Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question:
Dear Dave and T.A., I have been reading through the Book of Jeremiah and the Lord seems to have told him some heavy things that He, the Lord, would do to correct Israel and Judah. What amazes me is that much of what’s listed as the waywardness of the children of Israel seems to be prevalent in the church today. My question is – is it possible that God would bring the same sort of correction upon the waywardness of the church today?
Tom: You know, Jeremiah absolutely…you know, I mean, a scary book, but it’s God’s Word and to see how He dealt with Israel [and] Judah is just amazing. Let me read just a few verses here. This is Jeremiah:2:8-13, and you know the Book of Jeremiah, there are dozens of these things, but based on the question, here’s what’s written in Jeremiah:2:8: “The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit. Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the Lord, and with your children’s children will I plead. For pass over the Isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Is this applicable for us today in the church, Dave?
Dave: Well, Tom, first of all, Israel is a special case. These are God’s chosen people. He promised them a land and they have been in rebellion against God, as Jeremiah points out, down through history. So there are special judgments that come upon them. They’ve been scattered throughout the world, they’ve been hated and persecuted and killed, they are a sign to the world. So the church was never in that position where God said, “You will be hated and persecuted and killed,” although Jesus said that this would be what would await the true Christians for following Him, not as a judgment for disobeying Him, so there’s a big difference there. The Christian will be hated by the world.
Now, discipline? Well, this is a discipline that comes not just upon individual Jews but upon Israel as a whole, and there is nothing like that in the Bible for the church. The church has a remedy that Israel didn’t have. Israel was supposed to offer sacrifices. The church… “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us.” The individual Christian recognizing that he has sinned, he goes to the Lord and he confesses his sin and he is forgiven on the merits of Christ who paid the penalty for our sins, okay?
Now, is there some horrible judgment coming upon the church? Well, the church is an entity made up of believers. The church is not going to be here when God’s judgment is poured out upon this earth. We will be coming with Him in the armies of heaven. There are some really frightening verses, Tom, as you know. God says, “If I whet my glittering sword, it will be red with blood, and the slain of the Lord will be from one end of this earth to the other, and they will be like fertilizer on the ground.” They’re not going to be buried even. You know, there is a horrible, horrible judgment coming for this world as they all go to attack Israel to exterminate her. That’s something else; that’s something very special. What is going to happen to the church? Well, we have the judgment seat of Christ when we’re raptured. That’s something to consider solemnly, because the very first event after the Rapture, I believe, for each individual Christian is we will be judged, give an account for every thought, word, and deed, and we will be ashamed. He will have to wipe tears from our eyes, and John urges us to live in such a way that we would not be ashamed when the Lord comes, but there could be severe discipline in a Christian’s life. On the other hand, I have to be very careful and say, “Well, this guy, he got cancer because he wasn’t living for the Lord,” and so forth. I don’t think that is happening except in rare cases today.
Tom: Dave, I was thinking as I read through this question… Well, in the previous segments we dealt with believers going outside the church to Christian psychology and getting involved in all kinds of things. We just – in our last segment, yoga devotion within the church – you know, many churches, and so on. The National Pastors Conference, you have all of these things that are so far removed from the Word of God. Will it be then that we are going to reap what we sow? I mean, it’s not going to be God’s judgment, but we are just going to reap the fruit of error and turning from God.
Dave: Mm-hmm. Definitely. [chuckles] What a man sows, that will he also reap. On the other hand there is forgiveness, but to receive forgiveness you have to acknowledge your sin – you have to repent. In other words, “Lord, I’m sorry. I’m not going to do that anymore. I turn away from that. I reject this.” But that’s an individual matter. I don’t find any Scriptures where the church as a whole is looked upon like Israel as a whole and God’s judgment comes upon them, but it happens to us as individuals.
Now, an individual congregation can also reap consequences, can reap God’s judgment, and we read of that in the letters from Christ to the seven churches in Asia that we have in the first three chapters of Revelation. So a group of Christians – corporate body of Christians – they fall into sin, they fall into rebellion against the Lord, they can experience some severe judgment as well. But the Christian is in a different category to Israel. The Lord is faithful and He is just to forgive us. He wants to forgive us instantly. And there may be some further consequences – you know, David repented, but there were consequences to his sin, and there could be consequences in a Christian’s life – in this life – to sin. I have more than one friend who is in prison right now, Christians. Because of what they did, there are consequences that have to be paid. There can be consequences in our lives. I mean…but we don’t want to follow the Lord because we’re fearful of the consequences, but out of love for Him: that’s our motive.
Tom: Dave, as you know, Scripture talks about the falling away as an apostate church that’s going to come about made up of professing Christians, but not true Christians. Yet there are a lot of things that are going on – as we mentioned, Christians are getting into this and into that, true believers. Dave, certainly the Lord is going to discipline true believers who stray from His Word and His truth, but is He going to deal with an apostate church?
Dave: The apostate church, they’re not even Christians…Well, we must qualify that: right now there is a mixture; there are non-Christians and Christians in some churches. Some of them have hardly any Christians. The true Christians ought to get out of there. You might even have a Christian here and there, a real Christian, in the Mormon Church, I don’t know – maybe some in the Catholic Church, but what – I would hate to say the percentage, 99.99 whatever, they’re not Christians; they’re not believers. So there’s not going to be some corporate judgment fall on the church now. There’s a mixture of an individual congregation let’s say, but after the rapture there won’t be any Christians in these places. Then God’s judgment is upon them as it is upon the world. But in fact, there will be a special judgment—we get that in Revelation 17 where it says, “The beast will hate the whore,” this is the false church, “and will devour her flesh and burn her with fire.” So the special judgment upon those who pretended they were Christians and who in Christ’s name did these false signs and wonders, etc., following the Antichrist, there’s, I think, a special punishment for them as well as God’s wrath being poured out upon this earth.