by Mike Ratliff
And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” (Matthew 21:17-20 ESV)
It was in late fall of 2004 that I realized a very important Biblical principle. Up until then I had always assumed that when God gives us a message or lesson or sermon or counsel in which to write or teach or preach or give to those who needs to hear it, He would also cause those hearing it to recognize it as the truth, believe it, and obey it. Reality hit hard. The principle I learned was that God is glorified when we obey Him whether the results of our obedience meet our expectations or not. What happened was that I shared with the men at our old church the wonderful news that all God really wants from us is our devotion and obedience rather than just our religiosity. The results were not exactly what I expected. For the most part, I was looked at like I was a little green spaceman from the planet Zargon.
There was a couple of the men who wanted to hear more. We drew together and each of us shared the path on which God had us. I was not surprised that these two were also being drawn closer to God, but it disappointed me that the rest just weren’t interested. There is ignorance, then there is deliberate ignorance. We all suffer from the former, but the latter is a form of unbelief which has its roots in our pride and rebellion. Surprisingly, God does command us at times to go to those in hard-hearted unbelief and speak the truth to them even though the odds of them repenting and obeying is very low.
Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers. “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. (Jeremiah 7:26-27 ESV)
We must remember here that this is speaking of professing believers. Those who profess faith in God, in Christ, that they are His people. This isn’t speaking of reprobate unbelievers. No, this is an indictment against those who call themselves Christians, but refuse to heed and repent when given the truth from God. God is merciful. He is slow to anger. He gives people chance after chance to repent. In the Old Testament account of Israel and Judah, it is amazing how long He allowed them to continue in their rebellion against Him.
The Church has from its inception at Pentecost been under siege by Satan and his seed. The war is waged on every conceivable front. However, it seems that the most devastating attacks come from within. This is why we are warned in scripture about the nature of those who do this.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:15-23 ESV)
These false prophets look genuine, but inwardly they are full of destruction. How do we recognize them? We must observe the fruit of all prophets, teachers, and preachers. If they are genuine then their fruit will be good. If they are not then they will eventually produce bad fruit. What is the difference in the fruit? The fruit of a ministry will be the spiritual health of those to whom it ministers. That means that if a minister of the Gospel is genuine then He will work within the range in which he is led by the Holy Spirit. As a result, the sheep in his care will grow in their knowledge of Christ, their obedience to Christ, and they will exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. This will be so because these sheep are in step with the Holy Spirit in denying and restraining their flesh.
What would be bad fruit ? We must never forget that false prophets espouse false doctrine. False doctrine cannot restrain the flesh. As a result, not only will the leadership in the ministry be fleshly, the sheep in their care will not be fed good spiritual food, therefore, they will not grow in their knowledge of Christ, their obedience to Christ, nor will they exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. I can think of no better contrast of this than is found in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25 ESV)
Remember, we cannot exhibit the fruit of the Spirit if we are not also growing in our knowledge of Christ and obeying Him more and more. These three things work together and will all be evident in the sheep who are being properly discipled by godly pastors and teachers. This is why it is such huge tragedy that the predominate form of Christianity in the world right now is the product of the Church Growth movement. This movement is all about restructuring churches so that they will appeal to the unchurched. They take away the Gospel and replace it with easy-believism which saves no one. This non-gospel removes the person’s need for a saviour. It never mentions Hell. It never mentions repentance. It is all about easing people into their churches by making them think that their religion, such as it is, is going to save them.
The emphasis in these churches is to grow. Therefore, they change everything in the Church to attract people who hate church. They make the entire enterprise a watered down, non-threatening crusade with loud music and light shows. It is the promise of salvation and a better life that costs nothing. The churches who do this who also have the right mix of entrepreneurship in its leaders can grow to enormous size. Yes, the numbers are there, but what sort of fruit is being produced? Is it just leaves? Is it briars? Is it thorns?
It has been pointed out that it is amazing that some still fall for this form of Church since it has been well documented how devastating it is to the Church family through the implementation of it. Then there is documented proof that this form of church spiritually starves the flock. Also, many of us have been writing of what is wrong with it from a Biblical perspective. The backlash from those who love the seeker-sensitive church model has been very interesting. Here is an example. The man who wrote that works for Erwin McManus .
There is a lie being perpetrated all through the Church in our day. That lie is that it is wrong to confront those who are teaching false doctrine. The lie is based on another fallacy. That fallacy says, “There are no absolutes.” Now we are back to those who are deliberately ignorant. These fellows demand that we stop pointing out where their doctrines are not biblical and also that we include them in “orthodoxy.” What puzzles me is why they want the latter. If they hate what we call Orthodoxy then why do they want to be seen as part of it? In any case, these people have been warned. They have been confronted. They have been given every chance to repent. What has been the response?
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:1-9 ESV)
God is patient. However, as we see here, there will come a time for each who refuse to repent when it will be too late. Our Lord’s emphasis here is that each of us is like the fig tree that is planted in a vineyard. The test of authenticity here is fruitfulness. We have already seen what fruit He is looking for. If all we have are leaves, i.e. we are religious on our own terms, we are producing either no fruit or bad fruit. The leaders in the Church Growth movement have been warned. They have been rebuked. They have not repented. Why? The form of church these fellows love is their idol. They love the numbers. This is idolatry. What does God do to people who claim to be His, but who are really idolaters? Doesn’t He give them over to their idol? Doesn’t He give them hardened hearts making them spiritually blind? Does this mean we stop telling the truth? No, we must continue until God says stop. The greater guilt will be in the leaders who lead these folks into eternity hoping in themselves and their religion. However woe be unto those who know the truth, but who do not warn everyone about these men.