Category Archives: Dysfuncational

Urban Organic Function (1)

The function of the church in large urban centers is different than the social environment of rural areas. Since the members of the body in urban centers are faced with special problems in reference to remaining in contact with one another, we believe the Holy Spirit recorded for us a situation of organic dysfunction in the historical context of the early church. The “neglect of widows” was the ideal example to illustrate some of the obstacles the members of the body in urban centers must overcome in order to fulfill the mandate that widows are to be a part of the contribution of the church in any particular city (See Js 1:27). We are sure that the Jerusalem church fell short in other areas of function. However, dysfunction in the area that identified the fellowship of the one body was critical. The care for widows and orphans defined the church as an organic body that has the heart of God for people (See 1 Jn 3:10-24). For this reason, the Holy Spirit moved the mind of Luke to record this historical case of dysfunction in order to give us solutions on how to function as the organic body, even in the complexities and complications of large urban centers.

A. Identifying dysfunctions:

The first lesson we learn from this historical incident is in reference to a dysfunction in the organic body in concerning widows. Because the members of the church in Jerusalem were meeting in different homes throughout the city did not justify this dysfunction. It seems that some Hebraic groups had become so autonomous from one another that the Grecian widows actually became anonymous from them. Regardless of the cause, the dysfunction had to be corrected.   Solutions had to be made in order to correct this dysfunction in the entire body in Jerusalem.

Keep in mind that the dysfunction in distribution to the Grecian widows was realized because there were those who saw it as dysfunctional behavior among all the members of the church in Jerusalem.   They realized that the organic function of the body among all the members who were assembling in the approximate 800 groups throughout the city was actually behavior that was not worthy of the gospel. It revealed that some were not living in a manner that was worthy of the gospel that brought all them together into one body in Christ.

Great shepherds among us will always know their Bibles well enough to identify areas where we are not functioning according to the gospel. And when they speak out concerning dysfunctional body behavior, the body must listen. This is the focus of Paul’s instructions to the elders of the body. In listing qualities that the shepherds must have, Paul wrote that “an elder must” hold “fast the faithful word as he has been taught, so that he may be able by sound teaching both to exhort and refute those who contradict” (Ti 1:9). In the context of the Acts 6 dysfunction, though not mentioned, there may have been elders who initially brought the matter before the apostles.

Do not be surprised that we suggest that there were designated elders among the disciples at this time in the history of the church in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas designated elders in the cities of Lystra, Iconium and Antioch when the older Jewish men in these cities were only about six months in the faith.   Simply because Luke does not mention elders in the historical narrative of Acts before Acts 11:30 is not proof that there were no elders in the Jerusalem church.

The matter of dysfunction in distribution was brought before the apostles only because the apostles were still in the city at the time. The disciples, including possibly the elders, wanted to bring the “neglect problem” before the apostles in order to determine if there was any revelation from the Holy Spirit on this subject (See At 2:42). Since the church was in existence from three to four years by the time we get to Acts 6, it would be reasonable to conclude that some Jewish elders had been converted. This would be a valid assumption, especially in view of the fact of what was stated in Acts 5:7, that a great number of the priests were obedient to the faith. It would be logical to think that there were designated elders among the several thousand Christians in Jerusalem at the time.   Either these elders, or some other concerned members, identified the neglect of the Grecian widows to be a flaw in the organic function of the body. They knew the truth of God on this matter well enough to know that the “neglect problem” had to be corrected.

[Next in series, September 19]


Dysfunctional Challenges

From the beginning in Acts 2, the number of saints in Jerusalem grew from an initial infusion of 3,000 gospel obedient members—some of whom were traveling visitors for the Passover/Pentecost feast who later went home—to well over five thousand men three to four years later who were local residents (See At 4:4). These members were meeting in homes throughout the metropolitan area of Jerusalem at the time Luke inscribed the historical statement of Acts 4:4. If the 5,000 men of Acts 4:4 could be doubled to include the same number of women, and then conservatively add about two children per family, then by the time Luke made the statement there could have been well over 20,000 individuals of the church of Jerusalem within three or four years after the events of Acts 2.

