Christianity 201

June 14, 2017

A Gospel Riot

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Today we’re again returning to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. As happened in December, I got caught up in reading several articles here, and I encourage you to take several minutes to do the same.  For today’s piece, click the title to read at source. It’s longer than usual, but is great reading.

Sidewalk Peddlers

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…” Acts 19:23

This chapter, if you’ve never read it is fascinating. There’s a riot going down in Ephesus. Some translations call it a great disturbance, some a ruckus; regardless, the gospel was being preached in Ephesus and it was ruffling some feathers.

A few verses earlier, in Acts 19, we are told that many people in Ephesus were turning away from their worship of false gods and confessing the name of Jesus (v 17). We have accounts of people “confessing and telling their deeds” and publicly burning their valuable sorcery books (v19). This was no small thing in a city that prided itself in the worship of the goddess Diana and to whom a great temple had been built. Enter a man called Demetrius, a silversmith who made his living crafting and selling little handmade shrines of Diana in her temple. It’s a timeless practice, if you’ve ever been to a large church or  cathedral you know how this works; people set up shop on the sidewalks or entrance and offer to sell you souvenirs. When we visited Notre Dame Cathedral with our kids one summer we walked away with a metal replica of the church and two wooden crosses simply because we couldn’t escape the onslaught of pushy peddlers who set up shop right where you are trying to get that all important family photo. It’s amusing to see this practice goes back 2,000 years. Verse 24 tells us that “Diana brought no small profit to the craftsmen.” Just like the hawking of plastic Eiffel Towers and cathedral keychains today, this was a lucrative business.

So naturally, following the very public turning away from Diana towards Christianity, these hucksters were getting ticked off. Demetrius called his fellow craftsmen together and riled them up so much that “the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Paul’s travel companions (v29). They didn’t even know what they were doing or saying, most of them had no idea why they had even come together (v 32). It finally took a city clerk to calm everyone down and explain to them how irrational they were being. This man wasn’t even a follower of Christ, he simply uses logic to point out that Paul and his men weren’t robbing the temple or even blaspheming Diana. What they were doing was operating in the power of the Holy Spirit and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.

Paul and his team went about their business preaching and performing “unusual” miracles for two solid years in Ephesus. Diseases were healed, demons cast out, people were changed. It’s very interesting to note what Paul did when people didn’t agree with his teachings: “But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (v9). 

When someone’s heart was hardened to the message, Paul departed and withdrew. He didn’t hang around to argue, fight, persuade or worry. He left. He went to where the message would be accepted. This isn’t to say he didn’t have fight in him, I’m guessing he had his arguments down pretty solidly. What he did was simply rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work. Paul knew it wasn’t up to him to pull this off. The Great Commission was to GO and leave the rest to God. If people see the miraculous and still choose to turn away, so be it.

There is a battle to fight, but we’ve got to know our strategy. Sin doesn’t like being confronted. Idols don’t topple easily. When we go out into our culture and live according to God’s Word, we will be strongly and sometimes irrationally attacked. It doesn’t mean we cower or stop speaking, but it doesn’t mean we always need to attack the idol-makers either. Paul was effective because he spoke truth and left the results up to God. He made himself a vessel and allowed himself to be used. He didn’t stress about everyone who disagreed with him because he knew the purpose of his ministry was to preach the gospel, not to placate the culture.

When the whole city is full of confusion and rushing to and fro like headless chickens, it’s our duty and our privilege to stay the course. We need to remember its not OUR truth we are promoting, contrary to what culture wants us to believe. It’s HIS truth, THE truth. We aren’t peddlers on a sidewalk selling trinkets of an idol – what we have to offer was paid for at a very great price and is free for the taking. It will cost something though, being a part of this “Way”… our own little kingdoms, our comfort zones, our people on pedestals.

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…”

There will always be a great commotion where Jesus is concerned, especially if we are sticking to HIS Gospel and not our own. Popularity and trinket-selling isn’t His goal for us.

It’s not always easy to go on record for our beliefs. The idols demand allegiance, just like the wild rioting crowd in Ephesus. The world is burning, literally and figuratively. Jesus calls us to choose life, repeatedly, daily, hourly, minute by minute. If you’re following a method or a person that doesn’t swing wide an open door to Jesus or push you to fiercely want to promote and protect His Word, I suggest halting and reevaluating. We aren’t that different from Ephesus in our idolatry and group-think ways. Self promotion, self preservation is the rule of the day, and if we are honest, we see that it gets us nowhere.

