In Hosea 4, God is chastising Israel, but more specifically the priests. Some commentaries state that the people had no knowledge of God (His ways, His commands, His requirements) because the priests were not sharing this knowledge with the people. It is akin to pastors, leaders, and even everyday Christians, who themselves are ministers, refusing to help Christians, in particular new Christians, understand how to live for Christ. In this explanation of the verse, God specifically is coming down on those who know Him for not sharing what they know with those who both need to know Him and want to know Him. This exegesis seems to suggest that for those who claim to know God, a lack of both evangelism and discipleship on our part is sinful.
Another explanation or commentary of Hosea 4 suggests that God is both coming down on the people and the priests simply because neither are actively seeking to know God more and to honor Him in their lives. This explanation would certainly be congruent with the whole narrative of the story of Hosea and Gomer as Gomer the prostitute is said to represent the nation of Israel. Of course, Gomer gets to "know" many people, but she does not know God. Israel at this time had learned many of the pagan ways of their neighbors. The scriptures were no longer being read. The feasts were no longer being celebrated. The basics of living for the Lord were being ignored. Those rituals which were being continued were so detestable to God according to Hosea 4 that He would rather they not be done due to the sin and lack of knowledge of the people / priests.
What is clear from this verse and the verse in Isaiah is that God desires us, His people, to know Him. Consequently, He desires us to WANT to know Him. James 4:8 states, "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw night to you." In other words, if we want to know God, then we must seek to know Him. If we seek Him with our whole hearts, we will find Him for He is actively seeking a relationship with us. If we do not seek to know the Lord and to know Him fully, then according to Hosea and Isaiah, captivity and destruction come our way. Is it any wonder that the church is under attack? Is it any wonder that the church is losing the battle for people's souls to culture and other religions? Are we making disciples or are we just seeking crowds?
In both scriptures of Hosea and Isaiah, the idea of knowing God is to know Him intimately and personally. This of course is done through seeking Him with fervor and discipline. The disciplines of the Christian faith are clear from the New Testament, that is, fasting, praying, giving, evangelizing, and love. Jesus said we ought to fast and give. He taught the disciples how to pray. He gave us the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 telling us to "Go . . " And He declared that all would know we belong to Him by the way we love. These are disciplines of the faith, and these are misused, misapplied, and misconstrued at an alarming rate. A recent study suggested that most Christians NEVER fast food. Instead we've decided to fast TV, computers, etc. One study on giving suggested that less than 25% of Christians actively tithe to their church. Further, non-Christians have been more charitable than Christians for the last several years according to one non-profit poll. Jesus said His house was to be a house of prayer, but prayer meetings are sparsely found in churches and if the near-extinct meeting is scheduled, the true meaning of "where two or three" are gathered comes to light in every sense of the wordage. George Barna released alarming numbers recently which stated that the average Christian may share their faith three times in their lives. So much for spreading the Gospel . . . And then there's love. It's the buzz word of violence for many liberals and Christians alike. Do something that someone doesn't like . . . Say something someone doesn't appreciate . . . Call out behavior for what it is . . .You'll get a ringing jab from the Love Police who will immediately remind you that, "You're not acting like Jesus." They must have ripped out the parts of the Bible where Jesus called a woman a dog and the Pharisees vipers, corpses, white-washed tombs, and sons of Satan. He also called Peter, one of His most trusted friends and disciples, Satan. The problem with identifying God as love, (yes I'm aware than the Apostle John does this and I know it's true), is that many people identify God as their own definition of "love." Because God is love, and love is (you fill in your own blank) to me, therefore God is (whatever you filled in the previous blank with) to me. Do you see where the problem comes in? If love to you is genderless in terms of romantic love, then knowing that God is love, He becomes a supporter of your vision of love.
With all of these numbers indicating a demise of spiritual disciplines in our churches, is it any wonder that we "perish" and find ourselves in "captivity?" Culture is now dictating the pace of religion in our nation. Secularism is the new way of living. Religion has become a foolish, wasteful hobby ostracized by deep thinkers and shallow thinkers alike. And the church seems to be powerless against the onslaught. I believe one of the major reasons is that we're being destroyed for a lack of knowledge.
Can I ask you a question? Why are you a Christian (if you are)? What does it mean to be a Christian? What exactly is it that you believe? Why do you believe it? Where is that found in scripture? Studies suggest that the clear majority of Christians can't answer these questions. This shows a lack of discipleship. When the church rails against homosexual marriage (and it should), but does nothing to support, help, teach, and preach Biblical marriage, we become a sounding brass and tingling cymbal. If we truly want to make a dent in the marriage debate in our nation, let's start not only talking about what real marriage is, but let's start living it. In a recent poll, almost 80% of Millennials (people born from 1980-2000) state that they think there is nothing sinful about co-habitation, that is, two people living together and sleeping together before marriage. We need discipleship. Many Christians know just enough scripture to make them dangerous. They know their favorites to use on others, their favorites to excuse their own behavior, and their favorites to rely on when they're having tough times.
