Christianity 201

March 30, 2017

The DNA of the Very First Church

During the week of March 13th, Andy Elmes from the UK Ministry Great Big Life ran a series of five devotionals that he called “Characteristics of a Blueprint Church.” Space doesn’t permit us to run all five here, but I wanted to include some highlights from each day. See the bottom of today’s piece for information on how you can get material like this in your inbox each weekday.

Characteristics of a Blueprint Church

Acts 2:41-43, NIV
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

They devoted themselves

Here we find the first ingredient to their effectiveness. There was within the church, not just the leadership, a spirit of self devotion. People daily “devoted themselves”. They had great preachers, but they were not spoon fed; they were self feeders taking responsibility to get the spiritual nourishment they needed. They had great meetings and fellowship but did not need to be constantly phoned or dragged there or reminded with constant bulletins like they had memory problems; they got themselves were they needed to be, when they needed to be there.

So much of modern church is sadly about motivating people to do what they should naturally want to do, encouraging people to do things that really should be their spiritual lifestyle. Imagine if we could get even more self devotion into the DNA of the modern western Church – how much more effective would our local churches be if each member took personal responsibility for even the little things, like getting to Church on time so church services could start as strong as they could do, serving on the teams that needed them and turning up when it was their turn without a text, being faithful in honouring God with their finances and time without subtle reminders and encouragements from the stage?

I am always amazed at how people can downgrade the “God bit” of their life and sentence it to a lesser devotion than the other bits; one great example again being time keeping. In every other area of life they are on time: meetings with the dentist, bank manager, work – but why not church? What is that switch that needs to be fixed? Surely the greatest of our devotion belongs to God, right? Surely the place we manifest the greatest personal self devotion should be in His House? Imagine what we could achieve if just this one thing was to change – suddenly no challenge would be too great. Hey we might even see 3000 people get saved on our Sunday morning: 3000 people moved by His message but also moved by a group of people so sold out and devoted to what and who they believed in.

Apostles Doctrine

…The Dictionary says that Doctrine is, “Teaching, instruction, the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief.” Basically, the Apostles’ doctrine was the teaching of the first Church Leaders (apostles). The foundational teaching for the new testament church was based on their teaching, especially Paul’s. Their teaching formed the “branch of belief” for what we still believe, live by and hold to as true today in regard to everything including God, His Church and how we are to live.

I suppose the challenge today is, do we teach and personally live by the truths found in the Apostles’ doctrine (teaching)? Does it still form the margins of what we believe today to be truth or do we attempt to mix it with other doctrines (teachings)? Notice that it does not say they devoted themselves to the doctrine of Moses or the doctrine of religion; no, it clearly says they devoted themselves to the doctrine of the Apostles (leaders of the early church).

The doctrine of Moses was not wrong for its time or dispensation, but as Paul stood up to preach daily everything had indeed changed. Christ had now died for the sins of the world, the old covenant was no longer effective or relevant because a new covenant had been established and had replaced it – a covenant (agreement) cut with the very blood of God’s only Son, not of bulls and goats that could only provide a mere covering for sin that would last a moment. Full punishment for sin had now been placed on Christ as He hung on the cross as our substitute; full forgiveness had now been given and God’s wrath towards us settled because of His one-time redemptive work. So much had now changed. It wasn’t that Paul could not or did not refer to Moses, the law or the previous covenant, but now what he taught, and the doctrine he was establishing, was based on the grace of God and the perfect finished work of the cross, and nothing else. The doctrine he now preached and established would leave a person redeemed and free outside of their own performance or merit; it would give the offer of a new beginning to all who would believe based on faith not works; it would reveal God’s eternal plan to get His life inside the life of the believer, to empower a person to overcome and live the new life they had been freely given…

…[A]re you living and building by the Apostles’ teaching or are you trying to add a bit of Moses, or maybe a bit of law, maybe a dash of your reasoning?

…When I started to think about “the Apostles Doctrine” I was intrigued to find out exactly what it was, to make sure I was not guilty of mixing covenants in a wrong way, or of believing partial or diluted truth. I studied a bit deeper than normal and found out what the epicenter of the Apostles Doctrine was. I was not surprised but certainly encouraged as I discovered the Apostles Doctrine orbited and found its strength in a couple of basic truths or realities. Firstly the finished redemptive work of Christ and secondly the reality of the new creation.

Think about that: everything that Paul taught and established was based and rooted in the simple yet profound truth that when anyone believes in Jesus as Saviour they become a “new creation” – they are born again, and it is as if they had never lived before or ever sinned in the sight of God.

One of Paul’s foundational truths for all he taught in regard to this reality was of course this one found in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. The NIV translation puts it like this: “the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here”. Paul had a deep set revelation that the new creation was God’s master plan – not a patch up job of the old man, behaviour modification or a rust maintenance program, rather a brand new beginning for a person based on God’s unfailing grace.

The truth is when a person believes in Christ they identify with His death, burial and resurrection and come in by faith to a brand new existence based on Christ alone (Romans 6:3-6). As God’s word says in Romans 6, the old man is crucified with Christ and, as Paul said so well, our only boast is in the cross where we were separated from the world and who we were to be who God has called us to be (Galatians 6:14). As you read on in that verse you actually see Paul defy or replace the doctrine of Moses with this new creation reality.

Galatians 6:15, NIV
Neither circumcision nor un-circumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

…Are you attending meetings or doing life with the church?

We have been looking at what the first church devoted themselves to. We saw that the Apostles’ teaching was a very high priority and that each person who called that first church home had a personal devotion to it. Next on the list comes the word fellowship, this was another high priority to them and needs to be to us. So what does it mean by fellowship? I love the way The Message translation puts this verse:

“They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.”

I love that statement and the image it creates: they devoted themselves to “the life together”. The early church put great emphasis on simply “doing life together”, they never defined their church experience as two hours on Sunday but rather committed to live more community-minded in their relationship with the Church…

Acts 2:42-44, AMP
And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers.

We have looked at how the original blueprint church devoted itself to doctrine (teaching) and fellowship (doing life together); next on the list comes the breaking of bread. Did this mean that they spent all day doing communion? I don’t think it did. I like the way that the Amplified version puts it: “to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper]”. Personally I think this fits well with the culture of Israel at that time and links well with previous value and priority of doing life together. Remember, when Jesus instituted the original communion, or breaking of bread as we know it today, where was He? In a synagogue? No, He was at a meal with His friends, hanging out with them, eating and breaking bread with them, then He takes the bread and wine and talked His friends through what has become a significant ordinance still in His Church today.

Is God saying in this verse that we are to devote ourselves to the act or ordinance of communion? That we are to do it all day and everyday? Or, like the Amplified version says, that we are to be taking time to eat and fellowship together and, in the midst of that ongoing fellowship, we are to make time to take bread and wine to specifically remember what He has done like He instructed us to do). This feels more natural and ‘lifestyle’ to me than just making the bread and wine something we do in certain meetings we hold together?

Again, I don’t think it is an issue of “either, or”, rather “both”. I think we should still have significant Bread and Wine (communion) times together when we meet corporately, but also as we build the community side of the church. As we meet together not just to pray but to fellowship and eat, in the midst of us doing that we take time to give thanks and remember what He did for us when He gave His Body (represented by the bread) and shed His Blood (represented by the wine or grape juice)…


I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. Click the link to have it delivered to your inbox each weekday.

 

June 20, 2010

Sin Has Its Consequences

History doesn’t tell us who first came up with the notion that if you masturbate you will go blind. Neither I am aware of any scientific corroboration of this connection, though I am sure that it has acted as a deterrent to many a young man, especially in less-informed times.

Sometimes, though, there are times when, if we give into our lusts, cravings or desires, there are definite consequences.

Heather was the friend of a friend. I met her at least once, maybe twice. She was an extremely attractive girl in her late teens at a time before people said, as we now do, that “the girl is hot.” She got swept up by an older guy — some said he was in his 30s — and we don’t whether or not she was aware that he had AIDS before they had unprotected sex.

This was at a time — nearly three decades ago — before drugs could prolong the life of people diagnosed HIV positive and Heather’s life and beauty wasted away very quickly, and before much time had passed, my friend was suddenly telling me about “visiting Heather’s mom at her home the day after the funeral.” Consequences. Unavoidable consequences.

I don’t believe that today thousands of people have started down the road to blindness because of masturbation anymore than I believe that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. But I do know of one instance where the Bible makes very clear the possibility of physical penalty for something which is obviously sinful.

It’s the passage that is often read at The Lord’s Supper, aka The Breaking of Bread, aka The Eucharist, aka Communion. Perhaps you were raised with I Cor. 11: 28-30 in the King James:

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

Okay, I know. But for some of you-eth, the KJV script is all too familiar. Let’s try the dynamic-equivalence translation extreme of the NLT, adding vs. 27:

So if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, that person is guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.

Wow! It does seem a bit unmistakable, doesn’t it. [At this point I paused to check out the verses in four different commentaries, but there was no convenient opt-out at this point, none of the writers suggested the language was figurative.]

It all raises the possibility of consequences. I think the view would be of God striking someone with something, that the agency of disease or even death would be external.

But I have a whole other direction for our thoughts today.

I’m wondering if perhaps it is not the case that for some people — not all — willful sin creates a physical disconnect between the body and the mind, or between the body and the spirit. Perhaps it creates a tension that puts us in conflict between our actions and that for which we were created, or, in the case of believer, a conflict between our actions and the way we are expected to be living.

We already know that many diseases are brought on by stress. Is not the conflict between right living and wrong living a major internal stress, even for those who are not pledged to follow Christ? It can weaken the autoimmune system, or conversely, overstimulate it. And for the Christ-committed, would the stress not be greater since the internal conflict is greater?

I had a story cross my desk this week about a person who I knew was involved in something that I considered a lifestyle conflict. (Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not that one; this was rather obscure.) This person was also involved with a ministry organization, so the degree of conflict would be more intensive, wouldn’t it?

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1 NIV)

Today, this person is fighting a rather intense physical disease. I can’t help but wonder if there was so much tension between what he knew and taught to be God’s best versus what he was caught up in, that it some how manifested itself internally as a kind of stress. But I know what you are thinking:

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (John 9: 2-3 NIV)

Not all affliction is the consequence of wrongdoing. But the I Cor 11 passage allows for the possibility of affliction as direct consequences of sin.

Do you ever find yourself internally conflicted? Paul said,

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise… I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. t happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. (Romans 7: 15, 17-23, The Message)

The inner conflict is going to be there. The tension is going to exist. The question is whether or not it is going to absorb us into something that becomes a lifestyle with all its attendant consequences, including physical consequences.

You can disagree with this of course, but you don’t want to go blind, do you?


Today’s blog post is a combined post with Thinking Out Loud (Monday, June 21) and Christianity 201.

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Read more: Sin: It’s Kind of a Big Deal