By Rev. Dr. Tommy L. Davis
Everyone realizes that society is rampant with violence and has all forms of depressing issues. There exist countless programs like therapeutic remedies that attempt to medicate the participant in hopes to improve their conditions. Faith-based counseling is a complex issue in that each counselor brings to the table religious traditions from his or her perspectives.
While there are many secular curative agendas that are highly effective in treating counselees, there are new problems that may surface in the end if only part of the person’s predicament is addressed. It must be stressed that people are not satisfied with their circumstance. Thus, some have determined that the finest way to deal with such condition is to eliminate oneself by perpetrating suicide. Others choose a less extreme position through isolation which leads to depression, and ultimately affect all future relationships. Our shelves are filled with publications dealing with these issues but there are few books that directly address the need for an adoption of a religious faith that can transform an individual God’s way.
The Honorable Rick Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania, stated: “Nothing is as powerful as religious faith in building character. Nothing is as powerful as religious faith in turning people away from drugs and violence, idleness and despair. Nothing is as powerful as religious faith in helping all of us to lead worthy, decent, compassionate lives.” There are four issues in this commentary to be expounded:
•Transferring the need of biblical faith as opposed to religious traditions.
•Chaplains should be salt to a bitter world.
•Remain emphatic that lasting change occurs by being indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
•Ministry should not be a waste of time.
Transferring the Need of Biblical Faith as opposed to Religious Traditions
One of the great turn-offs in interactive ministry is religious compulsion. There is loads of spiritual traditions in America and oftentimes workers in the mission field are more concerned about “converts” or counselees being a part of their particular church or denomination rather than becoming a Christian. The problem with this objective is confusion and competition that may impede a person truly accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. According to the Apostle Paul the essential ingredient in being a Christian is that a man has the Spirit of Christ, no matter what his “tag” may be (Chambers).
Christ said we shall be His witnesses. (Acts 1:8). Therefore, it would be wise to proclaim Christ’s name. Every denomination has offended others at some point. By promoting a denomination we may actually open old wounds unwittingly. Christ committed no wrong. The world is well aware of His public sacrifice but lack many witnesses of that fact. We must confirm Christ’s finished work at Calvary.
In the name of religion many have misrepresented Christianity by promoting slavery, bloody crusades, covetousness, and murder—- all in the name of religion. There is a statement that I recorded in my journal years ago that had an impression on me. Dr. R.G. Lee made a valuable point:
“I know some people who call the preacher who stands squarely upon the Bible teaching of Christ and His apostles, narrow, harsh, cruel. As being narrow, I have no desire to be broader than was Jesus. As to being cruel, is it cruel to tell the truth? Is a man to be called cruel who declares the whole counsel of God, and points men to their danger? Is it cruel to awaken sleeping people to the fact that the house is on fire? Is it cruel to jerk a blind man away from the rattle snake in its coil? Is it cruel to declare to people the deadliness of disease and tell them of the medicine to take? I had rather be called cruel for being kind than to be called kind for being cruel!”
Chaplains should be salt to a bitter world
Every denomination and most religious faiths have chaplains. Some have attempted to define the role of chaplain. Christian chaplains have the same responsibility as any other believer. We cannot expect godly results through worldly means in conflict with biblical revelation. Perhaps we shall revisit the term. The English word chaplain is from the Old French chapelain which has come down from a Latin word spelled capellanus which describes a person who acted as custodian of a cape. This person was responsible for guarding the cape or cloak of St. Martin who’s garb was stored in the local chapel. Since chapel and cape are from the same base, the guardian became known as chaplain.
In contemporary language we may as well be custodians of the Gospel and carry our cross rather than a cloak. We must defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ by preserving it and proclaiming it just as it is written down in Scripture. Ministry without evangelism is like putting money into the stock market and never expecting a return. By serving as an example is allowing others to see that we have a hope worth considering. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt.5:16).
When the visible church ceases to reflect her salvation experience, depart from Scriptural truths, and do not appear as lights in a dark world, she can no longer serve as a conscience or testimony to those who are perishing. If we fail in our living witness, then skeptics may be in a position to define our view. Jesus said, “Ye are the salt of the earth, but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden underfoot of men” (Matthew 5:13).
Growing up on a pig farm in North Carolina, we slaughtered a hog at least twice per year. We would take salt and flavor our raw kill before hanging it in the smokehouse. The salt allowed our slay to “cure” rather than spoil. After its cure we would then chip off portions to add unique flavor to our foods. It is without doubt this tradition and use of salt was passed down from ancient times. Salt has been a vital part in food preservation for people who had no freezers or refrigerators, and added desirable taste to bland foods.
In biblical times salt was very important. The Roman soldier valued the use of this precious commodity — for a fraction of his salary was measured out in salt. This ration (or payment) was called “salarium.” This is where we get the term “salary”. The Roman soldier kept a small bag on his person to store his salt in order to flavor his daily portion of food.
Salt is comprised chiefly of sodium chloride. Without this it ceases to be called salt. So how can it lose its flavor? Similar to other substances, salt can be saturated with foreign material. When this happened in ancient times, this flavorless mineral was taken to the Temple and sprinkled on the slippery marble in the courtyard during the rainy season to increase traction (trample underfoot). The point that Jesus’ hearers understood is this: When we become so much like the world with all its lusts of the flesh and pride of life, we are no longer a use to it. When the visible church cease to exist as a moral conscience and mature stewards of an invisible kingdom, we become viewed as a people with more rules without life — salt without taste, wells without water, and worship without Spirit, ministry without converts.
