Monday, December 17, 2007

In Christ, My Place and Yours


Lesson One:
Your Faith Reawakens

By Sarel de Wet
July 2006 ©
Revised November 2007 ©

Dedicated to my dear wife.

Compiled out of love and deep affection for the members
and former members of the Port Elizabeth congregation.
To the members and former members of the ICOC past and present.

May Jesus words never fall on deaf ears:
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”


Author’s note

Not too long ago, my Calvinist dad gave me some Christian material to read.

The author reasons from Romans 6: “Could I be “in Christ” today but lose that protection at some point in the future? Could my faith or lack of faith determine whether I am presently “in” or “out” of Christ?”

I knew that these questions are bound to the realm held by most Christian theologians that one cannot lose your salvation – the doctrine of eternal security or perseverance of the saints or once saved, always saved.

Nevertheless, I ask myself, at what point in my life will Christ not protect me?
Am I presently “in” or “out” of Christ?

This two-part lesson is based on our ordeal making a decision as a married couple to stay or “fall away” from the International Churches of Christ denomination (ICOC). Please note: Our story is deliberately spiritualised.
The New Testament narrative about the “Healing at the Pool” (John 5:1-15 NIV) is juxtaposed onto our lives. Here, the ICOC and Church of Christ water baptism and legalism in the church are best demonstrated from this Bible story.

What was so significant about the mat? Why did Jesus insist that the invalid man “pick it up”? The answer might surprise you. Although all opinions expressed herein are my own, the facts about our exit are truthfully constructed.

Prologue

John’s Jesus “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Here, God breaks the silence. He spoke in the only way we could truly understand.

Jesus.

We know Jesus “was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

Any one “who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Furthermore, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

John’s Jesus said: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him or knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 1:1,10-13,17,18; 14:15-21 NIV)

My invalid ICOC years – 1990-2000

What do you read into Jesus’ interaction (John 5:1-15) with a disabled man who was invalid for thirty-eight years?

This is what I know.

Jesus “learned that he had been in this condition for a long time.” He asked him, “Do you want to get well?” The invalid man replied: “I have no one to help me…”

Perhaps that same Jesus looks at you, but why is he silent?

Jesus’ silence in my life was broken when my wife spoke up. And I listened.

We were in Cape Town in April, the year 2000 celebrating our first wedding anniversary. I can describe my wife, as a person who “is of great worth in God’s sight.” For she has an inner self adorned with “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” This is how many perceive her. Perhaps to some this type of characteristic reflects an introvert. Granted. I am an extrovert.

We welcomed our scheduled ‘break’ from the Church. At the time it was just fun to be ‘away’ from everything and everybody. Although these feelings were true we did not realise that something sinister hid behind our selfish expression of freedom.

Our way of existence was thoroughly documented by people who disapprove our lifestyle. Former members of our church over many years have voiced their anger and concern toward our Church “life and doctrine”. Theologians across the religious divide have contributed spiritual insight based on the Scripture in combating our Church’s erroneous “doctrine”. Psychologists have studied the effects of our way of “life”. Ironically as members of the ICOC we preached onto others: “Watch closely – Your life and doctrine!”

We were unaware about real answers that could explain almost anything about our fellowship methodology. For example we were sheltered from the world. The ICOC was the kingdom of God, God’s modern-day movement, the only true church of Christ. Our life and doctrine was unsurpassable! No other “denomination” in Christendom was saved! It was pointless joining any other church group who did not adhere to our doctrine! People who left our group were called “fallaways” because they have fell way from God! We taught (Colossians 1:15-18) you couldn’t say ‘yes’ to Christ and ‘no’ to His body, the church.

Here, Dr. Paul R. Martin states in his book entitled Cult-Proofing Your Kids, “The cult builds a wall around the person as shelter from the outside world. The purpose of that wall is to control the amount of information that one receives from the outside. Cults control information through (1) their teachings on doctrinal as well as non-doctrinal matters, (2) their activities, and (3) physically isolating the members from worldly and un-spiritual non-members (P.185).”

People’s views on the church, whether from former members, theologians or physiologists are deemed as over critical remarks. Newspapers often tried to discredit our “life and doctrine” and then we were right keeled by our evangelists’ counter arguments. Let’s be honest. How many church groups membership are all dedicated to in “making disciples” – baptising and teaching disciples?

