Rejection of Rebels, Part 1

It is our human nature to be accepted. We want to feel that we are part of the group.   With all the emotional negatives that come with our inferiority complexes, the group reaffirms that we are important and a part of the team. And when we speak of religious groups, these feelings are intensified. If we are rejected by our peers in faith for some reason, we feel that we are the outcast who in the end will be cast out by God.   When discussing what it takes to stand up as a rebel against apostasy, we must never underestimate our own desires to be accepted. This desire is often greater than our desire to be obedient to the word of God. We too often fear men more than we fear God.

If we would succumb to the pressures of the majority in reference to restoring the authority of the word of God in our belief and behavior, then we should state our complaints before men as Jeremiah and Daniel, men who stood alone in their time to restore the people God to God.   Neither men were intimidated to conform to the majority in their efforts to restore the people of God. One ended up in a pit, and the other in a lions’ den.   What we have discovered, however, is that people are too afraid of pits and lions. The result is that there is no spiritual stamina to stand against the majority that have gone astray. Satan knows this weakness. And because he knows this about our nature, peer pressure is one of the first devices that he uses to silence any opposition against the wayward religious establishment.

We might take another look at how Jesus and the apostles handled rejection. If we would be His disciples, then discipleship means following Him through the storm of rejection that will come to anyone who seeks to be His disciple by being obedient to His commandments.

We seek to be disciples of Jesus. But we often do not understand the extent to which discipleship will lead us. When John inscribed the testimony of the document of John to substantiate the faith of those who believed, we must seriously consider some of his introductory statements. Note John 1:11: “He [Jesus] came to His own and His own did not receive Him.” If we would be the disciple of Jesus, then we must be willing to be rejected by our own who do not follow the commandments of Jesus.

Our desire to be received (accepted) runs powerful through our veins. If we live in a culture that is very traditional, this emotion is intense.   It is for this reason that there are few restoration movements that are generated among those cultures of the world that are very traditional. The desire to be accepted by the people is strong, and thus, any religious rebels to the religious establishment will be intimidated to conform to the majority.   Traditional religions still have their “witch doctors” who stand up and cast spells on those who do not conform to the norm. Jesus came into a very traditional Jewish culture. Because tradition was the foundation of the Jews’ religion, the religious leadership rejected Him because He did not fit into the traditional understanding of who the Messiah should be.

When the “fullness of time” came, the Jews had intensified their traditional culture and religious behavior in order to establish their identity among the Gentiles (the Romans) who occupied Palestine.   They were so intense in their efforts to establish their identity that they would not even venture into a house to eat with a Gentile. Remember the opposition that Peter faced when he went into the house of Cornelius?   When Peter, and those Jews who went with him, returned to Jerusalem, the Jewish brethren in Jerusalem “disputed with him” on the matter of violating Jewish religious customs (At 11:2).   Keep in mind that these were Jewish Christians, not Jewish unbelievers who disputed with Peter.

Peter surely remembered this harsh encounter for some time to come. A few years later in Antioch, he, Barnabas, and the other Jewish Christians in Antioch, were intimidated by the Jerusalem Jewish Christians to withdraw from the Gentile Christians in Antioch (Gl 2:11-13). The cases of Peter in the house of Cornelius and Antioch illustrate the strict Jewish isolationist culture of the time. This was the “fullness of the time” into which Jesus came with a message that in Christ there would be neither Jew nor Gentile (Gl 3:26-29). Since these were the times in which Jesus came into the world, then we must conclude that it was the right time for His coming. And since it was the right time, then we understand that Jesus came in order to lead us down a road of rejection that can be overcome.

We are not surprised by the Jews’ rejection of Jesus. Neither were the early disciples surprised when they began to understand the prophecy of Isaiah 53:3:

He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him. He was despised and we did not esteem Him.

The first Jewish disciples knew, therefore, that if the prophecy of Isaiah 53 referred to the Messiah—and it did—then they understood that if they were to be disciples of the Messiah, their own lives would be as the prophecy stated. They too would be despised and rejected by men. They too would be men of sorrows and acquainted with grief. They too would not be esteemed highly by those who rejected them. We remember what the despised One said to His first disciples: “And whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple (Lk 14:27). If one is not willing to be despised for Jesus, then he cannot be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus would say to any would be disciple today, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).

If one would be a disciple of Jesus, therefore, he must always be a rejected rebel when in the midst of apostate religionists.   We must remember to always be more afraid of the One who can cast us into eternal destruction, than any who would cast us out of a socio/religious establishment of the day (See Mt 10:28).   If we cherish being a part of the crowd in reference to faith, then we must make sure that the crowd cherishes the word of God.

In the parable of the Ten Minas, the ten bondservants of the nobleman said, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Lk 19:14). The religious leaders about whom the parable was spoken rejected their King.   Discipleship to this King means that we must be willing to be rejected as He was rejected. It is this King who said the following to His disciples when they went out to recruit more disciples:

Therefore, whoever will confess Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever will deny Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven (Mt 10:32,33).

[Next Lecture: July 3]


The Rise of Rebels

It is imperative that those who have a deep respect for the authority of the word of God in all matters of faith understand fully the tricks of Satan who works through religious leaders to squash any forms of rebellion against what is accepted to be the “identity” of our religious heritage. The majority of people develop their religiosity either after the traditions of their fathers, their own present emotional desires, or both. Many today have focused their religiosity on “feel-good” assemblies, from which they go having confidence that they have validated their faith by some emotional hysteria. Others continue to feel validated by continuing the religious heritage that was given to them by their fathers. The adherents of every apostate religion establish some validation for the religion they maintain.

In our review of how Satan worked to oppose Jesus through the leadership of the Jews’ religion, we must admit that his resistance was formidable. Our task, therefore, is to investigate how Satan worked in the first century to misdirect the beliefs and behavior of religious people. Our study of the word of God to discover the ministry of Satan in misdirecting people will give us a foundation upon which we can expect Satan to work today.

Satan continues to go about as a roaring lion, seeking those whom he may devour (1 Pt 5:8). The problem with us is that we believe that his devouring is only in reference to convincing people to do the vices of the world, as drunkenness, fornication, cheating or stealing. But we would not believe for a moment that such vices encompass fully the ministerial tricks of the devil. As in the first century, he has captivated today most people through the lies of religiosity. The judgment that Jesus unleashed on His generation of religious leaders would be the same if He were here today speaking to most religious leaders:

You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.   He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not abide in the truth because there is no truth in him.   When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and its father (Jn 8:44).

We live in a religious world today where the devil is still the father of many religious leaders. Satan has devoured the majority, and thus the majority of the people of the world follow after religious lies. The religious world that crucified Jesus, was not unlike our religious world today. The Holy Spirit prophetically wrote,

. . . and with all deception of wickedness among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion so that they should believe a lie, that they all might be condemned who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (2 Th 2:10-12).

A.  Old Testament rebels:

The work of rebels as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and the host of Old Testament prophets, is the story of trials that restorationists will always have in their effort to turn people away from their own religious adventures back to the word of God. When the people love the lie more than the truth, restorationists to them will always be considered rebels, for the restorationists will always be considered those who are rebelling against their faith, which faith is based on a lie.

