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US and THEM

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” 1 John 2:19 (NASB)

I began working at a Christian Book Store in 1997.  It was a part time situation to help support myself financially as I worked part time at a church and Christian school as well.  I was in the receiving department in the back.  (They didn’t let me out amongst the customers much in those days!)  In my position I saw nearly every product that came into the store.  I was never much into the gift items, but being among the new books and the new music cassettes and CD’s found me feeling like a kid in a candy store (some of you parents and grandparents may need to explain to the youth what a cassette was!).  One of the top selling books to come out that year was entitled I Kissed Dating Goodbye from a young author named Joshua Harris.  He was only 23 years old at the time and felt the need to address the topic of relationships among believers.  Harris’ contention was that dating as defined by an ungodly world had crept into the Christian Church.  He waxed eloquent for a couple hundred or so pages on the need to replace the current concept of dating with a more biblical model he called courtship.  The book sold hundreds of thousands of copies and launched this young man into the forefront of Christianity.  By the time he was thirty, Joshua Harris had been recruited and groomed to become senior pastor of a well-known megachurch, a position which he held from 2004 to 2015.  During those years he would write more books and headline conferences all over the country.  In 2015 he resigned his pastoral position and said that he was reconsidering the propositions he made in his best-seller from nearly two decades prior.  Fast forward to 2019 and this once celebrated author and pastor has not only reconsidered and denounced his signature book, but he has reconsidered and denounced his faith, effectively Kissing Christianity Goodbye!…

I went back to seminary to work towards my Master’s Degree in 1998.  When I had been in Oklahoma for my undergrad, I had no car.  So, I went to the church that I could walk to.  Now, two years later, I had a car!  (A 1997 Ford Escort that served me well for over 200,000 miles!)  I searched for a month or so until I decided on the congregation where I would attend and serve for the next three years while being 1,500 miles away from home.  One church I visited was headed by a pastor who had been a popular speaker in our seminary chapel services.  He had recently moved from Wisconsin to Tulsa and quickly gathered a rather large following.  I had heard him preach many times but had never been to a service in the newly formed church.  They did not yet have their own building but were renting from a large congregation in the area and holding meetings on Friday nights.  A friend and I got there early and a big crowd was already assembling.  Much to my surprise the worship service began and was led by a curly haired young man in his late teens masterfully playing the guitar and powerfully singing some modern worship songs as well as a beautiful contemporary rendition of the old hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.”  I didn’t recognize the worship leader but discovered later on that night that he was the son of the fast becoming famous pastor.  The son’s name was Michael Gungor and before long he was better known than his dad.  He would go on to lead worship in various settings, including large youth gatherings where tens of thousands of teens and their leaders would gather across the country in stadium venues.  He wrote songs that got much play on Christian radio, some of which are still popular in church worship sets to this day.  Gungor and his wife would release several CD’s to Christian bookstores, would tour extensively, and even ended up starting a church.  However, fast forward to 2019 and Michael Gungor has gone from being a professing believer in Jesus to going through a time of calling himself an atheist to now embracing a hodge-podge of multiple world religions and philosophies as he makes his own idols in the corridors of his unredeemed mind…

My family and I went to dinner at one of our favorite spots.  We walked through the door and the whole crew shouted a deep “Welcome to Moe’s!”  (To be honest, whether they greeted us or not would make no difference to me as long as they keep the chips and queso coming!)  Our custom is to go through the line and get our burritos, and then I sit down at a table watching the food while my wonderful wife and our precious boy go to the salsa station.  (Mild sauce at Taco Bell is too hot for me, so I’m not much for much of the salsa.)  No sooner had I sat down then I looked a few tables down the line to see a familiar face, or at least a somewhat familiar face.  I say somewhat because the man I had known years before always had a smile and a joyful glow on his countenance.  This man had the same eyes, nose, ears, and other facial features of the one I remembered; but the joy, the smile, and the glow were noticeably absent.  We made eye contact and I could tell he recognized me right away as well.  The two of us had worked together at the Christian bookstore.  He, like me, was also a minister at the time and we developed a friendship.  It had been a long while since I’d seen him, and truth be told I wish we hadn’t chosen burritos, chips, and queso to eat that day.  I won’t go into detail but it was easy to see from the way he was presenting himself and from the conversation he was having with the two people with which he was dining (which I could hear) that something had changed in his life, and not for the better.  Several minutes later he and his party (and I mean that in more ways than one) got up to leave the restaurant.  He came over to me, called me by name, and said that he had departed the Christian faith to follow a pagan-spiritualist religion…

