An Anointed Ministry, Part IV
(con't from Part III)
Those organists who have sensed within themselves a definite inner awareness to expand their outreach beyond the art music of the organ to help spread the gospel message are all united in one thing: they do not give their remaining lives and the sum of their talents, energies, tools, time, and know-how to a dead Christ but to a living Christ. Because God has given us a singing faith and the gift of music to praise Him there can be no doubt that the music ministry has pastoral dimensions which stretch across the entire enormity of ALL groupings which embrace the Christian faith. It's important therefore for organists and church musicians actively involved in following that anointed calling and have been habitually working and serving at a particular worship center or at similar venues, for pay or otherwise, to know that the Person of God's Spirit very likely has been speaking to them and that keeping the tenets or creed where they meet and work in biblical perspective is an important part of their work.
Having a solid grounding in those biblical concepts which have been the subjects of such a vast company of inspired hymns, hymn arrangements, anthems, masses, cantatas, chorale harmonizations, chorale preludes, and songs of the church as have come down to us, sheds light on the work of today's organists and church musicians. By way of review, the Word of God indicates that in heaven there are no multiple "churches," denominations, or religious persuasions at variance with one another. There, believers "from every tribe and language and people and nation ..." (Rev.5:9) will be united together in Christ. What a comforting throught that all the things currently dividing the followers of Christ in this age one day will be swept away. One can certainly appreciate the loyalty to their "church" or denomination people of this day may express and perhaps require of those who are needed to meet its own musical demands of worship, but, the truth is: The love of God is not restricted in its limits or extent to any one denomination, persuasion, or grouping of people; it is His will that ALL be saved and come to repentance and the knowledge of His truth and for NONE to perish (1Tim.2:3, 2Pet.3:9). One may logically infer from this that none of these differing groupings are exclusively right while everyone else is wrong. Evangelists who have traveled extensively carrying the gospel message to different countries across the world come into contact with many men and women from a multitude of different backgrounds who love Christ, and these same messengers of the gospel have returned grateful for the spiritual oneness they have observed.
Sometimes there is a deeper issue behind someone's attitude that their own faith-based group, and theirs alone, has the truth about God and everyone else is wrong: "The church Jesus started" is a designation being claimed by many conflicting Christian-based creeds and communions these days. Again, to keep things in perspective, the deepest issue of all is humanity's sin problem -- the basic evil from which all people need deliverance. Even though the same spiritual forces which have spawned the sewer-pipe ungodly world in which we live have led men to trivialize sin by cloaking it in alternative terminology, the fact remains that sin has cursed and broken every human life, broken every family, broken every community, broken every nation, broken every kingdom, shattered this world, and the rubble is everywhere. It has distorted the soul of every human being on the face of this earth, it has us caught like a rat in a trap, and its effects and consequences are everywhere in view. Like a workman's rule or gauge, God's laws, codified in the commandments presented to Moses (Ex.20:1-17, Deut.5:6-21), define what sin is and measure everyone's thoughts and conduct against God's standards, reflecting a person's moral image like a mirror for us to see our own nature as God sees it. These reveal the depth and breadth of God's standards and that no one is righteous on their own, that ALL have fallen short of the glory of God. The Bible further indicates (Rev.20:11-15) that every act of human disobedience to God -- every sinful thought and action -- has been recorded in heavenly books and, if not expunged from that record, will be held against people when the day and hour arrives for judgment. That day and hour arrives for everyone because all have rejected God's way, all have been disobedient, and all are under condemnation for it. But God, in His unfathomable love for us, wants to forgive us; He wants to make us a new person and has provided a Way of deliverance for us from the power and effects of sin -- a Way to erase a repentant believer's offenses once and for all from the heavenly books that record them and to enter his or her name instead in the Lamb's Book of Life.