Now before our arrival in Cape Town unbeknown to us the Cape Times newspaper published a front-page story discrediting the Cape Town Church of Christ. Sunday April 30th 2000, leadership in the Cape Town Church of Christ distributed a reactionary letter, entitled, “International Church of Christ Forcefully Denies Allegations Made This Week.” Leadership from this church reacted strongly to the Cape Times front-page story published on Wednesday April 26th 2000, entitled, “SA universities ban religious cult”. They compiled 12 “unfounded allegations” from the article published in the Cape Times newspaper.

A member of the public not affiliated with the Cape Town Church of Christ published a constructive letter of criticism on Friday April 28th 2000 in the “letters of the Editor”. It is entitled, “Basis for cult’s banning was not explored”.

We sympathised with the stricken congregation enduring such public humiliation from the media. The Cape Times article “caused trauma in the lives of church members across the Cape.” It saddened our hearts and naturally put a damper on our holiday spirits.

The Cape Times front-page article transported me back in time to my university years (1989-1993). Religious bodies and the media frequently targeted the Cape Town Church of Christ. Such events were termed “persecution” by the members of the church. I have often wondered about the allegations: “cult”, “sect”, “brainwash tactics” and many more. Admittedly, I never bothered to investigate it. Was this not what my Lord endured?

However, unbeknown to me on our journey back to Port Elizabeth, my wife’s perception on the ICOC had forever changed. The prominence given to the story on the front-page of the Cape Times becomes a cause for her deep concern. She reasoned that there had to be something behind these allegations. How can a reputable newspaper report (or “slander”) with such prominence a church group accusing them of “brainwash tactics” and branding them a “cult”?

Like the rest of us, she was forewarned about this form of persecution. I tried my best to lay her concerns aside. Does the “Jesus is Lord” study in our ‘Equipping Syllabus’ not explicitly mentions we will be “persecuted” by the media? It states:
Anything with commitment and religion is suspect these days – the issue is Jesus and what God commands. You will be persecuted – no one knows to what extent – must be willing to die for Jesus. If you are willing to die, a little newspaper article with misinformation or twisted information will not stop you!


Again I tried to persuade my wife to put her eyes on the Cross. Surely a little newspaper article with misinformation or twisted information about our church must not rob your joy?

With bravado I tried to enlighten her about my varsity years. I had endured my lion’s share of negative media exposure being a student at the university of Cape Town.

The year 1992 was particularly bad. Below are 5 reports, which appeared in the space of three months that accused my church, the International Churches of Christ of being a “cult” or a “sect”.

1) “Banned US cult ensnares student” – Sunday Times Cape Metro, February 16th 1992
2) “Strange cult: UCT alarmed” – Cape Times, February 17th 1992
3) “Members of banned cult active on campus of Technikon” – Technique (front page) March 1992
4) “Trapped in the web of a sect” – You Magazine, pp20-21, March 19th 1992
5) “Church of Christ ‘cult’ cut” – Varsity (UCT) p5, April 1st 1992


Let me tell you the media did not stop me. Nor would this front-page article in the Cape Times unsettle me! I was hardened, tough and arrogant. This is what I told my wife on our way back to Port Elizabeth.

Little did I realise. I was an invalid for ten years (1990-2000) – blind – with this certain biblical condition known as spiritual blindness.

Our secret to freedom

“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

Why did Jesus refer to the mat? Look at it again.

He said: “Pick up your mat…”

The mat becomes the central point of a religious controversy between Jesus and “ his brothers”. The day the healing took place was a Sabbath. Perhaps it is fair to speculate John’s Jesus acted alone. On a private mission he “went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews” (5:1). Here we do not read, “a great crowd of people followed him” (6:2) to this unspecified feast of the Jews. Nor do we see “his disciples” (6:3) accompanied Jesus.

Here we see Jesus mingling freely with the Jews. He “learned” about an invalid’s condition. The invalid addressed Jesus as “Sir,” because he “had no idea” who “this fellow” was who would later heal him. Afterwards Jesus stood nearby as a crowd of Jews confronted the man who was healed carrying his mat on the Sabbath. Jesus “slipped away into the crowd that was there.” “Later Jesus found him at the temple” and in return the man who was healed “told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well” (5:14,15 NIV).

