After sending out Robert Beecham’s article entitled “I AM” I received correspondence asking for a clear statement of where I stood relating to the teaching contained in that article. The problem arose in the minds of some because of the supposed similarity with the teaching currently advertised through “Sonship” groups, and Gary Sigler in particular, whose writings I have mentioned in the past, and with whom I have serious problems. As a result, my wife and I would like to make a statement of belief in respect of this particular area of teaching.
The Apostle Paul wrote the words quoted at the head of this article. They are used by many within the Sonship groups in a manner which I believe to be wholly unacceptable, verging on blasphemy. The complete quote from Galatians 2:20 is as follows. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives within me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
The Sonship teaching focuses heavily on the “identification”, and in all that I have read I get the constant impression that the person of Christ is being minimised, and selves glorified. I have read such expressions as “we, the enchristed ones.” Not only is the focus on SELF, but expressions are used which cause me to shudder with revulsion. No matter how great is the wonder of Christ living within the believer, it should NEVER produce pride. We put this to one American lady within the sonship group, and her answer was, “It’s not proud to state what God has personally revealed to us.”
In order to present the facts let me use the figure of the True Vine in John chapter 15. This is an excellent starting point. I shall then show how I interpret Robert Beecham’s article.
Jesus taught that we should be branches within His Vine. He also taught that two things would happen to those who were joined to His Vine. (a) Pruning would occur when fruit appeared, (b) Removal would take place if no fruit appeared. It was therefore a position of privilege which begat responsibility, rather than a place of pride. There was no absolute assurance of tenure. It depended on results based on our position within that Vine.
What did Jesus mean by fruit? This is where Robert’s article was so clear, succinct, and meaningful, and I want to emphasise it by relating it to this parable of our Lord’s. The “I am’s” of John’s Gospel give the clue. Let’s see what they say.
“I am the light of the world.” But in the sermon on the mount Jesus said that we should be the light of the world. Here then is the first “fruit.” In whatever sense Jesus was the light, we should also be light. It’s not a matter of intensity, but of kind. If Jesus’ light was 100 watts, then it doesn’t matter if ours is but a mere 5 watts (but hopefully growing!). If the light is of the same quality, then it is fruit on the Vine. The Master cannot have different fruit on His Vine to that which is endemic to His “species.”
“I am the bread of life.” Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body, declared Paul. Jesus gave Himself as true food for His hearers. We must likewise give ourselves. It is by “not loving one’s life”, but if necessary becoming expendable for the sake of others that our “bread” becomes of the same “kind” as that of our Master. This is perhaps the most difficult of all, and really shows up what we’re made of. We all, more or less, fail in this respect, but at least we can present ourselves to the Lord and ask for strength to act this out as He would.
“I am the Good Shepherd.” Yes, we are enjoined to be shepherds as well. But remember the strong language that God spoke through the O.T. prophets against the worthless shepherds ofIsrael who were gorging themselves and not caring about their flocks. Pastoral duties are necessary, but more for some than for others, depending on the choosing by God. But even for those who have little responsibility in this direction, the “kind” of shepherding must comply with the Lord’s own shepherding. In the charismatic movement much damage has been done by those who have exercised “heavy” shepherding, and it has brought shame on the church, and put many “sheep” in bondage rather than freedom.
“I am the door. Whoever enters by me will be saved.” Here is an evangelistic message. If we present Jesus to a needy world in the same “manner” in which the Master presented Himself, then He becomes His door through us. It is necessary to fully understand this. We are not to present a denomination, or a teaching, but a person. Paul said that he would “preach Christ crucified” that men’s faith might be in the Son of God and not in man. If we are faithful to this challenge, then Jesus will use us as His door, and this again will be fruit on His Vine.
“I am the way.” The early church called itself “The Way.” It was the Gentiles who called them “Christians.” By speaking about the sermon on the mount, we give credence to Jesus’ own teaching, and this, being a reflection of what He taught, becomes another fruit on His Vine. We have a duty to lead people into the narrow way that leads to life, and away from the broad way that leads to the destruction of all hope. If the Master sees us doing this, whenever occasion demands it, then He will see it as true fruit.