So, the real question for the organist/church musician must be: How are people saved? ... Are they saved just because they belong to one particular church, denomination, or faith-based group? ... Or are they saved because of their good works or religious acts? ... The answer to both is no. God's Word is clear: there is nothing anyone can do to earn their own salvation; no person is righteous on their own. But for those who repent of their sins, believe in Christ and His sacrifice, and ask Him to come into their heart and make Him their Lord and Saviour, the same are then justified by God. At that moment a measure of the goodness of Christ is spiritually poured into that person, and their past sinful thoughts, words, and deeds are then forgiven and wiped away as if they never happened. Like a single glimmering ray from an altar lamp, the Spirit of Christ within then shines forth and serves to make the darkness visible, and, from then on, they are in Christ, and He is in them. In the way this glimmering ray makes His home with us, God imparts His peace and His righteousness to us through it, our offenses are pardoned, we've been reconciled to God, and each of us is a new person in Christ. No matter what a mess we may have made of our life up until then, this gives us a fresh start, a new beginning. This is what it means to be a Christian, to be "born again" (of God's Spirit), to be saved, to be identified as belonging to Christ and part of the church that Jesus said He would build, to grow in Him, and to be heirs with Him of the promises of life eternal. This doesn't happen by praying for someone to be born again; it happens by being exposed to the incorruptible seed of the Word of God, which is truth.
The way God has chosen to reveal Himself to humans is by means of a triune nature, and man whom He made in the image of Himself also was given a triune nature, viz. a body, a soul, and a spirit (1Thess.5:23). The human body (Gr. soma) or outermost man is physical, the seat of the 5 senses, how we interact with the physical world, and is readily comprehended. The human spirit and soul on the other hand are less distinguishable and often confused. As stated, the spirit (Gr. pneuma) or inner man is what is born again; the soul (Gr. psyche) or outer man is not. The soul of someone born again has to be "renewed," and the physical body has to be disciplined. This progress takes time. Our human spirit, when present with the body, is what makes us alive, and when we die our spirit separates from the body and returns to God (Eccl.12:7). The soul, which the Bible sometimes refers to as "the heart of man" (Matt.15:19, Mark7:21), is the seat of our identity, personality, and character, our emotions, feelings, and passions, our intellect and mind, our will and desires, our conscience in knowing right from wrong, and it can be a dwelling place for evil, meaning our sinful human nature and possibly evil spirits. Our spirit on the other hand, at the moment God justifies us by our faith in the Son of God and belief that He was resurrected from the dead, is the home of the Holy Spirit. It exists for God, is always pointed toward God, and is the place from where we communicate with God in prayer. It's the seat of spiritual discernment, revelation and insight from God, and peace. The spirit of the individual saved in Christ is where true ministry happens, and it leads and guides the soul and body to act and operate within the will of God, it permits a much deeper discernment between right and wrong, and no evil ever dwells there or is emitted from there. Apart from God however, man's spirit is inactive.
With that in mind, Christ, in sharing in our humanity, took upon Himself a human spirit at His birth which in its functionality was no different than ours. This can be inferred because on the night He was betrayed, during the hours He spent overnight in Gethsemane in mental agony awaiting His arrest, as He literally became sin for us, God withdrew the Person of His Spirit from Him, leaving Him alone to feel His human spirit separated from the Holy Spirit for the first time in His life. Christ also took upon Himself a human soul at His birth but which, due to His divinity, lacked any base natural sin, but in its functionality, save for it being under no burden for sin or yoked with generational curses, His soul also was no different from ours. Upon His death on the cross the human spirit which was His at birth was committed to His Father in heaven (Luke23:46). His soul however did not fall asleep when He died, nor did it vanish into thin air. His soul did not return to heaven unto God Who gave it, as might be expected, because it had singular work to do; it descended into a spiritual compartment within the heart of the earth (Gr. tartarus, translated "hell") where certain rebellious angels are being confined awaiting judgment (1Pet.3;19). No human ever goes there, but when Christ descended there with the personality/identity of His soul fully intact He preached a message to them. The Bible does not record that allocution, but what was very likely made known to them in no uncertain terms was that He had just triumphed over death, hell, and the grave, and that THEY, by enlisting under Satan's banner, had bet on the wrong horse.
While still in the heart of the earth Christ visited a second compartment called Paradise, or Abraham's bosom, and emptied it of the souls of the Old Testament saints who, waiting there in a place of comfort, were saved by their faith in a coming Messiah even though they died not knowing him to be Jesus of Nazareth. Christ then emptied Paradise by removing all these souls to heaven along with the soul of the penitent criminal crucified with Him whose faith had earned him a place among these Old Testament saints. Thus Paradise, Abraham's bosom, is now in heaven, and the compartment in the heart of the earth that used to be Paradise has been vacated. Alhough at the time His dead mortal body was resting in a tomb and He had commended His human spirit temporarily to His Father, Christ's soul in the heart of the earth remained fully intact and active. The same also continued after His resurrection else His personality/identity would not have been evident to His disciples when He appeared to them in a glorified state (John21:12). The point is, upon His death Christ's human soul, functionally no different than ours, did not enter a sleep state, neither did it disappear. What happens to everyone else's soul at death depends upon the type of resurrection that awaits that person. The Bible speaks of three types of resurrections: 1) physical life, 2) immortality, or 3) judgment. In the first two instances the soul of the deceased man, woman, or child returns to God awaiting a resurrection to immortality or perhaps another physical life, but in the last instance the soul is sent to an awful third compartment within the heart of the earth (Gr. Hades, translated "hell") to await a future resurrection to judgment and the lake of fire.
