A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author



13. Christian Crisis Of Conscience

We have all seen wonderful devotion and commitment to a cause displayed by those who don’t have the Truth or who are even atheists. It must have occurred to all of us at some time, that ‘If they can do that, why can’t I do…’ this, or that, or whatever, for the sake of the Truth. And there is no harm in seeking to provoke our feeble devotion by the example of others, including those in the world. There are many Biblical examples of just this:

- Shepherds and farmers can read the sky, and make prudent preparation accordingly. We must even more so discern the reality of the coming of the Lord; and we must act in confident expectation of this (Mt. 16:3) (1).

- The Jews were to consider how the Gentiles who didn’t know the details of God’s law behave better than them. Their untrained conscience prodded them to live better than the Jews; when, with all their detailed knowledge of God’s will, the Jews should have been living far better (Rom. 1:13). This can be extended to spiritual Israel too. For the reality has to be faced that there are many atheists or others who don’t know the Truth as we do, who live better lives than many of us do. Our knowledge of God’s doctrines should issue in a spiritual way of life; for  the purpose of all the true doctrines which we know is to elicit in us the life and living which the Father seeks of His true children. It isn’t so that God created a set of true doctrines and is pleased with those who intellectually figure them out, and angry with those who don’t. He wants behaviour, He wants our being, our feeling and thinking, to be after the image of His Son; and the true doctrines of the one Faith are to help elicit this in us. If, as we so often say, ‘we have the Truth’, then our lives ought to be better than those who don’t have it. Israel should have been the same; they should have been a light in the darkness of the Gentile world. And yet they behaved worse than the Gentiles. In a terrible image, Ez. 16:33 likens the Gentiles to whores who take payment, but Israel to a whore who pays men to come to her. We as spiritual Israel must consider the ‘spirituality’ of the world, and ask whether our lives are really so much better. They ought to be, for we ‘have the truth’. The gift of Divine Truth will have been in vain if our lives are not essentially different to those who don’t have it. This very day, this very hour as you read these words, men and women are risking their lives in the service of others, often in order to provide them some level of salvation in this life, for no personal benefit to themselves. They may be risking their lives and limbs to clear landmines in Mozambique, to take food and medicines into refugee camps along mined roads, with shells flying overhead, soldiers risking their lives to run back past snipers to drag back their wounded comrade, young men laid down on torture beds to reveal the names of others who like them refuse to fight for the cause of evil… And if they can do this, what are we doing for the eternal salvation of others which we have in our hands? What are we doing for our brethren? Getting on with our careers, building up our own homes, worrying about ourselves in whatever way?

- The joy of the Gentiles as a result of their faith was to provoke a lazy, self-satisfied Jewish brotherhood to repentance (Rom. 10:19; 11:11 cp. 15:9-11). And the joy and peace of many false religions, from Buddhism to Pentecostalism, serves as a challenge to us. The certainty of the Truth ought to lead to “all joy and peace through believing” (Rom. 15:13). But does it, in our Christian experience? The joy of other religious people, however surface level it may be, ought to deeply probe whether we have the joy of the Truth. For if we lose joy, we lose the faith and the hope (Heb. 3:6). If we believe that by grace, if the Lord comes, we will be there, then there will inevitably be a deep joy in our lives, no matter what temporal struggles we have.

- One doesn’t give sub-standard service to their employer. One didn’t bring him a defective animal as a gift. And yet Israel gave their God the lame and the blind animals, they only served Him as far as it didn’t hurt them (Mal. 1:6-9). They gave Him what cost them nothing. And yet they should not only have served Him as they served their earthly masters; but, because He is the “great God”, they should have given Him even more. And so we must ask: the time we give to our careers and development in them, the thought we give to our secular lives, the respect we pay it…how does this compare to our attitude to Divine things? On a simple level, we may always turn up to work early rather than late. But do we arrive at our ecclesial meetings on time, with that same sense of respect…? Is our attitude on Sunday morning inferior to that of Monday morning? The way " the children of this world" are so zealous in forgiving others their debts so as to get themselves out of major trouble is an example to us, the Lord said (Lk. 16:8). It could be that His comment that they were " wiser than the children of light" was a rebuke to the children of light- that those in the world are more eager to forgive, more zealous in their secular lives, than many of us are.

- Moses stood before Israel at the end of his life and pleaded with them to have the faith and courage to go and drive out the tribes of giants that lived in Canaan, and dwell there themselves. He cites as an example the way that other tribes had driven out giants and lived in their lands, in order to inspire his Israel (Dt. 2:12-21).