We cannot say that the Old Testament restorationists (rebels) were total failures because Israel refused to turn again unto the commandments of God. The fact that there was a remnant of faithful Israelites who survived the onslaught of Assyrian and Babylonian captivity is a testimony of two very important points that we must always remember: (1) Restorationists (rebels to the apostate religion) must always keep in mind that there are “7000” in Israel who have not yet bowed to the apostate faith that was promoted by the Baal prophets (2 Kg 19:18). Rebels must always remember that not himself in the apostate religion has given themselves over to the apostate faith.   They have simply been ignorant in their apostasy. If they had a chance to hear the truth of the gospel, they would come, as Nicodemus, out of the captivity of lies.

(2) The faithful 7000 in comparison to the whole of Israel, was a very small number. Therefore, restorations must never forget that the whole can never be restored, and thus, they must focus on the few. And because the whole cannot be restored, those “rebels” for God who seek to restore the few to the word of God must never be intimidated by the whole.   If one has a difficult time standing alone in the midst of a whole nation of apostates with only a small number of 7000 who would remain faithful, then he will have little effect on leading the faithful few to victory in the truth of God. In fact, the “7000” often do not make themselves known unless there are those brave individuals who stand up for the word of God in the midst of apostasy. Restorationists must always remember that Noah, a preacher of righteousness, stood alone in a world of apostates (2 Pt 2:5). His “7000” faithfuls numbered only the seven members of his family.

B.  New Testament rebels:

There is more in the statement of what Paul said in Galatians 4:4 than what we might first think: But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son ….”

We have often conceived of a host of reasons that would define the “fullness of time” about which Paul spoke. Some have asserted that reference was specifically to the fulfillment of prophecy. But we believe there is more in the statement than fulfillment of prophecy.   After all, God could fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament at any time during the fourth kingdom of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar’s visions (See Dn 2 & 7).

Some have assumed that since the Roman Empire extended throughout the Middle East, then this was the right time in history for the preaching of the gospel, which gospel could easily be spread throughout the known world. But we must keep in mind that the Roman Empire existed unto 476 when the city of Rome eventually fell. If only the stability that came with the existence of the Roman Empire is meant in the “fullness of time,” then there was more than one century in which God could have sent forth His Son.   We would question, therefore, that the “fullness of time” referred exclusively to either the fulfillment of prophecy at a specific date or the stability of the Middle East for the coming of the Messiah.

We assume that the “fullness of time” refers more to socio/religious matters than physical matters. It was the right time in the socio/religious environment of Judaism for a rebel to come in order to call the people as a whole with the words, “I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:3). And perish the whole did in A.D. 70 because they did not accept the Rebel who could lead them in the “times of restoration of all things” (At 3:21).

When Jesus came, it was a time of great frustration on the part of many. The religious establishment exploited those who were sons of Abraham by faith. The scribes and Pharisees reigned theologically unchallenged until the Rebel came and said to the people, “You have heard that it was said, … but I say to you” (Mt 5:21,27,33,38,43). There was a new teacher in town, one who spoke with authority (Mt 7:29).

The people were looking for someone to deliver them out of the bondage of religious oppression. They were looking for a Messiah who would lead them to a freedom they did not realize. They thought they would be free if delivered from Roman occupation of their homeland.   But the true freedom that would come would be freedom for a world, not simply some nationalistic Jews who wanted to be again as it was in the days of David and Solomon. The One who was revealed in the fullness of time brought freedom from time.

When the revealed One did come and proclaim freedom across the land, it was then that Satan rose up his host of deceived religious leaders to quail those who attacked his kingdom of bondage. And to accomplish this feat, he withdrew from his chest of evil every tactic possible that would squash rebels of the religious establishment that he had so carefully manufactured throughout the centuries of Jewish history. He led his forces against the Righteous Leader of those who would eventually prevail against all opposition to preach the gospel of freedom to those in the bondage of sin and misguided religiosity.

[Next lecture: June 29]


Opposition, Part III

In the confrontation of Jesus with the religious establishment that Mark recorded in Mark 7, Jesus moved to the final stage that identified a true apostate religion and how Satan robs the word of God from the hearts of the lost (See Mt 13:1-23). He identified how the Jews developed what Paul called the “Jews’ religion.” This is Satan’s subtle work to move religious people into the comfort zone of their own religiosity. Adherents of the religion become comfortable with the rejection of the commandments of God, for the Bible no longer plays an important part of their faith.

In this stage of development in apostasy from the will of God, the word of God is rejected in order that the traditions of the religious heritage be maintained. When Satan has led a religious group to this stage of digression, then there is little hope for the group as a whole to restore the authority of the word of God.

Jesus came into a religious community that was controlled and maintained by the religious leaders who sought to continue the religious heritage of the fathers. Many of these leaders were sincere in their efforts, for they honored the religious heritage of their fathers. Unfortunately, most of the religious leaders that Jesus encountered during His ministry did not understand the slow progression of apostasy that had taken Israel away from God into the bondage of their own religiosity. The Jews had moved away in their own religiosity to a point where the word of God was sacrificed for the heritage of the fathers.

The progression of apostasy to the point of rejecting the commandments of God is slow. It is so slow that the adherents of a particular faith suffer no pain in the digression because they do not recognize that the word of God is moving away from being the central focus of their religiosity. When people are too busy with worldly things and activities to study their Bibles, then the digression is certain. When people become so mesmerized by either their works or cult religiosity, they soon forget that the word of God focuses us on God, not on ourselves. In the digression away from God’s word, religiosity is maintained. The works or heritage based faith is maintained through structures and ceremonies. The adherents to the religion, therefore, feel faithful because they are submissive to their religious structures and ceremonies. However, the Bible is rejected as the source that keeps us close to God.

Once a religious group has established a heritage of beliefs and behavior that identifies the uniqueness of the particular group, then the foundation of faith for the group is no longer based on the word of God. It is based on a heritage that has been delivered to the adherents by their fathers, and perpetuated by the leaders of the group. When the members of the unique group travel from one place to another, the members identify themselves by stating the unique name of their religious heritage, not by the simplicity of being just a Christian who has obeyed the gospel. Notice how many groups are identified on Facebook by the unique name of the heritage after which each group leader seeks to call all adherents of a particular faith into the unique Facebook group.

 Any religious group among men that does not respect the word of God as the final authority in all matters of faith, will inevitably develop a religious heritage that rejects the word of God.   We would hope that the adherents of all groups that have moved away from the authority of the word of God would make a decision to search the Scriptures in order to validate their beliefs and behavior. But if their heritage (tradition) is considered to be the identity of the group, then the group will struggle to generate a restoration to the authority of the word of God. These thoughts are in the following statement that God made to Israel through Hosea:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge [of My word], I will also reject you so that you will be no priest to Me. Seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children.” (Hs 4:6).

The statement refers to the word of God leaving Israel, as it has left most of the societies in which we minister today.   The Israelites had forgotten the law that maintained their covenant relationship with God. Because of their lack of knowledge of the word of God, they were destroyed as a nation through the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.   There was only a remnant left by the time Jesus was revealed in the fullness of time.

When religious traditions define the religious heritage of a people, then those who would oppose the heritage when they discover a conflict between tradition and the word of God, are often considered rebels within the group. They are shunned by the group. The leaders who consider themselves to be the guardians of the heritage, will shun the rebels, even to the point of crucifying them on crosses. And such they did with Jesus, the leading rebel of heritage religiosity of His time. The agents of change who are crying out for restoration among a “Jews’ religion,” are always crucified. If they are not crucified, then they are imprisoned in isolation from the establishment of the leadership.