Three men.  One I knew only by name and from afar.  One I met in person, attended service with, and worshipped with.  One I knew up close and personal, served with, witnessed with, worked with, and prayed with.  And with that as introduction we come to our first point from 1 John 2:19…

 

There Is An US and There is A THEM…Many people have become powerful and popular by setting up an US vs. THEM mentality.  Hitler blamed the Jews for all of the misfortunes that had befallen Germany.  His countrymen could look around and see their homeland in shambles after the fallout of World War I.  They wanted to see their once great nation on the rise again.  Certainly not all the German populace was behind the fury of the Fuhrer, but eventually he gained enough of a following and the US was Hitler and his adherents who rose up against the THEM of the Jews and the result was an abominable Holocaust.  If it’s US vs. THEM, trouble is bound to abound.  There are genuine racists in our world today (although the term is thrown around so much that it’s in danger of losing its meaning) from every background and invariably the US is their race and the THEM is all other races.  If it’s US vs. THEM, trouble is bound to abound. There are gangs in inner cities of our nation and beyond in which the US are those who wear certain colors and the THEM are those who wear certain other colors.  If it’s US vs. THEM, trouble is bound to abound.  There are those from certain socio-economic backgrounds who think those who are rich like them or poor like them are the US and those who are richer than them or poorer than them become the THEM.  If it’s US vs. THEM, trouble is bound to abound.  Then there are those who claim that the way to world peace is for us to believe that all of humanity is only US and there is no THEM.  Ironically however, these folks will end up labeling any who disagree with their proposition the THEM and usually at least call for the THEM to be silenced if not worse.   If it’s US vs. THEM, trouble is bound to abound.

Everyone has a line, sometimes many lines, that separate, at least in their minds, the US from the THEM.  Christianity is no exception.  1 John 2:19 clearly defines the US as those who are genuine believers walking in the truth and in fellowship with God and with the family of God.  The THEM are those who are not genuine believers in Christ who have forsaken the truth of Scripture, who have abandoned fellowship with the people of God, and who never had real fellowship with God at all.  Notice the line of demarcation presented here in 1 John and in Scripture as a whole has nothing to do with race or wealth or language or tribe or ethnicity or nationality or political party, etc.  No matter what the separations may be between people and their backgrounds, when they are born again in Christ they become part of a blood washed throng who are one in the Lord in a bond stronger than any earthly kinship or affiliation could ever produce or afford.  So, while Christianity is no exception to clear delineations between US and THEM, Christianity does not put forth the ideology of US vs. THEM.  Believers are against false doctrine.  We are exclusivists who really believe Jesus’s words when He said “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life and NO ONE comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6)”, so we are necessarily against any religion or philosophy of man that would say otherwise.  However, far from wanting to destroy THEM, we want the best for THEM.  Like God, it is our desire that none should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).  We pray for the THEM even when they don’t appreciate it, we witness to THEM even when they ridicule US, and we love THEM even when they hate US.  We believers know that we too once were lost, but now we’re found, that we once were THEM who were blind before we became US who are saved in Christ!  (*Before reading farther, please go back to the “however” above (I bolded it and underlined it to make it easy to find) and read to the end of this sentence; for apart from these points (that of US being for THEM and US wanting the best for THEM, etc.), it could be easy to lose the true spirit of the points that follow.*)

 

Some Of The THEM Used To Be With US (and May Be With US Now)…As mentioned above, the THEM in Scripture at large are all those who do not genuinely know Jesus, but the particular THEM mentioned in 1 John 2:19, while being unbelievers, are those who at one time made a profession of faith and associated with the Church of Christ.  Indeed, the fact that “they left US” implies that at one time they associated with US.  I know this is hard and heartbreaking to believe.  The three examples I opened with each hold an increasing level of dismay and disappointment for me personally, and I could list more personal examples but I haven’t the time (nor much of the heart) to write of them.  This distress I feel was certainly known to a far greater degree by the Apostle John.  No doubt John had witnessed over the 50 years or so of his pastoral ministry after the Lord’s resurrection many who professed faith in Christ, who seemingly “held on” for a while, who he befriended, who he prayed for and ministered to and perhaps even with, ultimately defect from the Lord and from the church.  During the incarnate ministry of Jesus Himself, obviously the greatest preacher to ever walk the planet, John had seen some people who crowded around the Lord and  received miracles from His almighty hand, yet in later assessment they not only bore Christ no allegiance but turned on Him in favor of hypocritical religious leaders (John 5:1-17; John 19:1-15).  John had witnessed the crowds of multiple thousands dwindle to 12, and 1 of those was a devil (John 6:1-71; especially vs. 66).  He who was of the devil was none other than Judas Iscariot.

