This is a question I am frequently asked. Theologically put, it would sound like this: “What segment of the Christian experience does your church subscribe to?” Historically, we are linked with the non-denominational Christian Churches /Churches of Christ. But another way of answering that question is by looking at four mottos which have followed us around for the past 150 years. The first one is this: “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” This immediately identifies us as a conservative, Bible-believing, evangelical church. We get our authority for what we believe and do from the Word of God; not from some church headquarters or from the American culture or even from church history. It also indicates that we allow our members to believe and practice whatever is not specifically commanded or forbidden by Scripture. This is probably the hardest part, because of the feeling so many of us tend to have that “the way I have always done things is the way things ought to be done.”
Another motto is “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.” This is another way of expressing the first motto except that it underscores the most important quality when dealing with those who don’t come out with the same conclusions we do: love. If the family of God can’t love one another in spite of differing opinions then it hasn’t understood that which forever separates the church from mere human organizations.
Here is another: “We have no creed but Christ; no book the but the Bible; no name but the Divine.” This helps people understand why we simply call ourselves “Christian,” why we designate our churches the same way, and why we have never adopted creedal statements outside of the Bible’s own words about itself.
One more: “We are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only.” While belief statements are important, we don’t really spend all our time trying to figure out which churches are right or wrong or demanding that our members subscribe to a lot of traditional baggage. We have only one “product” to market: Jesus Christ and the salvation and growth that come through Him. That’s what we really want to be known for.
One of my spiritual mentors (although he died about 50 years before I was born) was George Muller. Mr. Muller began his life’s career in England as a pastor, but he is best known for beginning and carrying on a ministry to orphans that ultimately supported about 2,500 children in five huge buildings (which he built) with a huge staff of helpers and all the furnishings, daily clothing and food that was needed. All of this with no capital, no underwriters, and no solicitations. Faith in God’s provision was the only tool he relied upon. He confessed later in life that he really had no intention of beginning an orphanage except that he felt compelled by the love of God to do so. His original motivation was to show his fellow Christians that “there is reality in the things of God.” He was distressed by the fact that so many of his fellow Christians lived their lives as if God was unavailable to work in them. So his entire career was, so to speak, a show-and-tell demonstration.
The Bible is so full of stories of ordinary people who possessed extraordinary faith. Many of these people were so ordinary that there would be nothing else to distinguish them were we to meet them today. But something inside of them shouted “You can trust God!” And they did. And we have been profiting from their accomplishments for over 2,000 years. Faith is a dynamic, forward-looking relationship with God. It is not a psychological tool. It is not faith in faith. It’s object is the Lord of the Universe, a being so willing to respond to us that He promised, “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23). He also said, “According to your faith will it be done unto you.” (Matthew 9:29). That strongly implies that the means to accomplish great things in life is laid squarely upon our shoulders. We hold the key that unlocks the Treasure House of Heaven. But what amazes me about the Bible’s teaching concerning faith is that this key is not for the few, the fit and the fortunate. The promise is universal. It is a challenge God issues to every son and daughter in every generation.
No age has needed great men and women of faith more than the one we are presently living in. William Carey, who labored tirelessly for God in India 200 years ago, said it like this: “Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.” That is the secret of a life of great spiritual achievement—the confidence that God can do anything, the courage to ask Him, and the trust to expect an answer.
Shortly before he carried out an action that would cost him his life, a young Muslim extremist (Islamist) appeared on videotape proclaiming to the West that “our love for death is greater than your love for life.” Those chilling words are being echoed in many place during the fierce conflict raging between Islam and the rest of the world. This explains why so many of them are willing to undertake missions where there is little or no hope for survival. Their religion teaches them that heaven welcomes martyrs who have perished for “the cause.” It disturbs me greatly that their cause sends them on missions that include blowing up buildings and innocent people and murdering as many of one’s enemies as possible.
But I have noticed that there are certain parallels between the motivation behind a mililtant Muslim believer and a Christian believer. Our faith also teaches us that heaven welcomes martyrs who have perished for the cause. Knowledge of that fact should likewise translate into a life that does not shun risk. But the overwhelming difference is the content of that “cause.” There is a big difference in one’s willingness to die with his enemies and his willingness to die for his enemies. Jesus didn’t teach martyrdom so much as he taught that we must die to ourselves. That is the real picture behind baptism. We have died with him that we might live with him, not just after this life is over but even now, while this life Is in progress. His cause, says Jesus, Is most greatly served by those who have “lost their lives only to find them again.” Real life has to do with all those things that lie just outside the realm of selfish ambition. We are not yet proving to the world that we believe that. Until we do, the Christian life will remain only a great ideal, a nice idea but not a very practical one. The Lord Jesus is calling His people to; “die” as the only way to live because there is a war on for the souls of men and women. It will not be won by word but by conduct. Can we win any kind of war if the other party is not afraid to die and we are?
“America! America! May God they gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.”
These words by Samuel Ward are part of the third verse of “America, The Beautiful.” They serve to remind us, as does the entire poem (song), that ours is an imperfect experiment in democracy. But it is an experiment which from the beginning was offered to God for His blessing. Our founding fathers and many leaders since their day realized that a nation can not long endure which has hedonism as its only religion and selfishness as its only motive. There are many forces in our land that are stressing freedom from religion and will not be satisfied until the name of God is removed from the lips of every citizen. Of course we must stand firmly against this determined attempt by a small minority. But let me suggest something even more important. When God sent the Prophet Amos to prophesy doom to His own people who had cut themselves loose from God’s leadership, he found them still keeping up the pretense of formal worship, so he thundered, “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:23-24). God has no delight in our hand wringing over the departure of some cherished traditions. What pleases our God, as we find ourselves 239 years removed from our founding as one of the greatest nations ever, is to find his own people aggressively practicing what they preach. It is God who decides the fate of nations, not disenchanted pressure groups. Perhaps He will allow ours to continue. Perhaps not. But let’s offer Him through our committed and unashamed lifestyles a reason for America to continue.
“America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!”
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship