Christianity 201

October 25, 2021

First Century Church Members Handbook

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. – Romans 12: 4-5 (NIV)

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:45 (NIV)

You are like a building that was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the most important stone in that building, and that whole building is joined together in Christ. He makes it grow and become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Christ you, too, are being built together with the Jews into a place where God lives through the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:20-22 (NCV)

In a blog post in December of last year, a word was used that has only appeared four times in the history of C201: Didache. The paragraph read as follows:

Didache (Training): Pronounced “did-a-kay” this is the mark of a Christian community in which members are being trained in the way of Jesus. Followers of Jesus are often called “disciples,” which means something like “apprentice.” At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples, to go and make disciples themselves, teaching others to walk in the world as he did. The Christian way of life is not always intuitive; we need to learn the rhythms of mercy and grace, of radical love and extravagant generosity, of justice and righteous aligned with God’s dream and work for this broken and beloved world.

Alert readers will know this also refers to a specific book; a book which in January of 2011, I referred to as “the most important book you’ve never heard of.” Let’s revisit that article…

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.

~Didache 1:1

While New Testament scholars always knew it existed, it was not until 1873 when a dusty, worn copy was pulled off an Istanbul library shelf by an Archbishop who promptly left it on his desk to attend to other matters, where it sat for months before he finally grasped what it is he had discovered. In fact, the document whose lost text he had discovered was once considered for inclusion in the Biblical canon.

The Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay) is only about half the length of the Gospel of Mark, but it provides an intimate view of Christian life and Christian community for the early church in the period following the apostles. There are many books on the subject, but a simple introduction — along with a copy of the complete text — is Tony Jones’ The Teaching of the 12 (Paraclete Press, 2009).

(Random) Highlights:

  • Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them. (1:6)
  • Do not be one who opens his hands to receive, or closes them when it is time to give. (4:5)
  • Do not give orders to your servants when you are angry, for they hope in the same God…  (4:10)
  • Your fasts should not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays. You should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. (8:1)
  • [Concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way] “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom…” (9:4)
  • Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he must not remain more than one day, or two, if there’s a need.  If he stays three days he is a false prophet. (11:4,5)
  • Concerning Baptism, you should baptize this way: After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in flowing water.  (7:1, italics added)
  • Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life. (2:7)

The early Christians were also told to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times daily (8:3) and if they baked bread, to give the first loaf to the prophets (13;5). The translation above is from Tony Jones’ book, and seems to be closest to one online by Charles Hoole.

So in a post-DaVinci Code climate, where does a document like this fit in?

First of all, we have all we need in the Bible, and no one should feel compelled to read extra-Biblical writings like this, much less those on the periphery such as The Gospel of Thomas.

But for those who want a snapshot of post-New-Testament life, this document has the recommendation of many respected pastors, though don’t expect a movie anytime soon.

September 24, 2021

New Testament Authors Had Different Approaches

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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It’s been five years since we last highlighted the writing of author and college president John Mark Reynolds who appears at Eidos, a Patheos blog. Click the title below to read at source, and then browse the site to see other things he’s written.

Peter and Paul and Difficult Questions

Paul and Peter are often portrayed together: two apostles with contrasting, but not conflicting messages. They were very different, a rabbi and a fisherman. Peter became the Prince of the Apostles, the first amongst apostolic equals. Paul wrote epistles that remain some of the most profound expressions of Christian truth ever written.

The powerful did not want to hear what they were saying. The Empire beheaded Paul and crucified Peter. Before martyrdom, both could see the way things seemed to be going and so both faced mental difficulties: how could Jesus be Lord, but Caesar seem to have all the power? Where was the promise of His coming?

Peter and Paul thought, prayed, and lived within the new Kingdom. They did so the best they could, but both came to see the limits of what they could know.

Despite limits, think we must. 

Life can get tedious. The world is not as the world should be, broken by sin, and so can be hard to understand. In fact, there are, most probably, problems that we will never solve to our own satisfaction. The answers may be beyond the capacity of the human intellect!

We have to accept a reasonable uncertainty, the just live by faith. We have faith seeking understanding continuously. 

The Christian does not have the option of not thinking, of doing the best reasoning possible. The Second Person of the Divine Trinity is called the Logos, the Word, a term strongly related to thinking well in New Testament times. The Bible calls us to study, to love God with our minds, and God allows Job to make his case. If the case fails, that is not God’s fault and God condemns those false friends who would stop Job from pressing his case.

Our reason has limits, but reason we must. Peter and Paul kept the faith and kept seeking understanding. Their contrasting comments on the process give me hope.

Peter and Paul 

Peter had three years with Jesus: a profound experience. We cannot be sure if he was fully literate. Nothing about his job or life would have required much formal education. Paul had, and often displayed, at least some classical and a first-rate Jewish education. He too had a profound experience of the Risen Lord, but not as Peter had. Peter saw Jesus eat and drink. He heard him teach and saw the miracles himself. Peter went to the empty tomb and ate breakfast made by the Risen Lord. Paul was confronted by the ascended Christ in a vision. He experienced healing and heard the testimony of those who had known the Lord. To a great extent, Paul knew Jesus as the rest of us after the first generation of Christian have known Jesus- through the witness of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and the testimony of witnesses.

Peter comments on Paul’s writings:

14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

Peter accepts Paul’s wisdom, but also points to the dangers of difficult answers. There is almost nothing so simple people cannot misunderstand it. Look at what has been done with Christ’s command to love enemies! Wrestling with the deeper things of God  provides room for twisting words. Despite this, Peter commends Paul’s writings to the attention of his readers!

Peter could not write like Paul or perhaps think as Paul thought, but he valued the wisdom given him.