- The Lord pointed out that the Queen of Sheba came a long way to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and the men of Nineveh repented when they heard the judgements which Jonah preached. Yet the Jews of first century Palestine were generally little more than fascinated and intrigued by the Lord’s preaching. And then they got back on with their lives, not seeking the urgency of repentance. Tyre and Sidon would have repented had they seen the miracles which Jewish towns like Bethsaida had witnessed (Mt. 11:21). The Jews didn’t do this because they were the ecclesia of God, and therefore, they thought, they had no need of repentance and awe at the message of the Kingdom. It was OK for the Gentiles to be excited about it. But they had seen it all before, they knew it all already. And so with us. We can smile approvingly of news of mass conversions to the Truth, and nod in sober approval of how a drug abuser has repented and been baptized. But we can thereby miss the point: that if men and women world-wide can make these changes at conversion, the Gospel of the Kingdom ought to be bringing forth the same transformation of human life in us, in an ongoing sense.

- Getting down to a very simple level, Solomon taught that if the ants can be so zealous, well why can’t the ecclesia of God be zealous [for it was ‘believers’ that he was teaching]. The ants scurry around, working as if there is no tomorrow, to build up something so precarious that is in any case so tragically short lived. Can’t we be yet more zealous, with a like loving co-operation, building the eternal things that we are (Prov. 6:6,7)? And Solomon pressed the point further, in that ants are self-motivated; they need no “guide, overseer or ruler”. This was surely a reference to the complex system of overseers which Solomon had to place over Israel in order to build the temple and build up the Kingdom. The same Hebrew word for “overseer” is found in 1 Chron. 23:4; 26:29.  Yet ideally, he seems to be saying, every Israelite ought to be a zealous worker. Prov. 12:24 says the same: “The hand of the diligent [whoever he / she is] shall bear rule [in practice]” [s.w. Prov. 6:7 “ruler”]. And we must ask ourselves, whether for whatever reason the new Israel hasn’t slumped into the same problem, of lack of self-motivation, waiting to be asked to do something before we do it, over-relying upon our “overseers”. The ants aren’t like this. They see the job to be done, and naturally get on with it.

- Jer. 35:14 makes the point about the Rechabites. This family wouldn’t drink wine nor live in cities, just because they respected the commands of their ancestor about these matters. Yet Yahweh God of Israel had been rising up early, sending His prophets, pleading with Israel to hear. And His people didn’t take Him seriously at all. If the sons of Rechab could live as they did, based on their obedience to human words and traditions, why couldn’t Israel even more so when it came to God’s word? And so with us. There are communities which blindly follow the faith of their fathers, obedient to their traditions and demands regarding, e.g., whom they marry. If men and women can be so obedient to the word of men… shouldn’t the word of God , black print on white paper that it is, but nonetheless the same word that made Moses tremble and that Sinai ablaze, have an even deeper impact and more insistent imperative in our lives?

- Paul got mad with his Corinthians over the case of incest in their midst; for, he reasoned, that sort of thing was scarcely heard of even in the world (1 Cor. 5:1). The existence of at least some semblance of ‘morality’ in the world, the fact, e.g., that there are atheists who live as faithful husband:wife partners for a lifetime, ought to mean that immorality is unheard of amongst those who know the true God. The fact that the Jews have zeal for obedience to God not based on true knowledge implies that those who have knowledge ought to be even more zealous (Rom. 10:2). The Lord saw the zeal of hypocritical Jewry in the same way; our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees (Mt. 5:20). Their apparent zeal to understand God’s intentions and live accordingly mustn’t be forgotten by us, just because they are morally and doctrinally wrong. The Lord could easily have not held them up as examples in any context at all. But He says that we should behold their essential zeal, take a snapshot of it as it were, and exceed it in the true service.

- For a good man, some would even dare to die (Rom. 5:7). This has been shown many a time, in the way soldiers and prisoners will allow their lives to be lost for the sake of a comrade who has inspired them. The contrast is that Christ died for us, the uninspiring, who were in some sense His enemies at the point of His self-sacrifice. Yet His sacrifice is a pattern for ours; as He lay down His life for the world and for His brethren, so we ought to (1 Jn. 3:16). If men of this world can lay down their lives for a good man, surely we ought to be able to do so for our brethren. Men, let’s take soldiers, lay down their lives for another because they see the tragedy and urgency of the situation, because they believe that this person is worth saving by their risk or by their death. Simply because…that soldier is of the same colour, the same race, the same nation, fighting for the same principles, regardless of whatever personality differences there were between the two men as men. And so we too must have that sense that our brethren are worth it, that they are in the end on our side in the struggle. And that this is the only worthwhile and defining reality, to live and die for.

