The Lost Doctrine of the Church
We do not necessarily celebrate the character of Jonah, nor do we ascribe any great valor or spirituality to this rebellious prophet. He was disobedient (at first), angry, petulant, and willing to die rather than deliver the message of God to Nineveh. However, we can learn from Jonah. We do learn that the power of God is in the Word of God. It is more the message, than in the man. God anoints a man for a specific ministry, but His power is found in His Word. “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing wherto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11 KJV).
“For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of god unto salvation.” (Romans 1:16)
“He sent his word, and healed them and delivered them from their destructions.” (Psalm 107:20
To be clear: Jonah did not deliver Nineveh — God did. It was God’s word. It was God’s message. It was God’s power that brought conviction which brought the city of Nineveh to a place of humility before him. Many times throughout the Bible we see God chose and use men of questionable ability or integrity. He often chooses the smallest, weakest, and most unlikely to carry his message. He choses men with no message of their own, no personal agenda to achieve, no personal power or charisma to put on display. When Peter and John were dragged before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4 they were marked as “unlearned and ignorant men.”
“And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?” (Acts 3:12)
When Peter stood on the Day of Pentecost to preach his message was simple. At the heart of it: Jesus, God’s Anointed One has been crucified – and you did it. The response of the crowd was immediate and urgent: “Men and Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s answer was as blunt as his message, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
Solomon prophesied on the occasion of the dedication of the Temple, “If my people who are called by my Name will themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV)
The Prophet Ezekiel cried, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:32)
“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8
Zechariah trumpets the cry of the heart of God, “Return to me, declares the Lord Almighty, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 1:3)
John the Apostle pleads, “If we are faithful to confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
The United States of America is living in the shadow of the judgment of God, and God has given us the message that, if heeded, will turn away his wrath from the nation: Turn, purify, confess, repent.
Jonah was given a simple message to deliver to Nineveh – “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Jonah delivered that message, unvarnished and undecorated and the people of Nineveh heard it, they believed it, and they cried out to God for mercy. I believe that if the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in America today is to be true to its calling, we will begin to sound the warning from coast to coast, from border to border – the wrath of God is upon us and unless we acknowledge our sin and turn from our wickedness, American will be overthrown. The message must delivered without nuance, without subtlety, without regard for the howling response of sinners, without fearing the loss of our tax-exempt status, unconcerned that we might be prosecuted and imprisoned. Time is short and the stakes are high. Sadly, to a large degree the doctrine of confession and repentance has been lost in the church.
My friend Paul Jehle says, “The problem with the church today in America is that it has a hunger and desire to be famous, to have their leaders names in lights, and to be revered by the world because of how smart and powerful we are.” (Paul Jehle, The New Testament Church of Cedarville, Plymouth Rock Foundation). Before the nation can return to a place of humility before God, the church must be restored to its own place of humility. If our hunger is to be revered by the world we will never bring the warning to repent. As I write these words the persecution of the church in China grows. Pastor Wang Yi, leader of the Early Rain Church has been arrested along with more than 100 of his members. In the face of his impending arrest, Yi wrote an impassioned letter to the church. Part of the text of that letter is a powerful statement:
As a pastor, my firm belief in the gospel, my teaching, and my rebuking of all evil proceeds from Christ’s command in the gospel and from the unfathomable love of that glorious King. Every man’s life is extremely short, and God fervently commands the church to lead and call any man to repentance who is willing to repent. Christ is eager and willing to forgive all who turn from their sins. This is the goal of all the efforts of the church in China—to testify to the world about our Christ, to testify to the Middle Kingdom about the Kingdom of Heaven, to testify to earthly, momentary lives about heavenly, eternal life. This is also the pastoral calling that I have received.
We have moved beyond the seeker sensitive era, beyond the shopping mall church, and beyond a church willing to compromise the authority of the Scriptures in an effort to make ourselves more comfortable and accommodating to the sinful urges of men. We must once again be the church crying out to men to “save themselves from this untoward generation.” (Acts 2:40)
In an effort to be the church with a more appealing message we have become a church with no message.
In soothing tones we have assured sinners that God loves them just like they are, but we have failed to instruct them that God has no intention of leaving them just like they are, but will dispatch the Holy Spirit and the Word to cleanse and transform, to change and deliver, to purify and sanctify to fulfill His will in us that we would be conformed to the image of his Son. In China (and other places) they have banned the Bible. In America, we have sanitized the Bible. We have removed any and all words that might be found offensive to sinners. Under the weak hand of modern theologians the Bible in America has become the first transgender, polyamorous, sexually liberated holy book in history. The Bible has been edited and rewritten as a non-confrontational catalogue of moral fluidity. Instead of urging men to look into the mirror that is the Word of God that they might be changed into the image of Christ, we have rather peered into the wretched, tortured souls of men to reshape the revelation of God’s Holy Self into a chronicle of the self-destruction of humanity.
The United States of America is living in the shadow of the judgment of God and we need a Jonah.