Intellectual types might stop there, feeling smug, but Paul stands in the icon with Peter. While Peter, who was no intellectual, merely a saint, affirms the value of intellectually difficult writing. Saint Paul, who was one of history’s great intellectuals, looked at the limits of credentials and reason:

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

People do the best we can, but we often confuse credentials with real wisdom. We become “scribes” in the system of our own age and opine. Our opinions can prevail when all there are only words, but then reality comes. There is no negotiating, no debating, reality. Jesus comes, is crucified, and raised from the dead. He is the power and the wisdom of God and against that reality, the one true Word, Greek words failed.

We keep thinking, reality keeps making us modify what we think. Our words must fail, but the Word endures. This gives us a heavy dose of intellectual humility. Intellectual humility was the beginning of science, philosophy, and true theology.

This much endures:  Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and the gospel that Paul preached. They endure because however we might try to deface that hard won realization and profound teaching, their works were icons to Christ and Christ is immortal truth.

February 11, 2021

Where is Our Allegiance? The Law of God or the Law of the Land?

by Clarke Dixon

Should we defy the law of the land and gather for worship even though it is illegal for us to do so right now? Some churches [here] have tried that, and are facing charges. Is our allegiance to the law of God, or the law and customs of the land? Of course this could apply to far more than just worship attendance.

Jesus was tested on this very question of allegiance:

As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

John 8:3-5 (NLT)

Normally the law of Moses was to be the law of the land for God’s people, but the Romans were in charge, and they expected their laws to be the law of the land. The law of Moses called for stoning in certain circumstances, evidently this was one of them. However, the Romans did not allow the Jews to put people to death. We see the religious leaders appeal to this fact when they call for the Romans to execute Jesus. Of course sometimes they got away with it as we see with the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.

So with the woman caught in adultery, will Jesus follow the law of Moses, or the law of the land? Where is your allegiance, Jesus?

In his typical wise way Jesus turned the question right back onto the religious leaders:

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.

John 8:6-9 (NLT)

The one without sin, the one with true allegiance to the law of Moses can cast the first stone. No one dared cast that stone. The religious leaders knew that they were caught in their own hypocrisy. Of course their allegiance should be to the law of Moses and not the law of the Romans. They knew that. But of course they were often operating according to the law of Romans. So one by one, they left.

The religious leaders left, but Jesus and the woman caught in adultery still remained. So too, does the question of whether the allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Moses or the law of Caesar.

Bear in mind that Jesus, being without sin, can cast first stone. In fact if the true allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Moses, perhaps he should cast all the stones?

Let us also keep in mind that Jesus also has the right to cast the first stone at us. After all, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and there “is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 KJV). Because of our sin, Jesus can cast the first stone, he can cast all the stones.

Back to the woman caught in adultery. Where was the allegiance of Jesus?

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8:10-11 (NIV)

So the allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Caesar? No, the allegiance of Jesus was to neither the law of Caesar, nor the law of Moses, but to the law of love. Jesus was living out the new covenant which he was about to establish. The new covenant is not about following the law of Moses, or the law of the land, but following Jesus and the law of love. Our allegiance, as Christ followers, is not to Moses or Caesar, but to Jesus.

Jesus followed the law of love with the Samaritan woman and he follows the law of love with us. Remember, Jesus can cast the first stone at us, there is no hiding our sins from God. But rather than cast stones at us, he took the nails for us on the cross.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)

Jesus chose the nails over the stones. In Christ God does not treat us as our sins deserve. We therefore now live, not by the law of Moses, but by the Spirit. We are to follow Jesus in the law of love.

The law of love is the gentle way, “then neither do I condemn you.” The law of love is the challenging way, “Go and leave your life of sin.” This means being gentle with people, as Jesus was gentle with the woman caught in adultery. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. This also means we challenge people, just as Jesus challenged the woman caught in adultery. Faithfulness is also fruit of the Spirit.

When we feel like we face a decision between following the law of God and the law of the government, we follow Jesus and the law of love. We follow in the footsteps of our Lord. Right now we love our neighbour by doing our part to reduce the possibility of the COVID plague spreading. Of course, there are so many other ethical questions we face in life which would seem to put us at odds with the law or customs of the land. What does it look like when our allegiance is to Jesus and the way of love in each of those?

Where is our allegiance? The law of Moses or the law of the land? May our allegiance be to Jesus!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. His church has not met in-person since March. The full sermon video can be seen as part of this “online worship expression

October 13, 2020

If He Builds It, They Will Come

Forgive the Field of Dreams reference, but at least we can’t be accused of siphoning readers away from the primary site of today’s discussion.

This is our fourth time visiting the blog Preacher Pollard but our first time with Dale Pollard. This is one of those topics that deals with the context and background of the life of the incarnate Christ. Click through (on the title below) to read more from Dale, Neal and others.

“Was Jesus Really A Carpenter?”

Dale Pollard

  • “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, brother of James, Joses, and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us? And they took offense at Him. Then Jesus said ‘a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown among relatives and those of his household.”Mark 6:4
  • “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenters son?”Matthew 13:54
  • Was Jesus a carpenter and were these fair questions to ask Him?

      Let’s examine FOUR quick factors:

Factor 1 – LOCATION: Nazareth was located 3 miles from Sepphoris which at the time was developing quickly as part of Herod   Antipas beautification project. It would eventually be known as “The Jewel Of All Galilee.” Jesus would have witnessed and perhaps helped his father cut stone in the quarry that was half way between Nazareth and the developing city.

Factor 2DEMAND – In the days of Jesus there weren’t many trees in the area, and there still aren’t many today. To try and make a living working with a material that wasn’t readily available or even used much would be difficult.

Factor 3 LANGUAGE – “Tekton” simply means “builder” The Messiah was a handyman, and the spiritual connections in your mind may  already be forming.