If we were able to ask John, Judas was undoubtedly the one defection he witnessed throughout his lifetime that was the most surprising and devastating.  Judas was looked upon as a member of high standing among the 12; so greatly that he was the treasurer of the group.  Judas heard Jesus preach and teach the truth in power and authority, for hours and even days at a time.  Judas was there to see Jesus feed the thousands and, as one of the twelve, distributed the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes to the crowds with his own hands (Matthew 14:13-21).  Judas was in the tempest with the rest of the disciples as Jesus came walking to them on the water, and as the Lord allowed Peter to do the same.  Judas’ eyes beheld the wind stop as Christ got into their boat (Matthew 14:22-36).  Judas’ ears heard Jesus call for Lazarus to “come forth” and then witnessed the four day-dead man come out of the tomb (John 11:1-44)!  Judas not only saw miracles done by the Lord Himself, but he along with other disciples were themselves given power by Jesus to heal the sick and cast out demons (Luke 10:1-24)!  Judas was there at the Last Supper to hear Christ speak of the symbolism of His broken body in the bread and of His shed blood in the wine.  Judas had his feet washed that evening by the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and still went out into the night after taking the morsel of bread from Christ’s very hands dead set (literally) on betraying the sinless Son of God (John 13:1-30)! …

Joshua Harris, Michael Gungor, my Christian bookstore friend, the healed who turned out to be heels, the multitudes who left, and Judas the betrayer; all turned out to be THEM but at one time they were among US!  (of course those mentioned still living today can repent and genuinely be saved; but to this point they have not).

 

The THEM Were Never Truly A Part Of US…The last half of 1 John 4:19 states plainly that, “they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”  As previously alluded to, Jesus referred to Judas as a devil in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel, but Judas was not fully outed as the betrayer until the thirteenth chapter.  That’s seven chapters of Judas being with US (genuine believers) but actually being THEM (unbelievers).  The events of John 13 did not change Judas’ nature, it simply revealed his nature that had already been declared by Christ in John 6.

You see, the gospel changes a person’s nature.  When one is drawn to Christ and comes to be born again by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone, their nature is changed from being a child of wrath to being a child of God (Eph. 2:1-3; 1 John 3:1).  Indeed, 1 Corinthians 5:17 puts it clearly and succinctly, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; new things have come.”  If someone proves to be an unrepentant creature bound to and by sinful passions, then their unrepentant sinful state shows they have not been made new and are not being a new creation by the cross of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Mark 4 finds Jesus delivering the parable of the sower and the seed.  The seed is the word of God.  It is sown on six soils: the roadside ground, the rocky ground, the thorny ground, the 30 fold fruit bearing ground, the 60 fold fruit bearing ground, and the 100 fold fruit bearing ground.  Note that although there are six grounds mentioned, they boil down to two categories, those that bore fruit (which we will call US) and those that did not (which we call THEM).  The seed was sown on all the soils and, while the non-fruit bearing grounds had different time lengths of showing potential promise, none of them produced lasting fruit because none of them had a firm root in themselves.  Their lack of fruit did not change their root, it merely revealed it.  Likewise, the fact that the fruit-bearing grounds did produce fruit did not change their root, it merely revealed it.

Matthew 13 records the same parable of the sower and the seed, but adds the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30).  Jesus tells of a man who sowed good seed in his field but then at night, while his servants were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat.  The servants of the man assumed all of the seeds were wheat and were unaware of the tares for a period of time.  Eventually, as growth occurred over time (indeed, time is the true test of genuine faith), it became evident, in some ways painfully evident, that there were two kinds of plants at play.  Growth over time did not change the nature of the wheat (US) and the tares (THEM), it merely revealed it.

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells of the separation of the sheep and the goats on judgment day.  The sheep are those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take in the stranger, and visit the prisoner, whereas the goats are those who did not.  However, the opening verses make it clear that what they did or did not do was not what made them who they were, but rather that the nature of who they were determined what they did.  In short, the righteous sheep (US) were made so by grace and bore fruit accordingly, and the unrighteous goats (THEM) have their unredeemed nature revealed by their lack of fruit.

In his second epistle Peter speaks of those who had “escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord” but then later on became “entangled” in them again.  He declares that their latter state is worse than their former and then equates them to a dog who returns to his vomit and a pig who returns to his mud.  It’s important to note that dogs and pigs are both Scriptural images referring to people who don’t know God.  The people to which Peter points were dogs who left their vomit for a period of time but then returned to it.  They were pigs who left their mud for a period of time but then came back to it.  Neither the dog nor the pig (THEM) ever became a sheep (US), and the fact that they returned to the muck and mire of sin simply revealed what their nature had been all along.