I’ll end with a fantastic quote from Lisa Whittle that snapped me right back to reality this morning after waking up at 5am with a zillion fears and annoyances running through my head:

“It’s time to make some heart determinations and declarations, my friends – to rise up, call out, stand firm, and walk strong. This is the time to rise up in holy anger, as Jesus did when He overturned the tables – to fight for holiness and purity and love. It’s time to fight for the freedom from the devil’s lies, which is ruining lives. It’s time to fight for the truth to be revealed about who Jesus is and how only He has the power to save so that other powerless gods will no longer be put beside or before Him. It’s time to fight for eyes to be opened about seemingly harmless distractions like social media and busy calendars and God-ish Christianity and how all of it at the end of the day keeps us from holiness. It’s time to fight for us to truly revere and honor God again. We’ve lost that, I think, that healthy fear of God. We don’t tremble before God anymore. We flaunt our independence.” 

It’s time. Cause a commotion if you need, God doesn’t mind. He has our backs. I think He probably wishes we were more stirred up. Choose your battles carefully, some are meant to win and some aren’t even meant to be addressed at all. Beware the peddlers on the sidewalk and beware the little idols, Jesus has so very much more to offer us. When the whole city is filled with confusion, be the one who rises up in love and power to fight for the truth.

December 29, 2016

Acts 28: 28 Acts of Generosity in the Book of Acts

Today we’re paying a return visit to the blog Preacher Smith, written by David Smith who is a pastor in Baytown, Texas. This appeared in November, and I’ve left the date reference intact. Click on the title below to read at source. (Check out other posts in the Fruit of the Spirit series.)

Sermon Follow-up: 28 Acts of Generously Giving Good in Acts

My sermon this past Sunday morning (Nov. 6) was in regard to the sixth aspect of the fruit of the Spirit: generosity/goodness.

Each of my sermons in the series of which this sermon was a part (Acts: The Way, It Works) makes some connection with the fruit of the Spirit and the lives of Christ-followers in the book of Acts. However, I deliberately left the connection with Acts missing from this past Sunday’s sermon … until now.

Even just a quick skim of Acts reveals a multitude of instances of generosity/goodness recorded by the book’s author (Luke). Following are twenty-eight examples, one from each of the Acts’ twenty-eight chapters.

1. Giving the community of faith your presence for the sake of united prayer.

“They all joined together constantly in prayer …” (Acts 1.14)

2. Giving your heart and your possessions to those in need.

“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2.45)

3. Giving your attention to those who have become virtually invisible to others.

“Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him …” (Acts 3.2-4a)

4. Giving the word of God to others, freely and without fear.

“… they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4.31)

5. Giving encouragement to others by having a healthy attitude about the things you suffer.

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5.41)

6. Giving welcome and acceptance to those new to faith in Christ.

“The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6.7)

7. Giving grace to those who misunderstand you, hate you, and work your harm.

“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed … ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7.59-60)

8. Giving obvious evidence of your faith by sticking with God and taking your faith with you through all of life’s changes.

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. … Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8.1,4)

9. Giving your talents and skills over to the Lord’s disposal for the blessing of others.

“… showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made …” (Acts 9.39)

10. Giving your mind over to God for him to teach you new things as to your perspective of, and way toward, others who are very much unlike you.

“… God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (Acts 10.28)

11. Giving others the gift of an open mind as to their understanding of things.

“… when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him … Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story … When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God …” (Acts 11.1,4,18)

12. Giving room for others to join you in your service to Christ.

“When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.” (Acts 12.25)

13. Giving energy and motivation to others to keep on keeping on with God.

“… Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (Acts 13.43)

14. Giving inspiration to fellow Christ-followers by sharing the generous good you have experienced thru God in your life.

“… they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them …” (Acts 14.27)

15. Giving well-timed use of conciliatory statements in moments of tension.

“We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15.11)

16. Giving of your home to bless other believers.

“When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16.15)

17. Giving credit where credit is due, particularly when you see those yet to believe catch a glimpse of what is true and right about God and people.

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17.26-28)

18. Giving the grace of real connection and helpful guidance rather than the world’s way of criticism and complaining, which only breeds problems and distance.

“Apollos … was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. … When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18.24-27)

19. Giving your sinful habits up in public confession and repentance so as to solidify your commitment and to give testimony of the Lord’s work in your life.

“Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. [nearly 150 years’ wages for the average worker] In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19.18-20)

20. Giving your daily existence completely over to the Lord so as to not only free yourself from fear and dread, but to lead others to do likewise.

“… I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20.24)

21. Giving yourself over to full establishment of faith in the lives of your children.

“… Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven … had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” (Acts 21.8-9)

22. Giving clear thought as to how you can best share with those who could benefit from knowing why you are a Christian and how you became one.

“You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” (Acts 22.15-16)

23. Giving yourself over to intervening for the lives of others.

“The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. … But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.” (Acts 23.12,16)

24. Giving respect to whom respect his due.

“When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense.’” (Acts 24.10)

25. Giving others the courage of your convictions and standing up for your true rights.

“Paul answered: ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!’” (Acts 25.10-11)

26. Giving prayer to God for others come to faith in God, to become disciples of Christ.

“Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’” (Acts 26.28-29)

27. Giving thanks to God, openly and sincerely, whether in the presence of believers or not.

“… he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.” (Acts 27.35)

28. Giving kindness to others in the ways they need most in the moment.

“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” (Acts 28.1-2)

And so, let us make our faith practical. Let us practice what we preach, namely that “God is good, all of the time.” Let us do and give good, generously so, to others, every day, in the name of, and by, the Spirit of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. For his glory, not our own.

