Many years ago, even before men like Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, or any other American Restoration Movement leader said it; and even before the “Paulicans” in Britain and France circa A.D. 500-1200, there were men calling those who would follow Christ to follow only the Scriptures as their guide for life, congregational organization, and worship. Clement of Rome wrote to the Church in Corinth (A.D. 96) about some infighting they were having and quoted from Old Testament and from the letters of Paul emphasizing that inspired writing (including what would eventually make up most of what we call the New Testament) is the only authority. Can we still call for the same approach? Can we make our attempts at drawing near to God based simply on what He tells us. Can we for a moment forget tradition and paradigm? Will you help me “Go Back to the Bible?” Will you and I “search the Scriptures” for the validity or rejection of what everyone (including me) is saying?
We are fighting each other. We fight over worship styles, calling one “Contemporary” and the other “Traditional.” We fight over the use or non-use of musical accompaniment to singing. We fight over leadership roles and service roles for men and women in the church. Church A does things one way and Church B does something completely different. Church A writes Church B off as “Liberal” since they have obviously “left the Faith.” Church B looks at Church A as “Traditional” since they have not progressed as to the spiritual level of “Freedom in Christ.” And BOTH congregations pull passages of scripture to defend their practices – sometimes they pull them out of context. When studying for ministry and preaching, we learned the danger of eisegesis over exegesis, but somewhere along the line, we forget those lessons and proof-text our preconceived or preferred ideas and practices. Once we form our opinions and go to the scriptures to defend ourselves, we have weapon against those who would dare to disagree or challenge us. Brothers and sisters, this is not the way we should be. We should discuss our differences, but with civility, no with love! Did not Jesus say, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Joh 13:35)? Did not John himself reiterate that point in his letters (1Jo 2:9-11; 3:10-12, 14-15; 4:7-12, 19-21)?
We are fighting because we forgot the concept of autonomy. Autonomy is not a word found in the Bible, but I believe the concept is. As Paul and others established congregations of disciples (Christians) they would later return or send others who would help each congregation set up a plurality of congregational leaders known as presbyters or elders. Through the apostles God gave these men the authority to oversee the congregation where they were leaders. Paul tells the elders of the congregation at Ephesus to “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Act 20:28). Whereas the Apostles had authority over congregations as inspired men (remember the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15), I find no reason to believe that oversight of multiple congregations passed to others after the last apostle died. We have the right and responsibility to express our concerns, but not to oversee other assemblies or force them to comply with our paradigms or perceived doctrines. When we attempt to exercise control by manipulation, threats, accusations, etc. we are in danger of setting ourselves up as a regional “Bishop.” And in danger of repeating the mistakes of would be church leaders, Apostolic Fathers, and apologists of the Second and Third Centuries A.D. Can we authentically return to the New Testament as our guide for life, congregational leadership, and worship?
May I remind all parties of what James, the brother of our Lord said? “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel . . .” (Jam 4:1-2). We fight each other out of selfish desire. We want to be the one who is right. We want to be the one who controls what others say and do. We want recognition as a scholar or as a spiritual person. We want the world to see us as tolerant and open-minded. We want to stay unique from the world. We want to meet our wants and desires. (i.e. Brother C likes a-capella worship and Brother D desires musical accompaniment so “C” finds scripture to prove “D” wrong and “D” finds scripture to prove himself right. But neither wants to sit and have a loving open discussion, so they hurl scriptures and insults at each other like arrows from a bow, bullets from a rifle, or “smart” bombs with deadly accuracy.) That IS NOT brotherly love. We must return to our first love – Christ and learn to love each other again. Before we publicly take our brother to task, should we not remember the commands of our Savior, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Mat 18:15)? Instead of a public reprimand, take time for a personal email or better yet a visit. Remember Paul tells us, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Gal 6:1). Go in person, go in gentleness, go with a spirit of love and concern. We must not forget the simple rule that our Lord told His followers to live by, a rule we refer to as golden, that rule that says to think about how we want others to treat us and then treat people that way (Mat 7:12). Before we rake a brother or sister over the coals, we must take a deep look at ourselves and ask ourselves probing questions about our motivation for doing so.
