My Thoughts. . .
Monday, February 3, 2020
Sometimes we speak generically and assume people understand us. Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes generics are more hurtful than helpful. Preachers often quote Revelation 2:10, “Be thou faithful unto death” and think the hearer knows what the angel meant when he addressed the church in Smyrma. Some may and some may not.
I had been a Christian for three weeks when a new worker joined our force. I asked him what church he attended. When he replied, “The church of Christ,” I was elated. We were members of the one New Testament church! Then he asked me the same question. My reply? “I’m a member of the Central church of Christ.” He quickly informed me that I was not really a Christian because I had been immersed by a preacher who worked with an apostate church. I was a member of an apostate church; he was a member of the true one.
It did not matter that both buildings supported the proper name. Both immersed candidates relying upon Acts 2:38. Both had elders and deacons. Both had preachers. Both believed the New Testament was our covenant. Both believed in giving book, chapter, and verse for our authority. Both believed Jesus had built his church and we were members of it. But he informed me that Central had left the truth because we had added Bible classes to the scriptures. The church in Jerusalem did not have them and neither did his assembly. His winning argument was, “Find the expression ‘Bible classes’ or ‘Sunday School’ in your Bible.” He had nailed my coffin shut! I thought I was saved but wasn’t. I also saw that there were two assemblies claiming to be the first century church that had existed in Jerusalem. There was only one true New Testament church and Central was not it. That was an insurmountable revelation that almost destroyed me. After talking with the preacher, I was convinced that Central was actually the one true church, my fellow workers was the apostate one.
It doesn’t take a novice preacher or experienced one long to recognize that the assembly he is working with isn’t perfect. I knew I wasn’t. I added to the problem rather than being its answer. However, whatever it was that kept us from being perfect, was the very thing stopping us from being the New Testament church. Preachers sometimes move because they find it impossible to bring the assembly into that perfection that must exist. So, a move is engaged in, hoping the next congregation will own that perfection. When it never appears, adjustments must be made to retain one’s salvation despite that shortcoming. Some preachers see their imperfections as minor when compared to the problem’s imperfect elders, or deacons, or both present.
Overlooked in this cesspool of thinking is that the “mother church” did not have the perfection that most assume was there. The apostle’s’ and church’s insight was too shallow to recognize who Jesus alluded to when he commanded, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Their shortsightedness screamed “Jews,” never “Gentiles.” If a Gentile wanted to be in the one body of Christ, he must become a good Jew first by submitting to circumcision. That belief continued for over ten plus years. A church counsel at Jerusalem had to settle it (Acts 15:1, 5). Yet, those in the church who were members of the Pharisee Party continued to make it a Bible command. It wasn’t until Paul wrote to the Galatians that it was labeled as “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6-9; 5:1-12).
If the Jerusalem church is our model, why don’t we meet every day? Why are Gentiles accepted? They did not do so for over ten years. Why don’t we have conferences as they did, making decisions for all congregations without their representation? Why don’t we worship as the Jews did in order to prove we follow the Law of Moses? Why do we not keep the Sabbath as the Jewish church did? Why do we not pay the Jewish priest for animal sacrificing as Paul and the church did? Why don’t we restrict our preaching to the circumcised as the Jerusalem church did for the first ten plus years? We don’t follow them; we pick and choose from them what we practice which is far less than what they did.
There is not one first century assembly that got everything right. None were perfect. None were without sin because none contained a sinless membership. All the correction found in the New Testament was not written to the twenty-first century church, but to the first century one. The two worst congregations were Laodicea and Corinth. Both lacked perfection and inspiration never pronounces them or others as perfect (sinless). What is interesting is that one made Jesus vomit, but they were still in fellowship with him. Corinth had multiple errors and even after the second letter, had not corrected everything. Yet, it was still “the church of God,” “the body of Christ,” and were still indwelt by God.
So, “be faithful unto death” does not mean sinless perfection. Every congregation has sinning preachers, elders, deacons, and members, yet God still indwells and cleanses them. Jesus did not condemn the adulterous woman but told her he would not and then “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Did she live a sinless life after that? Is that what Jesus was saying? If so, what about you and me? If Jesus was saying one must be sinless, then you and I are lost, we just thought we were saved!