Greetings to all of my brothers and sisters in Christ who are members of the churches of the American Baptist Association.
It is with Christian love that I write this letter. Please understand that, in writing this letter, it is not in any way my intent to "sow discord among brethren"; on the contrary, it is my intent to encourage all of you to do the exact opposite. By raising awareness of something that I firmly believe is having a serious detrimental effect on the 'accord' of the brethren (being "with one accord" as the scriptures indicate we ought to be), I sincerely hope and pray that many will be able to get around the obstacle that Satan has placed in their path to cause them to stumble.
This obstacle exists in the form of a "ritualistic mentality" (instigated and promoted by Satan) that esteems a man-made construct as if it were superior to the natural order of what is stated very elegantly in the scriptures. The 'mechanism' of it implements a replacement of an authentic Christian life with a skewed sense of focus and commitment with regard to the commandments of the Lord given in the scriptures.
As they so diligently do their best to preach and teach the truth - many ABA pastors, preachers, and teachers may wonder why so many ABA churches are not as "stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58) as they should be. There are certainly many reasons for this. Satan likes to "attack from every angle" and "cover all the bases" in his attempts to hinder the plan of God. And, any time he can cause a Christian to stumble, he considers it a success for his cause and does not hesitate to do so. Remember the words of 1 Peter 5:8 ...
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
I firmly believe that one of the reasons for the distressed condition of many ABA churches today is due to something I like to call [the] 'ritualistic mentality protocol'.
In these last days, Satan has deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9) with extraordinarily absurd pathetic lies. In every way he can, he works tenaciously and viciously to cause the children of God to deviate and depart from the truth. And, true to the prophetic words of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, there is definitely and most certainly a "falling away" in the present day due to the ever-increasing departure from the truth.
I believe that ABA doctrine is closer to the truth than the doctrine of most-if-not-all other organized groups in existence today, and I thank God that I was born into the world at a place and time whereby I would be able to have such a privilege as to grow up with a "better and greater" truth. Nonetheless, while I believe that ABA doctrine is "better and greater", I also consider it to be in error. However, I am not suggesting that the doctrine as a whole is in error; only that it contains error ("a little here and a little there"). Unfortunately, some of these "small" errors are the kind that can ultimately translate into "big" (adverse) effects on the life of a Christian. And, I am very concerned about how the perpetual promotion of these "small" errors from generation to generation is effecting the churches of the ABA.
These "small" errors are unknowingly being sustained by well-meaning pastors, preachers, and teachers in the ABA. And, they are being actively "lived out" by the members of the churches of the ABA. They cause Christians everywhere to be robbed of the true meaning and real nature of biblically-based concepts depicted in phrases such as 'liberty in Christ' and 'in spirit and in truth'.
I believe that the 'ritualistic mentality protocol' is one of the most prolific and effectual initiators of error that Satan has ever come up with.
In this letter (and on related web pages on this web site), I will attempt to explain some of the most cunningly deceptive devices Satan has ever come up with (in my opinion) to nullify the effectiveness of Christians in their daily lives. I will also attempt to explain just exactly how and why these devices work so well to transform an authentic Christian life into an "obligatory 3-4 hours a week" kind of Christian life.
The first thing I need to explain is my use of the word 'ritualistic', and how I determine and define when something is (or becomes) a 'ritual'. Not to be confused with the word 'routine', which refers to something done out of habit on a regular basis, the word 'ritual' refers to something you do in such a way whereby the "particular specific" way you go about doing it is equally (or more) important than what it is that you are doing. If something "just has to be done in an exactingly particular specific way" (otherwise, it is not considered to be valid, or is not "comfortable" if not done precisely that way), then it becomes a ritual (or, ritualistic).
You may brush your teeth as part of a daily routine; however, if you find it necessary to only do it in a certain particular way that is reminiscent of the hand motions of a military rifle exhibition drill, then it becomes a ritual.
The next thing I need to explain (or, mention, as a reminder) is that, in the modern day, 'ritual' is of Satanic origin. It is true that God used ritual with purpose for the sake of Old Testament Israel; however, with the establishment of the New Covenant, it has been done away with. A part of what it means to have "liberty in Christ" is to not be in "bondage" to 'ritual'. (Yes - the "primary" liberty is not being in bondage to sin; however, a "secondary" liberty is having freedom from the letter-of-the-law nature of 'ritual' [itself].)