- The unjust steward in the parable of Luke 16 ran round forgiving others their debts, so that in his time of crisis and judgment he would have a way out of his own debt problems. And in the context of forgiving our brethren, the Lord holds him up as an example. But He laments that sadly, the children of this world are often wiser than the children of the Kingdom, i.e. the believers (Lk. 16:8). I take this as meaning that the Lord is sorry that His people don’t see the same obvious need to forgive each other, in view of their own inadequacies and the coming of judgment. The children of this world see the coming of their judgments and the urgency of the need to prepare, far more strongly than many of us do; we who face the ultimate crisis of sinful, responsible man meeting with an Almighty God.

- God challenges Judah’s indolence to rebuild the temple by drawing their attention to how zealously Edom had rebuilt their “desolate places” (Mal. 1:4). If Edom can do it… why can’t you, Judah, with all God’s prophecies and support behind you?

If they can do it…

Many of the above arguments have a powerful feature: if this is how the world or unbelievers behave, not only should the believers be as zealous as them but far more so. It must of course be remembered that mere comparing of ourselves amongst ourselves isn’t wise. The Lord Christ is our constant pattern and inspiration. And yet Paul could bid men follow him, that they might follow Christ. And the inspired word does bid us go down the road of comparing our behaviour with that of others. Paul boasted of the Corinthians’ enthusiasm in planning to make donations in order to provoke the ecclesias in Macedonia to a like generosity. Their zeal “provoked very many” (2 Cor. 9:2). We should provoke one another to love and good works, by example (Heb. 10:24). Consider how God spoke to Israel “by Isaiah” when he walked naked and barefoot. Who he was, was to be their example and thereby God’s message (Is. 20:2).  Many Bible characters were clearly inspired by those who had gone before. Thus Moses’ offer of losing his part in the book of eternal life so that Israel could be saved, mightily inspired Paul. He says that he could wish himself accursed from God for the sake of Israel’s redemption (Rom. 9:3). He wrote: “could wish” because he had learnt the lesson from God’s refusal of Moses’ offer, i.e. that God will not accept a substitutionary sacrifice, but only individual faith in the representative sacrifice of His Son. Paul is unashamed to reason that the Gentiles had accepted salvation in order to provoke the Jews to jealousy and eventual repentance (Rom. 11:11); and he sets himself up as the pattern to every Jew who would repent and come to Christ (Rom. 11:14; 1 Tim. 1:16). All this means that we cannot view and admire Bible characters as we would a beautiful painting. Their having lived and been as they were is an imperative to us to action. We cannot merely sit comfortably through a character study of, say, Daniel, or read the record of Ruth smiling at how sweet she was. We must be like them. Dear Peter exemplified how we so often behave, when he gasped at how deep was Jesus’ faith, as he saw the fig tree withered in exact accord with the Lord’s earlier words. But the Lord turns on Him immediately: “[You] have faith in God…you must believe, and whatever you ask in faith will happen, if you like me, see it as if it has happened at the point of asking for it” (Mk. 11:22-24).

We can be like the weeping Jews who remarked, surely with feeling, “Behold how He loved him!” when they saw the Lord so broken down over the death of Lazarus. But that was where it ended for them. They didn’t grasp the fact that the Master’s faith, the Saviour’s love, is not just there to be remarked upon, especially not in that irritating White Anglo-Saxon Protestant way; but to be practically inspired by, in the smallness and reality of our humanity. Another example is in the way a woman exclaimed about Mary: “Blessed is the womb that bare thee!”. The Lord’s response was: “Yea rather [“therefore indeed”], blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:27,28). He was alluding to how His mother had “kept” God’s word in her heart in devout meditation (Lk. 2:51). He didn’t say ‘Blessed is she because she heard the word and kept it’. Rather, “blessed are they”. He was surely saying: ‘Don’t just dumbly admire my mother, with some kind of distant, spectator admiration; she is the pattern for all of you. Follow her, make her the pattern of your life with respect to God’s word, rather than just gasp at her example’. Roman Catholics as well as ourselves need to take this lesson to heart.

And so the case is established. The zeal of others in both the believing and unbelieving world should serve as a conscience prodder to us; just as the joy and faith of the Gentiles was intended to provoke the Jews. We are all confronted by examples which ought to provoke us. Here are just a few which are more universally known:

- About 100 years ago, a British team set out to reach the South Pole. They travelled through blizzards and extreme temperatures until most team members died. Only 4 remained. Their dogs died and they had to pull their sleighs themselves. They slept on top of each other for warmth in their tent. One of them became sick, eaten up with frostbite until he could no longer walk. So they pulled him on their sleigh. He realised he was impeding their progress, and so one night he undressed and walked out into the cold to die, so they would have a better chance.