Matthew 7:21-23 finds Jesus speaking on the subject of eternal judgment.  He makes it plain that not everyone who calls Christ Lord with their lips will enter into Heaven.  Jesus declares, “many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’”  These false converts, these false confessors of Christ, had obviously been around genuine believers and things associated with God, but nevertheless on the Day of Judgment Jesus proclaims that He NEVER knew THEM.  They never became part of US (the genuine family of God).  Judgment day did not change the nature of who they were, it simply revealed it.

 

Some Closing Points For US (and maybe for THEM too!)…As we come to 1 John 2:19, our key verse in this newsletter (which is part of a series we’ve been in on 1 John during Wednesday evenings), there are many applications to be considered that I couldn’t write about in full here (even though I’m going a lot longer this month than most!).  So, I’m going to close somewhat quickly by listing and briefly looking at some pastoral and practical points that we do well to ponder stemming from our key verse.

  • Not Everyone Who Says They Are US (a genuine believer) and Who Is With US NOW (in church) Is Actually A Part Of US (the true family of God)…Now I don’t have anybody in particular in mind when I make this point. I don’t even have our church particularly in mind (though we cannot exclude ourselves).  I am simply saying that in the Christ confessing church at large in the world, if it looks to the front and the back, to the left and the right, of the assembly as we gather together; there will be some folks you see, perhaps even those whom we dearly love, who in truth are not part of US, but are THEM.  Their lives have yet to bear that out in a way that we can see the truth of their genuine nature (though God certainly knows).

 

  • Those Not In Church Now (regardless of their past experience or present confession) Give Great Reason For US (genuine believers) To Fear That They Are Actually A Part Of THEM (unbelievers)…This will be a point that many, especially what I like to call secret agent “Christians” (those who don’t want anyone to know that they’re a professing believer) or special agent “Christians” (those who think they’re so spiritual they don’t need to be a part of a church and don’t see a problem breaking the clear biblical admonition to forsake not the assembling of yourselves together) will take umbrage with. They say that if they have confessed Jesus as Lord and trusted in Him as Savior then they are Christians and it’s no one else’s business if they’re in church or not.  After all, being in church doesn’t any more make you a Christian than being wet makes you a fish.  I agree with some of this sentiment, just reread the previous point (Point Number 1).  Indeed, being wet might mean you’re blue-green algae here in Florida!  However, IF you ARE a fish, THEN you will be wet, you will be in water, you will be in a school of other fish, not to “earn” the right of being a fish, but because you are a fish and that’s you’re nature (notice again, it goes back to the person’s nature).  It could be that someone is sick and unable to be in church with a physical presence.  If so, then that ill person should reach out to a church and that church should reach out to that ill person as much as possible.  It could be that for a short period of time a schedule conflict, a family crisis, or an emergency of some kind comes up that is unavoidable.  But those should be temporary.  There could be other caveats or qualifiers that could be listed here as reason for a person to be out of church, but all of the situations or circumstances added together would legitimately cover only a small fraction of those who are not in church yet claim to be Christians.  And for all of the reasons those able bodied people could give justifying their lack of fellowship in the Body of Christ, an immensely small proportion of them would hold up to Scriptural scrutiny.  I could give many Bible passages showing that a person not in Church is likely not in Christ but for the purpose of this article, just go to the opening line and simply reread 1 John 2:19.  Who are we to believe?  The words of a person, even a person we love; the thoughts we would like to have in our own hearts and minds because we want to be kind and our hearts would seem too broken to believe otherwise; or are we to believe Scripture, God’s infallible and inerrant Word.  Indeed, those not in church give US (genuine believers) great reason to fear that they are THEM (unbelievers) and they set a bad witness for the world and for all those around them.

 