Since there were no church buildings, civic halls, or public schools in which these Christians could meet on Sunday morning, of necessity they met in their homes. (The meetings outside in the temple courtyard of Acts 5:42 were evangelistic, not worship assemblies of the saints). The point is that the saints were meeting in homes throughout the city by the time of the dysfunctional distribution to widows that is recorded in Acts 6:1-6.

If we would suppose there were an average of about twenty-five people who could meet in any particular home in Jerusalem, then this would be an approximate number of 800 assemblies of the disciples in different homes throughout the city. Because of our experience with the disciples meeting in homes, people of like mind often gravitate to those with whom they feel comfortable. For example, those who speak a common language naturally gravitate to those house churches where a common language is spoken.

This would only be natural. In a small social environment the most inner feelings of one’s heart can be expressed only in one’s native language. And when there is only an average of about twenty-five people in the group meetings in Jerusalem, it was simply a natural thing that there be a common language that was spoken in each small house assembly.

We have found that most Bible interpreters forget this very important historical setting of the early church in all the cities of the Roman Empire where there were Christians. Because Bible interpreters have ignored the house assembly context and function of the early disciples, they often do not understand completely contexts as Acts 6 in the historical setting of the times.

When we step into the historical context of Acts 6, the Grecian Jews who spoke Koine Greek were meeting in homes that spoke primarily the Greek language. These were Jews who evidently grew up in Greek-speaking areas outside Jerusalem, but later migrated to the metropolitan area of Jerusalem. And since they were probably migrants to the area, then they were possibly living in the lower economic suburbs of the city because they were not connected to the established financial heritage of the local resident Jews, which Jews spoke Hebrew, or Aramaic.

Those local resident Jews who spoke Hebrew, or Aramaic, were meeting in homes that spoke the common local language, possibly homes that were in the upper economic or established suburbs of the city.   Because the approximate 800 assemblies were conducted throughout different suburbs of the city, we would certainly assume that none of the members of the 800 assemblies knew all those who met in all the assemblies. This would especially be true if the house groups were located in different economic suburbs of the city. It would simply be unreasonable to think that all the members knew the approximate 20,000 plus individuals of the church of Jerusalem during the three to four years since the beginning in Acts 2. This would particularly be true because of the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem, especially since Luke makes the point of growth when he introduced the problem of the neglected widows (At 6:1).

In small groups people naturally have a tendency to bond closely with one another. Those of a common language and culture simply gravitate to one another, and subsequently bond around their common means of communication. There is nothing abnormal about this. It is simply the way God made us. We can imagine, therefore, how difficult it would have been for many of the disciples in Jerusalem, who did not share a common language or culture, to know those of different languages or cultures. This would especially be true if there were new converts in many different suburbs of the city, and thus, many new assemblies in the city since the initial Pentecost three to four years before.

This would be a particular challenge for those groups in the upper economic, or locally cultured suburbs of the city, to know those of the lower economic suburbs. There were simply too many groups and too many differences for all the saints to know all the saints. This seems to be the historical setting that led to the dysfunction that is recorded in Acts 6. The Grecian Jewish widows were being “neglected in the daily distribution of food” because they were not known by the groups who were taking care of their own widows (At 6:1).

We do not know all the reasons for this neglect, but for some reason the lack of fair distribution was occurring among the disciples in Jerusalem after three or four years from the beginning of the church in Acts 2. Understanding how the early church solved the problems does give us a great deal of information concerning how the early disciples allowed the gospel to move them as an organic body. The occasion also provides us with a “mission textbook” on urban evangelism.   Jerusalem was a typical multiple cultural city of the ancient world. The organic function of the church in the city, therefore, provides a great deal of information on how the organic body of Christ should function in urban centers.

