By Dr. Richard B. W. Ing
March 8, 2004
While Moses was conversing with God on the mountain, the people had Aaron make a golden calf and when Moses returned with the tablets containing the ten commandments, he found the people dancing naked around the golden calf. Ex. 32:6,19,25.
. . . Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, . . . And when Moses saw that the people were naked . . . . Ex. 32:7, 8, 25.
The people worshipped the golden calf because it had no life. It was not a true god because it could not talk or give commands. Now the people could go on living the way they wanted. They could not hear their god so they didn’t have to obey or worry about judgment. They could create their own religion. The golden calf was just a prop that didn’t require them to surrender their lives and change their hearts and ways. They were free to make their own rules.
Today, Christianity has made Jesus into a golden calf and created a religion that allows us to live the way we choose and never have to obey and change our hearts. We can pretend to worship the true God and go on doing our own thing.
CUTTING GOD OFF
By claiming that the Holy Spirit no longer ministers on earth, and that once the early church was established the Holy Spirit returned to heaven, the church can now deny the existence of miracles - casting out devils, healing the sick, raising the dead - and go on as if God is a dead calf. Many denominations have cut out the Holy Spirit so that they can’t hear and obey. Now they can deny tongues and the gifts of the Spirit, explain their own lack of power and justify their intellectualism. Ac. 1:8. They create great Bible colleges to teach rituals and the written Word of God because that is all they have. They preach wonderful intellectual messages, quote the Bible freely and know many scriptures, but have no spiritual power. Since they cannot hear from God, they obey the dictates of their own minds. They are mere philosophers. The Holy Spirit is now just history, no longer relevant to the church. Now, we can dance around our own golden calf called “religion.”
Some churches agree that the Holy Spirit continues to minister on earth, but deny miracles, deliverance, the existence of a demonic kingdom, the baptism of the Holy Ghost and speaking in tongues. Many “born-again” churches are like that. Some are born again only in name. Recently, I visited three “born-again churches” in the Philippines. When I invited people who wanted the baptism of the Holy Spirit and to speak in tongues to come forward, about 90% to 95% of each congregation came up front. It was a new thing for them! Few ever experienced deliverance or divine healing. Yet, they considered themselves to be Pentecostal and true born-again Christians.
When I was in Vanuatu a few years back, I taught at a born-again church and Bible college. People were formal and stiff. Their praise was wooden and they sang quiet, respectable hymns, not raising their hands or clapping. The Holy Spirit‘s presence was missing. The pastor later told me that they had joined a Church Unity group made up of all Christian churches in town. Because they wanted acceptance by the Christian community, they began to wear suits, dress their choirs in red and white gowns, tone down their praise and worship to respectable noise levels and emphasize Bible reading. They began to pay heed to the criticisms that they didn’t know the Bible enough, that they were wild and out of order, laughed too much, did not respect God by wearing street clothing and acted in an irreverent manner. They appointed ushers, had the pastor and choir march in procession to start service, and shake hands at the entrance when service ended. They created programs and social/family activities as the other churches did.
Their sermons became intellectual, filled with scripture readings and hollow words with no joy. The Holy Spirit left. “Ichabod,” I thought. 1 Sa. 4:21. When class resumed, I led the praise and worship by dancing, clapping and shouting “Alleluia,” raising my hands, jumping and singing in tongues. We bound up the spirits of legalism, formalism, intellectualism and religiosity. The students began dancing, clapping, jumping up and down, raising their hands to heaven and shouting “Alleluia!” Suddenly, the Holy Spirit returned and people were “slain in the Spirit.” Smiles and laughter returned, people took off their sandals and ran around the room. The “new-found” liberty was astounding!
Beware of false appearances. Not everything you see in other churches is good. Huge crowds could be dancing around a golden calf.