When our own spirit is born again it's very much like a newborn baby. It needs to grow. It's needing to be fed, cleaned up, trained, disciplined, all of that. That new human spirit of ours just born again isn't anywhere near ready to take on the likes of our old, experienced soul. The latter has been around a long time and will not be told what to do by some new upstart, so, it tends to keep doing what it wants, even if our new, born again spirit is making feeble attempts at urging us to pray, read the Bible, meditate on God's Word, go to church, or do other acts of service for Him. Until our new spirit grows and gains strength, the soul will keep kicking its little behind. Thus, even though we're a new person in Christ and making progress a part of us out of habit still sins and keeps feeding itself. This explains why someone born again, like a toddler learning to walk, keeps stumbling in sin. The sinful nature expressible by the soul is an enemy to be recognized and battled every day along with the world and its ways and Satan the devil, our so-called "three deadly enemies." So, the Bible tells us that we're a new creation in Christ, and here we are wanting to sin, like always. When this happens the presence of God's Spirit within us strongly convicts us of the sin, makes us feel horrible over it, leads us again to repentance, and our salvation obtained by faith in God's grace through Christ continues. The Bible speaks of "renewing our minds" for a reason, because the changes of being born again are not immediate or magical and we have to work to retrain our minds and to salvage what we can of our souls. When the Bible speaks of "possessing (saving) the soul" or "standing firm and winning life" (Luke21:19) it is speaking of this. The unsalvaged soul unrenewed, unled, and unguided by God's Spirit to operate within the will of God is lost in sin, and, if left in that condition, is headed for death (Ezek.18:20)
NOTE: Coming from some of the most misunderstood passages of the synoptic gospels, the term "unpardonable sin" has caused more consternation and fear than perhaps any other (Matt. 12:31,32, Mark 3:28,29, Luke 12:10). The very idea can cause the stomach to tie in knots and create despair in the hearts of young believers in a way that could send some over the edge. It is not merely mouthing some nasty words about the Person of God's Spirit that brings the trouble ... rather, it's ascribing works that could only be done by God's Spirit to Satan the devil or to his minions that renders a person incapable of receiving salvation. One of the primary earthly roles of God's Spirit is to convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and to gently lead us to saving faith. Jesus told the Jews, "No one can come to me unless the Father Who sent me draws them ..." (John 6:44). The agent actually performing the "drawing" is none other than the Holy Spirit. Thus, if anyone credits to the powers of darkness those things that the Holy Spirit is working to do in their own life, then there remains no avenue for revelation to be led to salvation, no path or track left for insight or communication between that person's spirit and God. Therefore, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to which Christ refers in the synoptic gospels is not an action so bad that God won't forgive it -- instead it's a sin people commit against themselves, in hardening their hearts to such a degree that absolutely no evidence provided even by God Himself will ever be enough to draw them to Christ, their spirits remains inert, and their souls remain in their lost condition unable to be reached. It's a dangerous situation for someone to be in, and thus we might be very careful before we conclude that any living human being is beyond redemption. This is not a message given to us by which we are to judge other people -- it is rather a warning to us, a reminder, so that we might never ever, repeat never, even think about hardening our own hearts to such an extent that even the Person of God's Spirit cannot reach us.
