By Larry White

    In an article in USA Today 03/19/01 "Survey: Churches growing"

   Religious congregations in the US are growing, vital and in better financial shape than five years ago, according to a study released Tuesday.
   And electronic music is a key.
   "Faith Communities Today," a study of 14,000 congregations, representing 41 denominations, draws on the largest survey of U.S. congregations.
   The study found that 50 percent of churches particularly those with electronic music, say they are growing and vital.
   Such churches also are more informal. The preaching style is "more often narrative or story telling, less often doctrine or a biblical lecture. There may be more emphasis on music and prayer, less on the sermon or study," says Roozen

   If only the religious leaders in the first century had had electronic music... people probably would not have paid as much heed to Jesus who did not lift up his voice in the street. But look at the price they are paying to be entertained - the loss of the preaching and teaching of God's word.
Let us look at:

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men: for you enter not in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering in to enter.

   You have here the first of eight "woes" by Jesus denouncing the religious leaders of that day. This first woe is by comparison one of the most damning, because they were hindering people from going into the Kingdom of God. It is the picture that, the leaders were invited to come in but they would not, and then they stood against the door so that no one else could go in either. 
Another picture of this is in:

Woe unto you lawyers! for you took away the key of knowledge: you did not enter in yourselves, and them that were entering in you hindered.
And when he was come out from thence, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press upon him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things; laying wait for him, to catch something out of his mouth.

   So, here you have the explanation of how they shut-up the Kingdom from men - they held back the key of knowledge. So you have the situation of some people having the power to control other people's destiny by giving or not giving knowledge.
   Knowledge of the right way to walk was and is very important. Without a proper understanding of God's will, the people could stray into all kinds of sin and abominations. In (Hos.4:6) God said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."
   That is why there was stress laid in the Old Testament on the importance of following God's word exactly right.

    And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which Jehovah chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you.
    Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before Jehovah your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel.
    And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously.

   The people were required to do exactly what was told them out of the Law. They were to only follow what was revealed in God's word - and the teachers were to only teach what was revealed.

The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

   If someone came to them saying something that they could not find in the scriptures, they were to reject it.

And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto the wizards, that chirp and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? on behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead? To the law and to the testimony! if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no light in them.

If there arise in the midst of you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and he give you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, of which he spoke unto you, saying, "Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them; you shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or to that dreamer of dreams: for Jehovah your God tests you, to know whether you love Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after Jehovah your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and you shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death, because he has spoken rebellion against Jehovah your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to draw you aside out of the way in which Jehovah your God commanded you to walk. So shall you put away the evil from the midst of you.

   They were to keep the Lord's commands and obey those who spoke according to the Lord's commands and nothing else. 
   This was the teaching of Jesus to the people concerning the religious leaders. Jesus openly condemned all the extraneous teaching and doctrines built up by the scribes and Pharisees over the years. 

   Then there came to Jesus from Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes, saying, "Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they do not wash their hands when they eat bread."
   And he answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and your mother: and, He that speaks evil of father or mother, let him die the death.' But you say, whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, 'That wherewith you might have been profited by me is given to God;' he shall not honor his father. And you have made void the word of God because of your tradition. You hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying,
     'This people honors me with their lips;
     But their heart is far from me.
     But in vain do they worship me,
     Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.'"

He calls what they taught vain and empty - because the only thing that really mattered and would be effective toward worshipping God was only what God commanded.

   A knowledge of God's word is what should have led the Jews to accept their Messiah. But most of the Jews would not come to Jesus and Jesus tells them why.

All that which the Father gives me shall come unto me; and him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out. For I am come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the will of him that sent me, that of all that which he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one that beholds the Son, and believes on him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

So what we have here is, the people who the Father gives to Jesus will come to him and he will accept them and raise them from the dead at the last day. But how does that happen?

No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day. 

So the Father gives the people to Jesus by drawing them. In verse 45 is how they are drawn.

It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God'. Every one that has heard from the Father, and has learned, comes unto me. 

Then he immediately explains that this need not be a direct teaching from the Father.

Not that any man has seen the Father, except he that is from God, he has seen the Father.

How should they have heard and learned of the Father? Jesus explains by telling them why they would not come to him. 

You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me; and you will not come to me, that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I am come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me: if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory one of another, and you do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuses you, even Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how shall you believe my words?

   So whether a Jew came to Jesus or not, had a lot to do with whether they believed Moses or not. Now if these same Jews who did not believe Moses turn and teach their unbelief to the general population and explain away what Moses and the prophets said about Christ, then they have effectively shut up the door to the kingdom and thrown the key of knowledge away.
    There were many people pressing to enter the Kingdom and the Scribes and Pharisees, being moved with envy, maliciously obstructed the way. The people were saying, "Look at the miracles! Is not this the Son of David? Is not this the Christ?"
   And the leaders of the people (the ones who should have known) said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebub." They said that anyone found confessing that Jesus was the Christ would be excommunicated from the Temple. They would not go in the Kingdom themselves and they stood against the door and hindered those that were trying and wanted to get in. They set themselves in direct opposition to the grace of God, in his efforts to save man. They also opposed his Apostles later on and tried to close the door to the Gentiles.

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus: for you also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews; who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and pleased not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always: but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.

