*This is a very long lesson and though I could split it up, I would rather not due to its importance. However, if you would prefer to read or study this offline, you can download a copy of this lesson in either Microsoft Word Document, or as an Adobe PDF file. You can do so at the following links: Collateral Damage in Microsoft Word or Collateral Damage in Adobe PDF
**WARNING – If you believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ and you claim to be a disciple of His, known to brothers and sisters as “Christian” and yet you still believe that your denomination is either the closest to perfection or “more right” than others, you may not want to read what follows!
It is not my intent to hurt those I claim as brothers and sisters in the Lord and I am not condemning the “Lord’s Church” that Body of Believers that are bound together as a Bride, awaiting a Bridegroom. But – I will offend some who cling tenaciously to denominations that restrict who can and can’t worship together, who claim to be “non-denominational” yet have so many restrictions as to bind perspective worshippers under the very law that our Redeemer saved us from.
I have been in prayer for literally weeks, and this is the result. If you believe that true Agape Love is unconditional, that it is based in action, just as God’s love for us was shown in the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and that Agape Love is more concerned with eternal value than temporary worldly value, then please, read on.
Matthew 10:32-34 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”
Luke 12:8-9 “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Before me sat a beautiful child of God, full of genuine love, mercy, compassion, kindness; you get the picture. She had just told me that a friend of decades told her they wouldn’t be visiting a media production because this child of God didn’t belong to the right “denomination” and they couldn’t be seen in this other “organization,” because this “denomination” was NOT a true Christian one!! (As with ALL churches, there are things right and things wrong, but Christ is loved and worshipped there.)
I was literally taken aback as you could see the tears starting to well in her eyes as my wife and I listened to this beautiful neighbor who had become such a good friend and awesome sister in the Lord! She had stated she had been to her friend’s church and countless other churches with friends and even a Jewish Synagogue, just to worship God with her friends whom she counted dearly.
It reminded me of my 40 plus years of trying to follow where the Lord led us due to a vow I had made when I gave my heart to my Redeemer at the age of 17. I had promised Him I would go wherever He led and learn and do whatever He wanted me too. Yes, I was naïve, but I was young and I have to admit, adventurous though it has been, I wouldn’t change a thing. Our Heavenly Father is always faithful to us and He takes pleasure in our faith in Him! Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Once married, and looking back after many years had passed, we could see that our Heavenly Father taught us (or tried too!) a lot; many things on how and why it was pleasing to Him for us to do, and many things on how and why we DON’T do things the way we learned.
We had an insatiable appetite to learn; learn about why we worship the way we do, why we congregate the way we do, why, why, why. The Lord knew our hearts better than we did and He was preparing us, just as He had started before I even knew He was teaching me. You see, I have always been a student of human behavior, or human nature as it were. I am an observer. I am fortunate to not be stuck with, as the saying goes, “not seeing the (whole) forest, for (the individual) trees.” But by the same token, I COULD “see (the individual) trees, despite the (expansiveness) of the forest.” I could see the whole forest, and yet I could also see the individual trees that make up the forest of human nature. This was one of God’s precious gifts or tools with which He has allowed me to be the vessel that HE chooses me to be.
This all leads me to HOW our Lord has chosen to teach my wife and I; and I never knew the price we would pay with loved ones and friends AND those we counted as brother and sister. Yes, there were times we faltered and questioned whether we really were hearing from the Holy Spirit. But, as the saying goes, “hindsight is so much better than foresight.” Looking back, we could see His hand in our lives, through what we considered the good AND the not so good. Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The Holy Scriptures had been alive in our lives; sometimes we couldn’t recognize it immediately, but eventually, the Holy Spirit showed us where we succeeded in listening and where we might not have heard clearly. The Holy Spirit is not just Comforter, He is also a Convincer (older translations say Convicter) of what is true and what is false. When we “practice” following His lead, He is faithful to confirm to us whether we are where He wants us to be, but this takes a two-way relationship. He speaks (so often softly) and we listen, then do.