The ordinary man-made item on which the invalid had laid for thirty-eight years become the bone of contention that pushed the disciples of Moses away from Jesus’ ministry. “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat (5:10 NIV). And “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk? (5:12 NIV).

Jesus’ deliberate instruction to “pick it up” was the bait on the hook. Have you ever walked into a church service with a carpet neatly rolled up under your arm? Will you not stand out? Will people not ask you about it? How much more a Jewish man walking on the Sabbath with a mat? The free walking man with the mat tucked under his arm quickly faces a predicament. To us the Jews reacted negatively, but considering the specific day being the Sabbath they asked a normal question. In fact the “invalid” man was remarkably healed by Jesus words in order to blend so well with the ordinary world of Judaism. The only problem was on that day he broke the law carrying his mat! Notice the Jewish legalism overrides the healing of a man who was invalid for thirty-eight years! The fact was completely overlooked that the man who was invalid got well!

Finally the focus shifted from the man who was healed and his mat to “this fellow” called Jesus. Here the Jews let the man go, unlike the Jews and Pharisees who persistently requested more information concerning Jesus’ healing of a blind man in John Chapter Nine. “The man born blind from birth asked them: “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from” (9:27-29 NIV).

Perhaps they were lying through their teeth. Jesus, the Son of God (5:25) and the Son of Man (5:27) were known by name by all the Jews who he encountered. “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him (5:16 NIV). The Jewish oral and written tradition of the elders known as the Mishnah contained in the Talmud and Jewish interpretation of biblical laws known as the halakah become problematic for Jesus. He never hesitated to expose their hypocrisy. At one point the Pharisees’ and teachers of the law’s offensiveness towards Jesus’ outspokenness moved his own disciples hearts to pity! “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this? (Matthew 15:12 NIV) Jesus replied: “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit (ibid 7:13 NIV).

John’s Jesus in Chapter Five sees Jesus in action “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matthew 23:37 NIV), but they “were not willing” (ibid 23:37 NIV) to get well! The debate that ensued between Jesus and his fellow Jews indicated to the Jews whether they were “in” or “out” of Christ. God through Jesus broke the silence. He spoke in the only way they could truly understand. He used the man Jesus. Jesus shared in their humanity, being the Son of Man but the Jews’ absolutes clashed with Jesus’ absolutes, their own reality with the reality found in Christ. Jesus “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5:18 NIV) made them more determined to kill him. “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he crossed over from death to life” (5:24 NIV).

Jesus showed himself to them. He wanted to know if the Jews had ever “heard his voice” (5:37) or “seen his form” (5:37) while they so “diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possesses eternal life” (5:39 NIV). Don’t “you want to get well?” (5:6 NIV) How astonishing the fact that these men made “no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (5:44) Cleopas and his friend, in contrast on the road of Emmaus “hearts were burning” while Jesus by himself “opened the Scriptures” teaching them from Moses and all the Prophets” concerning himself (Luke 24:13-35 NIV). They were not bound by the legalism of the synagogue, although they observed the Torah! Jesus concluded in John Chapter Five: “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (5:45-47 NIV)

The Jewish Scriptures was the basis for the disciples of Moses and the primitive Church. However, they frowned upon primitive Christian teaching in later years as taught in the book of Hebrews. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:14-18 NIV).

The healing at the pool of Bethesda was a personal low-key affair between Jesus and one of Abraham’s descendants. No prying eyes and gasps of amazement. Here, a miracle took place away from the “crowds” and perhaps the awareness of “his disciples”. Therefore this chapter contrasts sharply with the following chapter in John’s Gospel. A “great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick (6:2 NIV). Jesus did sometimes act alone without being surrounded by his fellowship of believers. The previous chapter Jesus’ disciples were “surprised” on their return seeing Jesus conversing with a Samaritan woman! (4:27) Jesus concluded with her: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth” (4:23,24 NIV).

Jesus takes the initiative. He tested the waters. In due time his disciples applied the miracle “pick up your mat and walk” to a man over forty years old! They too were not afraid to testify about Jesus. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NIV). The man Peter and John healed was “crippled from birth.” They faced their bitter rivals who soon “realised they were unschooled, ordinary men, they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 NIV) You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” (15:16 NIV) “When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (15:26,27) “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.” (16:1-4 NIV)

How do we apply this fantastic ministry in our modern lives?

