Monday, April 24, 2017
“And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).
By the early 40’s Gentiles were being added to the saved (Acts 10:34-35). When Paul, Barnabas, and company went on their first evangelistic tour, they converted both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 13:46). By the sixties congregations were located around the Mediterranean Sea. Even some in Caesar’s household were believers (Philippians 4:22).
House churches were common during those years (Acts 2:46; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). If you and I had lived in the first century and wanted to “place membership” (join a local body of believers), which one would you be comfortable with (Acts 9:26-27)? Most would want to fellowship a “sound” congregation. Why? To do otherwise would question our faithfulness! So, which first century assembly would we associate with to validate that soundness? Sound saint + sound congregation = safe membership!
Some might be highly motivated to join with the disciples in Jerusalem? After all, it was the “mother” church. The apostles were members. Mary, the mother of Jesus was a member. Paul joined it (Acts 9:26). If it was good enough for Paul, it ought to be good enough for us? Yet, for the first ten years of their existence, uncircumcised Gentile were not welcomed unless they wanted to be made “Jewish.” To visit in an uncircumcised Gentile’s home invited questions concerning one’s soundness (Acts 11:2-3). Some contended that Gentile men could not be saved (be “real” Christians) until they submitted to “private” surgery (Acts 15:1-5). An important church conference was convened in Jerusalem to discuss the matter. However, not every member considered that forum’s decision to be scriptural (Acts 15:6-35; Galatians 1:6-9; 5:1-12). Sometimes fear motivated hypocrisy even in those who were very sound in the faith (Galatians 2:11-12)! The Jerusalem saints continued to be zealous for the Law of Moses and continued to observe that style of worship, including the apostle Paul (Acts 21:18-26). When Paul was with Jewish saints or sinners, he became a Jew. When with Gentile saints or sinners, he became a Gentile. He became weak with those who were weak (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Romans 14). Would we be comfortable in a membership like that? Would we question the soundness of their temple or synagogue visits or a continuation of their zeal for Jewish worship?
If we were in Corinth, would we join in their worship and work, or decide to stay home until they got everything right? After all, can such a problem ridden group actually be Christian? Even if you joined, which denominational group would you be comfortable with (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)? True, some claimed to be “of Christ,” but claims can be far removed from reality. Neither Apollos, Cephas, Paul, nor Christ supported division nor the problems all those groups were involved in. Placing membership? How can one be “sound” in an assembly that isn’t?
What if we resided in Sardis? Would we be excited about joining a dead church or inviting our friends to worship with us (Revelation 3:1)? What kind of worship is engaged in by a dead congregation? What kind of “light” does it give off or influence does it have? Maybe Ephesus would offer a better choice? They were not “dead” like Sardis, they had only left their“first love” (Revelation 2:4)! “Left their first love”? What does THAT look like? How “sound” is that?
With all the problems found in first century assemblies, if one had to be perfect to be sound, which congregation would God honor with that epitaph? Which one would have all the ingredients necessary to make us comfortable in our worship with them? Wouldn’t we be the only perfect/sound individual in the middle of an imperfect/unsound congregation? If a member in any of those first century assemblies died before they reached our vision of perfection, wouldn’t they be eternally lost? Wouldn’t we also be lost by worshiping and working with them? If soundness equals perfection, then the only thing we would be successful in accomplishing would be total failure! If perfection is required and it is our responsibility to possess it, no one from Acts 2 until today have succeeded in acquired it. So, which one would you join? Surely, in 1,900 years, someone has been successful in finding that perfect congregation? Perhaps we should get our eyes off self and redirect them to the perfect Jesus!