For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as Christ’s apostles. And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light. It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also masquerade as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. (2 Corinthians 11:13 15 WEB)
When I travel to new lands I enjoy meeting the believers and, when possible, attending local church services. Occasionally, I’ve been asked to share from God’s word at the last minute. I believe there are three things a missionary should always be ready to do on a moment’s notice. When called upon a missionary should be ready to preach, pray or die. I try to be ready for the first two at all times. The last one, well, that’s not my favorite but I’m ready.
In Colombo, Sri Lanka I was privileged to attend church with some of our local staff. Church was fascinating. This was my first interaction with a Dutch Reformed Church. The pastor was Sinhala and spoke with an, often over dramatized, Indian accent. It was Vacation Bible School Sunday. April was a holiday month in Sri Lanka and I was treated to a series of songs and Bible verses by the local children. It was great. The songs the children presented were very familiar songs from fifteen years earlier. I asked our staff about this and learned it was very difficult and slow to acquire VBS and Sunday School materials. The children were excited and their eyes wide with the joy of their songs and dances. The adults joined in the fun with the up and down songs and many of the hand motions.
The church building was located in the center of a public school compound. Originally the school belonged to the church until all schools were nationalized. Most of the three story buildings looked beautiful from the outside. The classrooms sported wire mesh windows, no glass, no electricity and from what I could tell, no running water. It would be a rather dark learning experience on a cloudy day. I understood why the expatriate staff sent their children to boarding school or home schooled them in Sri Lanka.
In the evening I attended another Dutch Reformed Church across town. Their pastor was away for the evening so the fellow from the morning church came to present the word of God. The service began with three guitars, an organ and an electric bass player leading the congregation in praise choruses. It was a rousing time of singing and praising the Lord. This lasted almost thirty minutes before the final song which accompanied the collection. Instead of fixing everyone’s mind on the collection or a special music presentation they jumped into another lively chorus while passing the bag through the aisles. If you didn’t pay close attention you didn’t know they are gathering the offering.
The church building was similar to the church I visited in the morning. The exception was their preparation for the possibility that their school would be acquired by the government. They separated the school buildings from the church buildings and built a wall to provide a definite separation between the two. Thus, if and when the government acquired the school, they were left with the church, fellowship hall and a nice green lawn not overrun by the government school officials.
After the service I met my first beggar. Beggars are the ubiquitous landmarks of a nation that’s been struggling to unite for more than thirty years. A young fellow, nicely dressed, approached me while I was standing in the walled church yard. I figured he was from the church interested in the foreign visitor. He then proceeded to describe his local home, hungry grandmother, and equally hungry stomach. Not having any local currency, and having been equally warned of the often fictitious stories I refused the man and turned to depart. His tenacity, with which these professional beggars pursue their mark, was suddenly evident. He followed me to the car and started to climb inside insisting I should help his starving stomach. When my colleagues arrived he departed quickly and disappeared outside the compound walls.
Lest you think I’m the ugly American savagely ignoring the plight of the local people; be assured this fellow was not hungry, nor destitute. The local pastor and many of the local people keep track of these frauds to turn them away regularly.
There are “real” beggars in the country. These are people living as outcasts from society and solely on hand outs. It’s considered good form to give them a rupee or two to help alleviate their plight. Many are cripples from the years of war. In contrast the professional beggars are not outcasts but choose to solicit their income rather than join the work force.
Distinguishing between the real and the false beggar is difficult for a visitor such as me. As an outsider I can’t distinguish between those who make false claims and those who are in real need. I must rely on those who work within the country and know the culture to guide me clearly. The same problem exists in the church today.
Many people in church are redeemed, seeking God’s face and allowing the Spirit to work in and through them. Others are actors, charlatans who know the proper makeup, activities and phrases so they look and sound believable. When new believers enter God’s family they’re often accosted and entreated by the charlatans in our midst to partake of ungodly activities.
As we walk with the Lord we need to provide guidance, especially to those new in our midst, so they won’t be carried away by the deceptions of men. We must help them distinguish between the false gospel of the world and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to do this our own hearts must not long for the world but be set on God.