food! But they satisfied their cravings with wickedness, faith in Self, and blasphemed the Good Sacrifice that would cleanse them. (Matthew 4:4; Isaiah 55:1-5) If only they had inclined their ear and heard while time yet remained, then they would have been satisfied, just as their fathers had been satisfied with manna in the wilderness. The Word also says that these men used their own means to take what they desired. Again and again, the systems of warfare, such as chariots, receive the faith of men such as these (Psalm 20:7; Isaiah 31:1). Again and again, our churches rely on ministries, statistical layouts, programs and multiplication methods, when God has made His Way plain before our eyes. To these priests, one demand was made, evidenced in God's words to Moses and Aaron, His first Levite priest: "Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say," and in another place, "Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet,' and again, "that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses." Aaron and Moses only did that which they were told of their God to do, spoke what God told them to speak – no more, no less. The content of the message always proceeded from God and firmly founded itself upon God's direct words: Thus saith the Lord! They were commanded, and they obeyed, even though it was told that speaking the true message before Pharaoh would harden his heart, causing him to not let the people go from Egypt. God's plan was better than any of their possible short-sighted ideas, and they obeyed, regardless of human logic falling before it in confusion. They did not give into the desire to speak with rhetoric to sway Pharaoh, but simply regurgitated God's spoken truth, and did the works he commanded of them. This, to speak God's Word's after Him, would seem to be holy, and the inverse would seem to be unholy. Where then is the place for exposition and teaching?Doubtless, Hophni and Phinehas scarcely knew of God's Law and Words, and this seems to be why they caused God's people to transgress. We know not why, but even if they had heard it, the message did not plant itself in their hearts towards faith and repentance. Perhaps Eli's teaching of his family was lax? If so, the application to present affairs maintains itself: One can do wrong just as easily by not making one's people aware of the Word as by preaching it falsely. Both are equally reprehensible. A preacher may stand before the people of God and say things that are true, but if it not found itself upon what is written, that man sins. Why? Because, in Biblical principle, we must tremble to say ought of God that God has not said of Himself, seeking to avoid the sin of pride (this, of course, takes as a given that your sermons posit God as your ever-captivating main focus, perhaps an inappropriate presupposition in this present evil age.) One says "Thus saith the Lord" and preaches his own message, while another sees no reason whatsoever to say "Thus saith the Lord," and still preaches his own message. This is grievous error. The people may just as easily transgress if they know not of the Words of the Lord as if one stood before them preaching a blatantly false Gospel. A shepherd of sheep must shepherd towards a higher authority than himself. If any man dares speak before God and His people, let Him merely speak God's Words after Him. If he attempts to go beyond this, let him found his speech on stalwart biblical principle. For My people are killed for lack of knowledge (this death not being a mere physical death, but an eternity of torment)! (Hosea 4:6) Yes, not all who are of Israel are Israel (Romans 9), but all went out from Egypt together. Oh that all could have been saved!An old covenant foretaste of that Glorious Lamb exists here in these few verses in 1 Samuel. We should tremble at such. We should feel joy at it, because again and again it proves the veracity of the Coming One, the Sacrificed One, the Ruling One, above and beyond any vain hope of some unlooked-for future Messiah. In these verses, God had provided a Sacrifice, a Sacrifice towards Which certain actions and attitudes were holy and right, while others were damnable. One can easily hear the words of the writer of Hebrews as we approach this Sacrifice with boldness and holy fear: "we ought to pay more attention to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip." (Hebrew 2:1-3) If the Words which Hophni and Phinehas had been taught were trod under foot, resulting in their certain condemnation, how much greater the condemnation of us, if we fain trod the Sacrifice of our Paschal Christ under foot. This trodding under foot begins with subtlety, with a paying of less and less heed to the deepest, most thirst-quenching river of God's grace in Christ, eventually leading, at which time we know not, to a possible falling away to apostasy, a deliberate renouncing of Christ before the world. God holds the unrepentant as above the very fires of hell. Think you, O Christian, that you can escape