GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 622 • March 21, 2021
PROBLEMS THE CHURCH SHOULD TALK ABOUT – 6: FRUITLESS CHRISTIANS AND BROKEN PROMISES
A problem the church ought to talk about – so important and so urgent that the church may become irrelevant and die if it does not address it – is three-pronged: (1) fruit-bearing, (2) evangelizing, and (3) promise-keeping. There is significant worldwide unbelief and distrust in the church; there is a toxic spillover with regard to the God and Lord of the church. We probably do not ask, but we should be asking people: “Whom do you trust? In whom do you entrust your welfare in the present and your hope for eternal life? And what evidence can you give that your trust is properly placed and safe?”
Politicians have taught us something endemic to politics: making promises is required to get elected or appointed to political office. Keeping promises is only important if one wants to be re-elected or re-appointed. The fact is, political promises are seldom kept — for two reasons:
(1) The promise keeper was an insincere and dishonest fraud with no real intention of keeping his or her promises;
(2) Competing politicians and/or the “opposition party” would make it impossible to do what the promise-maker intended and attempted.
That may be the most consistently demonstrated principle in American politics: partisanship is dominant; bi-partisan cooperation is exceedingly rare except in cases of true national emergency. If you think our two-party system is fragile and fraught with problems, think how much worse it would be if we had, as many other nations do, a multi-party (up to ten or more diverse competing political parties united in only one precept: that they will not and probably cannot work together – each one intent on “it’s either my way or no way.” Politics is not only a “dog-eat-dog” world but, in our case our mascots (donkeys for Democrats and elephants for Republicans) eat each other while the republic starves. Trust in any political system has eroded to near unbelief.
I remember an organization called “Promise Keepers,” ostensibly for “Christian Men” (the definition of “Christian” suffers under multitudes of ministries and movements that are far from Biblical Christianity – but that’s a topic for another day). The Promise Keepers are currently trying to revive and relive something of their success from the past – time and publicity will tell. I only use the terminology to make a point about a major problem the churches have: Christian churches (the current definition also suffers from a plethora of supposedly Christian religious groups, denominations and their satellites which are remote and often widely dissimilar from Biblical Christianity). The problem is fruitless Christians and broken promises – a fault found in many, perhaps most or perhaps all professed Christians and professed churches.
We have written elsewhere about the proper fruits of Christians (Periodical Number 619) and will not repeat it here, but only emphasize what fruit God expects and requires in those who claim representative fellowship with Him; spiritual qualities including holiness, morality, righteousness and personal integrity. God requires cooperation, not competition, with Him in His works – we are to be workers together with Him (2 Corinthians 6:1-2). Our work is not to find some satisfying substitutes or alternates that will be easier for us and require less of us. The unbelievable and unconscionable proliferation of churches – denominations now number in the tens of thousands world-wide – hierarchies, creeds, dogmas, schools and institutions to which the term “Christian” is applied as noun or adjective causes consternation and bewilderment. When we say something or someone is Christian nobody can really be sure what is meant or intended. The problem or complaint we want to address here is the perceived failure of the church to produce what they promise, what they have led the world to believe they can and will give. Of course God, Christ, and the Christian members of the church are necessarily implicated in the charge of failure to keep promises.
God is a Promise-Keeper. Do not expect the Lord God to keep for you promises He has not made to you. Promises made specifically to and for others in other places in and for other times do not always apply to you, to the present nation, to the present church, or to the present generation of the world. God is neither “politically, culturally, nor socially correct” by current standards and is not inclined to accept those who are or are trying to be. According to the biblical record God has made and kept many promises – He has never broken His promise nor failed to do what He has said He would do. He has withdrawn some conditional promises when recipients of those promises violated or refused to accept the conditions. Whenever you find an “if you do this then I will do this” promise, fulfillment depends upon both parties doing the required thing. A withdrawn promise is not a broken-by-God promise. There are some if – then promises for our future, but you will not find any unconditional “I’m going to save you for heaven, no matter what” and no “Im going to bless you, no matter what” promises of God. All of God’s blessing promises for you come with specific conditions and requirements attached. If you accept and meet His requirements He will keep His promise; If you do not, He will not. Do not be deceived by those who tell you otherwise. They lie! God does not lie, nor does His Christ, nor do the apostles of Christ and their inspired words in scripture.
Jesus Christ is a Promise-Keeper. His promises are actually those made to and through him by God. He spoke only what God the Father gave him to speak (John 12:49). His outstanding promises are to give himself as sacrifice and savior, to establish and sustain the kingdom of God on earth as the church and to guide it, to prepare a place in heaven for faithful disciples, to be the only effective way to God, to work with and sustain in peace all who come trustingly to him, to come again to raise the dead, judge the world, and to take the saved to heaven (Matthew 16:18-19 and 18:8, Matthew 11:28-30, John 10:14-18, John 14:1-6) – some have been accomplished, others are being accomplished, and some will not be accomplished until the end of the world. But all his promises will be kept
Is the church a promise-keeper? The church and Christians cannot – must not! – promise in the name of God and His Christ anything on their own. They can only say to others, “Do what God commands and requires and He will keep all His promises to you, now and forever.” No promise or threat of God will fail, now or in eternity.
Are you a promise-keeper? I must also ask for myself: Am I a promise-keeper? Any persons, including professed Christians, who seek the approval and rewards of their nation or the world, their own family and friends, or even of their own “church and religion” above or in place of the approval and rewards of God and His Christ are not keeping the promise one must make in order to become a true Christian. Are we keeping promises made to God and His Christ? Are we keeping promises made to the church, which are also promises to the Lord and His Christ? Are we keeping promises made to any and all others – to spouse, children, friends, the church members? Lastly, what about promises made to self?
Let us not make promises in the name of God or His Christ that He will not keep and we cannot keep. The religious world is replete with counterfeit promise-makers who promise health and welfare – including financial and material treasure – and happiness to those who follow them and adhere to their doctrines – but none of them can fulfill all their promises, promises God will not honor because He has not made them.
The problem for church members, especially newcomers but also to members who are tired of waiting for promised fruits and blessings, is how to maintain belief, hope, and trust — in the church, in its leaders and members, and in the Christ and God who are supposedly at the head of it and guarantors of all the promises made by it. We have emphasized promise-keeping. We will speak later about evangelism and missions.