“I am the truth.” True truth is a Person, not a teaching. Likewise our lives need to be true, straight as a die, without side or compromise. Our whole allegiance should be to Him. Truth is greater than facts. An untrue person may utter many facts, which are in themselves incontrovertible, but they may hide what is in the heart. The Lord knows not only our thoughts, but the hidden motives behind our thoughts. Do we present Jesus as He is, or do we introduce ourselves? True Vine fruit can only be that which He is Himself, and He is the Truth.
“I am the life.” If we are joined to our Lord in the Vine, then the very life-force of the Vine flows through us. If people see our manner of life, they should be aware of this life-force. If they do see it, then they should acknowledge the source of that life, rather than give us any credit for it. Only in this way can Jesus be glorified in the lives of His people. Smith Wigglesworth was walking through a carriage in a train, when a man stood up and said, “Sir, you convict me of sin.” He had said nothing.
In these seven examples sufficient evidence has been given to show what is expected of us. Being branches of His Vine is not an invitation to a juvenile joy-ride, it is a privilege accompanied by very serious responsibilities. Paul put the whole thing in a nutshell in Philippians 2, when he said that “this mind should be in you which was in Christ Jesus.” What were the points?
“Subsisting in the form of God, deemed it not robbery to be equal with God.” Jesus is THE Son of God. If we have been adopted into the family of God, we become sons. We are distinct from THE Son, but share in the privileges of His Sonship. We are NOT equal with God. This is where the main error lies with the Sonship and Latter Rain movements.
“He made Himself of no reputation.” This is the point at which we can, and should, identify with Christ. Even though we have the privilege of sonship, this should never be made into an advertisement. Sonship teaching frequently expends itself on talking about status.
“And took upon Himself the form of a servant.” Servants are never required to manifest themselves, talk about themselves, advertise their “privileges”, but be ever ready to serve others, and particularly the Master to Whom we belong.
“Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself.” True humility deflects from self, in appearance, in dress, in speech, in manner of life, and sets out to glorify the Son of God.
“He became obedient unto death.” Obedience is paramount. “Not loving one’s life unto death” is the ultimate extent of loyalty. Sometimes this has resulted in martyrdom, but it is true for all believers that “death to self” is utterly necessary. One can be killed as a Christian before “death to self” has matured.
Here then is the crux of the matter. Some may argue saying that there is a very fine line of distinction between the teaching of the Sonship group and what I have been saying above. But this is not true. Wherever pride is manifested, wherever teaching is focused on self and status, the fruit is bad. As believers we have been granted many privileges by His grace, through His sacrificial death on our behalf. But we must always remember that we are distinct people, not “enchristed” into some conglomerate that loses its own identity. Our characters need to be moulded into His character, but our personalities remain distinct. We are NOT Christ. We are believers in Christ. We belong to Him. We are not Him. We are branches, we are not the Vine.
Within the ‘sonship’ writings and tapes there is great excitement but they remove the mysterious, they remove ‘romantic’ love for our Saviour by emphasising ‘the Christ within’, they use words like ‘enchristed’ destroying a holy reverence, and there’s a general de-throning of the Lord of Glory. Those espousing ‘Sonship’ might disagree, but this is the effect some of their writings have on readers and if they really don’t mean to do this then can we beseech them to alter their phraseology and convey what they really want to say.
Sonship teaching speaks about three grades of believers, those who belong to the “outer court” (Passover type, saved by His blood), those who have entered the Holy Place, (Pentecost type, with spiritual gifts), and those who have entered the Holy of Holies, (Tabernacles type, fully identified with Christ.) They do not see how this type of teaching causes people to think about themselves, and where they have reached in terms of this supposed progression. Furthermore, those who believe they have entered the Most Holy place are the ones who speak most vociferously about their “godhood.” There is something revolting in this “crème de la crème” attitude compared with our Master’s direction for His disciples to take the lowest seats and allow the Lord to reward as He thinks fit.
We hope this article will correct any misconceptions. Those who wish, may contact Robert Beecham to find out where he stands in respect to his article compared with what we have written. We gather, from all his writings, that he holds to a traditional evangelical understanding of New Testament theology. Maybe he would like to write a clarification for us to publish?