Stumbling blocks may prevent many people today from attending church. The Spirit of Prophecy tells us that God does not bring new people into the church because of the unconverted state of many of its current members. He sees that since church members do not rightly represent Him, He refrains from bringing in new people until these stumbling blocks are removed.
We will discuss three stumbling blocks. The first is fanaticism; the second is being overzealous; and the third is our character.
Fanaticism nearly destroyed the 16th century reformation. If it had been successful, the condition of our earth would be different today. Catholicism would have been the dominant world religion and the United States would probably never have prospered as it has. Fanatics could have destroyed what we have today, in the United States and around the world.
What Is Fanaticism?
Fanaticism is going beyond what is specifically revealed in the word of God, and setting up a man-made standard. It was once said that we humans are all like the moon. We have a dark side that we don’t want anyone to see.
The Jewish nation was like that, and they tried to cover their dark side with fanaticism. They went beyond what God’s word said and formulated man-made standards. Anyone who did not measure up was considered unrighteous. Fanaticism is simply a cover-up for some particular hidden sin. Each of us must evaluate ourselves and ask, “Have I lifted up some man-made standard in my life that is a covering for my defects?”
New people visiting churches instantly recognize hypocrisy. They want to see Jesus; and we want to reveal Christ to them.
Jesus came into conflict with the elders of the Jewish church when they saw His disciples eating with unwashed hands, which they considered a sin. For hygienic reasons, most parents remind their children to wash their hands before they eat, but to call it a sin is going beyond Scripture. Sin being the transgression of the law of God, we need to be careful when deciding what sin is and what sin is not.
The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” Matthew 15:2.
Jesus responded that their tradition was nothing more than a cover-up for their own sins. He said, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Verses 8, 9.
When people adapt God’s word, they are usually covering up something in their own lives. Man-made ideas and standards do not exalt Christ, but endeavor to lift up self. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4) and not from the mouth of men, neither their teachings nor traditions.
Interestingly, Paul writes in I Corinthians 4:6, “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.” Paul warns against fanaticism, against going beyond what is written.
An example of going beyond God’s Word is the person who believes in the two meal a day plan, but thinks if two meals a day is good, then one should be better, so he goes to one meal a day. That is fanaticism. It goes beyond what the Word says and is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the church today.
A Biblical example of going beyond what God’s word says is found in the book of John. Jesus saw a poor, wretched and miserable man in extreme suffering sitting by the pool of Bethesda and wanted to relieve him. “Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ ” John 5:8.
Crime above all crimes! In the eyes of the Pharisees Jesus was not only laboring on the Sabbath, but He was encouraging someone else to labor as well, violating the fourth commandment.
“And immediately the man was made well, and took up his bed and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, ‘It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.’ ” Verses 9, 10. Can you imagine how oppressed the people were in that day? They had so many traditions no one could keep up with them. It would take years to learn the rules of the rabbis.
We also find in Matthew 12 the story of Jesus, Who “went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.” Verse 1. Have you ever put wheat between your hands and rubbed it around until the chaff is removed? Crime above all crimes! Threshing, working on the Sabbath! The Pharisees took texts from Exodus and reduced them down to what they believed to be the nitty gritty of each little letter. By the time they had finished, the rules were beyond what was written in the word of God. The rules became so stringent that the Jews determined that if you were to spit on the ground on the Sabbath, you were considered to be irrigating.
The Jews had hundreds of rules like this, even still today. Today you will see a lot of people walking to the Synagogue rather than driving on the Sabbath. Since the spark plug ignites the gasoline in the cylinders to drive the pistons in the engine, that is considered starting a fire. In fact, you would be starting multiple fires since you have multiple cylinders. The reason for this rule: “You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” Exodus 35:3.
They also consider it “work” to manipulate a light switch with your finger on the Sabbath. If electricity is needed during the night, the switch must be left on before the Sabbath begins.
If man-made standards by which others are judged cannot be substantiated by the word of God, leave them alone. That is a sure sign of fanaticism.
“The rabbis counted their righteousness a passport to heaven; but Jesus declared it to be insufficient and unworthy. External ceremonies and theoretical knowledge of truth constituted Pharisaical righteousness. The rabbis claimed to be holy through their own efforts in keeping the law; but their works had divorced righteousness from religion. While they were punctilious in ritual observances, their lives were immoral and debased.” The Desire of Ages, 309. These ceremonies were a covering for their sins.
Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20. “The greatest deception of the human mind in Christ’s day was that a mere assent to the truth constitutes righteousness.” The Desire of Ages, 309.
God does not care about your theory of the truth. He wants to know if you are living it, not whether you can explain it.
Fanaticism undermines the work of the church and cuts it to pieces. Paul said to the Romans, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” Romans 10:3.
A study of the gospels provides the interesting revelation that there were very few Gentiles who became a part of the Hebrew religion. Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Matthew 23:15.
“For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.’ ” Romans 14:11–13.
Paul here tells us not to judge one another or become a stumbling block causing another who is weak in the faith, such as a new believer, to fall.