Jesus came with a ministry to return the word of God as the core to the faith of Israel. In doing such, He was considered a rebel because He led a rebellion against the Jew’s religion. Whenever there are those who seek to restore people to the authority of the word of God, they will always be considered rebels, and such they are. Until men rebel against those who sacrifice the word of God for the traditions of the fathers, we will continue on a road away from God. And as in the case of the history of Israel, there is only destruction at the end of this road. History always needs within the religious function of the people those who will stand firm on the Oracles of God.

[Next lecture:   June 26]

Opposition, Part II

In Jesus’ confrontation and rebuke of the Jewish religious establishment in Mark 7, He identified what happens among religious people when they start exalting their religious heritage above the authority of the word of God. When the traditions of men become the controlling authority of our faith, the next stage of digression from the word of God is only natural. Jesus explained, “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men” (Mk 7:8).

We must never underestimate the power that religious traditions have over the authority of the word of God. In fact, we would say that tradition almost always prevails over commandment. The reason is that tradition is the voice of our peers. When the word of God lays silent on our kitchen tables, tradition will always prevail. An individual is often more inclined to believe and behave according to the desires of his peers, than stand alone to believe and behave according to the directions of the word of God. When we desire to be accepted by our religious community that is walking contrary to the word of God, we will succumb to the pressure of our peers.   Friends form the foundation of the faith of those who have ceased studying their Bibles.

An example of the intimidation of the community over the individual was manifested in the behavior of Nicodemus when he came to Jesus at night (Jn 3:1,2). He had questions concerning the teaching of Jesus. However, he did not want to risk being rejected by his fellow Pharisees by asking his questions in their presence. The darkness of the night brought to light the intimidation of his peers. He succumbed to the work of Satan through group intimidation, even though he believed that the signs that Jesus worked were real (Jn 3:2).

The point is that even though Nicodemus believed the miraculous confirmation of Jesus’ message, he was still intimidated by his peers. We must conclude that when a religious group has a long history as the Jew’s religion, and is extended throughout the word, then certainly the peers of every preacher will be greatly intimidated to conform to the heritage of the religion over the authority of the word of God.   Most religious people today would rather follow their peers than the authority of the words of the Prince of Peace.

We must add to this social intimidation of one’s peers another point that possibly influenced Nicodemus. Judaism was the religion of a social Jewish structure that was built on strong Jewish families. Therefore, when Jesus presented Himself to those of the Jews’ religion, He knew that those who would come to Him would find resistance even among their own families.   Not only would one have to overcome the religiosity of the community, but also the religion of his own family.   And for this reason, Jesus said,

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple (Lk 14:26).

Though Nicodemus and others were emboldened later in the early beginnings of the church to follow Jesus, the traditions of the religious community during the ministry of Jesus prevailed upon him, and others, to lay aside that which was right according to the word of God. He sacrificed Jesus in order to avoid conflict with his peers. When a group of people have a high regard for their religious traditions, these traditions are usually elevated above the commandment of God. The commandment of God, therefore, is easily laid aside in order that traditions of the religious group be maintained.

If one is part of a fellowship of erring religious leaders, as was Nicodemus, it is often rare that within the group he will take a stand for the word of God. If one is not willing to forsake an erroneous religious community, then certainly he will not be willing to forsake the religious heritage of his father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters. The desire to be accepted is often too great for most people, who through their personal studies or observation as Nicodemus, have discovered that some things the group believes are contrary to the word of God. When an entire group seeks to maintain a heritage of apostate religiosity, the leaders of the religion would rather lay aside the word of God in order to maintain their fellowship with their friends and family. When an entire family is caught up in a religious fantasy, only a few of the family will be willing to break away and follow the word of Jesus. This is simply one method of work that Satan uses to keep the unsaved lost.

[Next lecture: June 23]


Opposition, Part I

We have this unique breed of cat in our house.   It is a Red Point Siamese. Now this is a very intelligent cat. His intelligence shows up in many things that he does. For example, this cat will choose a nice comfortable location where he will lay his head down and sleep for a definite period of time. He is particular. He will sleep in this location for only seven to eight days. After, at the most eight days, it is time to change to another location. He thus selects a new and clean bed where he will again sleep for only seven to eight days. He is not afraid to change locations.

As we said, this is an intelligent cat, and thus, he is willing to make changes in order to keep his snow white hair clean.   Now consider dogs. Dogs will sleep in the same old place until they develop mange. Dogs thus stink, and thus, must have their owners bathe them. But cats can clean themselves. Dogs are not freethinkers. They do only that which they are trained to do by their owners. But cats, now they are freethinkers. One does not tell a cat what to do. He has already determined what must be done. And for this reason, and many others, the saying is true: “Dogs drool; cats rule!”

Jesus came into a religious environment and culture that had been taught by the traditions of the fathers, the leadership of which Paul referred to as dogs (Ph 3:2). They behaved only as their fathers taught them through their traditions.   Religious tradition governed every aspect of the lives of the Jews. Paul’s statement in Galatians 1:13 clearly explains the social environment of the time.   He himself was formerly a part of the religious culture that he called “Judaism.” In fact, Paul defined the religion as the “Jew’s religion,” the translation that is used by some to render the Greek text of Galatians 1:13.

At the time when Jesus came into the world, Judaism was not God’s religion. It was a religion that had been fabricated throughout many centuries after the traditions and interpretations of the Jewish fathers. We must understand, therefore, that when Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4 that Jesus came in the “fullness of time,” he meant that Jesus came into a religious environment where many people were seeking spiritual deliverance from the bondage of their own religious heritage. Jesus came, therefore, to generate a paradigm shift, not a reformation or restoration. He was the “change agent” of Judaism that moved the people from the bondage of their own religiosity to freedom that He offered through the grace of God.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus indirectly defined the “Jews’ religion” through His confrontation with the religious leaders.   The scribes (religious lawyers) and Pharisees (religious stewards) were the guardians of the religion, and thus in the confrontations that Jesus had with them, the inconsistencies, or apostasy of the Jews’ religion, was clearly evident. Paul himself, as a former Pharisee, was a part of this system of religiosity (Ph 3:5). He was such a zealous fanatic for the Jew’s religion that he persecuted disciples of Jesus who were considered rebels (At 8:1-3).

As we study through the Judaism of the first century, we must not relegate this system of religiosity to the first century.   The Jews’ religion was not a religious phenomenon that was unique with the Jews and the first century. The means by which it evolved into a system of religiosity that was confronted by the Son of God, and the manner by which it was perpetuated by its adherents, is as relevant today as it was over two thousand years ago. Change the name to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or even many of the “Christian” religions that are based on traditional religiosity, and the same system of religiosity exists today. We still have traditional religions, though with different names and doctrines.

We still have “scribes” and “Pharisees” today who are the guardians of their respective faiths. And unless we still want to dodge the issue of the first century encounter that Jesus had with the religious establishment of His day, we must always recognize that there are in some areas of the world those who will take the church into being a “Jew’s religion.” They will do so when traditional interpretations and traditional religious ceremonies are bound on the disciples that have no authority of the Scriptures.

Jesus’ confrontation with the type of religiosity that He encountered during His ministry continues unto this day. Satan still uses religious people to oppose those faithfuls who seek to do the will of their heavenly Father. Since there will always be “Lord, Lord” religions in the “Christian world” who pretend to call themselves after Christ, but do not the will of the Father in heaven, there will always be a confrontation between those who seek to do the will of our heavenly Father and those who seek to do the will of their earthly fathers (See Mt 7:21-23). It is imperative, therefore, that we understand the nature of the religion that opposed Jesus in order that we understand the religious leadership of the religion that sent Jesus to the cross. Satan is still using the same tactics today that he used through the Jewish religious leadership during the early beginnings of the church.

In order to effectively lead people from a “Jew’s religion,” we must understand how people end up in a religion that is fabricated after the traditions of the fathers. Mark 7:1-9 (Mt 15:1-20) helps us understand how the opposing religion of Judaism was created over time, and to be strongly opposed to Jesus and the early disciples. In the Mark 7 confrontation, Jesus explained why the religious establishment found it difficult to accept the new paradigm of grace that He was introducing.

Religions that are traditional are identified by their legal approach to their catechisms of belief and customary religious ceremonies.   It is easy to identify religions in this way, for we identify them by their legal compliance to their catechisms and religious ceremonies that have no biblical authority. In this way Jesus defined the uniqueness of the Jews’ religion. In His confrontations with the Jewish leadership, we are able to identify those teachings that identified the apostasy of Judaism. By identifying the legal structures of Judaism as Jesus did, we are able to understand why many strongly opposed Jesus. Jesus’ outline of identity that exposed the Jews’ religion is thus our guideline today to identify similar systems of religion.

All cultures of the world respect their traditions. There is respect for the traditions of the fathers in order that the continuity of a culture might continue from one generation to another. This respect for the traditions of the fathers, however, is almost always brought into the realm of the religious behavior of the people. Respect for the traditions of the fathers promotes continuity in order to guarantee the continuation of any particular religious heritage.

This was the religious environment that Jesus encountered during His ministry. The problem was not a confrontation with the Sinai law, but the Jews’ reverence for the doctrines and traditions that had been added to the original Sinai law.   On one occasion during the many confrontations that Jesus had with the Pharisees and scribes, the religious leaders asked, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders ..?” (Mk 7:5). This one question sparked Jesus’ reply that helps us today understand apostate religiosity.

The Pharisees and scribes had noticed that Jesus’ disciples ate bread with unwashed hands, which behavior was contrary to the religious traditions of Judaism. Such was a good tradition in reference to cleanliness, but the matter went beyond cleanliness. The washing of pots, pans and hands had moved into the religious culture of the Jews. And when the disciples failed to show up at the sink to wash their hands before they ate, they had not only violated a rule of cleanliness, but the “Jews’ religion.”

We wonder among ourselves how many customs we have that are good, but have become a catechism of our religious beliefs.   These would be customs that have no biblical foundation. For example, a group of disciples often do not feel that they are validated in their community unless they meet in a church building. We have even heard of those who complained that the government of their country would not accept them as a valid religious faith unless they were sitting on pews in their own building in the community. This is sometimes true. However, this is a secular government speaking, not the Bible.

The urge for a physical “building identity” for some people is so great in some areas that the adherents to a particular group do not believe that they are an “established church” until they build for themselves four walls in which to sit. And when they supposedly arrive at a higher level of religiosity by having their own building, they often confine their religiosity to the four walls they have constructed around themselves. In doing so, they sometimes look down on those who are still struggling to accomplish the same “wall-in mission.”

All discussion centered around purpose-built buildings for the meeting of the saints is discussion about tradition, not Bible, for there is no discussion in the New Testament about buildings. It is not wrong for the disciples to build.   What is wrong is the belief that if we do not build we are not “a church,” pleasing in the sight of God.   It is in the realm of freedom for brethren not to build, but rather channel their money into evangelism and benevolence. It is wrong to believe that those who do not build have somehow not arrived at being an “established church.”

We must not underestimate the influence that religious icons play among religious people of today. These icons are so influential that if one comes with the notion that we can meet anywhere in assembly without a purpose-built church building, he or she is considered beyond the norm of the accepted religious norms of the community.

We could extend the list of religious traditions that have become supposed necessities in reference to the belief and behavior of our faith. We could add song leaders in the assembly, a preacher dominating an audience with a sermon, names to identify specific assemblies, and preachers validated by diplomas and degrees. All such practices have a specific origin in the history of Christianity since such things did not exist in the first century. All such beliefs and practices are allowed in the freedom that we have in Christ.   However, none are found in the New Testament to identify the church of the first century.

The fact that some readers have at this time become somewhat uneasy with the mention of the example that we have given proves our point. Church buildings, local preachers, names of specific churches, etc. did not exist in the first century. Such things are “biblical” only because they are teachings that lie within the realm of freedom. Nevertheless, the level of one’s uneasiness in discussing these matters defines the desire that some have in assuming that such things are necessary to validate the existence of a “local church.” Add at will to this list, and then we have some idea of what Jesus encountered when He came in the “fullness of times” to a nation of people who had added hundreds of traditional interpretations and practices to the word of God, and thus developed what Paul defined as the Jews’ religion. The religious establishment correctly believed that if the beliefs and practices of their religious heritage came to an end, so would their religion.

The difficulty of turning the thinking of religious traditionalists to the word of God is that the traditionalists have a difficult time separating tradition from Scripture. When the traditionalist learns new information in the word of God that must be implemented in his life, he is often greatly disturbed. He is disturbed because he feels that not only is his faith under attack, but also his culture. His recourse is defensive, and thus, he often negatively reacts to what is revealed in the Bible because he cannot separate his religious traditions from what the Bible actually states. As a result of his frustration, he often takes out his frustrations on the one who has pointed out the error of either his thinking or his traditions that have no biblical foundation. Those who are not accustomed to Bible study, or those who accept something as truth because it is stated by the preacher, are usually those who react with the most hostility to the messengers of the word of God. The cross of Christ will always be a testimony to how vehemently traditional religionists will react to the truth of God’s word.

Consider also the fact that when a supposed religious tradition is believed and behaved by a group, those who point out that the supposed “law” has no biblical foundation are often attacked. It is easier to attack the messenger than study one’s Bible in order to challenge one’s own beliefs. The messenger is often considered a rebel by the group, and thus it is against him that the group will take out their frustrations because they believe that it is he who is attacking their religious heritage, and not the Bible.

Jesus was considered a rebel by the Jewish religious establishment because of this very thing.   The fact that He did not bind the washing of hands as a law labelled Him to be a rebel according to the religious establishment. We must not forget, however, that Jesus was not rebelling against the word of God, but against that which had supplanted the word of God in the lives of the people.   Restorationists are always considered rebels because they seek to point out the difference between tradition and Bible. They seek to obey God rather than the traditional heritages of man.

[Next lecture:   June 20]

Conform To The Norm

That which encourages change is education.   The farming techniques of America changed throughout the years because of education. It is very difficult for an uneducated people to make changes, for in their lack of knowledge they seek to find stability in the traditions of their fathers. For this reason, it is difficult for an uneducated people to be delivered from the bondage of their traditions. We forget that our fathers did the best they could with what they knew. But the farming fathers of America knew that their children could do better. And in order for them to do better, every effort was made to educate their children.

Our great grandfather who settled middle America in Kansas had only a few years of school. Our grandfather had a few more years in school. Our father graduated from high school. And the one writing these words graduated at the doctorate level.   Every generation exceeded the schooling of the previous generation, and thus, the economic standard of living followed behind the greater education of each generation.

Our fathers’ desire to learn spilled over into their spiritual life. Because the generation of Americans out of which we were born were vibrant students, we became vibrant students of the Bible. Our obsession with Bible study made it necessary to change from traditional teachings that were based on a lack of knowledge of the Bible and were handed down from the fathers of the Old World. When we learned something new in the Bible, we accepted it as the will of God.   If changes needed to be made in our thinking, we changed. If changes needed to be made in our lives, then we sought to sacrifice tradition for Scripture. Knowledge of the Scriptures inspired a transition from a foundation based on tradition to a foundation that was based on truth. Such was in the mind of Peter when he wrote to his fellow Jews: “But grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18). In other words, make the transition from tradition to truth.