The truth is we don’t initiate this type of ministry from ourselves unless we act like Simon the sorcerer. “Simon himself believed and was baptised. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw” (Acts 8:13 NIV). Simon wanted to earn the Spirit when he noticed that “the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money” (Acts 8:18 NIV). What ensued was a severe rebuke from the Apostle Peter. Jesus’ will find us! He will show himself.

We understand from Scripture that no man can earn his salvation in Christ. This view is also embraced by the ICOC and the Church of Christ denominations! However, their belief systems are based on the Arminian view. Meaning a Christian can fall from grace and lost their salvation. Where do we draw the line concerning ‘easy believism’ or ‘cheap grace’? What about the Christian teaching ‘accept Jesus in your heart as your personal Saviour’ or those who profess ‘Belief is enough’? These matters will be discussed in lesson two: Your Faith is Sufficient.

It is my opinion that John’s Jesus invalid man is a symbol of hope for every Christian struggling with a human condition so serious that only Jesus can step in and cure it. To me this passage deals explicitly with legalism in our misplaced theological conclusions. Especially when people react negatively out of misplaced theological conclusions toward others who have experience firsthand Jesus’ hand of friendship. “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (15:14,15 NIV).

It is from this viewpoint that we offer our insight in what made us so bold to leave the fellowship of the ICOC and the Church of Christ denominations despite the overwhelming doctrine that kept us loyal for so long.

Christians’ fellowshipping in churches seems to be “well”, but sometimes at these apparently healthy institutions things can be pretty desperate! Therefore we must not think it strange when Jesus asked the invalid man in a obvious place where people want to get well: “Do you want to get well?” (5:6) Here Jesus were surrounded by a “great number of disabled people – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” (5:3). According to popular superstition of the day this was the place to be if you wanted to get well.

Jesus’ visit made the difference. This man had neither faith nor hope to enter the waters of the miracle pool. Christians often speculate about his “excuses”. But I think his “excuse” is valid. He simply had no friends to help him. Besides he tried! But he was not strong enough to compete! His willingness was trampled on by other people’s over-eagerness to get well. It was a selfish competition driven by selfish ambition! It was a mad rush for the finish line. This scramble went on from day to day, year in and year out. In the end when Jesus passed by him he saw the invalid man “lying there” (5:6) on his mat.

So Jesus dismissed him with his mat. He was “free to go”! There was no indication of faith from the invalid man. Nothing! It was Jesus’ command alone that enabled the man to pick up his mat and walk. The Father in Jesus provided the faith that responded to this miracle. A hearing faith without any precondition! It was so unexpected! With such little effort! Just his will to respond. “Get up!” (5:8) No help was needed from his friends. No rush. No panic. He literally had to pick up his life and go! More importantly Jesus’ only “stipulation” was to walk with a mat. And he obeyed. He never anticipated his mat would cause a huge problem for him. That he had to give some form of account for breaking the law! He had done absolutely nothing to earn his cure.

And here lies the secret of redemption. The secret to freedom in Christ is in Jesus’ words: “Pick up your mat and walk!” This simplicity of the hearing faith in action perplexed many that demand to adhere to some form of ritual aspect or steps that this is what saves and this is not what saves! Here the difference between justification and sanctification get confused within church groups who can’t understand the meanings of the two terms. What saves and what do not? Our next lesson will focus on this matter.

Finally, the mat determines if your congregation is ‘life-giving’ or ‘law-bound’. It can be life altering when Jesus commands: “Pick up your mat…”

This is precisely what happened to my wife.

Today, more than ever, I realise my wife was told by Jesus: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Within her spirit Jesus approached her. She did not know who he was. There is no explanation. She heard him say: “Do you, Michelle, want to get well?

We should not forget. “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despise things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
(1 Corinthians 1:27-30 NIV)

She obediently picked up her mat and walked. It was so unexpected! With such little effort! She relied on her own will. No help was needed from her church friends. No rush. No panic. She literally had to pick up her life and go! More importantly Jesus’ only condition for her was to walk with her mat. And she obeyed.

When our holiday was over we packed our suitcases into the car for our journey back to Port Elizabeth. My wife brought her mat along from Cape Town.

She was in deep thought. She started to ask questions concerning the Cape Times article on the way home. I asked her “Why ask such forthright questions?” At that point we were different people. Michelle forever changed and I was lame.