Factor 4 – SCRIPTURE – Luke 20:17ff – Jesus tells the parable about the wicked tenants, after Jesus is questioned about His authority in the temple by the scribes/chief priests, He looks at them and says “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” quoting from Psalm 118.

Again quoted by Peter as he defends himself in front of religious leaders in Acts 4 “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you the builders.” It was a reference to David’s lineage to the  Messiah and it would have been familiar to Jewish stone builders.

So with this in mind, let’s revisit the questions asked by those in Jesus’ hometown

  1. Where did this man get this wisdom?

A. Their perspective: “You’re the son of a common builder. He didn’t teach you these things, he taught you to build.”

B. The reality: It wasn’t wisdom from Joseph, it was His heavenly fathers wisdom. But Joseph, no matter how talented he was in his craft, did not teach Him to build…

1. A ship that would carry Christians safely into eternity, he may have taught Jesus to  work with stones, but he no idea that on a rock He’d build His church.

2. He did not teach Him to build a home that would last for all eternity, but that’s what Jesus is building now!

3. He didn’t teach Him to build a walkway that would bridge the gap of separation between God and man, but He did.

2. Where did He get these miraculous abilities?

A. Their perspective: “You’re the son of a common builder. You’re performing things with your hands that the hands of a common builder can’t perform!”

B. The reality: Jesus is the master builder. The only one that could claim to build things out of the very stones and pieces of wood He spoke into existence.

What does all this mean?

1. In the hands of the Master builder, you can be something better.

2. In the hands of the master builder, you can be somewhere better.

3. If you’re broken, you can be fixed. If you’re not a child of God, your life is broken.

4. You can be something better than you are. Your imperfections can be made perfect through the blood of Christ.

5. You can be somewhere better. You can be In good standing with the God above. You could be In a loving family bound for glory— the home built by God.

August 23, 2020

Churches: Leverage the Massive Disruption of the COVID-19 Crisis

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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NIV.Acts.11.19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.

Read full chapter


Two years ago we introduced you to the New Wineskins blog at Patheos by Josh Draffern. Today we’re back with a timely article. Click the header below to read this at his page, or click the link in the first sentence to find other articles containing valuable help for pastors and churches.

This is the Moment for the Church at Antioch to Rise Up

In Acts 8, a massive disruption upset the Christian world. Led by Saul of Tarsus, massive persecution drove Christians from their home base of Jerusalem. Up to that time the new Christian movement was centered in Jerusalem and was confined to Jews. By the end of the book of Acts the church was more Gentile than Jewish and the church at Jerusalem was a side note. What made the difference? During the disruption, one church used it as an opportunity to innovate, and innovation changes the world.

In Acts 11:19 we see the Jewish Christians scattering from Jerusalem, telling only other Jews about Jesus. But in Antioch it was different. The Christians there spread the gospel and opened their doors to both Jews and Greeks (innovation #1, Acts 11:20-21). Not only was this church open to non-Jews, they sought out Jews with scandalous pasts, creating an opportunity for the same Saul of Tarsus to provide leadership now that he had become a follower of Jesus (innovation #2, Acts 11:25-26). When a famine struck Judea, the church at Antioch is the first church recorded in Scripture to voluntarily collect resources and intentionally send it off to assist another church (innovation #3, Acts 11:27-30).

So it should be no surprise that the church at Antioch, not the church at Jerusalem, was the one the Holy Spirit directed to change the world through intentional gospel-spreading, church-planting mission trips (innovation #4, Acts 13:1-3). What was the church at Jerusalem doing during that time? Forcing Peter to defend his actions of entering a Gentile’s home (Acts 10-11) and trying to get the Gentile Christians to become Jewish (Acts 15).

Admittedly painting with a broad brush here, the church at Jerusalem treated the dispersion of their people as an interruption. They kept waiting for things to go back to ‘normal’ and the way things were (centered in Jerusalem and around the Jews). The church at Antioch correctly saw the persecution as a massive disruption. Disruption leads to innovation. Innovation changes the world, and that’s exactly what the church at Antioch did almost 2000 years ago.

The COVID-19 crisis is another massive disruption (not interruption). This is the moment for the church at Antioch to rise up, to blaze boldly into the hybrid digital world we all now live in and spread the gospel in new and powerful ways. As church thought leader Carey Nieuwhof accurately questioned, “are churches behaving like malls in the age of Amazon?” I believe that churches that treat the COVID-19 crisis like a minor interruption are like malls, like the church at Jerusalem.

If your church is waiting for this crisis to pass so that things can go back to normal, you might be waiting awhile. There will be a new normal we will eventually settle into, but it won’t be the old normal. A worldwide pandemic disrupts the world in ways that will forever change us. I believe that churches that leverage the massive disruption of the COVID-19 crisis are innovating in the age of Amazon, like the church of Antioch.

Where are the churches at Antioch? Rise up, innovate, and change our world with the gospel!


Josh also blogs on Beliefnet as Next Steps: Inspiration From Scripture for Your Next Step of Faith and you can find links to all his content on joshdaffern.com.

June 23, 2020

Critical Elements of the Jesus Story Supported Without a Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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One of the things that drives seekers and skeptics nuts is when we use the Bible to prove the Bible. To borrow a 2-word phrase from Wikipedia, “citation needed!” They’re looking for outside corroboration of the Bible’s facts.

Many have written on this subject, and I always thought it would be good to have a record of some of those arguments here at C201. This is part of the field known as Christian apologetics.