September 14, 2016

What it Takes to Have a Church

by Clarke Dixon

What do you have to have to have a church? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard along the way:

  • you have to have mission and vision statements.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture outside the church.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture within the church.
  • you have to have PowerPoint for the sermons, shorter sermons, or even no sermons.
  • you have to have a constitution, a budget, a proper system of governance, and a bunch of paperwork.  . . or risk losing your charitable status, which of course everyone knows you have to have.
  • you have to have buildings and paid staff.
  • you have to have programming for every age group and for every felt need.
  • you have to have values that reflect the society around you, which means ever changing values of course.
  • you have to have a worship experience that makes each person feel affirmed and good.
  • you have to have a good consumer experience for a happy customer.

House ChurchWhat does the Bible say you have to have to have a church? What better place to go than the Books of Acts where we read about the earliest Christians and the origins of the Church. In looking to the book of Acts there is one sentence that captures what you have to have to have a church:

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

Did you notice what was there in the first church without which you cannot have a church? No, not food. Just two things: “The Lord,” and “those who were being saved.”

“The Lord.” You cannot have a church without the presence of the Lord. And by Lord we do not mean just any god, or God in a generic sense. This is the LORD, Who created the heavens and the earth, Who created all life including humanity, Who called Abraham with a promise, Who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, Who gave His people the Law and the covenants, Who came to humanity in Jesus, and bearing a cross for our sin He rose from the dead, Who comes to us in the Holy Spirit, Who ensured we had a record of all this and more in the Bible. That LORD. The church is not in the business of promoting spirituality but rather has a ministry of reconciliation. We introduce people to that LORD. You can have all the things people generally think you have to have to have a church, yet if you are missing the presence of the Lord, then you don’t have a church.

“Those who were being saved.” We can read the entire book of Acts to be introduced to those people and find out what they are like. When we do we find out that they are an imperfect people, a growing and learning people, a praying people, a listening people, a preaching and reaching people, a generous people, a missionary people, a hope filled people, a changed people, and a willing-to-be-persecuted people. You have to have people like that to have a church.

Lego ChurchThere are some practical implications in needing only two things to have a church:

Church is a people rather than an organization. In the Book of Acts we are not given a manual on how to organize a church. Sometimes we might wish we were! We are given, rather, the story and stories of people responding and relating to the Lord. We do well to remember that we organize as churches, not for the sake of the organization created, but for the sake of the people God is re-creating. As you read through the book of Acts you never once hear a church named. There is no “Calvary Baptist,” or “Grace United,” or the like. But you hear time and time again about the Lord, about people, and about the Lord in relationship with people. When we celebrate a church anniversary, which is something we love to do for we like any excuse to have our cake and eat it too, we are not celebrating how long an organization has been organized. We are celebrating the lives that have been changed by God through the lives of the people who have been changed by God.

The church is something we always are rather than something we sometimes do. It is funny how when asked to describe our churches we quickly report on Sunday morning attendance. Instead we ought to report about what happens throughout the week. We should speak of the saints on their knees in prayer, those who visit, those who give, those who encourage, those who volunteer, those who forgive, those who are patient, those who are peaceful, those who are joyful, those who are self-controlled. . .  you get the picture. In the Book of Acts you never hear of a church described by numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning. But you you do read of people living their lives for the Lord every day. Church is what we always are, not something we sometimes do.

That you only have to have two things is good news for the small church. I must admit to being discouraged when I read a book written for small church pastors then realize they are written by superstar pastors, or that by “small church” they mean a church of 200. That is so not me, and so not us! Good news, to have a church you do not have to emulate the big churches and do everything they do. We are not to follow the lead of bigger churches, we are to follow the lead of the Lord. Small church leaders can learn to say as the church leadership said in Acts “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)

That you only have to have two things is good news for a church under threat. We are told we face the threat of becoming irrelevant. From that perspective, the first Christians must have seemed supremely irrelevant. The apostle Paul discovered that the Gospel was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1st Corinthians 1:23). Yet the presence of the Lord together with the presence of God’s people was turning the world upside down.

Perhaps someday we will face the threat of losing our charitable status as we do not keep in step with a society that keeps changing step. Look to the first Christians. Never mind a privileged position in society, they were persecuted. Yet with the presence of the Lord and the presence of a people who set themselves to the task of keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit, not even the gates of hell could stop the Church.

What do you have to have to have a church? Look to the Book of Acts where they did not have charitable status, buildings, mission and visions statements, organs, worship bands, a multitude of programs for every age, denominations, PowerPoint, constitutions, church growth consultants, or a very organized clergy. (Some days it seems the church I pastor still lacks organized clergy!) All they had was the presence of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit filled people of God. And it was brilliant. When we have those two things, it still is!

Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Canada; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

June 9, 2016

Believing in God, But Not Being Part of Any Particular Church

NASB Acts 17:17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.

This is a really interesting article by Chelica Hiltunen from Bible Study Magazine, a source I don’t think we’ve visited before. It involves a word used in Acts that we could easily skip over, and it has application to us today in terms of where we might find people interested in being part of our local fellowships. Click the title to read at source.

Who were the God Fearers?

The meanings of English words change over time. For an older generation, a vampire was a demonic, predatory being that was to be feared and destroyed. But due to the Twilight book series and movies, for many people today a vampire is a handsome, affluent man who has the ability to be forever young—and, oh, he drinks some blood from time to time.

The same is true for ancient languages. This is why we need to consider the original historical, social and religious contexts of New Testament terms, like ‘Godfearer.’ We will utilize both the Dictionary of New Testament Background (DNTB) and the Dictionary of Deities and Demons (DDD) to decipher what ‘Godfearer’ meant to the author and the audience of Acts. These dictionaries will help us delve into the Graeco-Roman context.

The term ‘Godfearer’ is applied to diverse people in disparate localities: women of esteem in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:50), Greeks from Thessalonica (Acts 17:4), people found in synagogues in Athens (Acts 17:17), and a man from Corinth (Acts 18:7).1

Despite their dissimilarities, they have one thing in common: they were not ethnically Jewish but revered the Jewish God. Details about their standing and function in the Jewish community are nebulous. In DNTB the term Godfearer shares an entry with ‘proselytes.’ DNTB, though, maintains that Godfearers were distinctive from proselytes. Proselytes were those who had made a full commitment to the requirements of Judaism, especially the Law. Godfearers expressed enough interest in Judaism to attend synagogue and possibly give alms, but did not fully embrace the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy).

Godfearers had a polytheistic background. DDD notes that the New Testament use of God/god (theos, θεος) primarily refers to the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh. However, “in pagan Greek literature the use of the word theos is markedly different from what we find in the Bible.”2 Throughout the wider Graeco-Roman world, theos was used to refer to divine figures and abstract concepts like love. An example of cultural confusion occurs in Acts 17:19. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers misunderstood Paul’s teaching, believing him to be preaching two new deities: Jesus and Resurrection.

It is difficult to know what Godfearers thought of the God of Israel, Yahweh. Did they understand Him to be the only God/god, the chief God/god, or just one of many divine beings? The answer is not clear. However, we do know that Godfearers were passionate enough to come to the defense of the Jewish faith (Acts 13:50).

Socially, many of the Godfearers in Acts were among the wealthy class who donated money to Jewish communities (Acts 10:2). DNTB says that such statements in Acts have been corroborated by archaeological evidence, including the discovery of a stele dating to circa 200 AD in Aphrodisias (located in what is now Turkey). Upon this monument is a listing of those who gave to a local Jewish institution. One side of the stele lists 54 Jewish names, “after a break [is] a list of fifty Godfearers whose names are either Greek or Greco-Roman, suggesting a Gentile origin for the group.”3

Godfearers were among the first members of the early church. They were intricately involved in its growth, hosting house churches, and providing shelter for missionaries (Acts 16:40). Their acceptance of Jesus as the Christ and their subsequent receiving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:33–34) radically altered the church’s mission—opening the way for the Gospel to be preached to Gentiles (like most of us).

A Godfearer, then, in the ancient Graeco-Roman world, was someone who sincerely revered the God of Israel, but was not necessarily a practicing Jew. Today, the analogy of someone who believes in a personal God, but who isn’t committed to any particular faith, would be on target.


1. Also see Acts 10:2, 22; 13:16, 26, 43; 17:17; 18:7.
2. McKnight, “Proselytism and Godfearers,” (DNTB): pgs. 840–47. Logos.com/DNTB
3. P. W. van der Horst, “God (II),” (ddd 2nd ed.): pgs. 365–69. Logos.com/DDD

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 2 No. 2

December 5, 2014

The Church in Acts 2 Lived in Community but not Communally

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Although he has appeared at C201 in various footnotes, this is the first time we’ve run anything by John MacArthur. I thought this topic was important because many of us were aware of and perhaps even influenced by a number of “Jesus People” communities which  in the 1970s such as The Highway Missionary Society or Jesus People USA, and many more of you may be aware of the teachings of people belonging to what is often called The New Monasticism, such as Shane Claiborne or Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

While the book of Acts serves as a great model for this type of community living, MacArthur argues that each family had its own dwelling unit, though I wonder if a truer picture of life for the First Century church lies somewhere in the middle? I also know that if our sons were moving to another city, we would be looking for exactly this type of living situation. Not every single person wants to have their own place, make their own meals, and thereby live alone, especially if you’ve experienced the dormitory style experience at a Christian camp or Christian college. For that and other reasons, I think MacArthur’s words speak more to the married couple, or couple married with children.