- Polish Jews were imprisoned within the Warsaw Ghetto. It was obvious they were all going to die. Yet unknown to the Germans, it was possible to escape from the ghetto using sewers. Many Jews escaped. Any day the sewers could have been discovered and blocked. Some Jewish doctors, however, travelled in and out of the ghetto using the sewers in order to bring in medical supplies. They eventually chose to suffer and die with their people rather than personally escape.

- The Nazi death camps were unbelievable in their torture and destruction of humanity. All the inmates were kept there against their will. Almost all of them. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were the exception. The inmates had to work until they died. Each day selections were made of those who looked too weak to go on working, and the weak ones were killed. They were fed with virtually nothing. All inmates wore the same uniform. Except one group: the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were the only people in those camps by choice. There was specific Nazi legislation about them: they merely had to tell the Camp ‘kommendant’ that they renounced their faith, sign a document, and they were free. The original documents stating the Nazi legislation to this effect survive to this day. And yet hardly any of the JWs did this. They lived and died witnessing to their faith. The more I know their doctrines, the more wrong, seriously wrong, I think they are. And yet their zeal ought to provoke us. Not just in what they then endured, but in their courage today to go door-to-door in the most aggressive environments. And it is they who have opened ‘Kingdom halls’ in Israel, proudly bearing the Name ‘Jehovah’ written in Hebrew, in the face of every conceivable Israeli opposition.

- The standard Protestant churches, with all their false doctrines, sent missionaries to Africa and Asia in the 19th century. They landed on the coasts and moved inland- not knowing any local languages, dying from malaria and other diseases, often killed by hostile tribes. And they were simply seeking to tell people about this man, Jesus Christ, who had lived and died for them in a place called Israel many centuries ago. Everything was against them, and yet they established missions, translated Bibles even though it meant having to develop written forms of the target languages first…

- In the face of terrible persecution, men like Richard Wurmbrand and Georgij Vins went through years of imprisonment in Soviet gaols, not seeing daylight for years, knowing their families were being persecuted for their sakes…all because of their faith.

-  After midnight one night I was sitting in a carriage on the Moscow metro. A young American Mormon got on. He looked very tired, nervous, afraid, looking suspiciously at me in case I tried to jump him. He sat for a while and then wearily pulled out a book titled ‘701 Irregular Russian Verbs’. As we sped through the darkness, he read, shaking his head, furrowing his brow, underlining, copying things out onto a piece of paper. He kept closing his eyes and I noticed his lips moving. He was either praying or reciting those verb conjugations. And if they can do that, for the sake of the nonsense they sincerely believe, a young man likely from some well heeled town in the USA, with mom, dad, siblings and maybe girlfriend the other side of the world…what about our young people, who have the Truth? Can’t they learn some Russian verbs [or Chinese or Spanish or Swahili ones]? And take their message of Truth to the regions beyond?

- Educated Western men and women give up their careers and savings to risk their health and lives taking aid and medicines to war-torn areas. They leave behind the comfortable life that could be theirs- a partner, children, financial security, professional respectability, a social circle of former University friends, going along to a well-heeled church every Sunday, enjoying the singing and the social evenings… I have met such men and women. Many of them. I live as it were suspended between two worlds. I see what they do and how they live and the chances they take. And I also know what they left behind. Just as I have met many Mormons, zealous young men from small, comfortable towns in the USA, staying up late struggling to learn Russian grammar, comforting their fellow missionary who has just been beaten up and is standing there holding his broken spectacles and realising his Passport has also been stolen,  nervously going from apartment to apartment in cities riddled with crime and anti-Western sentiment, preaching a message which there is every reason for the hearers to reject. And when I think of these young men, their faces almost haunt me. As I lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling, I think of myself, I think of our beloved community, of  our young people, of us… and the faces of those French doctors, Canadian nurses, aid workers in Bosnia, clean cut young Mormons, the white South African doctor telling me how many times landmines exploded behind his ambulance in Mozambique [i.e. he drove over them], the photos I have in a book of the JWs in the Nazi camps…they stream before me as in an uneasy, silent procession. They demand a verdict from us who know the true God, and who have the realistic Hope of eternity in God’s Kingdom. They demand a response. We cannot merely say ‘well, that’s them’.  What of us? These men, those women, lead us to a crisis of conscience.