Since the establishment of the New Covenant, a 'law' mentality is both unnecessary and counter-productive to the Christian life. It defies the true meaning of 'liberty in Christ'. All born-again Christians are "at liberty" (in Christ) to conduct their daily Christian walk - by the 'spirit' and not the 'letter' - so that they may freely carry out the Great Commission without the encumbrance of ritual.
There is no more ritual. God has done away with it. If you encounter ritual today, you may know with absolute certainty that it is a work (or under the influence) of the devil. It is not of God. It is worldly.
And, it has become one of the greatest tools of Satan to trap and ensnare the unsuspecting mind.
Today, Satan uses ritual to cause Christians to compromise their faith by focusing their attention on a 'ritualistic mentality protocol' of the "details of religious activity" rather than living out their daily Christian walk with sincerity-of-purpose according to the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). In so doing, he convinces Christians that the [surface] "method/mode of operation" is more important than the [deeper] "sincere truth" (hence, "simply going through the motions" becomes synonymous with "being right with God"); thereby, giving justification for them to "operate" on the 'surface' of the Christian life without having to delve too deeply into those things which are necessary to sustain a strong faith.
Many pastors, preachers, and teachers in the ABA - who will readily attest that we are no longer under the Mosaic Law (and, should no longer "operate" under a 'law' mentality) - are teaching and instructing church members (perhaps without even realizing it) to exercise their daily Christian walk under a 'law' mentality instead of one which is aligned with the liberty they have in Christ.
Please remember that - in the context of this letter - when I speak of a 'law' mentality, the word 'law' is not specifically referring to the Mosaic Law; rather, I am speaking in a more general sense of a letter-of-the-law way of thinking. (It is a defining reference only, based on the letter-of-the-law nature of the Mosaic Law.) And, in the case of the 'ritualistic mentality protocol', it is a letter-of-the-law approach that places the greatest importance and significance on a wisdom-of-men method that attempts to do the work of the Holy Spirit - instead of giving the Holy Spirit "something 'authentic' to work with" (by simply teaching the truth of the scriptures without [first] "filtering it" through that wisdom-of-men method) and trusting Him to do the work, which only He is able to properly perform.
To help you better understand what I am saying, I will make the following illustration.
In my life-long experience with the ABA, I have discovered that - to a great degree - the preaching and teaching seems to follow this formula:
|49%||:||"We are IT brothers and sisters!"|
|"ABA churches are the only true churches in existence. All other churches are in some way deficient."|
|"ABA doctrine is 100% correct, and it is the only correct doctrine. Every other doctrine is a false doctrine."|
|"The work of all non-ABA churches is totally worthless in the eyes of God, because they are not true churches."|
|While most will suggest that there are valid local New Testament Churches in the world that are not a part of the ABA, few seem to want to acknowledge any actual churches as being valid local New Testament Churches other than those that are a part of the ABA.|
|49%||:||"If you ever miss a church meeting, you are most certainly living in sin and not right with God."|
|More "contempt and damnation" is exhibited for "missing church" than is ever manifested for idolatry, living out-of-wedlock. etc.|
|1%||:||Salvation, Baptism, Discipleship, etc.|
|Truth and Doctrine. Need and Necessity.|
|The most important central truth in the scriptures that, if faithfully followed, will result in a successful and joyful authentic Christian life.|
While perhaps [just] a bit exaggerated, this illustration is intended to point out the absurdity of the seemingly prevailing attitude towards the importance of what church members need to know in order to have a successful daily Christian walk. The percentages are in terms of the emphasis placed on the subject matter in each percentage group.
By no means am I trying to undervalue the importance of fellowship (including, attending church gatherings/meetings); on the contrary, I very much believe that - in these last days - there ought to be a lot more time and effort dedicated to Christian fellowship. And, it ought to naturally flow out from a fearless love-of-Christ affection in the hearts of believers toward each other in Christian love. Yet, there is too much fear-and-judgment and not enough genuine love in many churches today.
Nor do I disregard the importance of any other necessary scriptural part of what local New Testament Churches are all about.
Nor do I disregard the historical significance of the 'Trail Of Blood' lineage of churches.
What I am saying is that waaaaaaaaaay too much emphasis is being placed on some things while waaaaaaaaaay too little emphasis is being placed on other things. And, so many things would simply "take care of themselves" if proper emphasis were to be placed on the proper things.
If you were to give the greatest percentage of emphasis and focus to the lowest percentage groups depicted above, everything else would pretty much take care of itself.
