Reflection: The Church's Greatest Challenge Ever
In every generation, the church of God faces unrelenting fiery attacks from the evil one. The devil has a single and unchanging purpose - to destroy the church of God. In the time of the apostles, both the church as a whole and individual believer alike encountered wave after wave of attacks; ranging from ferocious verbal threats to murder of those who preached the truth. However, overt physical assault may backfire. Victims often banded together and fought back by bringing the gospel to wherever they went.
More frightening and far more destructive is the insidious assault on the mind and values; and in the Christian context, the concept and understanding of God and Church. The external challenges confronting the apostolic church included moral-corroding societal influence, cultural assimilation and Greco-Roman philosophical innuendo against Christianity. The negative impact of these was magnified when believers whose thinking had been corrupted by such persuasive human ideologies and learning began blending these with the pure faith.
Such blending was far more difficult to guard against for two main reasons. First, the falsehood was so skilfully blended that it was virtually undetectable. Second, the perpetrators were from within the community, and may even be the leaders themselves; they were people who commanded a high level of trust in the circle of faith. In short, the most devastating challenge the apostolic church ever faced arose not from a hostile external factors but an insidious internal one.
An Unprecedented Crisis
The greatest danger of all in the end time is deception. Ever since her establishment, the end-time true church has found herself facing time and time again the challenge of heretic incursions. In fact, it would seem that in every 10 to 20 years, the Church experiences a major heretic attack. However, through the years, these attacks are growing in scale and intensity. We should expect this to continue and eventually culminate in the great tribulation predicted by Christ (Mat 24).
The current crisis besetting the Church tops the scale of heretic attacks in the history of the True Jesus Church. The geographical spread and number of people involved in this matter is unprecedented. It has affected the church worldwide. And with the use of internet tools such as email and blogs, the number of people are involved is not insignificant. Apart from the source of the problem, it is claimed that there are many who now champion the ‘new belief’; worse, those who are deceived are virtually unidentifiable.
Most adopters of this ‘new belief’ are emotionally attached to the postulator. In a way, they think that they have been given new revelations or new understanding of the Truth. To them, only the insiders (within their circle) have been enlightened to understand it. Hence, they turn their back on the traditional beliefs of the church, and are not willing to listen to anyone who speaks against their beliefs. In fact, they are determined to spread their ‘new gospel’; with some even appearing to be ready to be ‘martyred’ (in terms of excommunication) for their ‘new faith’.
The year 1999 was the first time that the hypothesis on the self-existence of Satan (SS) was presented in a symposium conducted in Taiwan GA. With a spirit of unity and collective learning, all of us there looked forward to developing clearer expositions of the truth in the Bible. When the SS hypothesis was presented, the symposium attendees regarded it as mere research. However, with the passage of time, more and more ministers and believers have come to realise the fallacy of the hypothesis and its implications which directly challenge the beliefs of the church.
Presently, the International Assembly (IA) has been blamed for initiating the search into this subject. Although this is true, the postulator of SS said that he had thought about the theory for more than 18 years before it was first publicly aired. Though many co-workers (including IA) have given him friendly advice to drop the hypothesis, he has to date refused to heed any of these. This is more than just stubbornness. He is convinced that the hypothesis he espouses is from heaven. Anyone who goes against this is likened by him to be “kicking against the goad.”
The postulator has adopted all possible means to advance his ideas. One reason he has been so bold in his claims is because he thought that some of the church’s most experienced and longest-serving elders appear to agree with and support his beliefs. To him, if the seniors (‘heavyweights’) of the church have bought into his ideas, why should the church, especially the younger workers, not follow suit? His 1st strategy was to use the credibility of his supporters to silence his opponents.
He reinforced the above with a 2nd strategy - focusing attention on the claimed benefits. It has been pointed out that more and more brethren have been encouraged by the new beliefs, which provide instant relief from the puzzlement, as he puts it, stemming from the Church’s traditional stance.
Initially, the postulator of SS preached wherever he went. Although some churches tried to stop him from doing so, not only did he refuse to back down, he went on discussing his new-found beliefs even more. His 3rd strategy was to promote SS through the cyberspace: setting up websites to further advance SS although he denies this. Since then, he has gone on the offensive, determined to eliminate all opposition. In one sermon, he has gone so far as to say “He who is against me, I shall be his enemy.” As a result of his divisive hypothesis, factions have formed in church. And he stirs up further dissension between these groups, indirectly fomenting hatred in the Church.
When the reality was proved far discordant to his claim that many have accepted his views, he began to employ his 4th tactic of defocusing or blurring up the focus. The focus of the church was on defending herself against his heretic views and getting him to discard these completely. To distract others from his intransigent refusal to give up his hypothesis, he started finding fault with the church, especially those who had spoken out against his beliefs. The intention here is very clear - to blow an innocuous act or a small fault out of proportion with the ultimate aim of dissuading the church or brethren from trusting in the words of these defenders of the truth. The loss of credibility will, he thinks, paralyse the person and reduce the latter’s ability to stop him from going round and influencing others.