Branches of this include:

  • experiential arguments
  • evidential arguments
  • arguments for the reliability of scripture
  • arguments for the resurrection
  • reasoning from morality (the problem of good and evil)
  • philosophical arguments for deism (pre-suppositional arguments)
    • cosmological argument
    • teleological argument (aka intelligent design)
    • ontological argument
  • argument from fulfilled prophecy
  • creationism
  • theodicy (explaining the ways of God to humankind)

You find these fleshed out in detail at Wikipedia.

I started thinking about this yesterday when a friend introduced me to Alisa Childers at alisachilders.com. She describes herself on her YouTube page:

I’m a life-long Jesus follower and former CCM recording artist who experienced a period of profound doubt in my mid-thirties. I discovered apologetics, which helped navigate me out of unreasoned doubt and into a vibrant, intellectually informed faith. Now my passion is to read, study, and worship with all that I am!

She has a post entitled:

10 Historical Facts About Jesus From Non-Christian Sources

but in this particular case, I didn’t want to steal search engine results here from her blog, as much as I would have loved to copy and paste it as a reference. So if an internet search brought you here, click the header above and read it on her site.

Rather, I decided to break down what she had written into a few key sources. But you need to read her summary as you’re following this one.

Josephus: A Jewish historian who wrote The Antiquities of the Jews. (It was a First Century bestseller.) He is usually the first go-to source for confirmation of the Jesus narrative. As Alisa notes, he records the life of Jesus who he describes as “wise” and that “his conduct was good.” He also records the stoning of James, and mentions that he was the brother of Jesus.

Celsus: He gets the story wrong, believing that during some time spent in  Egypt Jesus got his miraculous powers, but in saying this, he is acknowledging that Jesus was able to perform miracles.

Tacitus: A respected governmental leader, the statement which follows sounds like it was ripped directly out of The Apostles Creed: “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”

Thallus: This First Century author’s works no longer exist, but fortunately for our sake, he was quoted by another writer when he stated that, “there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down.”

Phlegon: The same author who quoted Thallus, Julius Africanus, quotes Phlegon as verifying Luke’s date-stamp that these events took place “in the time of Tiberius Caesar,” and also records the crucifixion day darkness as an eclipse which is a reasonable explanation.

The Disciples: Let’s face it, we know from outside sources that they were willing to die for their beliefs. Can’t overlook that. (Staying on the purpose of the list, which we would also call ‘extra-Biblical sources,’ Alisa didn’t add the Bible’s own claim that the resurrected Jesus was seen by over 500 people before the ascension.)

Pliny the Younger: He records Christian worship — Book of Acts style — and notes the personal ethical integrity of the early Christians. They were people you could count on.

Lucian of Samosata: You know you’ve arrived when you turn up in the late night talk show monologues. Lucian was a satirist. Think “The Onion.” But in a more sober moment he notes that, “it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”

I’ve greatly shortened Alisa’s material here in order to ENCOURAGE you again to read it on her website. Click here to read 10 Historical Facts… You’ll find fuller quotations, source footnotes for everything cited here, and over 70 reader comments.

…So, for my regular devotional readers, I know what you’re thinking today, “Where’s the green?” (We always put scripture verses in green here, to show that the scriptures contain a life that our own words do not.)

Well, that’s just the point. Sometimes you have go beyond the Bible to impress on someone the historical veracity and reliability of the Jesus narrative. Which brings me to one last extra-Biblical source that wasn’t in her list:

You. I want to avoid the cliché that “you are the only Bible some people will ever read;” but don’t minimize the power of your own testimony; the story of your own life-change. In apologetics, you can argue with a proposition, but it’s hard to argue with a story when the person is standing right there sharing it.

 

 

May 28, 2020

What Do You Have to Have, to Have a Church?

Readers: This week you’re getting a double dose of Clarke Dixon’s writing. This was an extra item he posted on his blog, and then tomorrow, we’ll pick up where Clarke left us working our way through Matthew 7.

by Clarke Dixon

When I wrote this back in 2016 I did not realize that in 2020 we would not have what we normally have. Thank the Lord we still have what we have to have to have a church!

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.

What 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.

There 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” (1 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!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Scripture references today are taken from the NRSV.

 

 

December 29, 2019

When We Speak of Joining a “Faith Community”

He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
 -Acts 9:2 NIV

At that point Felix, who was quite familiar with the Way, adjourned the hearing and said, “Wait until Lysias, the garrison commander, arrives. Then I will decide the case.”
 -Acts 24:22 NIV

This article took a long and roundabout route to get here. I do think his point is worth your time. Dr. Ed Searcy is a retired minister in the United Church of Canada in Vancouver. You can read more on his blog, Holy Scribbler. Or click the header which follows:

The Problem with Calling the Church a Faith Community

In recent years it has become common place in The United Church of Canada and beyond to speak of the church as a “community of faith” and to refer to congregations as “faith communities”. I suspect that this shift in language has been made in order to include ministries that are not patterned on a congregational template. This generic designation is also seen to allow for a sense of shared identity when in an inter-faith context. Some report it is language that is invitational to seekers. However, in adopting such a change it is worth stopping to note the problems inherent in calling the church a “community of faith”.

First, by speaking of religious communities as “faith-based” we reveal our captivity to modernity’s definition of faith. In this modern paradigm those who live in the “real world” of the market and of military might are not living by faith. Such people are “realists” who base their judgments on facts and figures. Yet coming to the conclusion that this “real world” is ultimate reality is itself an act of faith.  Everyone lives by faith in something or someone. There is no community that is not living by faith. The church is called to reveal the illusory nature of the so-called “real world” which pretends that it is not based on faith. Adopting contemporary culture’s designation of the church as a “faith community” suggests that we have forgotten that the offers of a good life marketed on all sides are offers based on faith. In such a world it is imperative the church bears prophetic witness that there is no such thing as a non-faith community. The question is not whether to have faith or not to have faith. The question is “In what or in whom will we place our trust.”