This appeared a few days ago on The Thirsty Theologian, the blog of David Kjos who I strongly recommend to you. Click the title below to read at source, and then click around the site for other good articles.

Not Communist

Contrary to what many believe, the New Testament church was not a commune.

Many people misunderstand [Acts 2:44–47]. “They had everything in com­mon” does not mean these people lived in a commune. Remember, at Pentecost, Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims who came for the feast. During religious feasts, as many as a million people would come to Jerusalem. They obviously needed housing and food, and there weren’t enough inns to accommodate everyone. So it was customary for believers to open their homes and allow people to live with them. Suddenly, at Pentecost on this particular year, hundreds of these people embraced Christ and then began to win their friends and families to Him. Surely many of them remained in Jerusalem to sit under the apostles’ teaching.

The financial pressures on these people and their hosts must have been tremendous. In addition, there were many poor people in Jerusalem. And some believers’ income may have been cut off when they testified of their faith in Christ. To deal with all this, all believers were willing to share what they had.

This was not a commune. People did not drop out of society, quit their jobs, pool their money, and live in a common building or camp. Acts 2 describes what they were doing:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (vv. 44–47)

This was a spiritual community, not a cloister. Christians still owned their own houses—they continued “breaking bread in their homes” (v. 46). That is, they broke bread, or had communion, in private homes. “Selling” and “distributing” in verse 45 are perfect-tense verbs. That suggests that the selling and sharing were going on all the time. There was no one point when the community of believers sold all they had and pooled their funds. A continuous process was going on whereby people who had resources were sharing them with believers who did not. They did not live in a com­munal shelter or put up barracks to accommodate everyone. That would have undermined the God-ordained priority of the family unit, which God designed to be independent and to function as the building block of soci­ety and the means of passing truth and righteousness from generation to generation.

People were selling their possessions—their land holdings and their portable goods—and sharing the proceeds when they knew others had needs. Paul commanded giving in this same spirit. He urged the Corinthians to be generous in giving to the needs of the saints in Macedonia—“your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abun­dance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (2 Cor. 8:14). Is that any different from what we do today? Not if our churches are healthy. Christians who see a brother or sister in need should have a natural desire to supply the need (cf. 1 John 3:17). That’s what these early Christians were doing. Those who sold possessions did so completely voluntarily. This becomes a crucial point when we examine the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.

—John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 66–67.


For further reading, this 2013 article at Together for the Gospel

December 30, 2012

Christianity as the Early Church Defined It

David Rudel is a theoretic mathematician, writer, editor, mathematical modeler, and theologian working on church and science education reform. He is the author of four chess books, two science books, and one book on Christian Theology.  This appeared several years ago at his blog, Fire In The Bones under the title, What is a Christian?


A lot of energy is spent by Christians trying to tell one another what a real Christian is. This is not a new phenomenon. It’s eerily similar to political mouthpieces trying to say who really represents the beliefs of one party or another.

Were you to ask people What does it mean to be a Christian? or What are the minimal requirements for someone to qualify as a Christian? You could get any number of responses. Some common essential properties of being a Christian you might hear are:

A. Believes the Bible (Or some variation on in what way someone “believes the Bible.”)
B. Goes to Church (For Catholics, I would enlarge this to include certain practices like eating fish on Fridays, etc.)
C. Believes “Jesus died for my sins.”
D. Believes Jesus was/is God
E. Believes only Christians go to Heaven
F. Believes “You cannot make it to Heaven on your own.”
G. Believes in the Resurrection
H. Is a member of my denomination
I. Believes God created the world in 6 days

(What answer would people you know give?)

It seems to me that most, if not all, the above have serious problems. For example, “E is self-referential…saying that a Christian is someone who believes that only Christians go to Heaven does nothing to define who a Christian is. If I believed I was a Christian and believed I was the only one going to Heaven, then “E” would apply to me…but yet I have done nothing to explain by that belief what it means to be a Christian.

Many of the above make no sense historically. We have to assume that the early apostles and their churches should count as “Christians,” yet they did not have “The Bible,” (indeed, the Church disagreed among itself for centuries as to which books belonged in the Bible and which did not) so one could hardly say that a requirement for Christianity is that you believe the Bible [though one could draw the conclusion that the Old Testament, at least, was accurate, as we see no account of Jesus suggesting otherwise.]

Similarly, the doctrine of atonement in its current state didn’t even exist until the 11th century, and early believers did not have the trinitarian formulas the modern church holds so dear. Indeed, Origen, the most important Christian theologian of the 2nd century, would not even be allowed in the church today by that standard.

In addition to historical problems, significant biblical problems stand out from the above list as well. Where do we see early evangelists stressing to non-believers any of these things? If you want to see what makes a Christian a Christian, I think you should look at what the early apostles preached to non-Christians in an effort to have them join the Faith.