Do you not think that if a person is faithfully following the commandments given in Matthew 22:37-40, that:
Do you not think that if the greatest possible emphasis and focus were placed on teaching the truth of the Word - instead of the wisdom-of-men tactics illustrated in the '49%' percentage groups above - that it would result in believers having a much better understanding of the scriptures? And that it would result in them having a better daily Christian walk?
How much better is it then to place the greatest emphasis and focus on increasing the faith of a believer (in God and the Lord Jesus Christ) rather than to utilize fear-and-judgment tactics to try to compel that believer to submit to a man-made construct?
The "we are it" mantra and the "you better toe the line" dictate - as a method of maintaining the coherence of a collective group - are wisdom-of-men tactics. And, they do not work in the realm of spirituality. Instead, they "backfire" - producing a different result than what is intended by those who utilize it due to wisdom-of-men thinking.
Instead of bragging about how "we are it", try emphasizing how that God is 'it'. After all, while you could possibly be wrong about the former, you will never be wrong about the latter. In other words, you just can't go wrong if you always direct the glorifying statements toward God.
Instead of using a fear-based tactic to promote the necessity of fellowship, try emphasizing the love, mercy, and grace of God. After all, fellowship is much better if people actually want it rather than it being only out of a sense of duty. In other words, you just can't go wrong if fellowship is had out of a genuine love of God and siblings in Christ.
The fact that "only we can please God" is touted so much over-and-above "to God be the glory" demonstrates the improper priority of the attitude and inclination toward what should be most important to the church.
The fact that the 'letter-of-the-law' nature of the stipulation [to] "make sure you are here every time the doors are open" is promoted so heavily over-and-above the 'spirit-of-the-law' nature of the admonition [to] "love God and your neighbor" demonstrates the destitute condition of the thinking and methodology being utilized to attempt to accomplish a faithful following of the church in activities of the church - not because of a direct result of increased faith in God - but, instead - because of a direct obedience - not to God - but, to a man-made construct.
And, the fact that Satan has managed to convince churches to utilize these tactics - to undermine and replace an authentic love for God and neighbor with a "just going through the motions is okay" approach to the Christian life, no less - is evidence of his craftiness and subtlety.
True spiritual adherence to the principles and commandments of God in the scriptures is being replaced with a wisdom-of-men 'law' mentality approach to Christian spirituality that leaves the Christian wanting for lack of sufficient understanding of the spirit-of-the-law nature of those principles and commandments.
Do you understand what I am trying to get across to you?
It is a man-made construct.
Built on pride and arrogance.
Devoid of any spiritual wisdom.
It causes passages of scripture to be misinterpreted/misconstrued.
It hinders the Holy Spirit in convicting the hearts and minds of Christians.
It entices pastors, preachers, and teachers to fall into the snare of personal pride.
It is the hard-line habit of using wisdom-of-men reasoning [in making the attempt] to interpret and navigate the spiritual things of life.
The 'ritualistic mentality protocol' is built upon this man-made construct, and transforms well-intentioned preaching and teaching of the truth into:
"Don't worry so much about down-deep-in-your-heart-and-at-the-center-of-your-being love for God and others. All you need to do is to follow the wisdom-of-men letter-of-the-law-based ritualistic mentality protocol, and you will have a right-with-God Christian walk and will be living a full-and-complete Christian life. Nothing else is required."
In this letter, I am very purposefully characterizing 'fear' and 'judgment' as a singular thing ('fear-and-judgment') - because, in the context of the subject matter of this letter, they are always found together. We tend to fear the things we do not understand, and we are quick to judge those things that we fear.
In the case of the 'ritualistic mentality protocol', a pattern of ritualistic thinking becomes a replacement for the natural elegant simplicity that is in the scriptures. As a result, 'authenticity' is replaced with 'fear-and-judgment'.
Christians fear things that they need not fear, and judge things that they ought not judge.
Pastors, preachers, and teachers become entranced by wisdom-of-men thinking and attempt to do the work of the Holy Spirit themselves.
Whole churches become incapacitated by a 'law' mentality approach to New Covenant commandments - which become overshadowed with wisdom-of-men reasoned commandments-of-men.
As a closing remark, I wish to warn you with this word of caution:
Beware of the wolves among the sheep!
Beware of those who would encourage you to follow after the 'ritualistic mentality protocol'.
Beware of those who would declare this letter of concern to be borne out of anything other than love for my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Beware of those who would have you embrace fear-and-judgment attitudes and postures, instead of love and compassion, toward your brothers and sisters in Christ.
And, above all:
Listen carefully to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, and not the wisdom of men.
Finally, in the words of Hebrews 13:25 ...
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.