without repenting and fleeing to Christ again and again till judgement day, without, "holding fast your original confidence until the end?" (Hebrews 6:11) Yes, He Who began a good work will finish it (Philippians 1:6). Those who are God's will persevere, but there is a place for horrific judgement that should cause us to flee to Christ! Let none of us think ourselves beyond such an irrevocable fate, a fate that begins with the deceitful hardening of sin." (Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 3:13). For did not they all leave Egypt? But were not some killed in the wilderness from unbelief? Oh, how real the danger in which we walk in this wilderness everyday. Oh, how real the war! How many of those who were in my congregation of youth in childhood now deny the very Christ they once claimed, thus subjecting themselves to the fate of the accursed Esau, beyond of hope saving! Even these stood under the lowly teaching of one who loved Christ and preached him every Sunday. So then, oh, how reprehensible the preacher who allows His people to be killed for lack of knowledge, who finds the waters of the Gospel too shallow to be plumbed every Sunday, who finds his personal message to be of more interest. Preach the Word! For we preach not ourselves, but Christ crucified. We must determine to know nothing before unbelievers but Christ crucified, unless we think ourselves wiser than Paul. (2 Corinthians 4:5; Colossians 1:9-29 – I know this one is long, but it is so good.)In light of such Great Fire and condemnation, we must flee to Christ. Here, even in a passage written years before Christ's coming, His Dawning begins to break like the resplendent light of a summer morn. See, in verses 18-36, it tells of the Majesty of this Christ. The words of the Spirit tell of the present physical events, but forecast future events.Samuel ministered before the Lord in a linen ephod, showing (his) His purity as a vessel of God (v. 18).On (his) His account many sons and daughters are brought forth (v. 21).HE would be a faithful Priest, to walk before the anointed forever (v. 35). No mere man could do such a thing. HE would give the people bread (v. 36).As Samuel ministered in purity, so have we a Great High Priest, who kept the Law perfectly, who ministers and intercedes before the adamantine throne of Heaven for us in our weakness, before whom we may come boldly (The entire book of Hebrews). He thought not equality with God a thing to be grasped, but lowered himself, and became a servant of men . Lo, the majesty and glory of this Lion and Lamb. Do we see it? If He humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant, refusing to speak from His own will, how much more should we preachers do so? (Philippians 2:4-11) Even Christ refused to testify of himself, but spoke and taught the Words of the Father Which sent him. (John 3:34; John 8:28; John 14:10). If this is so, why do we hear so much vision casting from our evangelical churches? Brothers, there was a vision cast before the foundations of the world were laid and it is the greatest vision to ever proceed to the son of men! Let us merely speak of this vision! How could we cease from doing so? How could we run out of things to say of this Glory?On account of Samuel, the womb of Hannah was blessed and opened. So also, the arms of mother church now hold many sons and daughters for glory. (2 Corinthians 6:17-18; Acts 2:17). How great is the inheritance of these sons of God, who should be damned. How great is the love wherewith He loves His people, a love that lead Him to serve, speak, sacrifice, and send us to do the same, and greater works than His,(John 14:12), nevertheless, works in imitation of the Greatest Work ever done, that which was laid up in Heaven before the Heavens and Earth were brought forth into being. Does our blood boil at such a calling, or do we languish in the chains of the world, overcome with thorns, the seed of yesteryear planted too shallowly with no root in itself? If so, hear the Words, for in them is life! (John 8:31; John 17:17-19;Matthew 13:18-23)No mere man could minister before the Lord and His anointed forever, but there is a Great Man who does such, Whose Holy System, binding but true, should be our Hope. His precious Body was broken for us, and bore our iniquities in Himself that we may live abundantly. Now we live through the words that tell us of Him, those precious seeds of life, for "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God."This is the Glory of the Church. Without This, we can only wail, "Ichabod!" Without preaching this every chance afforded, we can only wail, "Ichabod!" Without the Spirit of God, drawing us to hear the voice of God in His holy words, we can only wail, "Ichabod!"Let us imitate Samuel inasmuch as he foreran Christ, and flee from the ways of those who work in ways that the Lord has not commanded, who offered strange fire, from the best of intentions, but were nevertheless conflagrated in flame, dying before the Lord.