A study of acts can be rather revealing here. I’ve put together the following chart to illustrate what teachings you find in Acts regarding Christianity. I’m focusing on Acts because that is the only book where the focus is on Evangelism to non-believers and new believers.

Passage
in Acts
Jesus is
Messiah
Jesus
Arose
Jesus 
is King
Jesus will
Judge All
Repent! Believers go
to Heaven
Heathens
go to Hell
2: 14-41 x x x   x    
3: 12-26 x x x   x    
4: 8-12 x x          
5: 30-32 x x x        
5: 42 x            
7: 1-53 x            
9: 22 x            
10: 34-43 x x x x      
13: 16-41 x x x   x    
14: 14-17         x    
17: 2-4, 6-7 x x x        
17: 18-31   x   x x    
18: 5 x            
18: 28 x            
20: 20-22     x   x    
22: 1-21 x x          
26: 1-29 x x          

Based on the above, I’d say that other than emphasizing the Resurrection, the church has rather struck out when it comes to defining who or what a Christian is.

It seems, at least if Paul, James, Peter, and Stephen are good sources, that a Christian is someone who has chosen to follow Christ’s practices, repenting of unloving acts that God hates, and believes Jesus is the Christ (as shown by his Resurrection) who has been given power over Heaven and Earth, including the office of Judge.

While none of the above are things that most Christians would disagree with, they are also unlikely to be the first thing out of their mouths when asked What does it mean to be a Christian?

I think Christians in general do not like the idea that repentance is an absolute requirement as opposed to a goal. I would further say that merely believing Jesus is the Christ who sits in power over Heaven and Earth would strike many as “too easy,” allowing too many fringe groups in. And in particular, the idea that “Christians, and only Christians, go to Heaven” is such a basic tenet to many that seeing it as not a required one just seems odd. The truth is that the word for Hell does not even show up in all of Acts. One wonders what that says about modern day evangelists and missionaries who start off their message with “Do you know where you are going when you die?”

But what do you think? What does it mean to be a Christian? Are there any passages you believe suggest there is some aspect fundamental to being a Christian that is missing from the message given by the apostles in Acts?

September 28, 2012

First Century Church Growth

We tend to think that church growth has just been a concern in the last dozen or so years because there was an explosion of published books the subject, as ecclesiology became of interest to lay people as well as vocational ministers. So I was intrigued this week to discover a 1973 book — that’s about 40 years ago — titled How To Grow A Church: Conversations About Church Growth by Donald McGavran and Win Arn (Gospel Light). The book follows an interview format and the words which follow belong to McGavran.

The New Testament speaks of and demonstrates tremendous church growth. In fact, the church was born in an explosive series of conversations. Before the Day of Pentecost, only 120 were meeting in an upper room; then… 3000 people turned to the Lord. I marvel when I think of the courage of that little band of inexperienced apostles baptizing 3000 people in one day.

Those first ten wonderful chapters in the book of Acts tell of notable church growth, for example, in Acts 2:41, “And the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.”  In 2:47 we read, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved.” In 4:4 we read, “and the number of them which believed was about five thousand men.” If you add 5000 women and 5000 women, there were 15,000 believers in Jerusalem in a relatively short period of time.

Later in that fourth chapter we read, “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul.” They counted them not by congregations, but by multitudes

…In Acts 5:41 we read, “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” … We’ve been talking about added to the Lord, but…Chapter 6 records, “And the Word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly.” (v.7) From addition to multiplication. Another important event was that “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”  Up to that time the Christians had been the common people, the rank and file, the poorer element. Then after a period of time — we don’t know exactly how long — a multitude of the priests became obedient to the faith…

In chapter after chapter we read of growth taking place… Acts 9:35, we read about two whole villages Lydda and Sharon…

Reasons for Growth

There were many reasons. A principle one was God’s purpose — His ongoing, unshakable, unchanging purpose — for the salvation of men. The growth and expansion of the church throughout the world does not take place in and of itself. It is God’s will…

…[T]his one unifying purpose motivated the apostles and the new Christians…

Another important reason for the New Testament church growth was the expectation of the Jews. They were looking for the Messiah, the Saviour of Israel. Peter and the other apostles proclaimed that He whom you have been expect has, in fact, come.

Then there was the Resurrection. Think what an impact the Resurrection made in Jerusalem! The man whom everybody knew had been crucified was alive and was seen…

…[A]nother reason: That the message was proclaimed by common people. The Pharisees…said of Peter and John and the other apostles that they were ignorant and unlearned me, just ordinary people; laymen. They didn’t have theological degrees. This factor no doubt gave their message added power. …3000 people were baptized and received the Holy Spirit, there were not just 12 apostles preaching but 3000 Christians preaching…

Foundations for Growth

First, we must realize that the growth of the church took place in the midst of the Jewish people… there had been prior preparation.

