Deliver Us From: Popular Religion
Would it surprise you to hear me say that democracy can be a very dangerous thing? I realize that such a statement sounds strange given that we live in a democratic society. Yet, I maintain that if we survey the pages of Scripture we will see some of the shortcomings of democracy. We see in the pages of Scripture that even though a particular course of action gets the most votes this doesn't necessarily mean that it is the correct action.
Exodus, chapter 32, is a striking example of this. Moses is up on the mountain receiving instruction from God, but the thousands at the foot of the mountain have become impatient waiting for him to return. In verse 1 we are told that "the people assembled about Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make us a god who will go before us"". Bowing to the pressure of the voting majority, Aaron instructs the people to make a golden calf to worship. As a result, the anger of the Lord burned against the people and approximately 3,000 people paid for this sin with their life.
A second example of an erring majority can be found in Numbers, chapters 13 and 14. In this account, a search committee is sent to spy out the land of Canaan (Num. 13:2). When they returned for their congregational meeting, the report from the committee was that the people of Canaan were too powerful and so an invasion would be unwise.
There were, however, two men who disagreed with the assessment. Joshua and Caleb, who had spied out the land, were unpersuaded by their colleagues. And while the entire congregation stood against these two men, Joshua and Caleb implored the people not to disobey the Lord.
Joshua and Caleb were a minority of 2 and, if it were not for the intervention of the Lord, they would have been stoned for disagreeing with the majority (Num. 14:10). But the majority was wrong. Not only were they wrong, they had disbelieved the promise of God. As a result, among those leaders, only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to settle in the promised land.
Scripture, in many places, warns us of the dangers of making decisions based on the will of a majority. I learned this lesson this past October, the time of year when garbage collection becomes bi-weekly. I hadn't been paying attention to notices on this matter, and so when Tuesday night rolled around I was unsure of whether to put out my garbage. When I left my office that day, I could see that Hazel had prepared the blue box for recycling, but there was no garbage ready to go out. So I left confident that there would be no garbage collection because Hazel always knew what was going on.
But as I drove home that day, I began to have my doubts since 80% of the homes had put garbage at their curb. 'This many people cannot be wrong', I thought to myself. By the time I pulled in my driveway I was persuaded by the majority vote and I put my garbage at the curb.
As it turned out, 80% of us were wrong. And so I sheepishly returned my garbage to the garage.
I fear that it is our tendency to follow the crowd. I fear that many believe that truth can be discovered by taking a vote or by conducting a poll. The apostle Paul understood our tendency to want to follow the crowd, but he, like Joshua and Caleb, understood that the Word of God must ultimately guide us.
2Timothy 4 begins with Paul giving a "solemn charge" to Timothy. Your pew Bibles render the Greek to read "solemnly urge", but this does not effectively communicate the forcefulness of the original Greek. The instruction Paul gives Timothy here is, by no means, optional. Paul is issuing a forceful directive to Timothy, and also to us: "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word"(v.1, 2a).
The apostle Paul frames his command to "preach the Word" by reminding Timothy, and by reminding us, that Christ is coming again "to judge the living and the dead". The imminence of Christ's eternal kingdom should give us a sense of urgency for sharing the Gospel.
Notice that when Paul commands us to "preach the Word", he also tells us to "be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction ". That is, Paul tells us the "When", the "What", and the "How" about preaching God's Word.
When should we be preaching the Word of God? We don't need to examine the nuances of the Greek to realize what Paul is saying when he says preach the Word "in season and out of season". One is either "in season" or "out of season"--there is nothing in between. Paul is clearly exhorting us to be ready to share the Gospel at all times.
What is involved in preaching the Word of God? Paul says that we are to "reprove", or "convince", as your pew Bible reads. The word, in the original Greek has a clear reference to one's behaviour. That is to say that one of the designs of preaching the Word of God is to alter behaviour.
The next word, translated "rebuke" refers to how the Bible is meant to correct our beliefs. And finally, the word translated "encourage" or "exhort" refers to the positive work of the Bible. The Bible doesn't simply correct error, it also instructs us in righteousness to help us to avoid all forms of ungodliness.
The qualification, "with great patience and instruction" describes the "How"; it describes the manner in which we are to "convince, rebuke, and encourage".
And finally, in verses 3 and 4, we are reminded why persistence in proclaiming the Word of God is so important, "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn aside to myths". Surely, Paul is accurately describing our present context.
Let me give you an example of a present day myth that has gained tremendous popularity in our day. Many who are unwilling to be governed by sound doctrine are turning to a modern-day myth that states that all religions lead to the same God.
This statement should sound absurd to us, but I am afraid that this statement is growing in its popularity and its influence--even in Christian circles.
Do all religions lead to God? While the answer to this question should be obvious, I am alarmed by the number of people who think all religions are basically the same.
Friends, I ask you: Are Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus really identical? Are they really saying the same thing? I admit that different religions will have certain beliefs that overlap, but to suggest that Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians share the same fundamental beliefs is to be grossly misinformed.
The assumption that all religions are basically the same just isn't true. Only Christianity maintains that Jesus is God Incarnate. The other religions, at best, treat Him as a prophet. Both cannot be true. If the answer = A, the answer cannot = B.
While most religions teach that the way to a right relationship with God is by good works, Christianity is unique in teaching that no amount of good works can earn you God's favour. Christianity is unique in teaching that atonement for sin is only possible through the work of Jesus on the cross.
Friends, I would like to believe that we could all get into heaven regardless of our beliefs, but logic keeps getting in the way. We may like to believe we are showing respect for our fellow humans by telling them that their religion is as true as anyone else's, but really this is quite cruel if this is not the case. It would be like telling a blind man standing on a street corner of a busy intersection that if he walks in any direction he will be equally safe.
Jesus has given us some clear instruction on this matter when He says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me" (Jn. 14:6). To suggest that there are multiple ways to heaven is to contradict the plain teaching of Jesus.
Jesus says elsewhere that, "he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs in some other way, is a thief"(Jn. 10:1). The teaching of Jesus allows for but one entrance into heaven. Jesus goes on to say, "I am the door of the sheep . . . if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved"(Jn. 10:9).
Beloved, this is the Word of God--preach it, "in season and out of season". This is sound doctrine, do not turn away from it in order to have a religion that accommodates popular opinion.
I recently read about a well-known musician who was performing for a very large audience. At the end of the performance, the audience gave a lengthy standing ovation in the hope of getting an encore. The musician, however, remained backstage while still looking on at the cheering crowd.
'Why won't you play one more piece? Can't you see how pleased they are with your performance?', someone asked.
'That does not matter to me', the musician responded, 'I can see my teacher from here, and he is neither standing nor applauding.'
When it comes to your beliefs, it should be of little consolation to have many people approve of your beliefs if God does not. As the great Puritan, Thomas Watson has said, "It is better to have God approve than to have the whole world applaud."
I implore you, do not choose beliefs that will commend you before men. Make sure your beliefs will commend you before God. Amen.