An Uneasy Conscience

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying these people had faith in the right things. I am just observing that they had faith and commitment to whatever they believed in, and this ought to be a lesson for us. If they could go through all this, then, in whatever context, didn’t we ought to be equally committed? And, more than this. Not equally committed, but far more so, seeing ‘we have the Truth’? It would be tempting to now write an analysis of our community, or my perception of it at least. To compare it with the above examples, and all the Biblical reasons that teach that in commitment, in joy, in faith, in love, in love of God, in response to our Maker, we ought to be far beyond the examples of others. But it would be of no use. For the only worthwhile thing is for us to individually examine again our doctrinal beliefs, and to see how each of them are intended to bring forth living and behaviour and spirituality, in various ways. We have elsewhere developed these connections for each of our first principle doctrines. And it is for us to meditate upon the many examples of zeal and joy, love etc. in the lives of the men and women around us. And to realise that these are our examples. And to ask why exactly it is that we who know God’s Truth don’t always respond with the same extent of devotion which they do. It is a paradox, that often we who are God’s people don’t respond as well as even the world does. But it is a paradox that played itself out repeatedly in the experience of natural Israel. We simply  must take the lesson from them; that we cannot merely assume Divine Truth and relationship with Him, passively keeping our talent hidden in the earth, but must instead respond to that Truth as He has intended. We have the best thing in the world- God’s Truth. It is important what we believe, precisely because those true doctrines elicit the true behaviour which God seeks.

Sadly, our community has all too often separated doctrine from practice. We ourselves all too often live in a manner which denies the doctrines we hold in our brain cells. We refuse to see that doctrine is intended to bring forth living and love towards others. The doctrines of the one faith aren’t merely empty theological statements devised as a test of our obedience and understanding. They are as they are to inspire a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Some have analysed certain aspects of doctrine, especially relating to the atonement, to an extent that is inappropriate; and have virtually divided over these matters. And yet the pseudo-intellectual minutiae over which there has been such strife contain no power to live the new life. It is the basic Gospel itself which has the power to bring forth the new man, after the image of Christ. It is crucial to what I would call ‘true theology’ [defence of first principles, upholding the Truth, call it what you will] that it is not separated from the call of doctrine to be the vital force for the transformation of human life. After many years of ‘holding the Truth’, we have developed a complex intellectual theological system that is all wonderfully and thrillingly true; and yet it is looking for a praxis. That praxis, I submit, is in the preaching of the Gospel to the poor, and within the more desperate parts of  society. In these places there is plenty of praxis, striving to find an adequate theological / doctrinal underpinning. People don’t know their Bibles, don’t know true doctrine, and yet they so want to be taught. Things are coming together, slowly, as  we start to see our need to reach out, and is encouraged by the successes the Lord has granted. We are starting to realize that the true theologian, the real lover of doctrinal truth, cannot avoid the challenge of knowing this world’s life in its most traumatic forms. For ‘theology’  cannot but have a mission to men. Unless ‘theology’, doctrine, defence of it etc., are put at the service of our mission, to save men and women and glorify the Lord, then there can only be an ever increasing gap between the ‘theologians’ and the grass-roots ecclesia, especially in the mission field. The two halves must come together, else the new converts will wander, and the ‘theologians’, shocked at the lack of perception in the converts, will likewise go their own way, into ever increasing abstraction and theory. And yet, as 5th generation converts go out preaching and converting, things are  coming together. Let’s not be too hard on ourselves. It is happening. The wonderful truths of our faith, the Truth of Christ, really is producing a harvest in the lives of ordinary women and men, literally throughout the globe. Personalities are being transformed, thereby the world is being transformed, in that a tiny taste of the coming world-wide Kingdom is being displayed world-wide, in  the lives of those who have responded. And in this marvellous way, we all have a part to play in this heralding of the Kingdom to the whole planet.


(1) The sign which Israel sought but couldn’t discern was that of Jonah. In allusion to this, Paul says that Israel didn’t find what he sought for, i.e. justification with God on account of their Messiah (Rom. 9:31). The “sign[s] of the times” which they wanted but couldn’t discern can be seen as the whole work of Jesus, rather than specifically the signs of His coming again. The “sign[s]” which they sought for were in front of them at the time of their asking for them. They therefore cannot really refer to fulfilled latter day prophecies. The lesson is that as farmers and shepherds act accordingly as they interpret the weather, so we ought to respond to the resurrection of Christ [cp. that of Jonah], because it portends the return of Christ in judgment.

When John Wesley was at Oxford, his income was 30 pounds / year. He lived on 28 pounds and gave 2 away. His income later increased to 60 pounds, then 90, then 120. He continued to live on 28 and to give the rest away.