They were looking for the Messiah. They were accustomed to a God who speaks and acts righteously. The Jews were intended by God to be the seedbed of the church. The Holy Spirit encouraged the church to grow strong among the Jews so that it could break out to other people.

…[M]any who became Christians on the Day of Pentecost must in the preceding years have seen some of the miracles recorded in the gospels. In fact, some of them must have been directly involved. I wonder if Lazarus wasn’t there on the Day of Pentecost…

selections from page 17-24

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February 4, 2012

What’s in a Name? Saul Becomes Paul

Thanks to those of you who recommend blogs or specific posts.  If I don’t use your suggestion, feel free to re-submit the idea. 

Today we introduce the writing of Darrell Creswell, where today’s post appeared as Why Did Saul Change His Name to Paul?

By divine sovereignty the Lord intervenes in Saul’s life and he is genuinely converted during an encounter with the Lord Jesus. Under the ministry of Ananias he is also healed and filled with the Holy Ghost. Saul immediately began preaching Christ in the synagogues of Damascus. It is uncertain when Saul’s name was changed to Paul. The first reference in the sacred record to this name change was while Paul was ministering on the Isle of Cyprus during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-9).

  • Acts 7:58 – Saul is introduced in the New Testament giving approval to Stephen’s death
  • Acts 8 – Saul continues persecuting the church
  • Acts 9 – Saul travels to Damascus and is converted by Jesus in the process
  • Acts 9:19 – Saul (no name change yet) begins preaching Christ in Damascus
  • Acts 13:1-3 – Saul and Barnabas (still no name change) are set apart by the Holy Spirit for missionary service
  • Acts 13:4 – Saul and Barnabas set sail for Cyprus
  • Acts 13:9 – Saul or Paul name “change” takes place
  • Acts 13-28 – Saul goes by the name Paul for the remainder of the book and the remainder of the New Testament

The Bible does not tell us how or when Saul’s name was changed to Paul. In the book of Acts, Luke simply identifies Saul as the one who is also called Paul.

Acts 13:9 “Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.”

So why the change from Saul to Paul?

There are two possibilities.

The first is found in the first book of Timothy when the Lord informs Saul that he would become an apostle to the Gentiles.

1 Timothy 2:7 “For which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle. I am speaking the truth in Christ, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”

One reason that Paul may have converted his Jewish Saul to the Gentile equivalent Paul is so that non-Jews would accept him more easily. Jews were intensely hated throughout the Roman Empire and very few Gentiles wanted to listen to or be around Jews.

The second possibility and the topic of this piece may be that his new identity reflected a new life in Christ Jesus. After his conversion on the road he was a new man with a new heart. The old man Saul with his persecution of Christians was a thing of the past. I personally believe that Paul knew that this new man with a new heart required a new name.

The name Paul is a fully Romanized name that means “small”, with no Jewish roots attached to it.

Did God change Saul’s name? If He did, the Bible doesn’t say so, and if it wasn’t done by God, then Paul must have done it.

Paul referred to himself as the “least of the Apostles”, a pun on the meaning of “Paul” meaning small in Greek.

It is no small wonder that it was most probably Paul that introduced the word  tapeinophrosune into first century literature. The word was first introduced in Ephesians in about 61 AD. Ephesians 4:2 with all humility (tapeinophrosune) and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.

In Greek pre-Christian writers, the word tapeinos is with a just a few exceptions used by Plato and Platonic writers, in a bad or inferior sense–meaning something evil or unworthy. In secular Greek literature, the adjective (Greek) “humble”, or “lowly” was used always in a derogatory and negative way, most commonly of a slave, bum or a vagrant. It described what was considered unfit, unclean and having little or no value.

If I were to say to you in the year 20AD, “Hi Buddy, your wife sure is humble”. You would go ahead and punch me out. That is how bad the word humble was. But just as Christ came to change the world, He came to change the word tapeinos to tapeinophrosune and give it a new meaning changing the negative definition to a positive and eternal meaning. Jesus’ death on the Cross and the sharing of that message gave us the meaning of the word we now know as humility, now that’s powerful. Paul understood that as the Holy Spirit directed him to write God’s word. And humility as a believer goes even a step farther than the secular world.

It is Paul who first penned the word as found in the New Testament as a  noun that is translated “humility” (Col 2:18, 23); in several other places in the New Testament it is also translated “lowliness” and “lowliness of mind”.

Neither the Romans nor the Greeks had a word for “humility”. The very concept of humility was so foreign to their way of thinking that they had no term to describe it. During the first several centuries of Christianity, pagan writers borrowed the term (tapeinophrosune) humility from the writings of the Paul  in the New Testament. The pagan writers always used it derogatorily—mostly in reference to Christians—because to them humility was a pitiful weakness. Thus, it is not surprising that the word “humility”, has not been found in any Greek literature outside the Bible before the 2nd century.