The second problem with calling the church a “faith community” is that this focuses attention on us. The issue becomes our faith or lack thereof. The human actors in the drama become the subject. Then theology (talk about God) is essentially anthropology (talk about us). We get to God through our faith. In this we imagine that Christianity is akin to every other religion. All religions, we assume, are about the human desire to connect with the divine. This is what we mean, so we think, when we identify ourselves as participants in a community of faith. Before we know it our worship and our life together puts the emphasis on us, on our needs and desires, on our doubts and our beliefs. God becomes the backdrop on which the human drama unfolds.

But the drama at the heart of Christianity is not human faith in God. The drama at the heart of Christianity is the faithfulness of God revealed in Jesus Christ. God is the subject, the church is the predicate. In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we discover that the God who has promised to save and heal is carrying through on those promises. The faith of the church is the result of the faithfulness of God. Our faith is a sign of God’s faithfulness. Such faith as we may have in God is a gift the Holy Spirit – a gift from God. To say that the church is a community of faith is to say that it is a community that is always being formed by God’s faithfulness. The emphasis is to be on God’s faithfulness rather than on our response. Alas, while we may pay lip service to God our sermons and board meetings often move immediately to the matter of how we will accomplish what God is apparently leaving undone. Parker Palmer has called this temptation in the church our “functional atheism”. While we speak about God we do not act in ways that suggest we trust God to be redeeming creation and us with it.

We would be wise to remember names which have been used to identify Christian communities in the past (the following terms are described in more detail at the gathering). There is the name “church” derived from a Greek word meaning “of the Lord”. Not “people of faith” but “people of the Lord”. The first Christians were called people of “The Way” (Acts 9:2). This identifies disciples of Jesus as a people who think and act and live in the Way of Christ. This is much more specific than “faith communities”. It reminds us of the oddness that sets apart Christian communities because of the faithfulness of Jesus. Early Christians also called their communities “Ekklesia” (as in “ecclesial”). They borrowed this title – that means “called out to meet” – from the gatherings of free men who met to discuss matters of importance. Now slave and free, male and female, Gentile and Jew were gathering in a new kind of Ekklesia because Jesus, the Servant Lord, was the head of this surprising household (for a contemporary example visit the Ekklesia Project).

The oldest name for Christian gatherings was inherited from its Jewish roots. It is the word “synagogue” or “gathering”, often translated as “congregation”. The congregation is made up of those being caught up in the drama of the faithfulness of God. The recovery of names such as these is a useful corrective to the generic language of “faith community”. Along with recovering ancient names for Christian community I suggest we encourage one another to be creative with contemporary language in order to name something of the peculiarity, specificity and wonder of Christian communal life today.

 

 

December 11, 2019

The Early Christian Writings Bring Hope

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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I was surprised yesterday when one of the devotionals I subscribe to included a brief excerpt from The New Testament in Its World by N.T. Wright and Michael Bird. Taking a course with N.T. Wright this summer, I am beginning to form a much clearer picture of the context in which the gospels and epistles were written.

The New Testament in Its World:An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians (Zondervan) is a rather large book (992 pages) which probably exceeds the price range of many readers here. But I thought I’d bring you an excerpt of the excerpt.

Receiving Hope and Sharing Hope

by N. T. Wright and Michael F. Bird
from The New Testament in Its World

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…
 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:5-7, Romans 15:13

The purpose of Scripture, Paul says in Romans 15:4, is so that “we might have hope.” He was speaking, of course, of Israel’s scriptures [the Old Testament], but with hindsight the same applies to the early Christian writings [the New Testament].

If that is so, then a prominent purpose of New Testament study ought to be to explain and illuminate the substance of that hope. In fact, we could even say that the mission of the Church is to share and reflect the future hope as the New Testament presents it.

Hope is, in fact, the foundation for the daily workings of a church.

Where the Church Can Spread Hope

Faithful Christian ministry will often take Jesus’ followers to places where hope is in short supply:

  • places where a sense of hopelessness hangs over a community
  • where the effects of global financial chaos are still in effect
  • where there is unemployment and family breakdown
  • where refugees feel alienated and despised in their adopted homes
  • where racial injustice is regarded as a kind of ugly normality that we have to put up with, and xenophobia is part of normal political rhetoric

We are called to work with, and for:

  • people who are one illness away from financial ruin
  • people who fear for their children’s safety when walking down the street
  • people who find that cultural elites mock and attack them because they do not signal “progressive virtues”
  • communities where politics means partisan policies on the one hand and acute apathy on the other
  • a world in which, while all this is going on, the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer

To such places, and the sad people who live in them, as well as to those who find themselves battered by circumstances beyond their control, the message of Jesus and His death and resurrection comes as good news from a far country, news of surprising hope.

The Church, in the power of the Spirit, must signal in its life and teaching that there is:

  • more to being human than mere survival
  • more than hedonism and power
  • more than ambition and entertainment

Life… does have purpose; there is comfort for those weighed down by moral injury; narcissism is not the true “normal;” there is something more powerful than economics and bombs.

There really is a different way to be human, and it has been decisively launched with Jesus.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

 

May 24, 2019

Urgently Wanting Something May Be a Sign of Bitterness

We’ve previously run some devotional articles by Jay Mankus who writes at Express Yourself 4 Him, and for today’s selection, I wrestled with three equally interesting pieces. The one below I read three times and each time through I was impressed by how the Biblical text weaved in and out of the application, and how the paragraph that one might expect to come first came at the end.

But more than the writing, I wondered if there were times in my life when I was like the character in the Biblical narrative. As always, click the title below to read this at source. There’s also a bonus article and each one is accompanied by a Christian music video at his site.