  • Leaving A CHURCH Is A BIG Deal…If you could bear with me a few sentences here to share biblically and personally from the perspective of a local pastor of a small congregation on the topic of leaving a church. Unfortunately most professing believers view leaving a church like changing cell phone carriers, switching cable tv providers, or opting for a new credit card servicer.  They leave thinking that it’s no more important than getting a new cell phone plan, taking a new package deal on a cable offering, or trying out a new interest rate on a credit card.  If you’ve ever changed any of these routine services you know the paperwork process can be an inconvenient hassle, but you do it hoping the switch will end up paying at least marginal positive dividends.  It’s no earth shattering situation for either you or the company with which you were previously doing business; you have similar coverage with your new company and your former company will probably go on with its business like you never left.   Scripture gives us several images for the church, among those are that of a Body and of a Family.  So, far from being inconsequential like the examples of severing ties with a cell phone carrier, a cable tv provider, and a credit card servicer; leaving a church is like taking an arm or a leg off of a body and of a relative leaving their own family and changing their last name.  At a small church any person who leaves is noticed.  Any person who leaves is someone that the pastor has known, talked with personally, laid his hands on in supplication, prayed for by name on a weekly basis, visited when they’ve been in the hospital, attempted to help in practical ways in times of need, and have sought to bring the Word of God to in Spirit and in truth and with clarity and conviction.  When someone leaves, it is genuinely heartbreaking.  Usually they say nothing; they just miss time after time and week after week.  If they do day something, it’s almost never (and I do mean almost never) by way of personal conversation; it comes in the form of an email or text message.  They almost never ask for input and prayers concerning their decision to leave, they either say nothing about their leaving (most of the time) or just announce their decision if they do choose to disclose it at all.  The pastor reaches out to them, and many times gets no response at all or impersonal responses at best.  The pastor is then left with the choice of whether or not to say anything to the congregation.  If he’s silent, then it runs the risk of being interpreted as trying to cover up some problem in the church.  If he says something, it may make someone think ill of the one who left.  Neither is an option the pastor desires.  The congregations as well as the pastors left behind are put in a bad position and are injured by those who take church commitments so lightly.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this point, I write about this from the perspective of the pastor of a small local church.  I in no way seek to imply that the pastor of a large congregation has a lesser heart for God or a lesser burden for his people.  I also in no way imply that I in any way have a greater burden to carry than the believer in the pew.  If I were to receive no further blessing from the Lord in this life, I would consider myself to be amongst the most privileged ever to serve Christ and His Body and amongst the least deserving of such an honor as to be called “pastor.”  I simply want to give my perspective (as someone involved in pastoral ministry of small congregations for over 20 years) on a person leaving a church because I think it helps point out that leaving a church is a big deal and ought not be done without serious and weighty consideration.

 

  • Leaving THE CHURCH Is A HUGE Deal…As big of a deal as leaving A CHURCH is, there are times when the Lord may genuinely call someone to worship and serve in another congregation. There may be a time when doctrinal and/or ethical error necessitates that a move be made.  Even in these situations, leaving A CHURCH is not to be taken lightly and can be painful.  I will not go into detail, but I’ve only left a church one time for reasons other than moving out of state.  (This is not to imply that I don’t have faults, for I have many).  It was for causes both ethical and doctrinal.  I addressed it in private with the lead pastor for a year (and prayed about it much longer than that) before it ultimately became clear it was time to go.  And even after all of that, it was a painful experience.  When I left, I was unsure of how long it may be before I was involved in ministry again.  However, what was not in doubt was the fact that our family would be in church somewhere.  Unfortunately, statistics show, and my personal experience backs this up, that most people who leave A CHURCH leave THE CHURCH.  That is, they end up not going to church at all.  As tough as it may be, as wrong or right as it may be; to leave A CHURCH is one thing, to leave THE CHURCH is another.  Whether it is a large church, a small church, or a house church; everyone who is truly a part of US (genuine believers) should seek to come out from among THEM and be joined to a congregation that preaches the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  If they have not this desire, then it is an unavoidable and near certain proof that a person is actually a part of THEM (unbelievers).  1 John 4:20 teaches that we cannot love God whom we cannot see if we don’t love our brother whom we can see.  And of course how can we love our brother if we never see our brother!  It is almost certain that those who don’t fellowship with the family of God are not US (believers), but are THEM (unbelievers), loving neither the church nor Christ.

 

Are You Part Of US or Part Of THEM?…When I ask this question, I’m certainly not asking about whether a person is part of Grace Christian Ministries or not.  I’m asking whether or not you’re a genuine believer in Jesus.  There are many people who believe and preachers who teach that if someone comes down an aisle, repeats a prayer, signs a card, and maybe even gets baptized, then they are certainly saved.  This is simply not true.  All of the people John describes as THEM (unbelievers) in 1 John 2:19 at least at one time professed to be US (genuine believers).  However, in the final analysis there proved to be no persevering fruit as evidence for their salvation and their true unchanged nature was revealed.  If you haven’t genuinely repented of sin and put trust in Jesus for salvation, then now is a good time to go from being THEM to becoming US!  The Lord graciously opens His arms and bids all who will to come unto Him, to be born again, to be transferred out of the Kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of light, to have genuine fellowship with God and to have genuine fellowship with the people of God!  Glory To His Name Forevermore!