Religious groups today who purport to be “following Jesus,” but do not have open Bible study, have doomed themselves to carry on with either the traditions of the fathers, or continually invent for themselves a religiosity according to the changing times of society.

After the tremendous migration of people from Europe to America during the 1700s and 1800s, America became a culture of diversity.   People considered themselves to be Americans, not Irish, or Germans, or Russians, or any of the nations from which they came. Though immigrants from all over the world came together to the New World, there was the natural development of what became know as the American way of life. This was particularly true as industrialization began to transform American ways into a cultural identity that was unique. It was unique in that difference was accepted as the norm.

Patriotism congealed the American diversity into being one nation under God. When American soldiers went overseas to settle the wars of others, and then returned home, they went as Americans and returned as Americans with an expanded world view. America had a story to tell the world that was based on education, and thus, Americans assumed that everyone could follow the same socio/economic road to development if they would educate their people. They too would be proud of being their own educated and developed nation. Ignorant citizens were rarely patriotic to the nation in which they dwelt.

But with the conclusion of sorting out the Nazi Germany threat of WW II, American soldiers returned home from being “soldiers on foreign soil”—those for whom we prayed every Sunday when we were children.   The soldiers returned home with some different thinking that the war had formed. There were some social rebels among this group who had discovered “overseas” some new ways, ways that were different than the American way. Other people did think differently than Americans.   There were different cultures that were parallel with, but not contrary to, the American way of life.

A new word made its way into international relations between nations. “Peaceful coexistence” meant that nations could maintain their “differences” in a world of social and political differences. It was a social behavior that was embedded in the American way of life since its early beginnings. The many immigrants of the many nations of the world who had practiced “peaceful coexistence” gave birth to a unique cultural trait that the international family of nations needed. This “unity in social diversity” has now gone international.   World organizations as the League of Nations, and then the United Nations were born out of this desire to be united in our diversity.

The rise of individuals who opposed conformity to all social order was beginning to arise in America in the 1950s.   Americans were about to discover something almost unique about their own way of life. Americans were about to discover their “peaceful coexistence” culture that made them great as one nation under God. Freedom to think and behave was about to give birth to a new generation of nonconformist Americans who would change America forever. The traditional farming culture of America that brought the nation into the modern world was about to give way to a changing culture that was led by the cities of America.

With his close friend, Neal Cassidy, Jack Kerouac traveled across America during the late 1940s after WW II. For him, he made a marvelous discovery. He discovered and experienced numerous differences in the American way of life and how Americans learned to live as one nation within the definitions of their unique circumstances. It was a beautiful discovery, one that truly revealed that there was accepted diversity within the whole of American society.   The outside world was wrong to stereotype America, or as the world today, judging America according to what they see on TV and the international news media. What Kerouac experienced was the rise of a new nonconformist individualism that would not find its expression until the nonconformist revolution that had roots in the 1950s and became a major movement of America in the 1960s.

Kerouac was at first frustrated with what he had experienced on his adventure across America. He was frustrated with the efforts of the norm to work against change into something different. He earnestly wanted to put into words his “quest for self-knowledge and experience.”   His travel experiences had revealed that any healthy society must relinquish itself to continual change.

The only way Kerouac believed that he could reveal his discoveries to the general public was to become a “writing monk” until all his thoughts were put on paper. He had a typewriter (remember those), but he was too impatient to be held up in writing by continually changing individual sheets of paper in his typewriter. He felt that he had to write uninterrupted until he dropped. So he found a roll of paper that was used in a teletype machine, inserted it in his typewriter, and then started throwing words on paper through his fingers day after day. After three weeks of constant writing as a literary hermit in the confinement of his quarters, he came out with a document that would later be published as a book that was entitled, On The Road.

Kerouac’s writings laid unpublished and dormant for years. Then finally in 1955 the book was first published. The book immediately hit the best-seller list and has remained on the published book list ever since. On The Road touched a nerve in the “antiestablishment” movement of the 1960s.   People were wanting to think freely for themselves, and live contrary to the accepted traditional way of life.   Young people of the 1960s were looking for a changed way of life, something that was new, and above all, different. Kerouac discovered that cultural vibrance is discovered only in diversity, but a diversity that allowed individual freedom. When there is diversity within a culture, then there must also be forbearance among those who are of the culture. The citizens of forbearing cultures blend in their diversity. And when individuals are allowed the freedom to blend, then there is freedom to change and freedom to think. If a culture does not allow change in order to blend, then the citizens of the culture are doomed to stagnation in their own traditions.   They remain in the subtle fear of education because they are afraid to think freely and change.

How would this “blending culture” affect the religiosity of the world, since all of us live a long way from America. Simple. After WW II America sent representatives of its culture into all the world through the efforts of missionaries. In order to usher change into cultures, European, and then American missionaries, established schools for education around the world.   Languages of local tribal groups were transcribed into writing and grammar books of the local languages were taught in the schools. The Bible was translated into thousands of languages.

The first missionaries brought with them the word of God, but often, they also brought with them a legal system of obedience to how the word of God was to be implemented in the lives of the yet unlearned.   A legal system of faith was easy for the new converts to understand and obey.

In reference to Bible schools that often promoted a legal interpretation of the Scriptures, and a legal application of biblical principles in the lives of different cultures, Bible schools often became “cloning institutions” to perpetuate the religious traditions of the religion of the sending churches. Bible schools sought to teach a legal outline of what constituted “the truth.” Application was often cloned after the religious behavior of the sending churches. For example, we once visited an assembly of some disciples in the country of Zambia. All the men and boys obediently sat on one side of the meeting hall. All the women and girls did the same on the other side.   Families were thus split in assembly by dividing males and females. This arrangement looked somewhat unnatural to us, that is, odd in reference to our culture. So we asked one of the leaders why the people were so seated. The answer was, “The missionaries taught us this way.”

When Bible schools become factories of legal religiosity to turn out theological clones whose thought processes are unchallenged to think independently, and thus become dysfunctional in reference to common-sense interpretation of the Scriptures, then traditional theology is passed from one generation to another in order to maintain the continuity of one’s faith. When schools fail to train students to think, then the school has failed its definition of being a school of “higher education.”

What many of the first missionaries failed to understand was that the cultures into which they went were cultures where social order was maintained by keeping the traditions of the fathers. It was easy for the adherents to the new faith of these cultures, therefore, to legalize their faith into a simple catechism of belief and behavior that was written in an outline on paper. Preachers were cloned in many mission schools in order to perpetuate the catechisms of each particular faith. These defining catechisms were subsequently transferred from one generation to another. For this reason, it was necessary that each denominated faith have its own preacher training schools in order to perpetuate the unique catechism that was accepted by each particular faith.

Regardless of any resistance to change by traditionalists, change will always occur. We recall one missionary who came to South Africa long before the American church realized that there was a difference between the word of God and the American cultural manner by which this word was to be implemented in the life of a disciple. When we grew up in America, any effort to “celebrate” Christmas was taboo because some had associated the holiday with the birth of Christ. It was supposedly a Catholic doctrine, and thus, everyone abhorred the possibility of manifesting any theology that remotely resembled Catholic doctrine. Our missionary friend grew up in this religious culture of “fear theology.”

