I had a discussion with a group of young Oneness Pentecostals concerning those among us who have left the church, not for the bright lights of the sinful world, but for the bright lights of mainstream Christianity. Community, Non-Denominational, and other Independent Churches are becoming a lure for some among our ranks – especially the younger generation. I heard comments such as “They seem so blessed”, “They have great worship” and “They have large crowds”. I reminded the group of two things: First, the applause of men does not necessarily signify the approval of God. Second, large crowds do not necessarily equal the approval of God either. While large crowds would certainly be welcomed, the message should never be compromised to attain them. The next day I was awakened with this passage on my mind:
And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.---- 1 Samuel 15: 22
As you may recall, God sent Samuel to deliver a task to King Saul:
Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy ALL that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. ----1 Sam. 15: 3
Notice the word, “ALL”. God wanted ALL of Amalek destroyed. It was a clear instruction from the man of God. However, for some unknown reason, Saul decided to tweak things a little:
And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, AND WOULD NOT UTTERLY DESTROY THEM: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly. ----1 Sam. 15: 8. 9
Saul did MOST of what God commanded. To the modern church and the modern preacher who “never wants to judge anybody”, that would be sufficient. However, there remained one problem: God doesn’t want our “most”, He wants our “all”. Partial obedience becomes disobedience in disguise:
Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying, 11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is TURNED BACK FROM FOLLOWING ME, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night. ----1 Sam. 15: 10, 11
When I saw this, two things leaped out at me: First, God considered Saul a backslider even though he performed MUCH of His command. Only this was a different type of backslider – not one that left for the world - but one who “turned back from following” God by simply disobeying His instruction. Second, it grieved Samuel to have to deliver this news to Saul. In the same way, it grieves me to write this article, but when God says, “preach”, you better preach. Let’s see what happens as Samuel approaches Saul:
And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD. 14 And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? 15 And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, TO SACRIFICE UNTO THE LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed. ----1 Sam. 15: 13 – 15
This time, three things jumped right out at me: First, when Samuel confronts Saul, Saul is clueless concerning the error of his way. He basically greets him with a, “Bless God, brother!” kind of answer. This is noteworthy, because Saul honestly believed that he WAS in the will of God – even though he had spared Agag, and “all that was good”. Second, after Samuel questioned Saul on the live oxen and sheep, Saul began to play the blame game – “THE PEOPLE spared the best sheep and oxen”. (TIMEOUT: Hey Saul, need I remind you? YOU’RE in charge here. “The people” cannot make these huge decisions without the approval of their leader. You, Saul, will be held accountable for succumbing to your congregation’s desires). The third observation I had was that Saul tried to justify his lack of obedience by shifting the focus to his abundance of sacrifice. This thought pattern is becoming common in the modern, wealthy churches.
Please do not get me wrong: sacrificing our time and money, participating in community service, or helping in humanitarian efforts is highly commendable. Christians SHOULD perform these works of kindness and brotherly love. However, none of these good deeds can ever serve as a substitute for obeying and/or preaching the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ. Samuel went on to rebuke Saul for his disobedience and spoke plainly to him. He then puts Saul on the spot: “Why didn’t you obey the voice of God”? Saul’s reply absolutely intrigues me:
And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I HAVE obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21BUT THE PEOPLE took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal. ----1 Samuel 15: 20, 21
Saul continues to deny any wrong-doing! He then shifts the burden back to the people and tries again to justify with the mention of “sacrificing unto the LORD”, which was a form of worship. In my opinion, this is a different form of a back-slid condition. It is a person who has known the truth – perhaps even preached the truth – but now deemphasizes the weightier matters of the message while emphasizing praise, worship, and sacrifice. Please read Samuel’s reply:
And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, TO OBEY IS BETTER THAN SACRIFICE, and to hearken than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. 24 And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I FEARED THE PEOPLE, and OBEYED THEIR VOICE. 25 Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD. 26 And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: FOR THOU HAST REJECTED THE WORD OF THE LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel. ----1 Samuel 15: 22, 23
Notice that God never once said that He did not appreciate sacrifice: However, He made it clear that obedience should always come first, and is in fact BETTER than sacrifice. Here is Saul’s problem in a nutshell: He was trying to appease the people and still remain acceptable to God. He was blind to the fact that he was camouflaging his disobedience with his sacrifice. This back-slid condition is arguably worse than re-entering the world of sin, for at least then, you KNOW you’re not right, and you KNOW what you have to do to get right. However, this back-slid condition fails to realize the error of its way. It soothes itself because of its sacrifice, and because of its worship. It justifies itself with good deeds, good sermons, and good music; yet becomes strangely silent in regards to John 3: 5; Acts 2:38 and Hebrews 12:14. In many cases this leads to the absence of old-time conviction preaching (considered too judgmental), the operation of the gifts of the Spirit (considered a deterrent to growth), and the principles of separation (considered old school). No longer is the Oneness of God emphasized, because that does not go over well in ecumenical circles. Preachers become flexible in their position on water baptism and in their stance on receiving the Holy Ghost. I personally will never understand how some of my very best friends, whom I KNOW needed an old-fashioned infilling of the Holy Ghost (speaking with tongues) to become free from drugs and other addictions, have now become too sophisticated to believe in old time Pentecost.
This is dedicated to the next generation of Oneness Pentecostals. Be careful before you decide to leave the vessel that got you here. Saul was rejected from being king because he thought he could improve upon God’s instructions, and was not willing to stand against religious peer pressure. There will be times when you have to stand up AGAINST the will of the people and deliver what “thus sayeth the word of The Lord”. Jesus is not looking for politically correct, motivational speakers in this last hour. He is not looking for someone to tell people what they DON’T have to do – He wants someone to proclaim what they MUST do to be saved. He is looking for saints of God that will heed the voice of The Spirit and remain strong in the faith. Ten to fifteen years from now, when your own children may be struggling with sin, they will still need a Holy Ghost filled church that allows the power of God to flow and set them free. You will be forever grateful that you stayed put. To the Apostolic Ministers out there: A huge “thank you” from all of us who have come to know this truth because you chose not to waiver from the original Acts 2: 38 message. Whether you’re preaching to 15, 50, or 500, stay true to your calling and great will be your reward.
There is a different type of backslider out there today, and there is a different type of peer pressure. It is the pressure to conform to the modern Christian Church movement, which can be more of a production of the creativity of man than a demonstration of the Spirit of God. Don’t be quickly persuaded by the popularity of the preacher, or the church with the freshest approach in town. Find the church that still makes room for the gifts of the Spirit, and find the preacher who still has the fire shut up in his bones.