Provoked by Bitterness and Bound by Sin

If you blessed to be around a newborn baby or infant eager to start crawling, you will witness periodical tantrums. Some will signal moms that it’s time to breast feed or change a dirty diaper. Prior to being able to speak, crying, fussing and screaming are signs of displeasure and unhappiness. When you examine these fits of rage from a biblical perspective, knee jerk reactions from any human being are often provoked by bitterness.

18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this authority and power too, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit,” Acts 8:18-19.

There is where parenting will influence and shape the character of a child. If parents allow children to get everything they want as soon as he or she cries, the more spoiled this individual will become over time. This display of bitterness is a sign that the human flesh, known as the sinful nature is alive and well. Anyone not trained or taught to resist this urge, will be provoked by bitterness and bound to sin.

20 But Peter said to him, “May your money be destroyed along with you, because you thought you could buy the [free] gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart (motive, purpose) is not right before God. 22 So repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, this thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are provoked by bitterness and bound by sin,” Acts 8:20-23.

During a trip to Samaria, Luke records an interesting conversation between Peter and a magician called Simon. Based upon the passage above, Simon appears to have been spoiled in his younger years, normally getting whatever he wants. Subsequently, Simon offers Peter a bribe, attempting to receive the Holy Spirit through a cash exchange. However, this isn’t how God works. When motives are impure, prayer is necessary to get yourself right before God. Yet, unless you deal with bitterness and sin in a biblical manner, healing won’t occur. Fasting, prayer and seeking godly counsel are steps on the road to recovery. The best therapy to overcome the root of bitterness is meditating on the Word of God. Exercising spiritual disciplines will release you from the bondage of sin.


Here’s a bonus article by the same author:

The Synagogue of the Freedmen

A synagogue is the building or location where a Jewish assembly meets for religious worship and instruction. In biblical times, small towns and villages with less than ten men met out in the open, often along the banks of a river or sea. One of these places of worship was known as the Synagogue of the Freedmen. These individuals were of collection of freed Jewish slaves from Alexandria, Asia, Cilicia and Cyrene. Past experiences as slaves created an instant bond for these men.

However, some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (freed Jewish slaves), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [the province of] Asia, rose up and questioned and argued with Stephen, Acts 6:9.

Based upon the passage above, the members of this synagogue felt threatened by Jesus. Perhaps this community of believers was afraid of change, especially to Jewish traditions that they embraced. Thus, their reaction to Jesus being the long awaited Messiah was similar to the chief priest and Pharisees who crucified Jesus. Subsequently, the Synagogue of the Freedmen began a smear campaign against Stephen. This newly appointed apostle was bombarded by a character assassination provoked and incited by the people.

51 “You stiff-necked and stubborn people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always actively resisting the Holy Spirit. You are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained and delivered to you by angels, and yet you did not obey it!” – Acts 7:51-53

Stephen was put on trial, forced to give an account of the false accusations made against him. It’s unclear whether or not the Synagogue of the Freedmen were pawns urged by religious leaders or willing participants. Regardless of the motives, Stephen blames this behavior on resisting the Holy Spirit. Any type of change is difficult. However, when you make a decision to dedicate your life to Jesus, this means living by a new set of standards, the Bible. Stephen was stoned to death and other Christians were persecuted. As modern souls wrestle to make spiritual decisions today, the fear of change remains. For anyone still on the fence, may your hearts and minds embrace the Holy Spirit.

May 8, 2019

Can’t Stop Talking

One of the first people I truly “met” online was Christian Blogger Rick Apperson who is a Salvation Army officer in British Columbia, Canada and also the author of Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ, published by Westbow. His blog, Just A Thought was somewhat inactive when I last checked in 2017, but this week I discovered he is back writing. I thought this article would be a good fit here. Click the header below to read it on the blog.

I’ve Seen too Much

Peter and John were hauled before the leaders and told in no uncertain terms they could not talk about Jesus Christ. They were threatened and that threat was real, palpable. Yet Peter and John, in the face of pressure were able to say:

“As for us, we can’t stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)

Think about that for a moment. These two had every reason to NOT speak abut Jesus. Most people threatened with prison, beatings, death…they would hesitate to continue a course of action that would see that as the end result. Jesus was gone. Taken up into heaven. Peter and John could have very easily pulled back from their public proclamations.

Instead they said they couldn’t stop speaking about what they had seen and heard!

They had a testimony!

Later in Acts we see that James was beheaded and Stephen was stoned to death. Peter was thrown in prison. There were consequences for speaking about this Jesus.

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3)

I think about the state of our faith today.

It seems many have gotten distracted by the “culture wars” and, at least on social media, people seem angrier and have wrapped themselves in an “us against them” mentality. Christians seem to want to fight politically (at least in the US) to stop “those people” from winning! I have to say that the “sins” of society will not be won politically! We can try to legislate morality but political gains will not change the hearts of man. Government funding may allow Christian organizations to keep doing our social service activities but it won’t save lives from the pit of hell!

We need to get back to the Peter and John way of communicating. We need to stop talking about what we’re against/for and start telling our stories.

We have a testimony!

I have seen too much. People may doubt the existence of God but I have seen the sick miraculously healed. I have personally seen the impossible become possible. I have seen not only healings but miraculous acts of provision where no other explanation is possible. I have seen God move in my own life. To that I can testify!

Let us remember how the Lord has moved in and through our lives and then proclaim HIM boldly!


This song was recorded in 1997. (In case the clothing doesn’t give that away.) Still, this song came to mind after reading Rick’s article. I didn’t realize it was Hillsong.


Read Rick’s other articles here at C201.