I was tied up. I was fearful. I tried to justify to her why people write bad things about the Church. We must remain committed to the teachings of the ICOC. Remember: Anything with commitment and religion is suspect these days – the issue is Jesus and what God commands.

In hindsight, the Cape Times newspaper article of April 26th 2000 was instrumental to our voluntary exit (walking away) from the ICOC on July 9th 2000. Indeed a “painful exit process”. It took 45 days. An act perceived by ICOC members as “falling away” from God. A future article will be published in 2008 on icoccommentary concerning the Cape Town Church of Christ response letter of April 30th 2000, entitled, “International Church of Christ Forcefully Denies Allegations Made This Week.”

The question of Legalism

Michelle was cured. She was free to question anything concerning the doctrine of the ICOC or the Church of Christ. She was free to do introspection. She examined herself. Nothing made sense.

She noticed in the year 2000 the ICOC leadership exercised unhealthy authority over the congregation. It was a form of “control-orientated leadership”. People were fearful! Disciples were accountable to one another, which were accountable to others higher up. Inherent, people were disciples of people! We had a hierarchy! Members were manipulated throughout these “discipling chains”. She noticed our absolute reliance on the First Principles study guide that becomes our collective “vision”. Why teach only from it? She noticed weak and faithless church members were treated harshly. Especially if they were not in leadership! People were leaving the church! Were they going to hell?

She became very upset. She became unsure of herself - insecure. A form of pride viewed by any ICOC “discipler”. She didn’t fit in. Her commitment to serve in the church wavered. Her enthusiasm died. Her church friends were concerned about her spiritual well being. Something must be done.

Then her church friends cross-examined her. Although they acted out of “love” in reality they react negatively out of misplaced theological convictions. In the year 2003 some apologised to my wife for treating her the way they did.

Such is the way carrying a mat in a legalistic religious fellowship. Michelle’s mat showed. Every day. And every day is a Sabbath in the ICOC.

Her church friends told her: “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

Get with our programme! Get rid of that thing! She was cross-examined to be happy, to be serving, to become an extrovert like her husband! She was told her lack of joy will discourage her husband!

This form of discipleship is not Jesus’ discipleship. “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand,” reasons Paul in Romans 14:4, “for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

Paul states: “Examine yourselves” never cross-examine each other. Never should a church rely on police tactics of cross-examination. Restore people “gently.” “There is a great difference”, argue Roy Davison from Errors of Hierarchical Discipleship, “however, between helping a brother who has sinned, and cross-examining a brother!”

The “reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:17 NIV)

Church groups who don’t uphold the law of freedom have “lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews.” Such church groups rely on their own support system and techniques to make people grow. They cannot believe a person “grows as God causes it to grow.” (Colossians 2:19 NIV)

The questions intensified since our return from Cape Town. Weak and faithless disciples were not spared in the P.E. Church. They were the sort that had no “visitors” or “bible studies” at the Bible talks, church services and church activities. They failed in putting the ICOC kingdom first!

How much worse for anyone carrying a mat of freedom!

When we (yes, me included) confronted her it was never about her ability to walk, or her gift of speaking in different kinds of languages but a stupid mat! A mat she got from Cape Town. A mat she had to carry every day. A mat that caused embarrassment to everyone, including me! A mat that did not fit in the Temple! The system outlawed such articles. It was not required. Prohibited.

It did not surprise my wife when her church friends made her mat the agenda during her “discipling time.” She dreaded “discipling.” And so did I. We all stumbled around with such “fear and guilt”. The weekly arrangement when we reveal our deepest secrets or fears only known by God to our church friends. And when we repented it becomes ‘common talk’! A time where church friends acts like a type of Jesus or rabbi. A time where “disciplers” act like a type of Jesus as a go between for their disciples’ sins! A time where intermediaries act like a type of Holy Spirit! A painful weekly appointment when instruments construe by man deals with a sinful human heart rather allowing God to discipline us for our good.

Here my wife’s church friends pressed for an answer: “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

At last, when the opportunity arose she was a loss for words in her “discipling time”. She could not show them this ‘new’ law of freedom while the tears stream down her face. More so, Jesus had slipped away into “the crowd” who was there in spirit. Her answers given to her ‘discipler’ would eventually reached the crowds.

