Thursday, May 3, 2018
I had only been in the church for about two and a half years. I was in my first full time work with a wonderful congregation in north Mississippi. For some reason I had the bright idea that anyone who had been a member for twenty years or more would be a Bible scholar. Reality shattered that image. In my disappointment, I wrote to one of the teachers at Freed-Hardeman College complaining about this status. I was looking for advise on how to change this condition and end up with a more scholastic membership.
The reply I expected wasn’t the response I received. The wise professor told me that most of those members had forgotten more Bible than I had learned. He was correct. More study revealed a lesson I needed.
Before Jesus returned to heaven, he told his apostles,
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26 (NIV)
Paul shows us that the saved in Corinth had prophets, language speakers, and teachers who were taught by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3-11, 27-28). Yet, he asked them several times, “Know ye not?” or “Do you not know?” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 5:6; 6:3,9,15,16,19; 9:24; 2 Corinthians 13:5). Was the Holy Spirit remiss in teaching them what they needed to understand? When asking a small child why he did something wrong, the usual response is, “I forgot!” Corinth’s erroneous ways caused them to forget or ignore the Spirit’s teaching. Division left them leaderless by not embracing His inspired teaching. If that could happen to members in the first century, can’t the same process infect our actions today?
Some have the idea that if we had men and women teachers today who were directly inspired by God’s Spirit, our assemblies would always be fresh, uplifting, and without fault. If so, why wasn’t the saved in Corinth, Jerusalem, Ephesus, Sardis, Laodicea, and other locales blessed with that condition? Adam and Eve had the privilege of walking and talking with Yahweh in their morning meetings. They enjoyed perfection! What destroyed that peace that passes all understanding? We’re still doing it today. It is called “sin” or disobedience!
Whether an individual received God’s word through a prophet, or from a volume we call the Bible, hearing divine instruction doesn’t guarantee obedience. People approach God’s word from different backgrounds and with varied perceptions. When the eunuch went on his way rejoicing, and the origin of his understanding traveled in a different direction, what day of the week did he worship on? When Paul and company finished up their first preaching campaign, did each new saved assembly organize Sunday School and build a preacher’s home? Did they take up a collection to buy a box of Matzah bread? Who built the first table with the inscription, “This do in remembrance of me”? Which first century assembly bought a brass communion set? Did each congregation provide its membership with a copy of the “Great Songs of the Church”? Our twenty-first century perceptions may be different from those entertained by first century folks.
Would first century saints find our way of doing things strange? Would their comfort zone drive them to more simplistic gatherings with a different way of expediting what we call a “public worship service”? Would some of our religious dialogue be a foreign language to them? Would we be comfortable in one of their assemblies or wonder, “Why are they not doing things like we do it?”
We may not experience the same problems in understanding and implementing God’s word that first century saints did, but we can still believe and practice the same good news which they enjoyed. We can be thankful for the same grace and forgiveness that blessed them. We can rejoice that Jesus’ blood cleanses us just as well as it cleansed them. Jesus paid it all for them and us. He is the answer to our sin problem! Recognition of that fact could solve a lot of our twenty-first century difficulties.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22 (NIV).