When we decide our motivation is pure, James gives us the process for peace. “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (Jam 4:11-12). Do not speak evil of each other. Do not call each other names. Do not accuse each other of being something they are not. Do not go back to Kindergarten and be a tattle-tale trying to get someone in trouble. Do not do it! Do not judge. I know this is a misunderstood or at least misapplied word. Maybe a better word in our current culture is condemn. Do not condemn. You may disagree with someone, but since you are not inspired, you must let God sort somethings that are not specific in Scripture. We can let them know that we disagree with them and that we believe they are misleading others, and still refuse to condemn them to Hell for that belief. There may come a time when specific fellowship and cooperation can no longer occur because of different conclusions,but even then you can still love each other, albeit from a distance.
Currently, there are too many articles in print and online where we are devouring each other. There are too many mean-spirited comments on posts and blogs even when the original posts appears to result from love for the Church Christ died for and for the lost that the Gospel calls.
The blogs, posts, and comments that prompted this article are breaking my heart. I am hurt, when I see people fighting instead of honest dialogue. I cry when I see fellowships, congregations, and families torn apart because we treat each other selfishly and not out of love. I weep when I think of how the accuser is laughing in delight when he sees the influence we have for Christ destroyed by our actions. Please join me in prayer for forgiveness for the times I act out or speak out of selfishness not considering others before myself, for forgiveness for the harm such a self-centered mentality causes the Christ’s Church, and as I pray that we meet to study together the will of God to continually search out how we can best be His people in a modern world.
This article does not look at the specific issues, others are already covering the issues and with better scholarship than I might have. So now as we move along to read the studies and conclusions of other sinners in need and relying on the Grace of God, may we each keep our eyes on God’s will and not our own. May we each learn to live Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, ” . . . nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Mat 26:39b). May we set aside old traditions and new paradigms and sincerely follow the teachings of the God-breathed Text all while patiently allowing others the freedom to learn and grow at their own pace (1Th 5:14) until we all reach the goal of perfect Christ-likeness (Phi 3:13, 1Co 13:12; 2Co 3:18; 1Jo 3:2) when He reveals Himself from Heaven to claim His own.
There are four men I want to tell you about who, in my opinion, attained celebrity status. These four men had an impact on my life from my earliest memories.
The first man let me know he appreciated me. He told me every time I saw him that he liked me just the way I was. He spent time with me every day we could get together. He taught me how to be a friend and how to care about other people as much as he cared about me. He invited me to sing with him, he was kind, forgiving, and I knew he liked being around me. He told me so . . . often. I wanted to grow up to be like him . . . I am over 40 now and I still try to be like him. His name is Fred Rogers, we all know him as Mr. Rogers and we all loved his Neighborhood.
The second man is one you know.
You like him too, I’m certain so.
He helped me learn to take a look
In side the cover of many a book.
Many of you will agree the same,
That his rhymes made your tongue lame.
Who is this man who did unlock
A love of reading, it’s Seuss, the Doc.
The third man is one who shared a love of news and people of interest. He could tell me about people and places that others knew nothing of or may have cared little for. He would share tidbits about the lives of famous people as well as the struggles and triumphs of a next door neighbor. His narratives fill books, his voice carried far. He taught me to look under the surface, to see past what others saw. He taught me that everyone has something to say and there is after every event, “the rest of the story.” I will miss Paul Harvey and his unique way of bringing news.
I did not personally know Dr. Seuss, Mr. Rogers, or Paul Harvey, but the fourth man is one I do know personally. I spend time with this man daily. I talk with him, I tell him the cares and concerns of my life. He listens . . . patiently. I find comfort in having a friend like him. I watch how he handles the pressures of life. He has never had a lot of material things to call his own. He spent a few years of his life practically homeless. If it had not been for the kindness of friends I am certain he would have spent many, many nights on the street.This man teaches the same lessons I learned from the other three and perfects them. He sees me for who I am and loves me just the same. He takes my love of reading in a new direction and shows me how to care for others as others, like him, have cared for me. He shows me how to have compassion on the individual especially those the world may overlook. Who is this man? That is not just the rest of the story . . . He is the story. He is Jesus the Christ. Maybe you know Him too. I pray that you do.
