It was one evening last week when the staff at a curry restaurant were preparing to receive 27 men for an evening of fellowship over food. Yes, that number of males, many married, some still single, all either regular attendees of a church which meets at Ascot, or having some associations with it. When I walked in with three other people, the first table was fully taken except for just one seat, while the other table was still unoccupied bar just two people. The occupant next to the vacant seat was one I shall call Trevor. We had been at odds with each other for many months, and I suspect that his feelings towards me slowly metamorphosed from the level of disagreement to downright hatred. I thought that sitting next to him in such an informal social environment may help us both change direction which would ultimately lead to a more positive relationship between us.
While I hesitated slightly, he turned and giving me a fierce look, ordered me not to sit next to him. And this was in front of everyone else at the table, who were all busy in conversation, possibly to blot out what was a potentially explosive situation in the restaurant, which would have had us all thrown out by the staff. Fortunately, I was also standing next to the one of just two occupants at the other table, and I politely asked him if he would kindly occupy the one remaining seat. He obliged, and with the one man between Trevor and myself, the situation was defused, just as more arrived to fill the seats around the table I was occupying.
The situation was defused but not my emotions. I was full of rage, and I wanted to floor him with a single punch, despite that he is taller than I am. There was something which Trevor may not have been aware of. Since I came out of hospital after a major cardiac procedure, I had at first attended a course of rehabilitation exercises at Windsor, twice a week. This included bicep curls using a pair of free weights. After the course was over, I began to attend gym on a weekly basis, and among other cardiac-benefitting exercises, I intensified the bicep curls using heavier weights. Now I have been advised to up my gym attendance from one to twice a week, aiming for three times a week. As a result, I began to grow strong again, enough to believe that I could floor this arrogant Englishman with a single blow.
As I pondered over the issue, I was imagining my enjoyment of the sudden shot to power had he went down. Very self-satisfying, knowing that my opponent was brought down a peg or two and taught a lesson - in front of a shocked audience to boot. My hands were trembling as all sorts of thoughts passing through and emotions felt. But after the hors d'oeuvre was served and I began to tuck in, I was also praying in my spirit, confessing my anger and admitting in my heart that all these things were ungodly. Almost immediately I felt my anger melt away, and I was able to converse as normal as if nothing had happened.
My opponent I knew for many years. I recall the one Sunday in the early 1990's when he showed up in church with his wife and two young, pre-adolescent sons. Trevor and I became friends. I have never forgotten the after-service lunch when he invited me, back then as a bachelor, to his home for dinner. After this, we agreed to a general knowledge board game, in which I came out as the winner. After this, while the parents had to engage in domestic business, the two boys and I contributed to a jigsaw puzzle, after which I was commended by their mother.
There were two occasions when this fellow had helped me out. The first was when I was at house-group with him. I was going through a patch of financial difficulty, and he gave me, as a gift rather than a loan, a sum of money to help tide me over. Then came the evening of March 2004 when my second daughter was about to be born. After spending two days and a night with my wife in hospital, that evening I decided to return home to spend the night in my own bed. By 11 O'clock pm I was just getting into bed when the 'phone rang. It was from the labour ward, announcing that my daughter was minutes away from birth. In panic I phoned Trevor and in next to no time he was at my front door, and together we were on our way to the hospital in his car with his wife at the front passenger seat. Upon arrival, all three of us made a quick prayer, then I dashed alone into the building and ran up several flights of stairs - and entered the ward just minutes before the actual birth. Phew! Thanks, mate.
This was also the era when he would collect me for an evening out to the pub. Week by week we sat across table, drink in hand and into deep discussions. It was during these pub visits when disagreements in theological issues began to emerge. I was, and am, an advocate of Eternal Security of the Believer, or Once Saved Always Saved, while he in turn believed that a believer's salvation can be lost if he becomes unfaithful. Disagreements in other topics also emerged, but this was the main one.
Then how could it go so wrong? Surely not over a theological disagreement?
When I contributed to them on construction of the jigsaw puzzle, I tended to show affection towards the two boys on what I thought was on equal measure. I now admit that there were times that I went over the top, but neither complained - not to me at least. This keeping of the British stiff upper lip by these two young men allowed me to go blindly along in the ignorance of what was really happening. It was years later, after they had both graduated at university, that I had a glimpse of a video that one of them had made and posted online, which has caused me to ask questions. The occultic flavour of the video was so sickening that I had to click it off about a third of the way through. Did one of Trevor's sons depart from the faith, and if so, am I blamed for this?
