In unfamiliar territory winds and waves may veer a small boat off course. Without nautical charts to mark the rocks the little boat may ground on a hidden rock, punch a hole in its hull, and founder…Even if it escapes these perils, without a chart to indicate the pertinent landmarks it may miss its destination altogether. ‘Never sail in unknown waters without your charts’ is a rule of thumb for mariners. The ocean is a place of changing weather, strong currents and fluctuating tides. Rocks far underwater at high tide may be just below the surface at low tide. Watch the charts. You may not see the rocks. Know the landmarks.
I wonder if we believers in any age aren’t like boats on a voyage. Each generation has its unfamiliar territory, changing tides of faddish teaching and practice, currents of teaching that create unseen undercurrents, hidden perils, nasty rocks lying in wait for an oblivious sailor at ease…Winds and waves happen in culture. Tides rise and fall. Fads and movements come and go. How do we keep from being blown or carried off course?
We have the Chart. Rocks are marked. Beware—the world, the flesh, the devil. Beware false teachers. Beware the leaven of Pharisees. Beware…But what of the landmarks? What landmarks might we chart our course by? Where are those non-negotiable unchanging points of land or clanging bell-buoys to keep us off the reefs and on due course?
I’ve been pondering landmarks of our faith–sure things to measure a teaching, a ministry, a set of beliefs by, to ensure we aren’t being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph.4:14)
The first, perhaps obvious measure of any landmark is whether it’s on the Chart at all! Does what I’m seeing line up with the Word of God? Every since Sinai (Ex.20:19), God’s people have been prone to want to hear from God through a man. How often have His people been misled by trusting the word of a man and not consulting the Chart itself? God’s Word is written to speak to the common man. His Spirit indwells the believer to enlighten his mind as he studies (I Jn.2:27) We can know God’s will, His voice, His intended course for our lives. His purposes are unchanging. His Word has not grown obsolete. Any word given more credence than this inerrant written Word is bound to steer us off course.
A rule of thumb for me in evaluating any ministry is what value it places on the Bible.
If a ‘new revelation’, experience or interpretation trumps what’s written or claims greater significance, I am suspect.
If the Word of God is handled piecemeal or taught in a leapfrog fashion, hopping over problem verses and passages, I’m wary.
Pastors, teachers and prophets are gifts to the Body of course, but are not infallible. How do we measure their ministries? By the Chart! There’s no substitute for being good ‘Bereans’ (Acts 17:11) and distinguishing the true from the counterfeit. Rule 1 of the High Seas. Learn to read and trust the Chart for yourself. Many perils will thus be avoided.
Have you ever studied a nautical chart?
Whew! There’s an awful lot of information there. Distances, points, bell buoys, rocks, sandy bottoms—I guess I should confess that when it comes to nautical charts I’m almost illiterate. But I have had a few lessons. I can spot the rocks. I recognize the sand spits…I look when Jim points out channels and points of land and shows me how they appear on the chart. This is challenging—identifying how the chart relates to the real thing. I once found myself in a little motor boat with just ‘the girls’, making our way out of a rock-strewn inlet. None of us could read the miniature chart we had along. Only I could actually see it–not yet needing reading glasses. That was stressful! I can testify, it is best to learn to read the Chart and be able to rectify the actual landmarks with those on the chart.
So yes, landmarks. I’ve been pondering what are the landmarks that I use to keep my little vessel off the rocks?
Landmark #1 The Cross—is it center front? Does it matter anymore now that the rescue has been made? Or is it an offensive doctrine best swept under the carpet and replaced with sweet smelling rose petals. The doctrine of the ‘substitutionary atonement’ of Christ on our behalf is taking a beating these days. Sin is not that serious. God not that ‘cruel’ they say. He is love…But the Cross declares His holiness in tandem with His love. It is a landmark we can safely chart our course by.
Landmark#2 The Saviour—is He made much of as both fully God and fully man? Or is He actually sidelined as the One who makes me great? Whose esteem is made much of: mine or Christ’s? I elaborated on this already last post, so will not repeat myself here except to point you to a book (review) you may have missed that is well worth the read and available online besides! Christ Esteem is the book. I’ve posted a review and sampling of quotes here. [Click link to access]
Landmark#3 The Second Coming—is it a ‘blessed hope’. It may seem spiritual to insist that one is more concerned with saving souls or bringing the kingdom to earth or in some other way serving God now, and therefore not concerned with His coming, but for me this is a red flag. All through the history of the church beginning with His ascension, the coming again of Jesus has been held out as our ‘blessed hope'(Titus 2:13). John says this hope is in fact a purifying hope: We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (I Jn.3:3) We are called strangers in exile here. This world is not our true home. We are not to love it or the things in it but to follow the example of the Hebrews 11 crowd of witnesses who lived in hope of a ‘better country, a heavenly one’ (Heb.11:13-16) Any movement or teacher that loses this hope has lost their way.
Landmark#4 Moral Purity—is the teacher/leader above reproach? This would seem to be a ‘no-brainer’ but oddly (or perhaps not so oddly) where teaching is unsound, very often moral laxity slips in. It may not be apparent on the surface. It may not even be present at first—but it’s not unusual to find persons claiming to be speaking for God who have abandoned their own marriages in the process. This should be a clanging ‘bell-bouy’ that the shoals are near. Do not trust this teacher, no matter how ‘spiritual’ they seem.
Landmark#5 Fear of God—Is God revered as the Almighty Sovereign before whom man cannot stand in his physical state and live? Or is a sloppy ‘intimacy’ with God boasted of and encouraged. Is God spoken of flippantly and casually as though he were a chatty chum, or with deep reverence? An authentically spiritual man or ministry will be characterized by the fear of God.
Landmark #6 Their testimony—Is it about Jesus, conviction of sin, repentance, and a new life in Christ? Or something else? Listen carefully. I have heard ‘testimonies’ that were more about advertising one’s authority to speak in God’s name, based on a bizarre encounter, than they were about genuine heart transformation. Nor does an emotional experience equal salvation. A testimony of God’s gracious salvation will exude humble gratitude and recognition of having been wrong. It will promote Jesus not self.
Landmark#7 Gratitude—Is this the theme echoing behind all their other teaching? A genuine minister of the Gospel will never have gotten over the marvel that God stooped down so low to bring him/her to Himself. This is a landmark requiring maintenance in my own life lest it deteriorate with the fading memory of what Christ has done. And on this Thanksgiving evening what better note to close on.
“Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.” Heb.12:28
Thank YOU for considering my ponderings. I hope you will feel free to ammend this list of ‘landmarks’ with your own comments on ones that you’ve discovered along the way. We are after all in this boat together!