We have been involved in ministry in what I term “mainline” churches and independent churches, those with no affiliation to a denominational headquarters. There is good and not so good in all “brick and mortar” churches. Imperfect people make up a church body and we are all imperfect, yet as Christians, we are forgiven. The problem arises when a church strays from the fundamental principles of why a church is even formed. I hope you realize I am speaking now of the religious organizations and not the overall Body of Christ.
So many “brick and mortar” churches have become so ingrown that they have taken the gifts the Holy Spirit has given and sit on them inside with other believers rather than taking them to the communities they live in and have need of the true Agape Love of a Savior and Redeemer. It reminds me of what Jesus had said to the Pharisees and Scribes as described in Mark.
Mark 2:16-17, And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
We have churches that are only ministering to those already redeemed when a world outside their doors is perishing. Also, if you do have programs for outside evangelism, most churches want to make sure a person is in line with their beliefs before they can be accepted into their “fold.” Many of you know this is true for I see it in many of your writings as well. There is a part of the Body of Christ that is fed up with the way organized religious institutions are heading or have already headed!
There is a saying that “those who refuse to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Human nature is such, that despite the centuries that have past, and despite the so-called advances in mankind’s social progress, our human nature still falls back to the same thing that the Bible was given to us to avoid. Don’t forget, the Holy Scriptures speak to the Children of God, Israel as well as Gentiles.
God’s children as stated in the Old Testament were constantly having to be chastised due to their unbelief, stubbornness and willful waywardness. In the New Testament, of which we are still apart, until Christ Jesus returns, is experiencing the same types of situations. The writings of the Apostles and disciples expressed concerns over how the church was heading and the Word of God is still prophetically speaking to the churches today!
All we have done with our institutionalized religious systems, is to replace the Old Testament Jewish Pharisees and Scribes with modern day Pharisees and Scribes. Churches that believe that if you don’t follow the “laws” of their organization or the doctrines of their belief system (aside from the repentance and living in Christ Jesus as Redeemer) then you cannot be considered a brother or sister in the Lord; AND the sad part of this is that the world sees this selfishness in full display! Yes, I said selfishness, because it shows concern for only themselves and their “righteousness” and not that of those on the outside looking in!
You have read my writings for the most part and know that I believe selfishness, not necessarily hate, is the opposite of love, real Agape Love. This is evidenced not just in the literal word of the Scriptures but in the Spirit of the Word itself. Remember, Jesus IS the Word, and He came in the flesh, died on the cross, but He then arose that death itself would not be an end to the Heavenly Father’s creation. This sacrifice, was LOVE in action, LOVE expressed in actual deed. It was un-selfish of the Father to send His only Son and it was un-selfish of the Son so that mankind would have a payment for the LAW of sin. Our God’s Love was unconditional, and total. Through His whole plan, He never causes man to lose his ability or freedom to choose. That IS unselfishness like nothing else is.
But, in our churches today and our religious institutions set up to edify, encourage, instruct and support one another, IN CHRIST, we find something akin to the good-ole-boys club. If you don’t renounce how you believe concerning the doctrines that stand apart from Redemption, then you can’t be considered to be a “brother or sister.”
One denominational church that we attended for almost two years, because we were led by the Holy Spirit, was a prime example. We taught and ministered, plus we learned some of their doctrinal beliefs that differ from other mainline churches. They were highly into debating other religious organizations just to try and “prove” that they were the only ones with all the right doctrinal beliefs. Did they love Jesus Christ as Lord and Redeemer? Yes, they truly did. They believe they were totally redeemed and “saved.” The problem was, they also believed you had to follow these other rules or your redemption was not total and could in truth be lost.
We knew what we were getting into when we went, but our insatiable search for learning AND the leading of the Holy Spirit led us where we were to be. After a little over two years we felt the Holy Spirit gently calling us again, wanting us to move to another field of learning and training. As stewards befitting of the Lord, or so we thought, we went to the Pastor and explained to him the calling and leading we felt from the Lord. He didn’t say much and we could tell he was very somber upon our exiting his office. That last Sunday service, as I had always played with the other musicians, I took my place and then was politely asked not to play this Sunday. So I took my seat with my wife in the pew and what became very obvious is that nobody, and I mean nobody sat in the same 12 foot pew as us.