Who is the major influence in your life?
NOTE: I wrote this a while back and long-time followers of The Morning Drive may recognize it from 2009.
The Judges: Israel’s History and Our Present
The Story of the Judges in the Book of the Bile by the same name, we read the story of 16 leaders (judges) who God selected when needed and they served until they completed their godly task. Scholars recognize three types of Judges: 1) Warrior Judges like Gideon and Samson, 2) Priestly Judges like Eli, and 3) Prophetic Judges like Samuel.
The story of Judges relates the impact of Israel’s moral and religious decline. As long as Joshua and the elders who served with him lived and as long as memory of them remained Israel remained faithful to God, but a generation matured who did not remember (cf. Jud 2:10-13). This serves to remind us that we a always but one generation from apostasy. Parents, we must pass respect for God, Christ, scripture, and the Church down to our children. We have a great responsibility to teach our children well.
Part of Israel’s disobedience included intermarriage with the nations around them and allowing those nations to influence them away from serving God (cf. Judges 1:27-36; 2:1-2). We must be careful to maintain purity in the world. John will tell us not to “love the world nor the things of the world” (1Jo 2:15-17).
When we turn back to the time of the Judges, we see a repeating cycle in the lives of the Israelites as God deals with them.
- Idolatry surrounds them.
- They forsake God for idols.
- They are ungrateful for God’s direction.
- Israel ignores Godly leaders refuse to obey
- Their own stubborn will prevails.
- Guilty of spiritual adultery.
- Enemies overcome them.
- They cry out to God in oppression.
- God hears and sends a Judge.
- The people repent and God saves.
- They serve God for a while then . . .
Lessons to Learn
- 2 Tim 2:13 – God is faithful despite our unfaithfulness.
- Rom 1:18-2:2 – Sin has consequences.
- Titus 2:11 – God is merciful, long-suffering, and full of Grace.
- Idolatry and Ceremonialism: Israel returned to Idolatry and scripture tells us that the Early Church began to return to Ceremonialism. Right “acts of worship” took preeminence over true worship. Cf. Gal 1:6-7. They began looking to LAW instead of Grace through Faith. Cf. Gal 3:5. Seeking justification by LAW they alienated themselves from Christ. Cf. Gal 3:26ff.
- The Judge: God sent the Ultimate Judge in Christ Jesus. Each judge in the book of Judges serves as a shadow of the perfect Substance. Cf. Gal 5:1. Christ Came for Our Deliverance!
Have you ever asked – or thought – that question? Has someone asked you that question? Maybe it was in a situation where your wife, or husband, had expectations that you simply missed. You ask, “What do you want me to do (say)?” It is possible that such a question arises out of frustration, but behind that frustration is a sincere heart. Micah rhetorically asks the people of God, “”With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Mic 6:6-7). Moses poses a similar query, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you” (Deu 10:12). Then answers his own thoughts.
- He wants an AWE ( Deu 10:12 –”Fear the Lord your God”). He rejects flippant, heartless, lackadaisical, bored, and faithless approaches, He praises the one who falls before Him in godly fear Heb 12:28 God calls such “blessed” Psa 128:1, “life-giving” Pro 10:27; 14:27, “preserving” Pro 16:6, “growth-inducing” (Act 9:31), and “persuasive” 2Co 5:11).
- He wants an ACT (Deu 10:12 ”Walk in all His ways”). Lip-service (cf. Isa 29:13 ) apart from living sacrifice Rom 12:1 sickens God! Notice, He does not want partial obedience. He expects us to walk in all His ways! We do not get to follow God on our own terms. He wants full obedience!
- He wants an AFFECTION (Deu 10:12 ”love Him”). This is the first, greatest command Mat 22:37. God modeled the kind of love He wants reciprocated ( 1Jo 4:19 ). He is not satisfied with a cold, aloof “relationship.” Jesus is proof positive that He wants intimacy and closeness.