Michelle was covered in the ministry of the Spirit. Jesus removed her veil. “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (2 Corinthians 3:16 NIV) But her church friends minds and mine were made dull. “It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.” (2 Corinthians 3:14 NIV)

We are so wise. We are well oiled in the only pattern we follow – we teach only McKeanism. (Some of us today have no clue what this means) The hands of 30-would-be disciples painstakingly built our belief system. Glorious. Active. One Church. One Man. One Message. We had no idea how vast and rich the ministry of the Spirit stretches into the “Christian world”. We shunned other “denominations.” We pitied their doctrine of salvation. We knew only one Temple. One Healing Pool. One Rush. We counted the years since our baptism. (Some of us, like myself, shun our re-baptism on account of the ICOC church reconstructions – but some have no clue what this means) We tick off our baptismal years – year after year. We have managed to will ourselves into the waters of the healing pool. We had friends who helped us to get into the pool no matter what the cost! We too responded to an appointed time to march forward. Done exactly like clockwork. Done according to a fixed formula – disciple = Christian = save. If we missed the opportunity it was to be repeated until we got it and got in! The idea to be a disciple first before baptism is paramount for our healing! Those who fail to grasp it, no matter their condition, become invalid!

The healing at the pool is predetermined not only by the ICOC, but also by the Church of Christ (denomination). Here, a predetermined 5-point plan for salvation mixes their waters of baptism. Their rush forward is stirred by hear/believe/repent/confess/baptise. Sins are only forgiven at the point of making contact with water, being immersed and coming out of the water.

For those who rush ahead Jesus never came by and told them to “pick it up!” Here Christ is silent. However, the ministry of the Spirit determines our steps. It is active. It moves in any direction.

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11 NIV)

My wife had reached breaking point in June 23rd 2000 when she was cross-examined. Some might diagnose her “spiritually burned out.” Which would be not far from the truth. In my lunch hour she came to me in tears! She was beside herself. I was paralysed. Her situation and ours had turned for the worse. She told me Jesus slipped away during her “discipling” meeting. She no longer wanted to be a disciple!

That was the moment I heard His voice: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

The ICOC unwritten law better known as inner church doctrine fell away. It stated: Don’t interfere in your wife’s ‘discipling’. Suddenly it no longer applied. In my hand I held my own mat! For the first time I share her understanding.

We today share a precious item – a mat, which transported us to freedom beyond the questions of legalism of “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” The Holy Spirit taught us – the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6 NIV).

That year, our mats made us distinct to the P.E. congregation and the movement it adheres to. The people questioned our conduct. It was a huge shock! For them and us. Notwithstanding the overwhelming doctrinal issues that kept us loyal to the ICOC and our long-standing commitment. Never did I contemplate to deliberately become a “fall away”. To think I was once a “visitor” and now to become a “fall away” was very frightening. It was incomprehensible for them and us to break through the walls of the ICOC kingdom of God!

The McKean walls around us came tumbling down. Those walls have alienated me from my physical family for ten years. Eight days since the July 9th 2000 I reconciled with my Calvinist dad. Seventeen days from that day I reconciled with my mother. I cannot wait to be truly reconciled in heart with my spiritual “brothers and sisters” in the PE church. It’s been seven years and counting…

Why does it take so long to reconcile with the church members? It is because of the doctrine over the person. “Personal experiences”, according Dr. Paul R. Martin, “of individual group members are subordinated to the “Truth” that is held in common by the group. Contrary experiences of what is or is not true must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the accepted doctrine of the group. The collected doctrine is always more important than individual beliefs and personalities. Group thought takes precedence over individual thought, one’s personality, interests, health – virtually anything.” (P.189)

We had to deny the impulses to “stay”! Perhaps this statement sounds a bit strange. But as a people – a married couple – who have had a thorough understanding and experience about the ICOC “life and doctrine” we made a collective decision to walk away! It was not easy. It was very frightening experience!

As individuals we decided to make this decision to “go” according to the measure of faith given to us by Jesus Spirit. Michelle response to the Port Elizabeth Church leadership was: “Count me out!” I stated to be in “deep thought and prayer”.

We were confronted with the inner fear and guilt complexities that ruled our “life” in the ICOC that was based on the “doctrine” of this group. Our commitment to the ICOC was a “lifelong decision”. We made a spiritual pledge the day we got baptised to remain faithful to this group and no one else.