We found out why quite quickly for as the service began, the Pastor had an announcement to make just prior to the opening Praise and Worship began. He stated he was changing the order of the service that Sunday morning because of a very serious situation that had arisen. Two people and their two children, whom they considered to be members were “leaving the light, to go back into the darkness.” Yes, that is exactly what was said. We were leaving the light and willingly going back into the darkness from which we came.
I had seriously thought that the love we had shown to them, the willingness to work side by side as an Ambassador (as it were) for Christ, that it would show them the seriousness we give to the ministries that Christ through the Holy Spirit had called us too. Guess again! I was so wrong. During the couple days before our last Sunday Service, the Pastor had gotten on his phone and roused everyone to “pray” for us that we would see the error of leaving. No wonder nobody sat near us that Sunday morning. Everyone had been warned that an “apostate” was among them.
This Pastor, whom we loved dearly and worked side-by-side with, now considered us apostate; someone who knows the “truth” but is willing to walk away and leave it behind. We never had a chance to make a case. We sat through the very minimal Praise and Worship part of the service and even listened to a sermon that was very obviously geared towards us. When service was over, there were no hugs, no farewells, we waited, but no show of love or affection or acknowledgement or anything. Yes, it did hurt. It hurt immensely and we did question our decision. We prayed and prayed and asked family to pray and yet we still KNEW that we were following the Lord’s leading.
That following month, we ran into some of the people we used to worship with and we were literally “shunned!” It must be how the Amish and Mennonite feel when they are shunned from their communities, but this was a mainline denominational church! It hurt because we truly did count these people as brothers and sisters in Christ. Actually after about two and a half decades, I still do count them as brothers and sisters. But I have learned a lot, about not just denominations, but any church that is willing to place the sacrifice of Christ and our Heavenly Father below their doctrinal differences. Our Father in Heaven must be in great sorrow even as He continues to love all of us in our imperfections.
This is only one moment in mine and my wife’s lives attempting to serve our Lord and Redeemer. This is what I was remembering as I spoke and exhorted to this dear Sister in the Lord who had experienced the same thing from someone she had considered a dear and close friend AND as a sister. This media production was an inspiration in what the Holy Spirit can do to the lives of teens and adults facing obstacles. But because they relied not just on the Word of God for inspiration, they also used inspiration from other books and media that was meant to inspire and encourage one another in the Lord! Jesus Christ was the main focal point. His love for all and because of His love, our ability to love one another was the key point in this production.
My wife and I were invited. We are secure in our relationship with our Heavenly Father AND our Redeemer. We walked away feeling uplifted and inspired. We felt like we had just been to a great worship service at church! This caused my wife and me to look back at a time when our two boys were teens and I was an associate Pastor at a Calvary Chapel. We had helped in the production of a musical called High Tops, based on a very popular Christian musical of the time. This musical was based on Biblical principles aimed at helping teens cope with the temptations and obstacles usually present at that age. It was a great experience, but it wasn’t a production ABOUT the Bible; it used Biblical principles.
We just watched a very popular faith-based movie, “God’s NOT Dead” that has been well received by the “Christian” community. It too was based on Biblical principles and it was aimed at ALL people as it tried to show the relevance of the Word of God AND the acceptance of God no matter your race, ethnicity or religious belief. There was a young Chinese student in search of the truth. A Muslim girl who had accepted Christ as her savior. A young woman who faced a life and death situation and her quest to know about faith in God. It concerned a self-proclaimed atheist philosophy professor who was known for putting down anyone who said they had a belief in God and especially Jesus Christ.
This movie has been hailed as just one of many faith-based movies of recent that has been well received by the “Christian” community because of the portrayal of Christ Jesus’ love for ALL who are willing to come to Him; and yet—some of the same people who express such great pleasure in this movie and others like it, will deny fellowship to another child of God, just because of a denominational label!!