The word humility (tapeinophrosune) in the New Testament always has a positive connotation. Humility of mind and spirit is the opposite of pride, pride being the sin that has always separated men from God. Christ through the power of His Blood has transformed the word humble from that of shame in the eyes of man, to that of humility (tapeinophrosune) which carries glory, strength and honor, and is exalted in the eyes of our Lord.

The prominence that humility has gained in Christian scripture indicates the power of this concept in our relationship to God, ourselves and to our fellow man. Jesus not only strongly impressed His disciples with the need of humility, but was in Himself its supreme example. He described Himself as “meek and lowly (tapeinos) in heart” (Matt 11:29) “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted”.

Philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility (tapeinophrosune) consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Here Paul gives us the Scriptural “antidote” for pride, selfish ambition and the pursuit of our own egos and glory. We are to view others as being above and better than ourselves, and to hold ourselves as lower than them, which is exactly the opposite of what our flesh desires to do. The word indicates the esteeming one’s self as small or recognizing one’s insufficiency but at the same time recognizing the powerful sufficiency of God! This the power of the word tapeinophrosune (humility), transformed by the Blood of Christ.

It is not a weakness when we surrender, but in strength when we reject our own wants and desires and look after the needs of others.” It is good to show humility to the world as we follow Christ and humble ourselves that our “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1Cor 15:58).

This is perhaps Scripture’s clearest portrait of the humility called for in the Gospel. It is not a weak man’s surrender, but a strong man’s rejection of selfishness and determination to be actively concerned with the needs and interests of others. In Christ there are no empty, meaningless lives, only strong eternal lives through humility.

Humility is the understanding of our own insignificance, in light of His significance. I think that what Paul is trying to teach us here in understanding humility is

Colossians 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience

The word humility here refers to the saints, to see themselves as sinners saved by God’s grace, to esteem others better than themselves; in ascribing all they have, and are, to Christ; in doing works of mercy and righteousness without ostentation, or boasting of them, or depending on them; owing all to Christ Jesus in humility.

So it is fitting that Saul whose name was changed to Paul after his conversion would refer to himself as the least of the apostles and coin the noun tapeinophrosune (humility) for all of recorded history from the time of Christ to see. The word for humility used by Paul is but a reflection of how he saw himself in Christ Jesus -– Small and Humble. A wonderful legacy in Christ Jesus to leave for us all to see and read.

~Darrell Creswell

October 1, 2011

Confronting The Season

I usually allow myself to go back 12 months in choosing things to repeat here, so as of today, I’m allowed into the October, 2010 file.  I found this set of notes pasted on Halloween, and thought moving it up to the beginning of the month might be more useful this time around. These are the notes for a message I prepared for a church in Toronto, and rather than running away from Halloween, I chose to confront it.

We looked at some supernatural encounters in scripture, including

  1. Simon the Sorcerer (aka ‘Great Power’) in Acts 8:9ff. He was a baptized follower of the Apostle Phillip, and yet parts of his old life — the love of the spotlight, for example — still lingered.
  2. The Seven Sons of Sceva in Acts 19: 11-16. The demons they tried to confront knew of the Apostle Paul and they knew Jesus, but they basically taunted the seven sons with “Who are you?” The world isn’t interested in what we have to do or say on our own strength, but rather, on whether or not Christ is flowing through us.
  3. Demetrius in Acts 19: 23-27. Christianity was turning out to be bad for the whole idol-making business. There are entire industries with a vested interest in retaining followers. If people really do turn to God, that will change. (But we have to be careful that we don’t create similar industries in the Christian world. Hmmm.)
  4. The Demon-Possessed Man in Mark and Luke and Men in Matthew 8:24-34. This wasn’t just a healing. There was a third party — demons — involved in this story. Jesus affirms their reality.

For a good spiritual showdown, we also looked at I Kings 18: 16ff, the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah just knew that God was going to come through. The buckets of water were a nice touch!

We contrasted Jesus’ words to the imprisoned John the Baptist (“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor…”) with his words to Thomas after the resurrection (“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”)

We also were reminded of Ephesians 6:12, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms…”

We finished up with John’s admonition in 1 John 4: 1-6 to test the spirits.

1Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

4You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Some credit for this message concept must go to my favorite Reformed pastor and friend, Jack Vanderveer.


If you’re a recent newcomer to C201, scripture verses here are often in green because the scriptures have life.  If the passage doesn’t have life to you, read it again!

September 24, 2010

Sunder Krishnan: Pray Big

Well, here we go…

This is the longest post ever on Christianity 201; twenty-five minutes long in fact.   Not everyone will stay with this.   But even if you only give it ten minutes I think it will give you much to consider.

Sunder Krishnan is the pastor of Rexdale Alliance, a Christian & Missionary Alliance Church in the northwest suburbs of Toronto, Canada.    This was filmed by 2100 Productions, the media division of InterVarsity at IV’s student missions conference, Urbana.

And let me be honest; I’m posting this partly because I want to come back and watch some of it again.