It's proper to say that anyone worried or concerned that they may have committed the unpardonable sin clearly has not done so, for those who have hardened their heart to this degree will not even care about it. You, if you think you have crossed that line, have NOT crossed it, and God is still working in your life. And if, after careful prayer and searching, you come to a different conclusion from what the Bible is actually saying, then you have that right. But your right to accept what you want and reject or ignore what you want from the Bible won't change the fact that the truth as revealed in it is God-breathed, perfect, pure, infallible, never changes, and trusting and obeying it benefits us all. It's also a fact that we're all heading toward death from the day we're born. It's appointed for people once to die, and our lives are but a vapor which appears for a brief moment and then vanishes. It's also a fact that a mere one second after we die our soul/spirit leaves our physical body and enters an eternity in which the only thing that will matter is our personal relationship with Christ. Back here on earth the ownership of our home and/or real estate property, if any, will fall to someone else. Someone else will be driving our car or truck, wearing our clothing, and possessing our bank account, jewelry, and other material items. All of our accumulated titles, awards, honors, and whatever prestige that came with them -- all of that will mean nothing. The accolades, if any, we've received in this life, our privileges, licenses, memberships, and that Ph.D. of ours -- will mean absolutely nothing. How many people we were able to please -- also will mean nothing. Almighty God will not have the slightest interest in how many people we were able to please in this life. What He WILL want to know is: What did each of us do, with what He put inside of us? ...
A very great deal of vocal and choral music which organists and church musicians are typically expected to accompany also has to do with the subject of love. There are four different Greek words found in the New Testament Scriptures (Gr. agape, eros, philia, sturge) with completely different meanings that translators have rendered into English with the lone word "love." When the apostle John states (1John4:16) that "God is love" (Gr. agape, pronounced "Uh-GAH-pay") this Greek word refers to the highest of the four types, the divine love that comes from God, a perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, pure, and selfless concern for the welfare of others including the stranger. It does not refer to the sensual, romantic affection (Gr. eros, pronounced "AIR-ohs") reserved for marriage between a man and his wife ... it does not refer to the most generally seen and powerful emotional bond (Gr. philia, pronounced "FILL-ee-uh) of friendship among dear friends ... nor does it refer to the affectionate family bond (Gr. sturge, prounced "STOR-jay) that develops naturally between parents and children or between brothers, sisters, and other near relatives. Be careful here: Love is NOT the God we seek. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that neither agape nor eros, philia nor sturge, is a god to be sought after, that the God we seek is not an affective aspect of consciousness but the Creator and Supreme Architect of the Universe, the Author of Life, the Giver of all good gifts and graces, the Spirit of grace and truth, and the prophetic Revealer of hidden mysteries and future events, among so many other things -- not to mention being, according to Christ, the Doer of the Impossible (Mark10:27). Being saved in Christ imparts freedom from sin's enslavement, an inner sense of conviction for sin, and an impulse to renew one's sinful soul in Him. It does not grant a license for egocentrism, to continue in habitual sin as before, to take issue with what is found in the Bible (John10:35), to take its wording out of context, or to paraphrase it to bring it into agreement with one's own ideas or inclinations, in effect blurring the lines between God's ways and the ways of this world, without accountability. This is not meant as a judgment of others but rather to review for organists and church musicians what the Word of God has to say, and what it does not say.
NOTE: The Greek language is not singular in this respect. We know that, save for a few passages written in Aramaic, the Bible was penned originally and entirely in Hebrew and Greek, two languages which, when in comes to biblical translations, are in many ways richer in meanings than English. The sixth commandment, for example, is translated from the Hebrew "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex.20:13, Deut.5:17). What this refers to is murder -- the unlawful taking of human life with malice aforethought (which presumably takes in self-murder, or suicide). It does not refer to all killing, such as killing an animal, taking someone's life as a last resort for self-defense or to defend others from great bodily harm, or killing in godly war. These differences in meanings are not implicit when the lone word "kill" in used in English translation.
God loves us with an everlasting love and condemns no one to an eternity separated from Him. That is absolutely true. Reedeming love and retributive justice joined hands, so to speak, at Calvary. God's pardon for sin is not forced upon anyone, but if anyone willfully ignores what Christ did for them ... think of it ...