When our particular missionary friend came to South Africa, he preached the “sin of Christmas.” Since the origin of his theology was strictly legal as the church in which he grew up in the 1950s in America, he established a legal system of faith where he went as a missionary. He thus brought a faith to Africa that not only had the word of God, but also added legal appendages that he had attached to what the word of God actually stated. The whole of his theology became a catechism of faith for the new believers.   Maintaining the catechism determined one’s faithfulness to the “church.”

Our missionary friend brought an anti-Christmas catechism with him to the new land. Nothing is said in the Scriptures concerning Christmas, and thus, such matters lie within the realm of freedom (See Cl 2:16). Unfortunately, those who are legalistic in their understanding of the word of God find it easy to attach their legal interpretations to the word of God. They thus seek to fill in the gaps where the Scriptures are silent. Silence of the Scriptures to the legalist means restriction, not freedom.

When the anti-Christmas missionary came to Africa out of the cloned religious culture of his church, he could only preach that which was a clone of that from which he came. So he preached an anti-Christmas theology. He left this theology with a very traditional culture that sought to honor the fathers by strict obedience to the traditions of the fathers. For years it was “men on the one side of the auditorium and the women on the other.”

There is an interesting conclusion to this story.   The time came for the American missionary to return to his home culture from which he came. When he returned to his home, he returned to a post antiestablishment culture of the 1960s where society had changed and fellow Americans were encouraged to think freely and change. The antiestablishment culture of America had changed forever the cultural function of maintaining the traditions of the fathers. No longer were people expected to clone others with their fathers’ traditions, whether in ordinary behavior of life, or in ceremonial religiosity. In reference to the church, no fundamental doctrine had changed. What had changed was the manner by which fundamental doctrine could be manifested in the life of the individual disciple. There was freedom to think and behave in those areas where the Scriptures were silent. Silence of the Scriptures, therefore, meant freedom of thought, not restriction, the very understanding that the Scriptures teach in Colossians 2:16: “Therefore, let no one judge you in food or in drink, or in respect to a festival, or of any new moon, or of sabbaths.”

So when the missionary reentered his native changed culture, he too learned to think and behave individually and freely.   In reference to his faith, no longer did he feel compelled to mold his thinking and behavior around the traditions of the fathers. The subsequent result was that he, and those he taught at home, enjoyed the freedom we all have in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile. We had to laugh when in the 1990s our missionary friend sent us a Christmas card with a glorious Christmas tree on the front. He changed, but the traditionalists he taught in South Africa were still living with the legacy of his legalistic binding where God had allowed freedom.   Though it is changing in South Africa, there are still the remnants of those who condemn trees, that is “Christmas trees.”

So we in Africa live with what was brought to Africa out of a ceremonial legalism that was a cultural identity of the American church until the middle 1960s when there was an antiestablishment that promoted freethinking individualism. What we have discovered is that those of the American and European faiths have long restored the times of refreshing among themselves, while those in the “mission fields” to which they were first sent as missionaries have hardened themselves in a legalistic religiosity after their own traditional world views. The returned missionary to their homeland changed, and moved on to freedom. Unfortunately, they left a legal legacy that has been refined into a hardened legal traditionalism.

The good news is that Africa has enrolled in the local university. As young Africans are introduced to free thinking through education, they too are transitioning into an enlightenment of objective study of the Bible. Their interpretations and applications are turning from the “legal catechismal boxes” that were handed to them from a culture that eventually changed from legalistic cloning to freedom to interpret the word of God. We would request that all those in previous missionary-sending nations who at home transitioned from legal religiosity to freedom in Christ, would in some way let those of their legacy throughout the world know that it is OK to change. We are of a faith that demands growth, and inherent in growth is change. We must never allow traditional religiosity to either distort our view of the Scriptures, nor determine the application of Divine principles in our lives. It would be good for those who were left with a legacy of legal religiosity to read what Paul wrote to those of the same theology: “You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by law. You have fallen from grace” (Gl 5:4).

[Next lecture: June 17]


Traditionalized Restoration

Restoration movements have occurred among various cultures of the world. However, these movements have generally remained local. Because of the strict traditional nature of the culture in which they were born, they have often gone array, and thus, faded back into the legal religiosity that was common with the other local religions.

We have never found in the world today a worldwide restoration movement that was generated within any highly traditional culture simply because the more impact tradition establishes a culture, the less determination there is within society to allow the Bible to be the final authority in matters of faith. For this reason, the American Restoration Movement was unique.

Cultures that hinder freedom and independence, and thus are very traditional, make it difficult for the citizens to think freely in reference to all aspects of life. Traditional cultures, as the Jewish culture at the time Peter made the announcement of the “times of refreshing,” are highly resistent to change.   The Jewish religious leadership (the establishment) had brought the thinking of the people into the bondage of the religious traditions of Judaism. The people were thus in the bondage of the religious leaders, whose duty it was to perpetuate the traditions of the fathers.

When the evangelists of the American Restoration went into all the world, we must note that many throughout the world “bought into” the restoration idea. However, the movement grew only because those who bought into the restoration ideal were converts from the traditional religions of the world. Converts were picked off one by one from the camp of the enemy through one baptism at a time. Missionary reports were considered exciting when we read of “baptism reports.” It was not that the idea of restoration was spontaneous within the traditional cultures when freethinkers studied themselves out of religious error. In almost all nations to which the restorationists went it took the restoration evangelists to spark the concept of restoration. Thus the movement of restoration was generally generated from outside traditional cultures, not from within.

And herein was the Achilles’ heal of the movement within those traditional cultures that were not known for generating freethinking from within their religious communities. The imported ideology of restoration was eventually “traditionalized” by the local traditionalists. The local legal system of religiosity easily legalized the teaching that was introduced by the missionaries. The locals legalized the “outline of doctrine” that was imported and handed to each new convert. The outline had already been generated by the senders, and thus, it was assumed that if the new converts would remain faithful to the outline, then they would remain faithful to Jesus. What often happened was that Christians were identified by the appendages of cultural traits that arrived in the “mission field” through the foreign evangelist.   New converts were clones of the outlined thinking and behavior that was imported by the expatriate evangelist.

Because the local folks were not taught to interpret the Scriptures for themselves, but to perpetuate the legal outline of identity of the church, the church where the outline was imported often circled around and became as denominational as the traditional denominations from which the American restorationists fled. National churches that previously bought into the message of the pioneering evangelists have now buried themselves in traditional religiosity from which they find it difficult to think freely for themselves in applying the message of the word of God.

This did not happen when Jesus came into the world.   He and His teaching were radical, so radical in comparison to the teaching of the Jewish religious leaders that it was not possible for them to syncretize the Jews’ religion with the message of the gospel of grace. Some Jewish Christians tried to make the harmony, but they ended up with “another gospel” that the Holy Spirit condemned as a denial of the grace of God (See Gl 1:6-9).

In order to set the people free from Judaism, God had to work great miracles to confirm the fact that there was a change from His relationship with Israel to His new relationship with those with whom He had established a new covenant (See Mk 16:20). The dead were raised, the blind were made to see, and the crippled arose and walked (Hb 2:3,4). God knew that it would be difficult for the Jews to accept the radical change from the law of Moses to the gospel of grace that was revealed through His Son (Ti 2:11).