In the Pentecostal church, I'm afraid we've become more superstitious than spiritual. One person told me of a church having all of their people leave the sanctuary during a Sunday morning service to do the "Jericho March" around their church building. Apparently it was to signify a breakthrough. Proper application of the story however would mean they wanted their church walls to fall down. Goodbye sanctuary. In some Pentecostal churches, the "Spirit" moves if the preacher gets loud, the music gets fast, or somebody "gets a word." It seems we have cared more about people "getting the Spirit" than knowing the Word. So the Pentecostal church has its own share of Holy Ghost baptized tongue talkers who prophesy to each other all the while they sleep around, dishonor marriage, tell lies, share gossip, rebel against authority, refuse discipleship, refuse evangelism, and don't read the scriptures. I'm convinced one of our greatest issues is that we've made church about an emotional experience of entertainment and feeling and thus lost the intensive, carry your cross, die to your flesh, suffer and reign with Jesus experience that is real. Churches have been alright with people not going to Sunday School or getting involved with a discipleship method as long as the Sunday attendance looks good and the finances are coming in. Where has that got us? It's got us here, that is, a place where we can't agree on what Christianity is and isn't, much less identity and defend what it is we believe and why we believe it.
So what do we do? To start with, something . . . ANYTHING different. If we're honest, many of our Sunday School classes deal more with lecture and giving facts, and that's important, especially today. We're living in a time where not everyone knows who Noah was. Not everyone knows the story of Moses and the Red Sea, David and Goliath, and Daniel and the lions' den. And if they do know the stories, they're clueless as to the application of the stories. Let's be clear; it wasn't that Israel didn't know who God was and the priests didn't know what they were supposed to be doing in Hosea 4. When God says they died for lack of knowledge, He wasn't meaning they didn't know any better. He meant they weren't trying to know Him. They weren't doing what they knew to do. They weren't sharing what they knew to share. Our problem of discipleship exists on both extremes. There are groups of people in our churches who have heard thousands upon thousands of sermons and have read thousands upon thousands of lessons, but they still can't tell you much about the Bible. On the other end, there are groups of people in our church that no next to nothing about the Bible, but they believe what someone in particular on TV told them about the Bible and so they reckon it as truth. Again if God is love, then God becomes whatever I define love as in my life. Sorry folks. God isn't open to your interpretation of Him.
Average Sunday School numbers across the board are traditionally less than 40% in terms of regular attendees of Sunday morning worship services. In fact, one recent study suggested that only about 20% of Christians state they are part of some kind of growth track in terms of their own Christianity. We're failing. We're perishing. And we're losing ground and being overcome for lack of knowledge. We're having to put out fires in our own churches that are born out of spiritual immaturity which is a result of a lack of discipleship. We can't fight Satan and his minions because we can't stop fighting ourselves long enough to regain focus. Instead of reaching the lost, we're fine taking other church's members and acting like we're growing. The congregation in your building may have grown, but the kingdom of God has suffered. We're all supposed to be on the same team I thought.
We need to understand what the church is required to do by Jesus Christ. It's actually really, really simple, and we've made it really, really hard. Many know the Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:18-20, but do we actually know it. Let's look at it broken down:
- verse 18 - Jesus has all power. He's in control. There's nothing He can't do, and He's on our side. He has defeated Satan. We're receiving marching orders from One with absolute power.
- verse 19 - Jesus says to "GO" make disciples everywhere and baptize them and teach them everything Jesus said and did. The notion that we have to "go" should help us to obviously understand we can't wait for the sinner to come to church. We have to go to the world. When they are saved, we need to preach baptism. Way less than half of all new converts or "re-converts" are ever baptized. In the Pentecostal church, the number is even lower. And then we are to teach them what Jesus said. We must "teach" them. Show them how to live like Jesus. Tell them what He said. Show them the right way to live and understand scripture. Form relationships with them just as Jesus did with those He discipled.
- verse 20 - Jesus said He is with us while we do this. So the One who claims all power and authority gives us a mandate and then promises to be there with us while we do it.