... of being falsely arrested and falsely accused, deserted and denied by his closest friends, then verbally abused, spit upon, mocked, repeatedly struck, had His beard plucked out, beaten by temple guards, then wrongly convicted of blasphemy by a Sanhedrin kangaroo court in a sham trial held illegally in the dead of the night, dragged from one governing authority to another all night long only to be further mocked and verbally abused, then tied to a whipping post and scourged unmercifully, worse than an animal and without limits, by sadistic Roman soldiers until his flesh hung in ribbons and he was judged near dead, a crown of thorns then crammed down on His head, then repeatedly beaten over the head with a rod, mocked and spit upon again, then presented to an unruly mob screaming for His death, judged and sentenced to capital punishment for treason when He was innocent, then crushed to the pavement under the weight of a beam of wood tied to his shoulders, whipped again until he had no strength remaining to carry it, then pushed, shoved, and dragged nearly unconscious almost a mile on foot to the outdoor site designated for public execution, stripped completely naked, pushed to the ground, dragged to and thrown upon that same wooden beam, the hideous pain of being nailed to it by the wrists traveling up the nerves of his arms like lightning to explode in His brain, then lifted off the ground, His whole weight tearing on two nails likely dislocating both shoulders, the wooden beam holding Him dropped into a mortise at the top of a longer wooden beam fastened upright in the ground, His feet then nailed to this same gibbet of horror and His body left to hang there with no end in sight, a shredded bloody mess barely recognizable and slowly suffocating and bleeding to death in unimaginable agony, when He knew no sin and did no wrong -- not to mention that what was also packed into less than 400 minutes on that cross was the overwhelming mental suffering He endured knowing that all sense of His Father's presence and love had been taken from Him and in its place was nothing but an awful loneliness of mind, a killing sense of abandonment, human malice, and callousness, and a horror of great spiritual darkness ...
... and if, in their foolishness, they don't care that Christ solved their greatest problem for them [the sin problem] -- OR they've willfully rejected this shield that Christ provides in receiving the wages of sin in their place and saving them from the nightmare prospect of God's retributive justice -- OR if in some manner they've hardened their hearts to such an extent that even God can't reach their heart and soul -- then such a person ends up being self-condemned for rejecting God's solution to their sin problem because it's on the basis of the cross of Christ, and this basis alone, that pardon is offered and granted. It's important therefore to keep in mind that holding membership in and/or providing for the musical needs of a certain body of believers exclusively, whether for pay or otherwise, in and of itself, has no saving power. Only Christ, meaning a total commitment to HIM -- not to one of many different flavors of "churches," denominations, or persuasions each claiming to be the sole custodian of truth, faith, and morals -- can save us.
It's another fact that, since the first day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ, Satan the original worker of iniquity has been laboring night and day to lead astray every house of God on this earth and claim it for himself. Whenever well-meaning people have attempted to lead and govern God's church by retranslating Scripture to get it to agree with their own ideas, rejecting from it what they want, adding to it, maintaining and teaching others that certain passages don't apply to people today -- implying that one or more of its Spirit-led writers had to be mistaken about a few things, or layering upon it their own conditions -- such as, for example, by taking the sincere language of prayer God desires of us and refashioning it into a prescribed ritual to be repeated word for word, syllable for syllable, many times over and over the same way supposing that it will have a better chance of being heard by God, something that Christ Himself commanded His followers NOT to do (Matt.6:7,8) -- trouble and division, the very objectives of Satan, have been the result. Thus, when a new pastor begins serving a troubled congregation, the first step to healing that congregation is to see that Christ is truly leading it. The "church" (Gr. "ekklesia," meaning "called out ones") Jesus said He would build is a spiritual entity composed of believers who are sprinkled among (and also outside of) ALL of the various denominations, persuasions, and faith-based groups we see today. The vast outreach of God's love makes that a fact -- Christ died for ALL. That means everybody regardless of their affiliation or non-affiliation with this or that faith-based group.
That is God's plan -- of pardon, redeeming love, and retributive justice -- as revealed in the pages of the Bible. He created us to love us. He wants us to be in His kingdom. He's waiting and longing to have a close friendship and relationship with each and every one of us. He wants us to know Him, to love Him, and, above all, to love others as He loves us. No act of faith-based service, musical or otherwise, is too small to escape the Saviour's notice. Even the slightest or seemingly imperfect musical offering provided by the organist/church musician on a very ordinary day can be a mustard seed for offering praise and thanksgiving to God, rejoicing and expressing the joy of salvation, admonishing those in Christ, teaching the message of Christ, and demonstrating and strengthening the faith of believers. By humbling Himself to share in our humanity, by living a sinless human life, and then laying down that life of His own free will and accord, taking upon Himself our sin, our guilt, our shame, our filth, our humiliation, our punishment, our hell, to pay the penalty for what a condemned humanity could not -- Christ alone has opened the door for us to heaven. Thus, those organists and church musicians who have truly and sincerely repented of their sins, invited Christ into their hearts, and made Him their Lord and Saviour do not lose their personal salvation if they stop serving a certain autonomous church or denomination to join with or serve at another. No one should ever let anything -- not even the piety, fidelity, and loyalty one may feel for one's own religious group -- become a substitute for Christ, for, as Acts 4:12 says, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved."
(con't in Part V)