God knew that it would be difficult for the Jews to change when the “fullness of time” came. Through prophecy, therefore, He laid the ground work for changes they must make when the Messiah came. In Isaiah 28:11,12, He prophesied that His people would eventually be identified by their speaking in unlearned languages that they had not learned. We understand the prophecy in this manner because this is Paul’s inspired interpretation of the prophecy in his quotation of the Isaiah 28:11,12 in 1 Corinthians 14:21. Isaiah stated in the prophecy that God would speak to the Jews with other languages. This speaking would be the signal of God’s people. Jesus said that the new covenant people of God would speak with new languages (Mk 16:17). When the early disciples spoke in languages by the Holy Spirit, it was God’s signal to the unbelieving Jews that God had changed from His covenant relationship with national Israel to His new covenant relationship with the new spiritual Israel of God, the church (1 Co 14:22).

The new Israel had been set free from the past in order to embrace the new in Jesus Christ. God will use no miracles today to signal those who are His people. He does not need miracles for such a purpose because He has given His written record that is able to furnish the people of God unto all good works (2 Tm 3:16,17). No longer do the people of God need to speak with languages they have not studied. God’s confirmation through languages (tongues) was accomplished in the first century. The confirmation was recorded.   Since the first century, therefore, we read in the New Testament of those whom God confirmed to be His people.   If one needs a confirming miracle of the word of God among men, then he can open his Bible and read (See Jn 20:30,31).   Today we read our New Testaments in order to define those in the first century who were God’s new Israel. We no longer need “tongues” of confirmation.   God expects us to read our Bibles.   Nevertheless, we have found that those religionists who are obsessed with speaking in uncontrollable gibberish, while calling such tongues, have little desire to study their Bibles.

When people are set free, they begin to study anew the word of God. And when freed people study their Bibles, unhindered by their fear of being ostracized by those of traditional religiosity, they start enjoying the times of refreshing that come from the Lord. We can understand why Jesus, immediately before His ascension, rehearsed with His disciples the prophecies of Himself and opened their minds to all prophecy (Lk 24:44,45). The apostles needed reassurance that all the prophecies had indeed been fulfilled in the One who was standing before them. They were still in the bondage of the thinking of the Jewish religious leaders.   But in a few days on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would set their minds free.

If there is within a culture a lack of free independent thinking, then the religionists of the culture are doomed to live in the bondage of those whose job it is to regiment all adherents of their prospective faiths into conformity to the traditions of the fathers. When religious leaders find themselves making judgments that are based on the traditions of the fathers, then there will be no times of refreshing from the Lord. It is only when men’s minds are set free to study the word of God anew will there be repentance and conversion to the word of God. This understanding is at the heart of what Jesus said: “Therefore, if the Son will make you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn 8:36).

We have traveled and visited numerous religious groups throughout the world who have orchestrated a diversity of assembly ceremonies by which they seek to validate their faith. We have discovered an axiomatic truth in reference to groups who do not have a high regard for the word of God. This truth is in the fact that if there is no open and public Bible study among those of a particular group, the group is on its way to somewhere other than the times of refreshing from the Lord.

Those religious groups that have no Bible study among themselves are usually “Lord, Lord” groups who cry out to God, but His word plays a small part in their religiosity. They thus seek to bind themselves together by their religious ceremonies, or other inventions that are pleasing to all the adherents. The foundation of their fellowship is not according to the desires of the One who seeks to be worshiped in spirit and truth (See Jn 4:24).

It is believed by some of these groups that if enough energy can be expressed in an assembly, then truth can be sacrificed.   They thus sacrifice truth for emotional energy. The result is that their coming together in assembly is for the purpose of entertaining themselves—or exhausting themselves—into the bondage of themselves.   In their narcissistic religiosity, therefore, self-mesmerizing assemblies have been substituted for worshipful hearts that should be pouring out spiritual sacrifices according to the will of God. These folks need to be set free from themselves. And the only way they can be set free is through the medium of what Jesus said, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32).

There is no possible way to know the truth if we do not open our Bibles. And any group of religious people who would assert that they are following the Lord, must be avid students of the word of the Lord.

[Next lecture:   June 14]

Changing Winds

When the apostles spoke through Peter a short time after the “Holy Gust” of wind had blown through Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30, they proclaimed in the following statement that the winds of change were about to storm through Israel. In order not to be blown away with the changes that were coming, there was only one recourse that everyone must do in order to be pleasing to God:

Therefore, repent and be converted [change your thinking and living] so that your sins may be blotted out, in order that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (At 3:19).

This was a proclamation of change, a change in thinking and behavior. The train of God’s messianic movement among the Jews was passing through Israel. If the Jews did not board the train, it would continue to move on from them to the Gentiles throughout the entire world (See At 18:6). If the Jews who first heard the message did not repent from their legal religiosity that was created after the traditions of their fathers, accept Jesus as the fulfillment of all prophecies concerning the Messiah, then they would miss the train.

Those in Jerusalem who had the first opportunity to board the train of change through repentance and conversion to Jesus, but refused to board, would be the first to be trampled from existence in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that national Israel was coming to an end (See Mt 24).   It was a matter of change or doom.

If we read again the proclamation of the apostles’ condition for the coming of the “times of refreshing,” it is evident that there were two conditions that were necessary to make the coming change.   The Jews had to repent and convert from their old ways. When there was repentance and conversion, then there would be change. Without this change, there would be no “times of refreshing.” Unfortunately, most of the Jews would continue in the deadness of their own legal religiosity, dead in their traditions, and thus, doomed to destruction in the consummation of national Israel. The apostles’ statement was a distinct call for a change from the old to the new, from the old covenant to the new covenant, from the law of Moses to the grace and truth of Jesus (Jr 31:31-34; Jn 1:17; Hb 8:7-13). It was a change in order to escape the doom of national Israel in A.D. 70, but ultimately a change in life to escape the doom of eternal hell when Jesus came at the end of time.

The apostles were the “change agents” for Jesus to turn a people from their own traditional religion to the new ways of God.   In the historical setting in which they called for repentance and conversion, those Jews in Judea who did not heed the call would suffer the consequences of their rebellion against God.   In the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, over one million Jews died in the consummation of national Israel.

Some have wondered why so many Jews rejected those winds of Messianic change in the first century, and thus discouraged the coming of the “times of refreshing.” The answer is in the nature of the traditional culture of the Jews and the legal religion that they had fabricated after their own traditions.   The more traditional a culture is, the more difficult it is for those of the culture to initiate and encourage restorational change.

Traditional cultures will often accept changes that conform to the established culture. However, it is very difficult for traditional cultures to generate and encourage restoration. Restoration involves repentance, and repentance means change. In the case of the Jews of the first century, it meant a drastic change from their traditional religion to the grace of God that was revealed through Jesus (Ti 2:11). Changing to the grace of God from one’s assurance that is based on obedience to the traditional requirements of one’s self-imposed religiosity is very difficult.   Specifically, the legal religionist has difficulty making this change. In legalistic religions the adherents find security in the self-imposed traditions of their own religion. But in grace one must trust in the mercy of God.

For the Jews who lived with a theocratic world view, Jesus meant not only a change from legal religiosity, but a change in their isolationist behavior in reference to the Gentiles. It was thus very difficult for the Jews to change in their culture, as it is in all cultures that are theocratic and traditional in function. For the Jews to turn to Jesus, they were turning from the security of their cultural heritage. In the new culture of Christ (Christianity), there would be no Jew or Gentile (Gl 3:26-29). There would be no national Israel to which one could be patriotic, for national Israel was coming to a close in A.D. 70 (See Mt 24). The Jewish world in the eternal plan of God was giving way in the first century to a new community of faith in Jesus as the Son of God.