   First thing someone might ask at this point is why didn't the people look for themselves? I wonder, could they? The answer is, Yes. The children were taught to read and write and to quote the scriptures. Moses told them to write it on their walls and talk about it in their homes. In (2Tim.3:15) Paul says that Timothy knew the scriptures from childhood.
   Why didn't they? Basically the same reasons that people do not check out what their church teaches today. People would rather let someone else do all the studying and thinking for them. And then when it is all digested into some plausible doctrine they want to be spoon fed without having to think too much. We already knew the denominations were like that. But we have to take care that our Bible classes do not degrade into the same thing. Some of us do not even look at what we are suppose to be studying until we get into class. I have been guilty of this as I am sure we all have.
   But there is an attitude that some people have to rationalize their lack of study. It is where we think, "Well, I'm the student and he's the teacher and it's his primary responsibility to get the lesson and tell me what is means, therefore why should I study?"
   I think that is wrong. Because it is our primary responsibility to learn the truth. The teacher can aid us and assist us in doing that, but the bottom line is that it is our responsibility to open our own Bibles and study God's word.
   When we let our duty to study our Bibles be taken over completely by our teachers, it will turn into a monster that we may not like. The worst case I have seen so far was a class you did not have to study for, because you were not going to be asked any questions. What is more, you were not allowed to ask any question either, (especially if you disagreed). 
   Of course what this will ultimately lead to is a Clergy - Laity distinction, where only certain men who are "recognized" can do any thinking - and the "mass" or the rest of the congregation, had better keep in their place. What we in the church call this is "preacheritis", where we hire this young fellow to study for us and preach it real pretty on Sunday morning, and we sit back and spiritually go to sleep.
   What happens is that since the preacher is the only one doing any studying, he eventually becomes the only one who knows anything about the Bible.
   When young Christians see this situation, they will place an undue emphasis on what their preacher says and will even accept over what the Bible says, their preacher's view on any subject. And it is obvious what that does to the preacher. He starts thinking that he has a corner on the truth and to disagree with him is to disagree with God. Especially is that true when a number of preachers get together and form a consensus on what the doctrine of the church should be. And if you do not agree with their judgment in the brotherhood papers then you will likely be branded and black-balled. I've seen this myself taking place in Idaho, and when I spoke against it I was labeled as arrogant. How ironic. This type of majority and minority pressure went on in the days of Jesus also.

The officers therefore came to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said to them, "Why did you not bring him?" The officers answered, "A man never so spoke as this man speaks." The Pharisees therefore answered them, "Are you also led astray? Has any of the rulers believed on him, or of the Pharisees? But this multitude that does not know the law are accursed."

These leaders were wrong. But they stacked up their higher learning as infallibility. And we have the same type of religious leaders today.

   You mean all this can happen because I don't study my Bible?

   It can be worse. They could shut up the Kingdom of Heaven from you. Your eternal destiny is conditioned on what you believe and what you are doing about it.

1.) Whether the Kingdom of God is here or whether it is a coming Millennial Kingdom can affect the way you understand most of the rest of the Bible. Is that something to leave in the hands of a fallible preacher and not study for yourself? 99% of all religious bodies in the US today, think the Kingdom has not yet come. But look at what the Bible actually says.

Col.1:12-14 thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins:

I John, your brother and partaker with you in tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

The Kingdom is spiritual and Christians have been in it since the first century. That is a "key of knowledge" that has been taken away from most religious people, because they are trusting in a preacher instead of reading the Bible for themselves.

2.) Whether the guilty party in a divorce can remarry will affect some people for the rest of their lives. Is that something with which to let a group of preachers brow-beat you into a corner and into a position that the scriptures do not support, by using intimidation and slander? Or should you study it yourself and stand firm on what the scriptures plainly say. 
   Jesus taught that fornication was the only legitimate reason for divorce and that if one divorced for any other reason it was invalid and caused both parties to commit adultery if they remarried. The corollary then must be true; that if the divorce is because of fornication then the divorce is legitimate and valid and therefore both parties can remarry without committing adultery.

And I say to you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery: and he that marries her when she is put away commits adultery.

There are many teachers today who turn this simple teaching into confusion and who leave wrecked lives in their wake.

3.) Whether the Holy Spirit dwells in us or not will have a profound effect on how you understand most of the New Testament scriptures. Of course the Bible says that he does dwell in us. (Acts 2:39; Acts 5:32; Rom.8:9; 1Cor.6:19; Gal.4:6; Eph.1:13; 2Tim.1:14) and on and on.  These could be keys of knowledge being taken away from people in many churches because they are not studying it for themselves and are caving in to minority pressure groups.

4.) Another key of knowledge that is taken away from people by religious leaders is the place of Immersion in one's salvation. 
   Jesus said in Mk.16:16, "He that believes and is immersed shall be saved, he that believes not shall be damned."
   Religious leaders say that you do not have to be immersed to be saved.

   Peter said in Acts 2:28 to "repent and be immersed everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..."
   Religious leaders say that immersion does not have anything to do with the remission of sins.

   Ananias told Paul in Acts 22:16, "And now why do you tarry? arise, and be immersed, and wash away your sins, calling on his name."
Religious leaders say you cannot wash away your sins by immersion.

   Peter says in 1Pet.3:21, that immersion saves us, by the appeal to God of a good conscience.
   Religious leaders say that immersion does not have anything to do with salvation.

   Who are you going to believe? The key of knowledge is in the Bible. Don't let any preacher or religious leader take it away from you. Look at the way Jesus handled a person's question.

And he said unto him, What is written in the law? how do you read?

   Jesus expects each one of us to read it and decide for ourselves.

   The people of Berea in Acts 17:11 were commended as being noble because they searched the scriptures daily to see whether what Paul was telling them was true.

   In 1Thess.5:21 Paul tells us to
"prove [test, try] all things, hold fast that which is good."

If you do then no man will ever block or shut-up the Kingdom of God from you, and no man will ever cheat you out of your crown.

  • (Originally delivered as a sermon in Eagle Point, Or. September 23, 1984)
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