August 2, 2018

Stuck in a Moment

by Clarke Dixon

Feeling stuck? Like things will never change? Could be your health, family dynamics, marriage, or work. You have given up on expecting a miracle. You have settled into a new normal and it is not a good normal. You are “stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it” to borrow a line from U2. It feels like the likelihood of things changing is zero.

The apostle Paul’s letter to Philemon speaks of a situation where change hardly seemed possible. Slavery was a societal norm which was not going away anytime soon. It was just the way things were. This could work out okay for some who had good masters. It could be miserable for those who didn’t. Society itself was stuck in a moment and couldn’t get out of it. Paul’s letter to Philemon does not give any hope of change happening soon. Slavery will continue in the empire. In fact Paul didn’t just send a letter to Philemon about slavery, he sent back a slave, Onesimus, who had run away from Philemon. We might think “poor slave”, sent back to the same old, back to being stuck in a moment that he can’t get out of.

What do we think Paul would write in the letter which accompanies Onesimus? Might he say something like “be sure to make an example of your runaway so that no others will sin against you like he did?” Or, “be sure that justice is served”? Let’s read what Paul has to say to Philemon about his runaway slave:

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. Philemon 1:8-21 (NIV emphasis added)

Fact is, while slavery continued, there were great changes happening behind the scenes. There was great hope for Onesimus, not because the institution of slavery was changing within the Roman empire, but because people and relationships were being changed within the God’s Kingdom.

Among Christians relationships were changing due to a wiping away of class distinctions:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)

While Roman society kept plugging along as it was, the Christian Church was a different kind of community. Slaves were children of God in Christ as much as anyone else. No matter one’s identity and status within the empire, all were brothers and sisters in God’s Kingdom.

Relationships were changing in another way.  There was a wiping away of personal offense. Philemon was not explicitly asked to forgive Onesimus, but it is implied. The Christian community was a forgiven people who were learning to forgive. Onesimus may have been stuck as a slave thanks to Roman societal norms, but his future never looked brighter thanks to the big changes the Gospel of Jesus was bringing to his world.

So what has this to do with the moment we might be stuck in? When we are stuck in a sticky spot and are not counting on a change anytime soon, we can focus on the things that are changing. Our health may not change, but our relationship with God, and others, can deepen. You might feel stuck, and that no one around will ever change, but you can.

It would seem that Paul prayed the Serenity Prayer long before it was written. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things that cannot change. . . ” Society was stuck with slavery. ” . . . the courage to change the things I can . . .”. The Church was a community made of up changed and changing people thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit. “. . . and the wisdom to know the difference”. Paul had the wisdom to leave the sins of the empire alone. But he did what he could to see great changes for both Philemon and Onesimus.

When we seem to be stuck in a moment we cannot get out of, God grant us the serenity to accept the things that are not going to change, and the courage to join with God in the change He is brings, especially in us through His Holy Spirit.


Listen or download the 34 minute sermon on which this is based: Click here.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

July 28, 2018

Final Words

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

This appeared last month at DailyEncouragement.net. Stephen and Brooksyne Weber told the story of a friend who, in his final blog post wrote, “We may not be in contact with you again on this side of eternity. But remember that if you have placed your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, we will meet with you again in heaven.”

They then continued this theme…

Ending Well

“And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face” (Acts 20:25).

…Of course that’s true, in a sense it’s always true, for we never know when our time with those we love will be over.

It also brought to mind Paul’s words in our daily text. He is saying farewell to the Ephesian elders after his ministry among them in a very moving sermon (Acts 20). Early in the message he informed them, “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face”.

As Paul prepares to finally leave we have these words,

“When he (Paul) had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship” (Acts 20:36-38).

One lesson I learned early in life and have sought to practice all the years following is to “end well”. I believe this should apply to all our relationships in life, especially our spiritual ones. Our daily verse may seem a bit unusual without its fuller context. Paul had just preached a dynamic sermon to the Ephesian elders, a moving and challenging farewell before his trip to Jerusalem. (I have used this portion of Scripture in bidding farewell on our final Sunday to each church I’ve pastored.)

After his message they knelt and prayed together and “they all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.” Can you picture the emotions of those gathered with Paul in this setting? Have you had similar experiences in life? I hope so.

What really moved the group to tears was a statement Paul had made in the sermon that he would never see them again (v. 25). Consider how we would react in the fellowship transactions of life if we knew we would never see someone again. Normally, except in the case of gathering around a deathbed, we anticipate that sometime in the future we will meet together again, especially in our day of modern communications and transportation.

I’m sure we would go to extraordinary means to express our love and to show how much that person has meant to us if it was a final good-bye. The fact is, we really don’t know when we bid a loved one “farewell” whether we will see them again (at least on this side of eternity). I don’t want to sound morbid, but it’s a fact of life. Live in such a way that those who mean a great deal to you will know of your love and appreciation, not just during farewells.

Thankfully, Paul did keep contact with this church through his letter to the Ephesians!

 

 

July 22, 2018

The Head of the Small “c” church and The Head of the Capital “C” Church

We’re back for a fourth time with Art Toombs Ministries.  Be sure to check out his archives of scriptures covered in past posts; you never know when you might need it. To read today’s item at source, and then look around the site, simply click the title below.

This particular post lands here at C201 on a Sunday, which is normally the day for our Sunday Worship feature. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Many people truly give their leaders worship that should only be due Christ. Such leaders are applauded and given palatial homes and cars and shown a reverence that should only be given to Christ. To an outsider, in some such churches it would be hard to pin down who it is that is revered and honored.

The Head of the Church

1 Corinthians 3: 1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. (NKJV)

The writer of 1 Corinthians is the apostle Paul. He wrote this letter to the church at Corinth, Greece during his third missionary journey. The church was established by Paul during his second missionary journey when he ministered in Corinth for a year and a half during A. D. 51-52.