For a father who believes that salvation can be lost through unfaithfulness, this must be devastating! Furthermore, according to him, it would be me who would receive this edict from Jesus Christ himself:
But if anyone who causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Matthew 18:6. Also Mark 9:42, Luke 17:12.
That the same statement is repeated in three of the four Gospels shows its significance. All this father had to do was link these verses with 2 John:9-11:
Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.
This is only my own theory about Trevor and his hostility at the restaurant, but it is based on my own experiences with him in the past. On the other hand, both of his sons may be well within the faith and attend their churches regularly. If that is the case, and I hope this turns out to be true, then his present hatred for me remains a mystery. Yet, to look back at 2 John:9-11, the apostle tells us who these false teachers were. They were not the ones who hug other men a little too much. Rather, they were the ones who deny with intent that Jesus came in the flesh. In other words, to them, Jesus was not the Christ. Yes, he was crucified, but as an imposter. He did not atone for our sins, neither did he rise physically from the dead. This leaves salvation only to be attained by the perfect keeping of the Law of Moses. These deniers, John writes, are the antichrists already in the world, as the word antichrist means instead of Christ.
That a fight could have easily broke out at a restaurant among churchgoers shows that we all fall short on what a believer should be like, and that we still have a long way to go in our spiritual lives. But this is nothing new. The New Testament is pretty straightforward in its honesty in regarding churches. Paul writes the the church in Corinth that they were actually bickering among themselves over which leader to follow - and threatening to split four ways, while at the same time bringing lawsuits to unbelieving magistrates, while practicing fornication with prostitutes! But the apostle also opens his letter with greetings to them as saints, sanctified in Christ and called to be holy - not by their own deeds, but by the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit dwelling in them.
Then there is his letter to the churches in Galatia, who were turning from the grace of Jesus Christ to attaining life through obedience to Moses, particularly in male circumcision. Yet like with the Corinthians, his letter opens with a greeting along with acknowledgement that they are all saints, true believers in Jesus Christ, according to the will of the Father. God is sovereign, and no man - believer or unbeliever - can undo his works.
James also opens his letter with greetings "to the twelve tribes scattered across the nations" acknowledging that they are his brothers, and therefore referring to all Jewish believers in Jesus Christ. Yet he rebukes them of social class favouritism - a sin common among present English churches, faith without deeds, an unruly tongue, and then he asks the question:
What cause fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you don't ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
The apostle were not addressing unbelievers but Jewish believers. They were accused of fighting with one another, right to the point of murder itself. Yet they were saints, called through the foreknowledge of God the Father and destined to be holy. Their lurid behaviour did not bring glory to God among unbelievers, which is the whole point of his letter. Yet they remained in the firm hand of God to salvation, just as Jesus promised to the Jews as recorded in John 10:29. In the Father's hand and in the hand of Christ you are a son of God forever!
With such a background there is hope for us. I thank the Lord that he has put a restraint on me at that restaurant. But as for my opponent, I have never disliked him, for even if he is enslaved to false doctrine, he is still a believer and a brother of mine in Christ. Just over a week earlier I spoke to his wife in church at her husband's absence, that I have never forgotten their kindness when driving me up late at night over twelve miles to the hospital. And on top of this I still care for the whole family. Did his son fall away from his faith? Perhaps he did, perhaps he didn't. I hope he hasn't fallen away. Unless otherwise told, I'll will never know for sure.
However, having known both sons since childhood, I firmly believe they are in Christ, whether they make occultic videos or not. For salvation is from the faith of Christ to the believer, whose body remains the home of the Holy Spirit, and not dependant on performance. Yes, I am aware that the Lord is very particular in the way we live as Christians, but if James' letter has anything to go by, it is always to manifest the Glory of God to the lost, that they too may believe and be saved.
False doctrine - the idea that man must help God to save him by staying faithful or is in danger of losing his salvation - is a denial of the full Saviour-hood of Jesus Christ, practically making sinful man his own saviour, as well as a denial of God's Omniscience and Sovereignty. When I have a glance back at history - for example, the Dark Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, the brutality of bygone Popes, the high rate of adultery, fornication and prostitution among the clergy over the centuries, even accusations of paedophilia to this day, as well as pirate life and slavery in the 18th Century Caribbean romanticised by Disneyland, I could see the devastating result of both Catholicism and the teaching of probational salvation, which was already at work among the churches of Galatia during Paul's lifetime. It is a doctrine which I believe places a blockage from God's love manifested to a lost world.
Now that does carry a powerful punch.