Report From The Tower
Failed Elders are, in one very key sense, abdicating Elders. God has given Elders the responsibility to rule well: not as Kings of the Earth rule over their Kingdoms, but nevertheless to rule well as under shepherds. Hence, an Elder is not appointed so that he may receive adulation: God wants something; requires everything from that Elder. The question is not, or rather should not be what that Elder will receive or how rich he will become, but what will he give and that is where I believe everything as been thrown so far off kilter in this generation. The pastoral epistles of Paul are the place where we Elders find our rules of conduct. We are to preach the word, in season and out of season. We are to rebuke and correct in all authority and we are to study ourselves approved in the word of God. We are to live our lives as visible examples of holy conduct. We are required to properly deal with heresies and to properly handle heretics. We are to make right judgements that are not to be based upon mere appearances. But, I think, more than any other thing, the job of the making of disciples must fall upon the elders of the church/assembly. Certainly, the newcomers and the untrained are not going to be carrying anyone very far in the process of causing one to be conformed to the likeness of our Master Jesus. His plan was that His Elders would be filled with the Spirit and live their lives before Him in all gravity and seriousness, then receiving supernatural enablement to raise up disciples unto the Master.
So, we look at discipleship today and we find that it is entirely and utterly broken. Why is that? Well, for discipleship to occur, there must be new believers who are diligently seeking God. These must then desire to move forward in their walk with Christ so that they are no longer in danger of being judged as "mere confessors" who possess a faith that is characterized as a mere intellectual assent. These young believers must therefore realize that they have lack! They must begin to see just how far they have yet to climb in the upward call of Christ Jesus. They must pass through that early phase where the young believer, at least initially, believes he knows everything. They must PASS THROUGH IT. At this point, they must humble themselves and desire that some older man or woman would assist them in the process of discipleship. Sadly, most today do not ever pass through it. I have heard it said during the last twenty years and I believe it is so, that what we are seeing today is a reenactment of the last verse of JUDGES-"In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes." There are probably many root causes: fatherless homes, the breakdown of the family and the erosion of all morality in the application of authority cannot be far from the top. We live in a time when there is very little to no respect for anyone who occupies a position of authority. Our police officers are targets. Our politicians are distrusted and maligned. Our clergy is detested. Our young people have, for the most part, become the kind of people who will never submit themselves to the process of discipleship.
Churches have adapted to this present reality of the existing dearth of discipleship candidates and have presented versions of church that are ever and ever more CHURCH-LIGHT. There have been versions where repentance has been omitted. Others require no commitment to holy living. Church has therefore been designed to please the mere confessor: the one who has not and never will passed through the KNOW IT ALL phase. Church has now become a place where someone might become born again of the Spirit of God in spite of the church, but never as a result of anything that ordinarily happens within it. After all, Church as we know it is a business. Everything in church is designed around the money flow and the maximization thereof. Any significant attempt at discipleship would stunt that flow. We know that. We know our churches are filled with men who, as leaders, are covetous and greedy men. These men will never enter heaven if our bibles are to be believed. Thousands upon tens of thousands of people are gathered around these money chasing men who love to build ever bigger buildings as monuments to their greatness. The greatest of these money chasers have accumulated ever and ever bigger airplanes to themselves and the people love it so. I choose now to, for the most part, leave off my discussion of these who are running on hot rails to hell.
There are a few who have gotten off the rails and have gotten out. There are a few young people who have need of being discipled. What are they to do? There are a few Elders who have also said goodbye to the rot and decay of the present system. What are we to do? I perceived this situation almost twenty years ago as the world wide web was taking shape. I founded a website and an internet group and I realized that there were many young people who would follow me on the internet and who would be, in a certain sense, discipled by me. I never thought, however, that the internet model of discipleship was in any way ideal. I knew that it was an emergency, stop gap measure that God had raised up so that young people might have some assistance with their discipleship. I also knew that it would be far superior to disciple these young people in a properly organized and fully functioning body of believers where this could be done in the God intended, face to face manner that the bible describes.
I look around now and see some other things that have developed. I believe that I know why, but all that I see right now represents attempts at bridal activity without the bridal covenant. It is spiritual fornication: gratification without the ring! Examples?
I know of a “Community Bible Study”. They desire to increase fellowship, but there is no real room for elders there just as there seems to be no way to form a body of Christ there. I see elders who started that study abdicating their responsibility to teach, correct and rebuke because people in this hour will just leave the meeting if anyone corrects them. The one elder who started the group tries to act like he doesn’t know very much and he never corrects anyone. To be fair, this manner of operation is the intent of this little meeting.