The Bible says that knowledge puffs up the mind. People who can quote many Bible scriptures are often proud and self-serving. Some pursue college degrees and titles. One local pastor claims that if a person does not have a doctorate, he has no business preaching. Of course, he himself had a doctoral degree in theology. Those who have the time and the mind to memorize scriptures promote Bible reading as the top priority in the church, thus high-lighting their own abilities and putting others down. Often they strive for position and consider themselves mature in Christ because they know more Bible scriptures than others, but they are yet immature. “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.“ 1 Co. 8:1, 2. They often think that they know the Word better than the leaders and feel that they should be elevated to a high position in the church. One can know the scriptures inside and out and still fail to understand the deeper meanings of the Word according to the Spirit. There are many religion professors that can quote Scriptures better than you and me. That does not transform them into qualified pastors and ministers of the Word. The Word may be able to save your soul but only repentance and the Holy Spirit can change your heart. Many religion professors are not even Christians.
A woman I knew from a Congregational church never attended church anymore because she and a group of “mature” Christians know the Bible better than the pastor. They met every two weeks for lunch and participated in charitable events. Yet, they had no spiritual power, never evangelized and were rebellious and proud. The apostle Paul said that he came not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the power of the Spirit. “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” 1 Co. 2:4, 5. That is why we try to demonstrate the power of God in our services - healing, deliverance, tongues, etc. Those who are puffed up in their minds often have little power. In 1 Co. 4:19, Paul said, “But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.” Some people think they have the power, but they do not. It is easy to cast out devils and heal the sick when someone else is leading the service and ministering the Holy Ghost. The anointing in the place allows almost every saint present to cast out devils and heal the sick. Leading the service and then ministering the gifts of the Spirit on your own is another matter.
Some saints speak volumes on the Word but rarely live it. They are merely teaching others to dance around the golden calf. Those who seek love will emphasize hugs and kisses; those who want a good family life will emphasize family programs. Those who excel in music will often emphasize music, praise and worship as the main thing in the church and so on. All these things are good, but taken individually do not come close to true worship. The body of Christ is made up of many parts, each as
important as the other. 1 Co. 12:12.
Even born-again Christians fall into the trap of dancing around the golden calf. If a person has the gift of prophecy, he puts prophecies on a pedestal and promotes prophets as being the top position in the church. If a person is an evangelist, he promotes evangelism and little else. People have a habit of blowing their own horns.
LOVE IS STILL THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT
The greatest thing to pursue in Christianity is love for God and for your fellow man. Mt. 22:37-39; 1 Co. 13. If there is no godly love in your heart, all your gifts and sacrifices are nothing. If you know the Bible inside and out and you do not have love, you are nothing. You can sing like a canary and bring the presence of God down, but with no real love in your heart, you are still nothing. You can prophesy and do miracles - cast out devils and heal the sick, but if you have no love, you are like tinkling cymbals and sounding brass. Nothing is higher than love. God is love. 1 Jn. 4:8, 16.
We are commanded to love one another. Jn. 13:34. But real love is not hugging and kissing and doing things for others even. That is the frosting and not the cake. Jesus said, “If a man love me, he will obey my commandments.” Jn. 14:15, 23. The test and evidence of love is obedience. You can talk love, sing love, hug and kiss, and put on a face of love, but without obedience and other evidences of maturity, it is false pretences. You can go into the jungles of Africa and be a missionary, but if you did it for reasons other than true love, it is worthless. You can give your life, but if it is not done solely because of love, it is worthless. 1 Co. 13:3. Without true love for God and man, we are dancing naked around a golden calf in a religion based on dead works and false appearances.
True love for God and man is evidenced by obedience. Obedience is a matter of the heart. Don’t get me wrong. Hugs, kisses, words of love and acts of kindness are part of love, but are the frosting and not the cake. You can hug and kiss and have rebellion in your heart at the same time. You can preach love, but if your sons and daughters cannot stand you, it is phony. If the ones who are closest to you cannot sense your love at home, all your words of love outside the home are false. I have known Christians who act holy and righteous in church but have been separated from spouse and children for years.
Obedience requires a servant’s heart of loyalty, diligence, submission, humility and love. Where there is gossip and undue criticism, grumbling, claims of superiority and speaking against leadership, there is no true love. There is rebellion and sedition. I have experienced people hugging, kissing and saying, “I love you with the love of the Lord,” and at the same time disobeying, criticizing and gossiping about me. I’ve had people tell me that they love me one Sunday and the next week call me up and swear on the phone at me. If you do not agree with the vision and doctrines of a church, get out of it before you are in rebellion. If a person wants to eat spaghetti, he should go to an Italian restaurant. If he goes to a Chinese restaurant, he has no business going into the kitchen to teach the cook how to make spaghetti.