[Next in series, September 16]




Learning from Dysfunctions (2)

Sometimes we spend so much time in the New Testament discussing, or debating, doctrinal points that we often fail to investigate the function of the early disciples as the organic body of Christ. In our quest to discover and implement doctrinal purity, we often overlook those areas of behavior where some early disciples dysfunctionally lived the gospel they had obeyed. Even more striking in our dichotomous religiosity in these matters, we are zealous in bringing an individual to the point of salvation, but while he is still dripping wet, we fail to enlist the baptized believer into the ranks of the organic army of God. The Holy Spirit wanted to exhort some in the Philippian church in this matter by reminding them that their behavior as disciples must always reflect the gospel that they obeyed: Only let your behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Ph 1:27).

Since our behavior as Christians must reflect the gospel that we have obeyed, then it is imperative that we study in the New Testament those examples where the Holy Spirit recorded dysfunctions in the organic body. We must turn to the record of what was recorded with the same zeal by which the Holy Spirit encouraged the early disciples to consider the Old Testament examples. “For whatever things were written before [in the Old Testament] were written for our learning (Rm 15:4).   The same exhortation was written to the disciples in Achaia: “Now these things happened to them [the Israelites] as an example, and they were written [in the Old Testament] for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Co 10:11).

Organic dysfunctions of the body of Christ in the first century were not recorded by the Holy Spirit for the simple purpose of filling in historical material of the early church. The record of these dysfunctions in the body is in our hands today for a purpose. Since all inspired Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Tm 3:16), then we would correctly assume that the Holy Spirit would record examples in the New Testament that we could examine, which examples illustrated dysfunctional behavior on the part of some early disciples. We must assume, therefore, that these recorded examples of dysfunctional behavior on the part of some were recorded for our correction and instruction in righteousness.

We must never allow all the noise that hovers around debates over doctrine to draw our attention away from examples of organic dysfunctions that reveal we may not be worthy of the gospel we obeyed. For example, we have found that we are quite hypocritical in this matter in reference to the Lord’s Supper. We will strive over matters surrounding the Lord’s Supper, when the Holy Spirit says at the same time, “Do not strive about words to no profit” (2 Tm 2:14). We divide over the Lord’s Supper that was instituted to remind us that we are one united body because of our common obedience to the gospel (1 Co 10:16,17). We sometimes become hypocritical humbugs in these matters.

The Holy Spirit wanted us to understand that when He recorded dysfunctional behavior on the part of the early disciples, He wanted us to be reproved by the examples of bad behavior. And in being reproved, He wanted us to refrain from such dysfunctional organic behavior that does not reflect the full power of the gospel in our lives.

The Spirit said this clearly through the pen of Paul: “If you then were raised with Christ [through obedience to the gospel], seek those things that are above” (Cl 3:1). The word “seek” in this statement goes far beyond mental assent.   Reference is to letting our behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Ph 1:27). When our minds are focused on the resurrected and reigning Son of God, then we are encouraged to behave in a manner that is worthy of the gospel. We will thus “put to death … fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire,” etc. (Cl 3:5). In contrast to such dysfunctional behavior as members of the body of Christ, we will put on “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another and forgiving one another” (Cl 3:12,13).

It is through the power of the gospel that our lives are transformed from worldly behavior that is dysfunctional according to the gospel. The organic body of Christ functions at its best when all the members put away the dysfunctional behavior that is typical of worldly behavior. Paul’s exhortation to the members of the body in Rome was not without his initial reminder that he was not ashamed of the power of the gospel that would not only save, but would also transform behavior (Rm 1:16):

“Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [that is focused on things above], so that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rm 12:2).

With the preceding thoughts in mind, we must establish a very important foundation upon which to interpret the historical statements concerning the function of the organic body of Christ that are recorded in the New Testament. We must not assume that the recorded historical accounts of the function of the body were arbitrarily placed in the New Testament by the Holy Spirit simply as statements of history. To do such would be assuming that the Holy Spirit simply wanted to give us an historical record of the early church. But in this history, there were dysfunctions of the organic body. We must assume that the Spirit wanted us to learn from the dysfunctions, as well as those times when the early disciples’ lives were worthy of the gospel. Therefore, we must look deeper than the record itself.