Paul wrote this letter during his two year and three-month ministry in Ephesus, Asia in A. D. 54-56. It was actually his second letter to the church (1 Cor. 5:9). However, the first letter obviously was lost. The purpose of this letter is to emphasize that Jesus is our Lord and Master.

Paul had started the church in Corinth and had stayed on for one and a half years before turning it over to Apollos to run. It has come to Paul’s attention that there is dissension in the church because some of the new converts are following Paul while others are following Apollos.

Paul writes to the church and explains their spiritual condition. He refers to the members as “babes in Christ” because they are still worldly and have not matured as believers (v. 1). He says they are still worldly and therefore must still be on “milk, not solid food” because they are still babes in Christ (v. 2).

Paul defines a carnal Christian as one who is guilty of “envy, strife, and divisions among you” (v. 3a). He says their behavior is “carnal” because they are divided over “mere men”, servants like Paul and Apollos, instead of being united under the Lord (vv. 3b-4).

God in His grace had given the Corinthian believers two wonderful “ministers”, Paul and Apollos (v. 5). Instead of being thankful for these ministers the church had split their loyalty between the two. Instead, they should have been united under the leadership of, not one or the other but, the Lord.

Each minister was provided by God for a specific use. Paul “planted” and Apollos “watered” (v. 6a). Paul brought the Gospel to the unbelievers in Corinth and planted the Word of God in their hearts. Apollos then came along and ministered to them.

However, none of that would have been enough to grow the church if God had not “gave the increase” (v. 6b). God, the Holy Spirit, convicts and converts unbelievers into believers.

Jesus Christ is Head of the church. He is the One we should follow. We should be thankful for our ministers and we should respect them as representatives of Christ.

However, we should never allow our loyalties to be divided between them. Our loyalty should always be with Jesus Christ and our goal should always be to please Him

 

July 2, 2018

The Enemy Targets Spiritual Play-Makers

The website Dust Off the Bible has been running a detailed series of posts on Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Specifically these include:

 

Acts Devotional Commentary [Acts 6:8-15] Stephen Seized

Acts 6:8-15

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.


Reflections & Commentary


The seizing of Saint Stephen is a story that Luke tells with enough detail that one needs to read slowly through the passage, as to not miss an important facet of the story.

The first detail that Luke provides is that Stephen was not just another ordinary member of the Christian community. He was known throughout the people.

“a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people”

So, the Jewish leaders were not picking people indiscriminately to harass. They were looking to take out the play makers. Like dealing with the disciples, they assume that taking out the leaders of a movement will help dissolve it. This tactic thus far has not proven to be effective. Why they think it will work still, even after they’ve seen it fail, is difficult to know.

Luke’s second area of detail is about the people who rose up to complain about Stephen. Luke refers to them as “members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen“. Who exactly was Luke referring to? Were these Roman slaves that were now free? Were they Jews who believed in hedonism? Were they prisoners set free? Luke gives a little help to answering this question in the next sentence; “Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia“. These Freedmen were part of the North African and Western Asian Jewish diaspora. The people named by Luke are two different synagogues, as they are thousands of miles apart, yet they both contained Jewish Freedmen. The diasporic Freedmen existed in both synagogues, as they were the natural product of the diaspora.

Philo speaks of these Jews as former slaved brought into Rome who lived near the Tiber River.

How then did he look upon the great division of Rome which is on the other side of the river Tiber, which he was well aware was occupied and inhabited by the Jews? And they were mostly Roman citizens, having been emancipated; for, having been brought as captives into Italy, they were manumitted by those who had bought them for slaves, without ever having been compelled to alter any of their hereditary or national observances. (156) Therefore, he knew that they had synagogues, and that they were in the habit of visiting them, and most especially on the sacred sabbath days, when they publicly cultivate their national philosophy. He knew also that they were in the habit of contributing sacred sums of money from their first fruits and sending them to Jerusalem by the hands of those who were to conduct the sacrifices. (157) But he never removed them from Rome, nor did he ever deprive them of their rights as Roman citizens, because he had a regard for Judaea…. (Philo, Legato ad Gaium 13:155-156)

These Jews were likely part of the Jewish expulsion from Rome that took place under Tiberius, in 19 CE. Tacitus describes them as being “tainted with superstition” which was a reference to their religion. They were expelled to Sardinia.

There was a debate too about expelling the Egyptian and Jewish worship, and a resolution of the Senate was passed that four thousand of the freedmen class who were infected with those superstitions and were of military age should be transported to the island of Sardinia, to quell the brigandage of the place, a cheap sacrifice should they die from the pestilential climate. The rest were to quit Italy, unless before a certain day they repudiated their impious rites. (Tacitus 2.85)

The Island of Sardinia was west of Italy, nowhere near near Northern Africa or Western Asia. So were the Freedmen of this island the same as the Freedmen that rose up against Stephen? It’s quite possible that Luke is referring to 3 groups of people, or that the Freedmen from Sardinia migrated after being expelled to the island. Some of the Jews were also later expelled from Rome who were partly made up of Freedmen. Where they ended up in the diaspora is hard to know except that it appears that some ended up in Northern Africa and South West Asia (Turkey).

But why would these Freedmen start a quarrel with Stephen? I think the answer is more obvious than it might first appear. They were already enslaved by Rome. They wanted no beef with the leaders that had set them free. The preaching of Jesus in any location near the Jewish Freedmen would have set off alarm bells, and aroused fear that another Roman crackdown was coming. So, they did what anyone would do in that situation; they took Stephen to the Sanhedrin for court.

However, Stephen uses his platform (despite it being in captivity) to preach the gospel (yet again) to the men in the Sanhedrin council. A gospel they surely are tired of hearing about.

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