- He wants an ATTITUDE (Deu 10:12 –”Serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul”). Man wants to receive. He wants to be “king of the mountain.” He wants happiness and fulfillment at the price of another. God wants us to give, humble self, and consider what others need Phi 2:4 In fact, He calls this “great.”
- He wants an APPLICATION (Deu 10:13 –”Keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes”). Intellectual assent, alone, is insufficient. He wants His truth to live in our lives! He wants His will to play out in our thoughts, words, and deeds
Why does God want all of this from us? The better we understand God the better we become.
When I was in grade school, my friends and I considered ourselves creative. We “came-up” with the following grade scale in an effort to confuse our parents. We decided as a group to tell our parents that the school had changed the grading system. Now the letters on our papers and report cards represented the following:
A = Awful
B = Bad
C = Common
D = Delightful
F = Fantastic!
Somehow our parents never really believed us.
Recently while reading 1Timothy 6:11-12, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (ESV). I thought about “F is for Fantastic!”
There are Four Concepts that begin with the letter F that Paul tells Timothy will benefit him as a man of God.
1. Flee. Flee the things he just wrote about. Specifically things that draw people away from God such as the desire to be rich and love of money (1Ti 6:7-10). In other passages we receive encouragement to flee youthful desires, desires of our sensual nature, and the Devil himself. Actually if we “resist the Devil, he will flee from us.”
2. Follow. Getting away from sin is not enough, we need to pursue, chase after, make certain things our prey. Those things Paul lists as righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. You are intelligent enough to know what Paul means.
3. Fight. Fight the good fight of faith. Yes we are to live at peace, but we cannot be passive. We must fight against the desires of our own flesh. We must fight against the principalities and powers of this present darkness. We will on occasion have to defend the Faith delivered once for all. That is why Paul would tell the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God (Eph 6:10-18).
4. Faithful. The fight is about faith and in 1Ti 6:14 Paul tells Timothy, ” . . . keep the commandments . . .” Be faithful!
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2Ti 2:3-7)
In the above text Paul describes Christian living using three easily
1. Devoted Soldier (2Ti 2:4). Soldiers will suffer. They will endure hardships as they sometimes lack fresh food, often find themselves exposed to the elements, are away from their family, all while surrounded by enemies. As Christians we may miss family, may miss a meal, and we live in the world controlled by our enemy (Satan). Therefore, we must stay focused – devoted to God and Christ. As Soldiers of Christ we must concentrate on task(s) at hand. We need to limit our distractions (cf. Luk 8:14; 1Ti 6:9-12). We should make it our goal to please God – the one who called us into service (cf. 2Co 5:9). The next time you see a person in the military: Thank him and then ask self if you are serving the Lord with the same dedication that that soldier, airman, seaman, or marine is serving our country.
2. Disciplined Athlete (2Ti 2:5). Winners are obedient, they follow the rules of the game. Think back to the 2012 Olympics and the Badminton teams China, South Korea, Indonesia who became disqualified when officials uncovered their cheating scheme. Cheaters never do really win. As Christians we have rules to follow: Jesus told the disciples to “teach them to observe all things I have commanded . . . ” Mat 28:20. James says to be “doers of the word”
(Jam 1:22). Discipline is self-control. Consider how Paul describes the life of a successful athlete in 1Co 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” The next time you watch stellar athletes challenge yourself to be as disciplined for God as they are for sports
3. Diligent Farmer (2Ti 2:6). Farming is hard work. One prepares the soil, opens furrows, plants seed or plants, waters, fertilizes, controls pests and weeds, and waits for the harvest. The next time you are enjoying a meal, think of the work that went into producing that food and dedicate yourself to being like that farmer.
I love the way Paul concludes in verse 7 – Think about what I say. Well, think about it? Are you living the Christian life in 3D? Devoted, Disciplined, and Diligent?
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdm/54246114/”>darkmatter</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>