Therefore, when the miserable seeks to make sense out of life, the church may not be their first option. Who wants to turn to a church in spiritual decay, worldliness, and hypocritical in her witness? The world must not define the Christian’s ministry.
There is not one condition that Christ cannot handle that threatens the visible church’s testimony; it is her infidelity, her clinging to foreign material by letting the world influence her without her being an influence in the world. The content of faith is important, but believers must also be educated to live out their faith in meaningful discipleship (Aleshire, p.19).
Remain emphatic that lasting change occurs by being indwelled by the Holy Spirit
In our age we are vulnerable to the notion of self-improvement without a salvation experience. We have become too concerned with self-esteem while neglecting the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Dr. John Walvoord pointed out that two contradictory systems began in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. One was the possibility of self-improvement as suggested by the Serpent; and the other, the revelation by God of sin and degeneracy and the incompetent state of man apart from God’s salvation.
I commend our many therapeutic programs but such sessions only offer physical solutions that leave one exposed to supplementary addictions. What has led to the habit in the first place was a spiritual problem. Thus, when a person is freed from such dependence it puts them back at square one. In Bible College, we were taught that the fabric of any organization should be the element of flexibility and the agreement of the fact that transformation is not the exception but the rule.
Jesus said, “When an unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none (Matt.12:43). Here we have a man who was relieved of evil spirits. This does not necessarily mean that the spirits were cast out. It simply states that the evil spirits went elsewhere to find rest. I’m sure that this man was enjoying his freedom from all kinds of habits due to evil influence. Demons are not omnipresent. Therefore, they wander about seeking to destroy lives by taking up residence in humans and use them as instruments of unrighteousness.
Jesus also went on to say: “Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished (v.44). Here we have an unoccupied house (body) that has been swept clean. The man pictured here got his life on track only to be left at risk to be re-engaged by the Enemy of mankind. Unfortunately, the evil spirits returned “and they enter in and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (v.45).
We marvel at the suicide of those who sought help and received a temporary fix. If the Holy Spirit does not take up residence in a person’s life, there is only one other alternative—-vulnerability. It is not benefiting to the kingdom of God to see a person enter into eternal judgment garnished or with an empty house swept clean. If we dismiss the significance of eternal life in Christ, we are not stewards of the Gospel. Paul wrote, “…for ye are the temple of the living God; as God has said, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk in them…”(2 Cor.6:16).
We must have compassion and at the same time be fully convinced of our own salvation experience and always ready to share that same hope with others. We ought to offer as an eternal cure the saving power of Christ. To the Romans, Paul declared: “Now if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his”(Rom.8:9). When a person accepts Christ as Lord and Savior, they can no longer be inhabited by evil spirits, but their bodies become the temple of God. As the Apostle Paul affirmed to the Corinthians: “..know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God,…?”(1 Cor.6:19).
Ministry should not be a waste of time
My most irritating experience in public ministry is the realization that some have extinguished the fire that was poured out at Pentecost; and sadly, some have shown that they never experienced a loving relationship with Jesus Christ. Men and women have entered the ministry with inappropriate intention. Even though Christ warned that we would know them by their fruits (see Matthew 7:15-17), scores of Christians do not regard this admonition. Ministries have become another get rich scheme or a political tool, or a journey of pride.
On the same note, some have entered the “service of Christ” with such “good intentions” that they bargain or water down the gospel for the sake of being a friend to the world. Scripture is emphatic in this regard: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). The apostle James is speaking about compromising the Word of God for the sake of the present world-system in all its forms of covetousness. What we must realize is that we are not really the world’s friend if we are willing to watch them perish without Christ; and we are God’s enemy by not obeying Him because of the fear of the world.
Our purpose in ministry is to offer the same hope to others that we have in Christ. Ministry is service as a result of our relationship with Christ. The Holy Spirit (if we are saved) empowers us to serve Christ by serving others while at the same time attempting to transfer the hope that we have in Christ. An ancient bishop stated: “The person who can cure such an infirmity and because of avarice refuses his medicine, can with reason be condemned as a murderer.” It is not up to us who we serve, it is who we should serve with our talents and the message of the Gospel.
The corporate church in America has some shameful history because some have misunderstood the nature of ministry. In her speech, Mary Church Terrell spoke October 10th in 1906 what it meant to be colored in the Capital of the United States:
“As a colored woman I may enter more than one white church in Washington without receiving that welcome which as a human being I have a right to expect in the sanctuary of God. Sometimes the colorblindness of the usher takes on that peculiar form which prevents a dark face from making any impression whatsoever upon his retina, so that it is impossible for him to see colored people at all. If he is not so afflicted, after keeping a colored man or woman waiting a long time, he will ungraciously show these dusky Christians who have had the temerity to thrust themselves into a temple where only the fair of face are expected to worship God to a seat in the rear, which is named in honor of a certain personage, well known in this country, and commonly called Jim Crow.”
I am sure if Jesus appeared during this time with pigmentation in his skin he would have been placed in the back of the church if ever the usher recognized Him. In our contemporary setting we have it more offending when African-Americans spew racial slurs from the pulpit and build grievances against those who are better fortunate –economically– and call it racism. I have heard statements like “whites don’t know how to praise God” ; and when I resigned my ministerial position at an all African-American church and joined an interracial congregation, I was told: “Now you are going over there with those whities…..remember what Jim Jones did.”
The fruit of our relationship with others illustrate what form of connection we have with the Savior. It will be a sad day for the religionists who preached a gospel they did not live by. A gospel that wasn’t allowed to transform themselves (see Matthew 25:31-46).Thus, having imbibed a correct understanding of service, may we continue to function in love growing spiritually in our bond with Christ.