Not only that, he is trying all possible ways to paralyse the church. The first is to criticise the organisation of the church, citing some negative examples as his substantiation. He first tried to find fault with some of the terms or concepts the organisation has adopted. One example is the theocratic rule. When interest is aroused, he then amplifies the imperfections of the system. This makes the brethren feel that the church organisation has been the main cause of the prevalence of corruption into the church and its existence is unbiblical.
In his attempts to further paralyse the church, he has even launched into attacks on personal integrity. He has accused IA workers of flying round the world, wasting the hard-earned money of the brethren. The analogy of the two copper coins of the widow was invoked to “enhance” his accusations. He manipulates the emotions of the brethren – how could such offering be used so wastefully? Is he purely concerned about good financial management or is his ultimate aim to stop people from offering to an organisation which “wastes” their money? Perhaps he thinks that by cutting off the supply of church finances, he will achieve his ends.
Most subtly, he has been grooming a group of people (the 7000) to prepare for the final showdown with the church. This is nothing less than brainwashing. The members of this group do not (or no longer) believe in the teachings of the church. They believe that the church has become so degenerated that they are now the only true believers of the end time. They are newly-commissioned to save the church, especially the brethren from the circle of corruption. They have been pumped up to channel all their energy to go against the church. They have been duped and do not even restrain themselves from speaking ill of the church in the presence of non-believers and indeed publicly. They have fully separated themselves from the church both in heart and mind.
The most shocking thing is that he has openly asked his listeners to pray for God’s direct revelation. Literally, they believe that God would answer them by speaking directly to them. In one of the AMC training sessions in London, the postulator of SS unreservedly groomed the attendees into believing it. He even publicly pointed out that a deacon has had such an experience. Undoubtedly, this is not just the work of man. He has tapped into the realm of the spirit for assistance.
The main intention for the employment of all these cunning strategies is to ensure that his beliefs can somehow sneak their way into the church even if it is through the back door. He is very determined to overhaul the existing beliefs of the church. He appears to believe that he has been given a mission to correct the beliefs of the church at whatever cost. He has made up his mind to wholeheartedly champion this cause and is ever ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of it.
Implications for the Truth
There are aspects of the Truth that the church has not yet thoroughly worked through. One area is the origin of Satan. Although the church believes that Satan is a fallen angel, the church has never been challenged or put to the test in this regard. With the emergence of SS, it has been made obvious that there are certain questions for which the church does not have answers readily available for the believers.
So, to the postulator of SS, the best way to remove the mainstream belief of the church is to start by attacking areas of truth that very few workers have ever given any thought to. The adopters of SS have been raising paradoxical questions and statements which contradict our traditional beliefs, unsettling the souls of the listeners. Examples include:
1. How can a perfectly holy God create an angel that would sin?
2. If the fallen angels are chained according to Peter and Jude, how can they still move about freely?
3. The Bible does not indicate that Satan is a fallen angel.
To pave the way for the new belief to be accepted, the adopters have resorted to twisting the word of God. Examples include:
1. ‘Satan sinned from the beginning’ (cf. 1 John 3:8): To suit his framework, the postulator of SS group claims that “sinning” in this verse is not “breaking the law”; instead it is a mode of existence. So, “Satan appears in the mode of sin”.
2. The concept of self-existence: The postulator of SS explains that this hypothesis originated from the Roman Catholics. He claims that it is more a deduction or conjecture rather than a clear-cut biblical truth. However, such a “conjecture” actually contradicts the fundamental teaching that only God is self-existent.
Having circulated SS in the public domain of the church, the postulator believes that although it is now bitterly controversial, after two or three generations the church would be able to accept it. Hence, he has now urged believers to adopt the approach of ‘keep what you have heard in your heart then God will give you understanding’. However, this can be dangerous because the more one thinks about a controversial issue with no answer forthcoming the more likely one may be deceived. Since the SS teaching is a poison, it must be quickly dealt with and expelled; otherwise it will surely come back and bite us one day.
To further complicate the already confused situation, the adopters believe that no one needs to be taught by another; the Holy Spirit will teach man directly. They cite Scripture which seems to be in support of such a claim. But closer examination will show that these are taken out of context. More critically, such a teaching may induce two types of mind-set. Firstly, it can sever brethren from listening to the teachings of the church. Secondly, it promotes a heart of pride to reject teachings that are not in line with the teachings of the postulator of SS.
When answers are provided to the questions raised by the adopters of SS, their response is to shift their stance; simply deny that they have ever made a particular point; or worse, put words into the mouths of those who reject their theories. And the most recent ploy used to stop defenders from providing answers is to declare that since many of them are not interested in knowing the origins of Satan, continuing to argue would be a waste of time. So, on the one hand, they appear to have disengaged from this issue. But secretly, they continue to send out documents or circulate words of defamation to build up their support.