Why in the world are we not more successful?? We're not successful at winning the lost and making disciples because we're not disciples ourselves and we've never "went." What's the church about? For many Christians the church is there to meet their needs. The pastor is there to notice when they skip. The church is supposed to put on fun stuff. The church is supposed to vote and let everyone act like a club rather than a group of disciple-making fools tearing up the world of darkness. The church became about someone being good. "Is that person a Christian? Well they go to church." Our churches are sanitized houses of drama where we choose the play and the players and when one isn't chosen, he finds a new stage to act upon. I'm convinced we're failing to win the culture wars because we've failed at the most basic command of Christ, that is, GO MAKE DISCIPLES. Jesus didn't say go win the lost. He said go make disciples. I'm supposed to share my faith naturally, but only Jesus can save the lost, and only we can disciple those He saves.
In the Pentecostal church, we've really misunderstood our purpose I'm afraid. We love Acts 1:8 where Jesus promises us the power of the Holy Spirit. This promise preceded the Acts 2:4-8 occurrence which we believe is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. But if we truly understand what Jesus was saying in Acts 1:8, He stated that He was going to endue us with this power that we may be His witnesses all over the world. There is no mention of Jesus wanting to endue us with power to have good services on Sundays inside our four walls and never share our faith or pursue discipleship and spiritual disciplines. There is no mention of Jesus wanting us to be endued with power from the Holy Spirit so we go through the motions of rollercoaster emotionalism existing between revivals or the occasional home run sermon from the pastor. No, this enduing of power from the Holy Spirit, (we call it the Baptism), was sent that we may be Jesus' witnesses. When we can talk in tongues to each other, but not share the Gospel in English to a sinner, we've misused scripture somewhere. When we can manifest in the Spirit inside the church, but manifest in the flesh repeatedly outside the church, something's wrong.
Here's the somewhat simplified truth, at least to this simpleton. Jesus left the church with all power and authority. He promised to never leave us. He promised us the Holy Spirit. He wants to endue us with power from the Holy Spirit to share the Gospel and make disciples. That's our job. That's what we need to be doing. Plain and simple. If we're winning 100 people every year to Christ and not making disciples out of them, we're missing an ingredient in the plan. If we're trying to grow our churches and take our towns for Jesus, but we don't have a plan in place to make disciples, then we're missing something. We're going to raise up another generation of card-carrying church goers who know the narratives of scripture, but not the applications of them.
And so I'm convinced we must do something. In this age of technology and ever growing knowledge (by the way it was prophesied that knowledge would increase in the world before the coming of Jesus . . . this shouldn't catch us by surprise), the notion of preaching and teaching as we always have won't necessarily cut the mustard. Sure there will always be a small segment of every town's population that seeks their own safe haven inside the church. These Christians would assume hunker down and hold on by the fingernails or the "skin of their teeth" and hope Jesus comes quickly. And while there are days I feel that way too, Jesus asked the rhetorical question, "Will the Son of Man find faith on the earth when He returns?" We're supposed to be about the Father's business. We're supposed to occupy and charge hell until Christ returns. Paul called us ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. He said we're more than conquerors. He said we're overcomers. These statements don't sound like a group of Christians in a fallout shelter waiting on the apocalypse to me. Every situation is different. Every town is different. What works in one city won't necessarily work in another one. Each area has its own culture. Ministry must be done within the confines of the culture, that is, understanding how to present the Gospel in a way that resonates with the people. Methods change. The message must NEVER change.
All of this is why we're about to roll out a brand new discipleship method for our church. I'm going to write another blog about it to give it its own place of importance and explanation. That said, I can't say beyond a doubt that what we're going to launch will blow up. In my heart, I believe it will be amazing and will begin to revolutionize discipleship in our town and area. In my heart, I also know there will be many challenges, but true facts don't lie. Something has to give. I would challenge you to personally look at your life in terms of discipleship. Jesus said discipleship was about picking up our cross, dying daily, and being willing to leave all for Him. And when we've done all of that today, we should be prepared to do it again tomorrow. Discipleship isn't an achievement. It's a life-long journey that leads us to know our Savior more and more. I'm convinced that if we could get back to the simple call of the church: share the Gospel, disciple those that believe, and start again, we would see the revivals so many desire to see. I don't know that we need another three week tent meeting where we all get supercharged with nowhere to go when it's over. I'd say instead that we need a revival of the Bible and a renewal of discipleship. To me it makes sense that a disciple that is seeking the Lord will find Him, and all that He has to give. If we want to see people operate in the gifts of the Spirit, that is Jesus' job. He said He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. I can't do that. I can only try to encourage individuals to be disciples, to seek after the Lord, to develop a hunger for Him and His presence. I have a pretty secure feeling that when we seek after Jesus, He knows what to do.