The Emporer’s New Clothes

This past Thursday evening, (April 1st 2004) we went to the Berryville Community Center and watched a high school choir production of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” You may be familiar with the story. An emperor is more concerned with his own vanities than he is with the affairs of his kingdom. Two flattering and seductive villains persuade the king that they can make the finest set of clothes in all the empire for him, but the clothes are so sheer that only the “wisest” will see them. They take all of the emperor’s money, dupe him with “invisible clothes,” and abscond the empire before the truth is discovered. While the emperor’s subjects all remark at how beautiful the clothes are (not wanting to be considered anything but wise), a small boy finally exposes the truth that the emperor is naked. Having had his “eye’s opened,” and learned a valuable lesson about deception the emperor is a wiser and humbler public servant.

While considering the basic plot of this story, I thought, “How so much like many in the religious world today.” There are millions who allow themselves to be deceived religiously on a regular basis due to some of the same mistakes the emperor made. Considering that, let’s notice some ways in which we may be deceived. First, we are most likely to be deceived when we value things more than truth. Second, deceptive people generally employ flattering tongues, never dealing honestly and plainly with others. Third, we may be deceived when we buy into the notion that we will not be “wise” if we don’t accept the deception.

When we value things more than we value truth, we are more likely to be deceived. The emperor deeply valued his personal attire, so, when someone came knocking that could offer him something superior in that area, he was susceptible, valuing his vanity more than truth. Today, we hear of people being deceived in things they value as well. How many widows have been cheated out of their life savings because someone came along and told them their house was going to collapse if they didn’t fix the “foundation?” How many of us have fallen victim to “free vacation” scams? How many have been deceived by real estate ventures for the “free on site offer?” Houses, vacations, property�those are all things that we ought to value less than truth, but many do not. It is no different in the religious world today. Many come selling “self-help,” “motivation,” “emotional satisfaction,” “personal relationships,” and “personal worship experiences” all in the name of religion. Millions buy into these scheme’s every year, because they love self-experience and emotionalism more than they love truth. If they would investigate the truth, then they would know the fraud immediately and who is doing what is right. Proverbs 23:23 says, “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.” We must value truth above all else, if we are not to be deceived.

Deceptive people generally employ flattering tongues, never dealing honestly and plainly with others. Those who desired to sell the emperor his new set of clothes told the emperor what distinguished tastes he had in clothing, what polished refinement in style, and what discerning eye in fashion. Obviously, these deceivers couldn’t have been wrong in their assessment of him, so when they promised to deliver the best clothing possible, they must have been right in that as well. If they had told the emperor that they were there to steal his money and convince him to parade around town naked, no doubt he would have rejected them immediately. In the religious world today, many use flattery and other forms of deceit to sway the multitudes in their favor. Little do you hear of people preaching on the subjects of sin, the necessity of repentance, hell or the necessity of righteous living. Most sermons are preached on “love,” tolerance (of sin), forgiveness (without repentance), and other “feel good” themes. And while there is nothing wrong in preaching on positive subjects, preaching on them to the exclusion of the other is deceptive and flattering. It assumes the hearer doesn’t need to change, doesn’t need to be warned, and can’t handle the honest truth on such “controversial” subjects. Most would rather have their ears scratched than to have to deal with hard teachings that require personal sacrifice. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:3-5, “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness.” Next time someone tries to butter you up, religiously, beware. The likelihood is that the person who causes you to reflect negatively on yourself is telling you the truth.

Those who are often deceived usually are so deceived because to be otherwise would mean that they were not “wise.” The emperor’s subjects deceived themselves because they thought that if they told the truth, then there would be no wisdom in them. Then, that deception grew throughout the whole empire because no one had the courage enough to stand up to the majority who thought they were wise. Who wants to be thought of that way? Today, those who have the truth are often ridiculed as not understanding God’s love, mercy, and grace. And indeed, who wants to be thought of as not understanding those things? We all want to understand God’s love, mercy, and grace. So to be accused of not understanding it, places one into the position of not being “wise” in matters of religion. And, the more people who believe that you “just don’t understand those things,” the more foolish one appears. Notice I said, “appears,” because it is not how one appears that truly demonstrates one’s understanding of something, but what one believes in comparison to the truth. Paul wrote, “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:20, 21). Those who preach and teach the truth are often the one’s who appear most foolish. But it is not man’s wisdom that truly judges whether something is wise or not, but God’s.

The Bible warns us that sin is deceitful (Hebrews 3:13). Will we, like the emperor, don a set of clothing that is no clothing at all? Or will we enrobe ourselves in the garments of truth and salvation? Let us always be on our guard, prizing truth above all else, preaching the plain and simply gospel, not mindful of other men’s flatteries, and seeking the wisdom that is from above. By following after these things, we will protect ourselves against the one deceiver that is opposed to all, Satan himself (John 8:44).

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Merely a Matter of Perception

I got to see sin up close and personal this week. I saw its intention. I saw its form. I saw its effects. It was ugly. You may wonder what particular sin that it is I saw. And while that would be a discussion that has merit and would be productive on another occasion, it isn’t the point that I wish to make now. Because the fact of the matter is that sin is sin. One sin is just as ugly to God as another (Isaiah 59:2). It is a sobering fact that any sin we habitually commit severs us from our relationship with God (John 8:34). It really does not matter what that sin is, per se. Oh, we may deceive ourselves from time to time with the idea that “my sin” is not as bad as “your sin.” But such is simply deception. It is a lie; a falsehood that Satan tells us to try to get us to believe that sin is not really all that serious. Sin is deadly serious.