THE REAL GOAL
We are not striving for numbers. We are striving for change in our hearts. We are striving for a heart of love and obedience like Jesus’ heart. Everything else is immaterial and sometimes distracting. We are striving to love and obey the Lord. You can talk love and act like you love, but without obedience to God, it is dancing around a golden calf. God is still looking for one man or one woman to stand in the gap and obey Him.
Disobedience towards God’s delegated authorities is disobedience towards God. Lack of respect and humility towards God’s leaders is lack of respect and humility towards God. All the programs, church activities and functions are irrelevant without love. They can become façades that hide the truth, - the shadow, but not the substance. I am not speaking against programs and activities. I am trying to put the horse before the cart and not the cart before the horse. It is the heart that pulls the church to higher levels, not the cartful of programs. Hollow works will never get us anywhere with God. Jesus said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Mt. 15:8.
If the saints had a revived heart of love and obedience, we wouldn’t need programs, activities and entertainment to bring people into the church. We would have Holy Ghost revival.
PASSING THE BUCK
I’ve been in ministry leadership for over twenty years, first as an elder and then as a pastor (ordained in 1989). Over the years, we’ve done many things to encourage members to bring new converts to church. We tried going house-to-house, street ministry, one-on-one evangelism, sending letters and post cards, family camps and retreats, picnics, social events, baseball, bowling and other sports, large choirs, organ music, great musicians, a youth group, neighborhood crusades - you name it! All these activities never caused anyone to bring new-comers into the church. We brought in nationally-known evangelists who wrote books on person-to-person and street evangelizing; we had a twelve-week training session on evangelism and studied out of a thick manual and workbook. We went to the International Marketplace in Waikiki to sing and pass out tracts. As soon as the training was over, no one brought in a single soul. We went house-to-house but when the church stopped after a few weeks, no one evangelized on his own.
We’ve had intercessory prayer sessions and spiritual warfare training. In all of these events, only the same three to five faithful saints attended most sessions. Same with deliverance sessions or every other activity created to bring converts into the church. We went house-to-house to evangelize, but after a while, only the same three to five persons continued. We went to Kalakaua and Seaside to preach, but after a while, the same three to five persons were all that were left. No one brought any souls into the kingdom. The cart was before the horse. All the house-to-house and street preaching was to teach boldness and overcome rejection so we could go out and preach the gospel to friends and family. The net result after over five years of training - zero saved.
In some churches (I asked), members are required to bring in at least one new person per year and to attend each and every session of the church unless they have a valid excuse. Even this will not change a person’s heart. Nothing works without a heart of love that is burdened and determined to bring people into the kingdom of our God. Fear and duty are not the right reasons.
BEWARE THE CALF MENTALITY
Suggestions and recommendations fall like snow. Everyone has a point of view on how to make the church bigger and better, but no one ever says that he or she is willing to change his/her heart and take responsibility for preaching the gospel and bringing new converts to the church. Programs and activities are just more excuses for dancing around a golden calf. It places responsibility on the pastor and church to perform and allows people to hide and ignore their own responsibilities. Over the years, many people have said, “Pastor, we need to concentrate on families, on youth, on music, on singles, on creating something for the members to do, on family night, bowling, retreats, on this and on that.” Some say, “Pastor, we should have cell group meetings, picnics, retreats, invite speakers, have prophets come to our church, etc.” But these only serve as excuses to justify our hard hearts so we can go on ignoring lost souls. I’ve heard many members say, “If you would tone down your sermons and preach happier and shorter messages and stop scolding and pressuring us to change, then I would bring others into this church. Your messages are too hard.” Some have said to me, “Pastor, God told me that you should joke more and be less serious.” Others say, “Pastor, God told me that we should not joke in church but be serious.” Everyone has an opinion and some members pass off their personal opinions as “thus sayeth the Lord.” But until this very day, I have never heard anyone say, “Pastor, I want to change my heart. I want to love more and to have a zeal for the unsaved in my heart. I recognize that it is my hard heart and personal lack of zeal that is the problem. I have not yet truly surrendered my life to Jesus. I‘m still hanging on to the world.” Neither jokes nor seriousness will change the heart. Only repentance and the Holy Spirit.
Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s just that many members fail to bring in a single new convert in twenty years, programs or not. These are often the ones with many
suggestions for change. People expect others to change but never change themselves. We have all run out of excuses. The enemy is us. We hide behind programs and activities that allow us to pass the responsibility to the leaders and church. “If the pastor would only do this or that,” rings hollow after a person fails to bring in a single convert in twenty years, or even one year. The truth is, we really don’t care if people go to hell. What we are and what we do or not do is what we intend deep in our hearts. I know. God knows too.
We need people to sincerely say, “Pastor, the buck stops here with me. The problem is my heart.” We need to stop covering up our real need and our dead hearts. Maybe the same three to five saints will use the programs to bring people into the church. The rest will continue to live the way they did before. But, even if the activities did encourage a few to bring friends to church, it would not change hearts. Some will bring people out of duty or fear, and not out of a heart of love. As soon as the novelty wears out, the people go back to dancing around the golden calf. Each of these programs never brought in more than one or two people, most of them from other churches.
Before harvest can come, revival must come first. Revival speaks of the heart of the saints. Praying for revival and great harvest is passing the buck, in a sense. Harvest is the natural consequence of a changed and revived heart brought about by repentance. According to Charles Finney, when the hearts of the saints are revived, harvest is a natural consequence. God is interested in a changed heart. Harvest is the natural result. God will do His part. We have to do ours.
My wife and I are very sensitive about excuses because we once brought in over sixty-eight persons into our first church by actual count. We quit counting a long time ago. We did not rely on funny and short sermons, entertainment, picnics, retreats, family programs or anything like that. They were irrelevant. We just wanted to save everyone we knew. We preached the gospel to many more than that - perhaps thousands if you count the Philippines. We didn’t need programs. We just had a love in our hearts.
We need to realize that we do not love enough, that our love is phony, that we are dancing around a golden calf and creating a false religion to excuse us from giving our all to the Lord. Mankind is so clever that his carnal mind even deceives itself while it sets up a religion to allow it to put on an appearance of holiness and love. It is a religion that allows us to go on enjoying the world and doing our own thing - anything but surrender our lives and hearts to Jesus. The bane of the church is false appearances. The Devil doesn’t need to deceive us; we have already deceived ourselves. You can fool everyone some of the time and some of them all the time, but you can’t fool God for one second.
All the programs in the world will not change your heart. Yes, good programs may make it easier to bring people to church because everyone wants to have a good time, but a large church can also be deceiving. We can bring many people in because of entertainment and programs, but it will not change hearts. It is like all those intercessory sessions. As soon as the going got tough, almost everyone walked away. A true intercessor doesn’t need sessions. He or she would be praying at home for hours and loving it. A true lover of mankind would not need The Passion of Christ to bring people into the church. They would use whatever they had available at any moment. In a few months when the initial excitement is over, Christians will forget about the movie. Most will quit evangelizing. You can cry and weep over Jesus’ suffering and dying on the cross and still keep your stiff neck.
Again, don’t misunderstand me. Programs and activities are much needed, but the heart must come first. We need to stop dancing around the cart that is the golden calf and get into the real substance - our hearts.
How many years we have been a Christian, how much we know the Bible, how many years we have been a leader, does not indicate how mature in Christ we are. It is what is in the heart that counts. You can be a Christian for a hundred years and know the Bible inside and out, do all the good works, cast out devils and heal the sick and never “get it.” We are not satisfied with mediocrity. We want to go all the way with God and be that army and remnant He is looking for. That’s our cause and mission.
We need to get on our knees, repent for our excuses and hard hearts, surrender our lives to God, ask God to put His love in us and not stop until our hearts are revived. Otherwise, we will keep dancing around the golden calf until it is too late. God wants His church back.