At every church reformation there are those who share concerns about the way things are going in the church but when the critical decision needs to be made to leave what has become a false church they find reasons to remain. During the time of the Great Reformation of the 16th Century there were concerned members who remained in the Roman Church. Likewise, at the time of the First Secession there were those who refused to join with Hendrik de Cock but stayed in the Dutch state “Hervormde” church which had become infected with ‘enlightenment’ theology. The same happened at the Church Liberation of 1944. Concerned members saw the errors but, with convenient and pious excuses about not finding it right to leave the “sick mother church” and about the need to maintain unity at all costs, stayed in the synodical churches. At the time of the Dutch Church Liberation of 2003 similar sounds were heard. Concerned members found ‘grounds’ for staying in a religious body increasingly characterised by postmodern theology and deviations from God’s Word. And so, in each church reformation, ministers and other leading figures stay in what has become a false church. Nothing new in that. It happened already way back in Old Testament times as the following article by Klaas Schilder shows.
The disquieted prophet who stayed in the false church [i]
Now an old prophet dwelt in Bethel, and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel … and he … went after the man of God … . He said to him, “I too am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’” (He was lying to him.) So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water (1 Kings 13:11,14a, 18, 19a – NKJV).
This name means: house of God.
However, it had become Beth-aven, meaning house of idolatry (Hosea 4:15).
In order to protect his position of power, King Jeroboam had introduced a method by which to enslave the descendants of Abraham: he established at Bethel a golden calf worship service, completely in violation of the Lord’s specific instructions. Throwing to the wind the Lord’s instruction about the worship service, he had pulled the people away from Jerusalem, that is, from the right church orderly way and had thereby elevated self-willed worship to a new level of disobedience.
Hence things were terribly amiss. Jeroboam sinned and made Israel sin too. Everyone had to comply as though it was the legitimate thing to do. He demanded it.
That things were terribly wrong was understood by thousands. They were disquieted, very concerned. And no wonder: they had been brought up differently. They had learned the correct way a hundred times and had spoken otherwise.
However, there is often a vast difference between being concerned and being obedient. And King Jeroboam, in his new church-formation, tolerated concerned people; the king was much too shrewd to oppose those who were concerned without showing a great deal of ‘understanding’ for them. But although there was, in ‘his’ church-formation, room for concerned members, there was no room for disobedience. A command was a command; his will was law. The ‘order’ was not to be disobeyed, not even if one believed that Yahweh’s command was different to that of the king. The hierarchy served the power-structure. And the king let everyone feel that he brooked no disobedience to that power.
The king himself commanded a great feast to be held, a feast of the NOWS, the Nation’s Own Worship Service. His Majesty himself would ascend the altar; that is, he would function as the NOWS high priest, as the pontifex maximus.
Did Jeroboam quickly win over the people who were disquieted and concerned about this deviation from God’s Word?
Oh, no; many of them remained concerned.
Initially, for the NOWS, he had to make do with priests “which he had appointed”. Naturally he would rather have had Levites, like Micah the Ephraimite (Judges 17). But the more faithful amongst them would have nothing to do with Jeroboam’s worship of the golden calf.
Particularly at Bethel Jeroboam had to make do with non-Levitical priests. Meanwhile, the concerned people had even organized themselves and publicly protested. Courageous? Yes. They had lashed out sharply. They had spoken some home truths about that hierarchy; and sometimes had even done something about it. From all parts of Israel, priests and Levites had travelled to Judah where the true worship was. Most did not want to serve in the sanctuaries of Jeroboam.
But not all the concerned people became obedient.
And eventually those who remained in Israel and who had continued protesting ran out of steam.
And that’s also what happened to that man who, though a “man of God”, still lived in Bethel.
Most likely he came from the circles of prophets which had grown considerably since the days of Samuel—and to which also Ahijah the Shilonite belonged. But not every prophet stood up as faithfully for the true service of the Lord as Ahijah had done. Degeneration had set in, and this had paved the way for a movement which we can simply call “false prophecy”. It was a degeneration that revealed itself in a somewhat tolerant attitude to Jeroboam’s image worship!
And that’s the sort of degenerate prophet the old Bethelite was. His only protest against the cult of the calf worship was that he himself didn’t attend. And things would have simply gone on as before if it hadn’t been for the appearance of the man from Judah.
The man from Judah?