I know of a “para-church ministry” which just held a conference. My wife and I attended. Of the four sessions, one was bad and another was abominable and the elders present who were hosting the conference did not say a thing regarding the things that were done: things done but not by the Holy Spirit. One of the elders who taught did so from a spirit of personal woundedness: his own son had died from a drug overdose at the age of thirty one and he blamed himself for not fasting more. This caused him to transfer that same guilt and condemnation to every single person in that room who might tend to feel guilty because they too might not have "fasted enough" and had also suffered some terrible loss. Again, elders abdicated their role to correct and rebuke. Errors that I believe caused people to leave that conference in bondage were met with silence. Why? Are we afraid attendance at next year's conference will decrease? Why are elders afraid to step on toes?
I know of a “house fellowship” where a gifted elder attends. While he is there, he acts like he is not that bright or well studied. He does not know anything very well, or so it seems. He never corrects anything that anyone in the group says that is in error and I have heard a few things said there that were very much in error. There are very few teachings at this meeting. He is not directly discipling anyone who attends there in so far as I have ever been aware. But, he has been extraordinarily active in doing written teachings on the internet. The shocking thing is that he is very gifted, pretty well studied and really able to disciple people, but he is shying away from face to face discipleship and opting to handle it on Facebook. I confronted him once and asked him if the only way anyone could be discipled by him was through Facebook? He had no answer for me. Again, I believe that he is abdicating his responsibility to teach, preach, correct, rebuke and raise up disciples, all so that he can continue to have a group of thirty people who gather on a Sunday morning. I believe that he and other elders have a responsibility to at least offer the discipleship. We must try. Discipleship must not fail because we abdicate our responsibilities. The primary focus of that group seems to be the 12:30 fellowship meal, which I have seen commence while people in the group were still trying to discuss a few spiritual matters.
Finally, there is the "Last Reformation" crowd. They express a desire to go to the streets, to do the works and to pray for people. But again, elders appear to be abdicating. There does not appear to be very much follow-up of new converts. Members admit that there is little to no emphasis on attempting to bring those people who have received ministry in the streets into house fellowships so that they can be discipled. The map on their website only lists people who have been through their training protocols. There is no focus on house fellowship or local assembly: only on the works.
I have heard college evangelist/prophet Travis Spann of Kentucky speak about the abject failure of today's churches and he believes that we are trying to operate church/local assembly in Babylonian Captivity, without rain or even dew from heaven. As a result, absolutely nothing has worked. Our entire nation of churches has been sent into this captivity, but the harlot church ministers are still trying to pass off their powerlessness on “failure to fast and pray” or “failure to tithe”. The clergy is already shifting the blame to their parishioners for all of the failures. Furthermore, I suspect that most elders have given in to this feeling of helplessness. They have abdicated their role and stay silent, acting biblically stupid, to gather a crowd. I see all of this as trying to do bridal activities without the bridal covenant. What is that? It looks like spiritual fornication to me with the “strange woman” of Proverbs. It is gratification without relationship, covenant and responsibility.
Brother Travis says that God is going to raise up an Isaiah 42:13 war cry and the day will come when we will be able to do this thing called discipleship. I for one have never given up. I continue to work with the few who seek me out online. I stand willing to meet with any face to face who desire such. We will once again see young people who earnestly desire discipleship. We will see Elders who will not use white out to remove the pastoral epistles from their bibles. I have seen this day coming for years and oh how I wait for it. I can see it every time I ponder on the remnant of Micah 7 as they will walk out a reenactment of the miracles of the days of Moses. This same remnant is described two chapters earlier as a "young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver." I have been led by the Spirit of God to expect that I will see this generation arise before I leave this Earth. First, I will wield the iron rod of God as a prophet and the generation to come after me will wield it in the Godly assembly of the saints. This brand of assembly will, as it says in Micah 7:14, bring the Lord to "feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage, which dwell solitarily in the wood."
God's young remnant believers (and some of His old Elders) are dwelling solitarily in the woods, right now, taking communion one by one and two by two. They have been doing so for so long that many of them think that it is the good and right and proper way for things to be. They have come to believe that God's true church is "decentralized", with King Jesus and a bunch of solitary followers who receive discipleship directly from the Holy Spirit with the infrequent assistance from internet ministers like myself. But, brothers and sisters and elders, let us not deceive ourselves. God is going to raise up pastors for this generation of spiritual loners. Jeremiah 23:4 has never been more true and more needed than we find it to be in our generation: "I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord."
Stephen L. Bening
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