This leads me to my father-in-law who was considered a man’s man by this world’s standards. He played rough as a young man, and he worked hard as a steel-worker almost all his life. He faced many of the same obstacles as so many others on this journey we call life. He lost a son at a very young age, he had a father who was abusive, yet a “Christian” and yet despite his many years of not wanting to have anything to do with “religion and church” he had married a Godly Christian woman of ministering parents.
I really didn’t know my father-in-law at the times when he was hard-hearted. I met him when I was 17 years old, just a short time after I gave my own heart to the Lord in complete surrender. I dated, became engaged and eventually married his daughter, my now precious and Godly wife. I can remember sitting in the early morning hours and talking at length with him about all sorts of different subjects; some we agreed upon and others, we had differing views. I was the young man being taught by the elder and I listened with respect. Not that we didn’t have some rocky times, but he WAS at that time a true spiritual father to me, both of us growing together despite each having our own imperfections.
He’s gone to be with the Lord now and I still miss him, greatly; but one thing he used to say that I will never forget, “the Christian army, those who call themselves soldiers of Christ, are the only army that kills its own and it’s wounded.” The sad part about it, is he was right and even to this day it still goes on and even more so than ever. This is what I mean when I say collateral damage.
We ARE at war, make no mistake about it and if you don’t believe me then you have not been listening to the local and world news! But people, those that confess Jesus is the Christ, the Holy Son of God and that He shed His blood for our redemption, these ones are not the enemy despite the labels that they carry just because of the name of the church they choose to worship in. As I said before and I will state it again, there is NO perfect church that has all the answers, but we ARE a part of the Body of Christ, the Bride, that part of the Universal spiritual church that Christ Jesus is returning to reclaim and when that day DOES come, and it surely will come, our Redeemer is not going to ask you what church you attended. He IS going to know whether you have love in your heart, whether you abide in love and love abides in you!
This will be the “stamp” of His approval:
1John 4:1-3, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
1John 4:4-6, You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
1John 4:7-13, Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
1John 4:14-16, And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
1John 4:17-21, Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
Brothers and Sisters, we ARE at war, but the enemy is one of lies and divisiveness since the very beginning of our history. We are at war with our human nature, that nature that demands rule, that wants and wants some more; and, as the Bible also says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day,——.” – Ephesians 6:12-13a.
So I ask you this question; is it really love, Godly love, Agape love that turns someone away who says they Love the Lord Jesus Christ and their fellow man, because they go to a church deemed NOT truly Christian? I love it when church-going Christians bandy about the part of Scripture that states, “Judge not lest you be judged.” Especially when it suits their needs of the moment. You see, it’s not “politically correct” in this day and age to “judge” another and yet church goers do it all the time. If you don’t agree with certain doctrine, it doesn’t matter if love abides in you and you in love. Some “Christians” have taken only the Scriptures that fit their ideology. Sadly, yet truthfully, it is NOT your ideology that will win you a place in Heaven with Christ Jesus! It is accepting Him for Who He is and loving exactly like He loved; unconditionally! It takes practice yes; no one arrives at that kind of love overnight, but we must strive to ACT in love.
Instead of “conforming to the Holy Word of God, you conform the Holy Word of God” to your thinking. This is what happens when you rely totally upon the “letter” of the word literally, just as in the days preceding the Son of God’s arrival in the flesh, the Pharisees and religious leaders were able to find “loop-holes” and “round-about” ways to make the Law conform to their ideas. It allowed them to maintain control over the community and it massaged their egos and human nature when it made them appear “Godly” before other men.
This is one of the main reasons Jesus came to mankind when He did; to make right what was wrong and to bring the SPIRIT of the Word of God back into men’s hearts and minds. Besides, Salvation FROM the Law and death, His sacrifice also accomplished allowing His Spirit into every heart that believes! He IS the Word of God, and His death allows us to go beyond the “letter” of the Word and to understand the Spirit of Word.