Herewith some extracts from the Douglas Jacoby multi-author book, entitled Shining Like Stars, 1990 edition to give you an indication about our inner conflict. The PE Church adhered to these teachings in the year 2000. The view on baptism described on page 236. “It would be better not to be baptised than to take the step and then fall away (2 Pet 2:20-22). We “put the hand to the plough” for life! Explain that the confession made at baptism “Jesus is Lord” means just that!” The view about church described on page 234. “Make sure he understands that it is not God’s will for him to attend any other church.” The view about family and friends described on page 235. “Does he understand that they are lost? Is he willing to firmly (and lovingly) take a stand, share his faith with them, and hold to his conviction? Ask him how he would react if they opposed him.”

Reality is found in Christ. Not “by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” Or what your ‘discipler’ says. “Therefore do not let anyone judge you.” (Colossians 2:16 NIV)

God’s Spirit rescued us. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather on Christ.” (Colossians 1:8 NIV)

The overwhelming doctrinal teachings to “deny self – putting first the kingdom” or plain fear “where shall we go” evaporated the minute we trust in God. Some people in our predicament divorced! Some married couples had their spouses estranged because they were sitting by two fires. We were lucky.

The leadership had no answers to our questions. We would perhaps like Henry Kriete had done with “Honest to God” divide the church with our issues. People still involve with the ICOC cannot understand why I still after seven years busy my self with these issues that happened so long ago. Some think I am obsessed or even bitter. But this is the only way I can thank God for my rescue. Would it not be selfish to move on without telling them it was Jesus who made me well! (John 5:15)

It was the ‘mainline’ Church of Christ who did most of the damage control. They literally fixed our brokenness. For that we are thankful.

“The wind [in Port Elizabeth] blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NIV)

When you walk out of something tangible into the unknown, surrounded by lots of friends to no friends how do you explain your destiny? But like the invalid had found out, and as Jesus’ insisted: one must lie in the bed (mat) one has made. So we left with our own mats. And sometimes it’s no bed of roses!

But once we got “up” – we were free to “go!”

Obviously it was heart breaking “to go!” For them and us.

But my concern for the ICOC churches never waiver. The more I research about the origins of this fellowship the more red lights flash. It was obviously disturbing and very discouraging. How do you break down such a man-made Temple? How do you convey your fears without appearing to be bitter?

Perhaps I am a fool to “stay near” the ICOC like a type of Philip with the Ethiopian chariot. Perhaps my efforts for positive change is like someone who has left the Jehovah Witness group and is hoping their faith one day will reawakens! And here we arrived at lesson one: faith does reawakens!

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

Do I have answers? To some extent. But thankfully it is not my own. I can point only to the ICOC monuments of the past that guided me to sanity. I have read their inscriptions. But we deal with people, perception and plenty of problems.

The last ICOC monument is Henry Kriete’s shrine. It was erected in 2003. It’s inscription states. “Movement wide, we have no choice but to admit and apologize, expose and expunge, denounce and dismantle.” But as it is with monuments – people move on and forget. How sad.

But rest assured. The process will continue. People within the ICOC will rise up with their mats of freedom. It might be people in Kip McKean’s Portland ‘discipling’ Movement or the unity of 70% congregations collectively known as the ICOC Co-operation Churches.

Don’t be like Nicodemus who asked: “How can this be?”

We can only go back and testify, “that it was Jesus who made us well.” We are in Christ.

We acted not out of our free will to be in Christ. No! We acted out of love. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (2 Corinthians 5:14 NIV)

In conclusion

You will notice in recent translations the “skip over” of John Five verse 3b and 4. Those lines are no longer considered to be part of the original text. Finally, you will notice the author who wrote about the Healing at the Pool in John Chapter Five reflects back onto something that no longer exists. He takes us back like a tour guide to this magical place.

Read John 5:2 it will direct you to a huge monument.

“Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.”(5:2 NIV)

Look for a bronze plate with an inscription. Step up to the mat and read: “Here a great number of disabled people USED to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.” (5:3 NIV)

Does it describe you?

It USED to be us.

Our Faith Materialised it had reawakened!

At this place: God breaks the silence!

Amen. Let it be!

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