At the precise moment, i.e., right on that very day that His Majesty is publicly going to parade as the High Priest of the NOWS, as the first member of the Imperial Board of the Hierarchical Cult, there suddenly comes storming into Bethel (which is festively decorated for the occasion) a prophet from Judah.
From Judah. Not from the kingdom of the ten tribes of Jeroboam, but from the kingdom of the two tribes, of which Jerusalem is the centre of the lawful worship service. This prophet hurls his curse against the altar of the NOWS of Jeroboam’s political greatness. And having carried out his task, he immediately withdraws; he doesn’t lodge anywhere, doesn’t stop at a restaurant, he leaves that ungodly environment.
For that also belongs to such preaching. It is the will of the Lord that he hastens away. This symbolical action is part of his task; he must preach with words, but also illustrate it with action.
This hasty departure powerfully expresses that a genuinely concerned person cannot bear to stay in such a place any longer; being concerned must lead to evident obedience. A faithful servant of the Lord simply cannot associate himself with this hierarchy; he must cut the ties. Whoever cuts the ties with people like Jeroboam, who broke the ties with the faithful, actually restores the communion table with, and of, the faithful. Jeroboam, you are schismatic; you caused the break-up; you discarded the commandments of the Lord; you broke the agreements. If I—prophet from Judah—therefore have no communion with you and your city and your NOWS service, then it is not me who is schismatic, but my refusal to remain with you is a positive act of church unity with those who faithfully keep the commandments of the Lord.
Of course, this lash of the whip was felt by the old man from Bethel. He realises that this man-of-God colleague from Judah openly cuts off all compromise; while the old man himself has practically lived from the compromise….
Yes, he feels the lash of the whip.
But he does not repent. He becomes the typical example of all those concerned people who, once faced with the choice of acting in radical obedience—yes or no—lack the courage to say yes, and afterwards—since they want to take a stand—become the fiercest opponents: they are concerned, but… “one should not break”.
They mean: don’t break with those around you. And after a while, in order to maintain this unscriptural advice, they also say: don’t break with sin. Being concerned, but—when it comes to the point—not coming to the deed of obedience.
In order to maintain that unscriptural advice, they soon reason this way: radically-breaking-with-sin is in itself disobedience; it is breaking-with-the-command, the command to be one. They forget that the unity is a matter of obedience, and they act as if God considers unity with the greater number of those who live together somewhere as being more important than strict obedience.
And so Satan kindles the fire of the false prophecy in the heart of the old Bethelite. He prepares and mounts his donkey to ride after his colleague from Judah and says to him: don’t be afraid to come with me and still stay in Bethel overnight, for the Lord has informed me that He has changed His word which He once gave you when He forbade you to lodge here. The ban on having brotherly relations with these people has been lifted: come along!
The end of the story is that the prophet from Judah, the man of God, allows himself to be persuaded.
He goes along. Together they have supper. And then the Spirit of God hurls His flames against him: Because you have done this and robbed your great sermon of its power, and by your disobedience have made your objections ineffective, you shall not be buried with your fathers.
This judgment is soon executed. On the way home a lion attacks and kills him but does not devour his body. The Lord publicly displays the corpse, because everyone must know that God can even get sermon substance out of dead prophets (the substance the living prophets had devalued) and that the Lord took very seriously his command not to have brotherly unity with those who were unfaithful. [ii]
After this episode, the bones of the prophet of Judah are again spoken of in the days of Josiah’s reformation (2 Kings 23:18). It then becomes evident that the Lord had rescued his command not to have brotherly unity with those who are unfaithful from the attempts of his weak servants to equalise relations.
And after many years He still repeats it and emphasizes it.
This is then one of the many Biblical accounts regarding concerned people who do not proceed to obedience; protesters who do not come to liberation from sin which drags them along; who, in order to hang on to the numbers, also hang on to the sin. May this compulsion not be necessary for you!
Liberation creates the true unity and rescues the bond with God’s people.
[i] K Schilder, “De bezwaarde, die maar niet gehoorzaam werd”, in De Reformatie, Vol. 20, 3 Aug. 1945, republished in K Schilder, Schiftoverdenkingen (Scriptural meditations) Vol. 3, Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, Goes, The Netherlands, 1958, pp. 20-23. Translation responsibility of Jelte Numan.
[ii] Schilder uses the Dutch term ‘anti-verbroederings-gebod’.