2Corinthians 3:4-6, “And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” – (Bold emphasis mine)
Yes, Matthew 7:1-2 does say, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” The verses from 1-14 though are speaking about SENTENCING, that which comes after judgment before our Heavenly Father. This is why study is so important and not just taking someone’s word for Gospel! We have no right what-so-ever to sentence another. In fact the only power applied to that will impart the same sentence to us; and why is that? Because we cannot read another’s heart as only our Heavenly Father can. And furthermore, we don’t have the wisdom to temper sentencing with mercy or grace. The very act of sentencing another is a selfish act; in other words, an unloving act!
On the other-hand, the following verses in Matthew 7, 15-20, DO speak of judging in the sense of determining truth from falsehood. This type of judging, is to protect the flock of the Lord from “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and “false prophets.” Yet even this action, carries with it some very grave responsibility. But this is not sentencing, it is only making an informed decision to protect others. This is sadly, the part that most churches today DO NOT do. Because of this, fads, New Age beliefs, divisions and every other thing is allowed into our churches watering down the true love that is meant to be demonstrated to the world!!
The Scribes and Pharisees and the religious lawyers of Jesus’ day were always trying to trip Him up, because He did speak with authority and He spoke “as one having the truth.” But Jesus gave us all a truth that is easy to apply, or at least to try and apply if we would only adhere to His simple message as found in Matthew 22, verses 35-40 state, “Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him,” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
This Scripture which sums up the WHOLE Bible, both Old and New Testament, doesn’t command to just love God and your brothers and sisters who agree and believe like you. It states to LOVE your neighbor as yourself! It doesn’t mention labels, denominations, religious organizations and institutions; it says your neighbor! If you can’t accept this simple truth for the SPIRIT behind the letter, than JUDGING by your actions, perhaps you should reconsider your standing as it pertains to true Agape Love!
There ARE those out there that profess to know Christ Jesus, but their actions belie the truth of their confession. We ARE to be on the lookout and to be wary for Peter states rightly so, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” – 1Peter 5:8. But the Bible in 1John 4 does say to “test the spirits” and testing isn’t always immediate. Sometimes actions have to be played out to reveal truth and falsehood. But this goes for “brick and mortar” church policy also. Are you judging individuals or groups based on their labels? Remember, especially in the United States, there is a lot of professing to know God, but by the same token, there is a lot of denying His power also.
Don’t look at denominations anymore as a means of determining the standing of someone who claims to be a brother or sister, because you may never know what our Heavenly Father is doing in the life of a person who loves Him more than anything, and you don’t necessarily know the gifts and calling on the life of that one that you might be rejecting because you have been “taught” that a denomination or organization is bad. Why not as Paul told Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved,” before God and man.
The author of Acts states in chapter 17 verse 11, “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” The Bereans, whom the writer is talking about, were more fair-minded, or noble as some translations say. This is a great principle when learning from others, myself included, from Scripture. But it is also a great principle when you are taught something about others that may or may not be true.
This beautiful Sister in Christ, has healed from her hurt, and yet, she is still confused at how someone who is supposed to be another sister in the Lord AND a friend, could be so judgmental because of where she chooses to worship, when where she chooses does place Jesus Christ first. If we are going to be the Bride that Christ is coming for and all the more so in this treacherous and dangerous time we live in, then we better learn to love beyond labels, beyond doctrinal differences, beyond race and ethnicity and we better start loving like the Word of God commands.
As long as modern day church leaders and leaders of religious organizations choose to place their ideology above the Love of God, human nature and NOT the Spirit will continue to reign in our so-called places of worship, just as was taking place when our Savior preached to the hungering masses outside the “brick and mortar” establishments of His time on this earth.
There are still many churches and many religious organizations that minister to those hungering and searching after truth and those attempting to live a righteous life, but sadly that number is slowly diminishing as it seems the age we live in is quickly ushering in the apostate church of the last days as prophesied by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation.
Finally in closing, I want to share again this telling and Spirit-led writing from the Word of God, 1John 4:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
15-16, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”