“Were men free to depart from the Lord’s requirements and to set up a standard of duty for themselves, there would be a variety of standards to suit different minds and the government would be taken out of the Lord’s hands. The will of man would be made supreme, and the high and holy will of God—His purpose of love toward His creatures—would be dishonored, disrespected.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, 51, 52. We see today the evidence of man ruling himself and the fruit it produces.
The identifying mark of the anti-christ is that he “opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” II Thessalonians 2:4.
If you or I should set up some man-made standard, Ellen White says that, “The will of man would be made supreme.” You become your own little god, which is spiritualism. The throne within me will determine what is right and wrong. This was the claim of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ ” Genesis 3:4, 5. In other words, you can become your own judge of what is right and wrong. This is a heavy subject, but we must get serious about winning souls so that those who have been deceived may have their eyes opened to truth.
Overzealous and Character
The second way we become stumbling blocks is by being overzealous. Paul said, “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” Romans 10:2.
It is really important that we get zealous over what we know is right from the word of God. Romans 14:16, 17 says, “Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Many people have that reversed, thinking the kingdom of heaven comes through their diet, and that is how they will get to heaven, which is nothing more than Jewish pharisaism.
Diet is important, for “you were bought at a price” (I Corinthians 6:20), but if a person thinks it makes him righteous and is meticulous with what he eats, yet has no control over his temper, there is something drastically wrong. The diet then becomes a covering or facade.
It has been said that while in London, Dwight L. Moody went to an art gallery and as he was walking down a hall, one picture caught his eye. From a distance he saw a monk with his hands folded and his head bowed and it appeared as if he was conversing in agony with God. As Moody continued to walk closer, his eyes were fixed on the picture. Standing before it he realized that it was merely a man with a lemon between his hands, squeezing it into a punch bowl.
He thought it a very interesting spiritual lesson for us, a picture of the human heart. Superficially examined, it is thought to be the seat of all that is good and noble, pleasing in man, whereas in reality, until regenerated by the Holy Ghost, it is the seat of all corruption.
We need to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit every day so that we can rightly represent our Saviour. We make a high profession and people are watching with expectation to see something in us or in our church that is different from other churches and the world.
“For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” I Corinthians 4:9.
When potential members evaluate us, what are they going to see? Will they see a sincere person bowed down conversing in agony with God, or on closer examination see something disingenuous?
Being overzealous may be considered fanaticism to some. “Let no one place stumbling blocks before those who are walking in the dark paths of ignorance. Even in praising a good thing, it is well not to be too enthusiastic, lest you turn out of the way those who come to hear. Present the principles of temperance in their most attractive form.” Counsels on Diet and Foods, 465.
It is so easy to be overzealous when experiencing the blessing of a healthy lifestyle and being in a hurry for others to experience the same by going vegetarian. But often those we are seeking to help feel judged and pull back. This is a common mistake that we make when giving too much information too quickly. Jesus said to His disciples that there were many things He wanted to tell them but they were not ready (John 16:12). Learn from the example of Jesus and wait on the Lord.
If we want to see souls saved in God’s kingdom we will ever keep that in mind and not be over-enthusiastic. We will hold our tongues even though we may see some things in new members that we think should be changed. We are all works in progress and still require change, so we must not point fingers. We must realize that often our words cause wounds and turn people out of the way if we are not careful. When this occurs, we are not helping the Lord. It is important to let Him lead.
If you do not want to become overzealous, go out and do some Bible studies with people. Try to help somebody else come into the kingdom of God. As you review your experiences, you will discern what you did well and when you erred. If you have made mistakes, the next time you study with somebody, you will know not to make that same mistake again.
I have made hundreds of mistakes with people. But by God’s grace I’ve learned much and I’m still learning how to deal with people because human minds are ultra-complex and each one is different. You learn to swim by first jumping into the water and the only way to become an expert in winning souls is to go out and start, and in the strength of Jesus Christ you will become a servant.
We do not want to become a stumbling block to anyone, through fanaticism, by being overzealous, or retaining a character with sin in our own lives. If we want God’s blessing to rest upon us, we need the Holy Spirit to reveal those things that need to be removed from our lives, so that the character of Jesus is revealed in us.
The condition of the church will determine whether God is blessing it, and whether He can trust us to be faithful witnesses to those He brings into it. God may bring in someone that is tough and challenging, but we must have tender hearts to nurture them in the truth.
We have God’s word and are to be not only hearers, but doers of the word. Yet we must not go beyond what is written, setting up standards, man-made ideas or tests that exalt and puff up self. We do not want to be stumbling blocks.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Mike Bauler was ordained into the ministry in 2005 and serves as pastor of the Historic Message Church in Portland, Oregon. Prior to locating in Portland, Pastor Bauler served as a Bible worker for Steps to Life Ministries. His goal is to help give the gospel to the greater Portland area with an emphasis in helping his Bible students discover the truths in Bible prophecy, which are so often neglected today. His wife, Amanda, a family nurse practitioner, and their daughters Hannah, Esther and Abigail assist him in his ministry.