It is unbelievable how God has been so gracious to me in my pre-conversion years, and subsequently in my early conversion years. In my pre-conversion years, one thing that I thought was essential and integral to the Christian life was ‘discussions’.
Discussions and the Sharing Approach
Discussions was the prevalent view of how one grows and become mature in the faith. Everyone and everything that I was involved in had discussions in its centre, from casual prayer meetings to bible studies to cell groups to fellowships. It was the ‘in-thing’ to get a few people together to trade views from the bible. It went in a round-robin manner, and everyone gets to say something (and hopefully profound). I cannot mention church names and people names, but suffice to say, even the teachers (grown up men) would encourage a person to give out their opinions on a matter and merely state their corresponding reply, without pressing on any particular stance. In peer groups, many would be given the opportunity to speak out their thoughts and ‘insight’ to the bible, and it is up to you to choose and take which argument you believe to be right.
Looking back, I can say with much conviction that this is certainly an unbiblical act of learning and growing in the faith. In fact, it is an ugly reminder of how self-centered and self-indulgent an approach to the bible can be. Acts 2:42, 4:2, 5:25, 5:42, 6:4, 9:22, 9:28-29, 10:48, 11:26 points to the constant primacy of teaching in the lives of the believers, wherever the Spirit works. Especially in the last two references, we see that whenever a believer converts; there is always a need to learn and listen to God’s Word from His appointed teachers (not just any person). Many good Christians have misapplied the incident of Philip and the eunuch, thinking that just about anyone can ‘teach’… but Acts 8:5-6 clearly shows that he was an appointed evangelist who has God’s Spirit powerfully working in his life, after his prior office as a church deacon. You will not find any reference to ‘discussions’ in God’s Word. It is God’s appointed way to have teachers (pastor-teachers) to teach God’s Word to His people.
(1 Peter 2:2-3) Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation– if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Learning in Humility
One of the stark changes that happened when I was converted back in 2000 was the desire for me to stop and learn. It did not happen over night, but it was certainly a gradual (but sure) process. I would just learn and ask questions from the pastor, and read more of God’s Word. This did not mean that I would not preach to non-believers of course, for we all ought to spread the Gospel in whatever locality we are in. But gone is the desire to ‘learn’ through discussions. For many years after coming back to Malaysia, I basically just had the urge to ‘shut up and listen’ to God, through His appointed ministers (which is in church). It was hard, because it called for me to put away the old self which wanted to rely on the ‘accumulated knowledge acquired since Sunday School’ and ‘the achievements’ I had before. By God’s grace I had to and I did. I learnt all over again what is the God’s Word all about. I learnt from scratch what Grace is, what Mercy is, what Justification is, etc. I am still learning, but by God’s grace, I am what I am now.
And the joy I have in seeing lives who are also exhibiting these sort of Grace-enabled humility is indescribable. Truly God’s grace is clearly seen and powerfully magnified in the lives of those who once went their own ways, indulging in what their itching ears want to hear and doing what they feel is right, and then seeing them conform to the humility which the Son had towards the Father. I am privileged to see such workings of the Spirit weekly, and sometimes more.
Learn much from the teachers. Do not seek to see yourself greater than others (constantly striving to be better than others!), as though it is your choice to choose what you want to believe in. It is God’s Will that His children ought to find His truths through His appointed means (which means, no hermit Christianity, or loner Christians who are ‘churchless’). Objective truth, and not subjective ones that our itching ears want to hear. God’s word is always consistent to itself. Far better to maintain the unity of Doctrine and centrality of the Word than to maintain a consistency in the ‘specific method’ of interpreting the Scriptures. Far better to hear pure unadulterated Word from His appointed shepherds than to follow blind denomination affiliation. I can never understand how Christians can choose to compromise with their church on spiritual issues that are both doctrinal and practical, just because they had ‘history’ with their denomination. It is treating church affiliations like a societal club membership! Downgrading indeed of the view on the Church! Better to be doctrinally correct and be with people who esteems God’s doctrines and then work towards the practical issues than to be right in the ‘works’ and neglect the essence of Godliness. Much of ecumenicalism is marked by the latter view if you were to analyse their thinking.
(1 Peter 5:1-7) So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: (2) shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (3) not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (4) And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (5) Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (6) Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, (7) casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.