We would correctly assume that all historical statements that are recorded in the New Testament are there for the purpose of teaching something greater than the historical statement itself. In other words, we must look beyond the record of the historical events in order to understand what the Holy Spirit was seeking to teach through the function of the incident that is recorded. Since the early gospel-obedient believers sought to live a life that was worthy of the gospel of Christ, then we must seek to understand where they failed in those areas of function that were not according to the gospel.

Since an encyclopedia could have been written by the Holy Spirit to give an account of all the activities of the early church, we must assume, therefore, that those cases that are given were recorded for the purpose of teaching specific lessons. This was the Holy Spirit’s approach in recording key miracles in the life of Jesus.

“Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God …” (Jn 20:30,31).

When come to the book of Acts, we must assume “that many other things happened in the early function of the church that are not recorded, but these events were recorded to teach how we should live according to the gospel.” We therefore come to both correct functions and dysfunctions of the organic body of Christ that are recorded in the New Testament—specifically the book of Acts—with the understanding that these historical accounts were meant to teach how we should live according to the gospel.

[Series to be continued.]

Dysfunctional Organs (1)

“Apartheid” is an Afrikaans word—the language of South Africa—that means “separateness.” The practice of racial and cultural apartheid found its legal roots in South Africa when a system of institutionalized racial segregation was introduced within society in 1948. From that date the system was maintained by the authoritarian political power of one group of citizens over the citizenship of the rest of the country.

The practice of apartheid within South Africa resulted in a system of dysfunctional social stratification, which social system legally prevailed until the early 1990s. However, even after the writing of a new constitution that did away with all the apartheid laws, the embedded social behavior of apartheid continues to this day among all social groups of the country. It is a system of dysfunctional social behavior much like the caste system of India that lingers on today, though the legal restrictions are long gone. Social changes continue long after the demise of legal statutes that seek to regulate society contrary to the principles of the word of God.

We live with the legacy of the dysfunctional social injustice of apartheid even to this day in South Africa. But before we target and criticize South Africa for her brief history of apartheid, we must remember that apartheid has always existed throughout the world. The experts use the word “ethnocentrism” to identify the foundation upon which separateness within societies often prevails. Without the principle of “love-your-neighbor-as-yourself,” apartheid is simply the legalization of ethnocentrism. If we take away legalized apartheid, we still of behave as segregated citizens within a society because of different skin colors or cultures.

We originally began the writing of this book in order to deal with dysfunctional behavior systems among the early disciples.   But the more we focused on the dysfunctional behavior patterns of the early disciples, the more we began to realize that apartheid was strong in the first century, and subsequently found its way into the organic function of the early church. When it came into the fellowship of the church, organic dysfunction resulted because apartheid is against the very core of the gospel.

Apartheid among Christians is contrary to the spirit of the gospel. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Have this mind in you,” he took the Philippians, and us, on a journey of the Son of God across cultural boundaries (Ph 2:5).   Jesus illustrated in His gospel mission that unless He transitioned the separateness between God and man that would eventually lead to the total annihilation of humanity for eternity, He had to destroy the “apartheid” between God and man (See Is 59:2). He had to set an example of a cross-cultural journey that would bring all men of society together into the fellowship of one body. This is gospel.   Therefore, for those who have obeyed the gospel of the Son of God, there can be no apartheid between those who have come into the fold of God’s gospel-obedient people. Because He so loved the world, the Son of God left the culture of heaven in order to cross over into our culture. He did so in order to reconcile all of us together into the united family of God. We must never forget that only in Christ can the following social order prevail over our natural instincts of apartheid:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither bondservant nor free. There is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.

 Galatians 3:26-29