Throughout this period, this group has proclaimed that their beliefs are in line with the mainstream belief of the church. For instance, they claim that we all worship the same God. However, when we reflect further we realise that this cannot be the case. Believing in the self-existence of God is quite different from believing that God is the only self-existent being in the entire universe. The postulator and his adopters always use the former to hide the fact that they also believe in the self-existence of Satan.
Like most cases of heresy, the ultimate aim of the postulator of the (SS) is to attack the core of the church’s beliefs. The most notable among these attacks is the attempt to change the teachings regarding the Holy Spirit. This, as we all know, is the lifeline of the church. Once the adopters have gained a foothold in the church, they will cast away the truth of the Holy Spirit. They will take such a step when they think they have gained enough critical mass in terms of support for their views. This is the work of the evil one to shake the foundation of the church.
It should be noted that speakers may occasionally make inaccurate biblical interpretations in sermons or bible study sessions. When an answer is required ‘there and then’, speakers may err in explaining, for example, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. However, this is very different from a wilful digression from the foundation of the truth. To say point blank that the Holy Spirit is in a person at the point of baptism, with justification in written form is tantamount to changing the truth of the Church. It bears repeating that what we believe is that the evidence of the “Spirit in us” is the speaking of tongues.
Implications for Action by the Church
In the face of this great crisis of doctrine and faith, how should the church respond? There are two major areas – doctrinal and organisational.
1. First and foremost, the church must recognise that the teaching of SS is a direct and dangerous contradiction of the attributes of God. SS portrays God to be a very different God compared to the Church’s traditional belief. The SS basically paints God to be a ruthless perpetrator of His own interests at the expense of countless souls. This is against the spirit of the entire Bible. In other words, the Church must reject this hypothesis and must not have the slightest compromise.
2. The church is duty-bound towards all brethren to carefully prepare and provide answers to every question raised concerning the infinity of God and the Holy Spirit. It is an urgent necessity for the church to gather a group of ministers to specially deal with the questions raised. Being negative and passive will only cause more harm than good. The longer we do not take action to purge the church from these twisted beliefs, the more confused the church will become. Many souls will be lost in the process, and the church will become more divided.
3. It is the duty of the church to safeguard the faith of the believers. We cannot afford to have two directly contradictory beliefs co-exist in the church. Every preacher and ordained minister should talk about the issues at hand. On the one hand, this will help to stop the rot. On the other, it reveals who has been faithful (or unfaithful) to the pattern of the sound word of God. In addition, we may help to snatch some confused believer, like a brand, from the fire.
4. IA should take courage in the Lord and, together with every GA and local church, make clear the stance of the church’s beliefs and take whatever actions are necessary to protect the church. Otherwise, the younger generation and the new converts will become the victims of our indecision. We should not be afraid of any reprisals or attacks. Whether we like it or not, the deception will continue. And attacks shall increase in degree and frequency. Insofar as we have done what is required of us, we shall then entrust all unto the hand of the Lord in prayer.
Besides taking firm action on the doctrines and its teaching, the church should also implement organisational improvements:
1. The church must ensure that her workers, especially the full-time workers and elders, do not think that they are superior to other workers. Every worker must have an opportunity to listen to others. In other words, each worker is to be scheduled to attend preachers’ seminars which allow him to learn more from others. No one is free from the danger of becoming proud.
2. The church must look into the existing system of training. The approach and emphasis of the training determine the quality of the trainees. The training must root them in the basic beliefs of the church. They must be equipped to defend the truth of the church at all costs. The basic beliefs must be the subject that they must know best. Once they are rooted firmly in the pattern of the sound word, coupled with incessant spiritual cultivation, more understanding of the word of God shall be given to them, as long as they humbly search into the Bible.
3. The church should look for ways to promote bonding in the Lord amongst workers. Provide opportunities for each worker to open up to one another, to keep check over one another’s spiritual well-being. The truth of being knit together must not just be an ideal preached to the members in general; indeed, it is all the more essential for the workers of God. The servants of the Lord must always gather together to foster a better relationship with one another, including mutual correction.
4. The church must follow the direction of the apostolic church. The main focus of all the full time workers should be on praying and evangelising. Any deviation from this track could result in being lethargic in the spirit. Feebleness seeps in, causing them to lose all interest and zeal to win more souls for the Lord. Obviously then, when the Lord’s commission is not carried out, the workers lose the spiritual vitality from the Spirit, and will then be unable to stir up the true spirit to serve.
5. There must be a proper system put in place to deal with rebellious and intransigent workers. It must be made clear that the basic beliefs of the church are not given to change. If violation continues even after three warnings, a drastic measure must be taken to eliminate the rot.
These recent events constitute, literally, a crisis of unprecedented scale and challenge. With the Lord’s guidance, we must take active steps to safeguard the Truth and the sheep of the Lord. Without firm action, the whole church would be leavened up before we realise it. How are we going to face the Lord and to give an account of what is happening to His church right now?