Take someone who is addicted to drugs as an example. Here is a sin that is generally recognized in society. We see the drug addict and we think, “How said for him that he is so possessed by such a thing.” We know that he is possessed by his drugs, because we see his desire for them. We see the craving. We see the “joy” he gets from using them. We see the consummation that results from such use. We see the gutter-filled-trashed-out effects of their use. And we see the addict return time after time to the same estate. We wonder, “How could anyone live like that?” They live like that because the ultimate goal of Satan is to so deceive someone as to make them think that there is nothing wrong with their sinful situation. Our pity for such a one should not be due to the condition, but the deception.

And we ask, “How could one be so deceived so as to be involved in such a pathetic suit?” The truth however, is that we frequently live the same way. Satan has deceived many of us as well. Many live in a state of societally approved addictions that while outwardly appear perfectly benign, inwardly they destroy us just as cancerously as the sin of the drug addict. These addictions display much more subtle and deceptive effects. These effects sometimes even robe themselves in a fa�ade of righteousness so as to have the appearance of something decent. We see such effects in the faces of those who turn their nose in disgust at the addictions of others without even acknowledging that their own addiction is equally as deadly. Do we see in these the same symptoms? The craving? The possession? The “joy?” The consummation? Indeed, who is the more deceived?

Today is the day that the religious world calls “Easter.” It is the end of the Jewish Passover. It is the anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus. I’m not saying that there is anything especially holy about this Sunday out of all of the other Sundays in the year. They are all equally holy as far as God is concerned. Christians remember the resurrection of Jesus every Sunday. Historically, however, this is that time of the year and many do take time to reflect upon that event. So why bring up such a “depressing” subject at such a time? Because it was for precisely this reason that Jesus gave himself on the cross. So that we could be free from the possession of sin. He was resurrected so that we could walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Indeed, to habitually fail to examine our own lives, to habitually fail to reflect upon what God has done for us when we were possessed in sin, is an addiction of an equally worse and deceptive kind. It is equally being in the possession of sin. What greater triumph could Satan have than to cause us to cease to examine our own personal sin on a daily basis and the relationship of forgiveness that we have with God as a result of the vicarious sacrifice of Christ? What greater triumph than to deceive us into thinking that our sinful situation is any better than that of others?

I learned a little more about the love of God and Jesus this week, because I saw in my experience something that God must see in all humanity�a great and tremendous need for salvation from sin. Not just of those with visible addictions, but those of us with the invisible one’s as well. God once told Samuel, “� for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). We may look outwardly and see all kinds of wrongs and evils in this world, and even do so justifiably. However, if we look outward while failing to look inward, our sin is merely a matter of perception, and that of an equally deceptive sort. May God bless us with HIS eyes so as to look upon the things that we ought to look upon, both outward and inward, in our daily walk with Him.

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Is Denominationalism a Viable Christian System? (1 of 3)

By Kevin Cauley

Last week I started an e-mail conversation with a man who was a member of the Methodist church. The conversation started because he had seen an article that I published on our web site, “Is the Church of Christ a Cult?” His contention was that any group that claims that they are the only one’s going to heaven are a cult. He sees the churches of Christ as making that claim, and so, according to his definition, they are a cult. The first response to this is, of course, that his definition of a cult is obviously flawed. While it is difficult to put a precise definition upon the concept of “cult,” we usually know them when we see them. The churches of Christ that I know are obviously not cults. However, there is another, deeper, issue that needs to be discussed in this regard, and that is the question of the validity of the system of denominationalism. I submit that this is the real issue, because it is the assumption of the system of denominationalism that all denominations are equally accepted in the sight of God. Hence, if one religious group claims that salvation can only occur through that one way, then that kind of thinking is anti-denominational, and if it is anti-denominational, then it must be cultish. In other words, anyone who denies that denominationalism is a viable Christian system must be a cult. Instead of having the discussion of what is and what is not a cult, instead, we should focus upon the legitimacy of the concept of denominationalism.

In today’s culture, we are seeing around us the ultimate fruits of the system of denominationalism. Those fruits are basically the complete rejection of the word of God and the substitution of God’s word with the words of men. The issue of homosexuality in denominationalism today tells the tale. Leaders among the Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and now some members of the Lutheran denomination have publicly come out and endorsed the idea that homosexuality is not something to be condemned as sin, but to be tolerated as an alternative lifestyle and given recognized place within said denominations. When confronted with the issue within their own denominations, leaders of these denominations fail to turn to the scriptures to solve the problem, but instead, turn to their church disciplines and manuals, documents written by men. Case in point: in the Methodist denomination, the jury of people who judged the case of the lesbian “pastor” stated that they found nothing in the church discipline that she had violated. It wasn’t the Bible that determined the validity of her behavior, but the church discipline. The issue of homosexuality in the religious world today is exposing to the religious world at large what members of churches of Christ have known all along. Denominationalism is not a viable Christian system and ought to be rejected.

Denominationalism is not a viable Christian system because it seeks to elevate the doctrines of men above that of God’s. Homosexuality is just one issue. There are also the issues of women preachers, church organization, God’s plan for man’s salvation, New Testament worship, and many others. In each of these areas, denominationalism has placed the words of men above the words of God. They have substituted their own church disciplines, creeds, and confessions of faith for God’s word; they have elevated the teachings of men such as Charles Wesley, John Calvin, and Martin Luther to above-God-status, perhaps not in their words, but clearly in their actions. Jesus condemned such attitudes and teachings in Matthew 15:18, 19 “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Lip service is all that the denominational world pays to Jesus in our times. When such a situation exists, Jesus calls such actions vain, empty, meaningless. Can a Christian system be valid and viable when elevating man’s will above God’s? It cannot.

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