The early Americans fought for and won their independence from English rule in the middle 1700s. The New World (America) that the revolutionaries built was a world that was built by immigrants, immigrants who had left the old world for the new. They left their cultures of Europe in order to make a new life for themselves in the new world. These were immigrants who were looking for a new life, a life of freedom. They came to America in the thousands during the 1800s in order to think freely and to determine their own future.

Immigrants came with their dreams, and with the baggage of their old cultures and languages. However, when they set foot on the new land of hope and opportunity, they adopted the English language—a nation cannot be united unless it has a common language. With the amalgamation of so many cultures in the New World, they developed a new way of life. Their blending of many foreign cultures formed the American culture of diversity. The people become united in their diversity. The serendipity of the amalgamation of cultures to form a new way of life meant that people learned how to change. The development of the American culture resulted in a subliminal cultural trait that makes it easy to change. Change for a better way of life became a cultural value of the New World.

Those who settled the New World were willing to change for a better life. In severing themselves from the Old World, they were determined to build a nation that was based on the freedom of the individual to think and live. This ability to change for the better spilled over into their spiritual life. As devout Bible students, many would approach their study of the Bible with their minds, not with the bondage of their past religious traditions.

Nevertheless, there were those who brought with them the religious traditions of the Old World. All the traditional religions of the Old World found a place in the freedom of the New World. However, by the end of the eighteenth century, and specifically at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the spirit of independence and freedom gave birth to what is referred to as the American Restoration Movement. The traditional religions of the Old World could not keep in bondage these free thinkers who studied anew the Holy Scriptures.

The Restoration Movement found its birth in America because, in their spirit of independence and love for the word of God, dedicated people began to think freely, and thus cast off the bondage of traditional religiosity. Because of their culture of independence and freedom, it was easy for them to rid themselves of those traditional catechisms of men that kept them in bondage for centuries in the Old World.

Do not make the mistake of believing that it was easy to make the change. It was certainly a fearful thing to flee from the comfort of traditional religiosity.   However, their comfort came from the authority of the word of God alone as the foundation upon which they built their faith. They concluded that if the Scriptures were able to furnish one unto every good work, then certainly the Scriptures were all that was needed to present one pleasing before God (2 Tm 3:16,17). It was the authority of the Scriptures, therefore, that moved them on from the authority of the religious traditions of their fathers. As a result, a massive Restoration Movement in faith stormed across America in the 1800s.

The message of restoration, as Peter proclaimed in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, has now gone into all the world. There are millions of disciples throughout the world today who are the product of that nineteenth century American Restoration Movement. They are not products of restoration movements that were generated within their own traditional cultures. They were initially products of mission efforts of the American Restoration Movement that sent evangelists throughout the world. We know of few independent restoration movements in cultures of the world that generated a worldwide impact that was generated by the nineteenth century Restoration Movement of America.

[Next lecture:   June 11]

Wandering Back

We lived our youth through the 1950s and 1960s in the American farming culture. We grew up on a farm in the state of Kansas that is in the central part of America. In growing up as a farm boy, we had the privilege of being farmers, and American farmers knew how to change to do things better in order to be more productive.   And because we had no TV, no cellphones, computers, etc., the creativity of our minds was developed. We could imagine how to change things for the better.

We were the children of a post-pioneering father.   When we were very young, we could not understand why our father, who lived in the initial “tractor age” of America, never wanted to own a horse on the farm on which we children grew up.   We did not understand until one day he explained why he had such negative feelings toward these magnificent creatures that were always necessary in building great empires.

On our farm was a horse-drawn, one-bottom plow that was dumped in a rubbish heap in the pasture north of our farm house.   There was also in the rubbish heap a horse-drawn and dilapidated, spoked-wheeled wagon. Beside these there were other half-buried instruments of farming as a horse-drawn hay rake and a few other farming items of yesteryear.   As youth, we always assumed that these belonged to our great, grandfather who had homesteaded the land that we were farming at the time. But they were not. They belonged, as our father explained, to our grandfather and were used by both our grandfather and father in his youth to farm the land that we were farming in the “tractor age.”

Our father went on to explain that as a child he had toiled long hours every day to work the ground behind a horse-drawn plow.   While we in our youth rode almost comfortably on a D John Deere tractor, our grandfather and father in his youth had grown up walking behind a horse-drawn plow and hauling grain into town in a horse-drawn wagon. His labors as a youth were arduous in order to survive as a third generation immigrant from Ireland who was struggling to carve out a life in the New World.

We remember our father telling us the story about coming home from the small town of Stafford one day in a horse-drawn wagon.   He was about five years old at the time. The wagon slipped off the side of the path. He recalled, “I fell out of the wagon and rolled and rolled down the hill.” He recalled, “It seemed like I would never stop rolling.”

And now you know why our father cared little for horses. They reminded him of strenuous work and days of toil as a very young farm boy growing up looking through the dust all day at the hind quarters of a horse as he tilled the soil. The introduction to tractors meant deliverance from the toil of the past. It meant seeing farther down the field than the hind quarters of a horse.

Now consider this. One of us three brothers who grew up on that same farm that was cut out of virgin Kansas prairie grass is still farming the same land. It is now being farmed with the most advanced machinery that can be made by the John Deere corporation—we have always believed that there was no other machinery than John Deere. But as our brother rides in an air-conditioned tractor cab, listening to stereo music, which cab is equipped with a two-way radio, plus a cell phone in his pocket, the days of the horse-drawn plow are long gone. As he sets his GPS to plant a row of corn (maise) a half-mile long that one can look straight down from one end to the other, he farms in comfort. He is thankful that things have changed for the better on the American farm. Our father in his youth could never have imagined that such inventions would till the soil over which he had struggled behind a horse-drawn implement while stumbling over clods of dirt. Change was good.

It was the ability to change that made all this possible. When we went through our high school years in Preston, Kansas, we were required to study agriculture every year. The American farmer wanted to always change from the past to new ways of farming for the future. In fact, all farm boys were part of a nationwide organization that was called the FFA (Future Farmers of America). We could not wait for our second year of high school when we could wear our FFA jackets. Our focus was on the future, not on preserving the horse-draw plows of the past. To be successful farmers, we were trained to always discover how farming could be better.   And when something new and better was developed in farming, we were trained to change to the new and better.   Every Kansas farm boy of America grew up in a culture of change. We were taught to do things differently and better for the sake of our children in the future.

This culture of change was a part of the American way of life and our faith. Back in those days when we “went to church,” it was not about going to some Sunday morning concert for which we bought no entry tickets. It was about assembling around others who were avid Bible students who were obsessed with learning more from God. Our thirsty minds swarmed around the Bible in order to learn something by which we might change our faith and lives for the better. If a preach did not preach the Bible, he was gone before he unpacked his moving boxes.

Some early Kansas churches had what they called “Bible Readings.” During the dry season when there was no farming, the members of those small Kansas farm churches would come together in their horse-drawn wagons for the purpose of staying several days in fellowship until the entire Bible had been read aloud from Genesis to Revelation in one meeting. Different people would take turns reading the Bible throughout the meeting. Everyone, some who could not read or write, listened as the word of God was read aloud. Those pioneers had an unquenchable thirst for the word of God because they knew that it would lead them to a changed life that was better.   They had moved out of the bondage of denominational doctrines and organizational structures. Their quest in restoration was focused on finding their way out of the traditions of their religious forefathers. They wanted to plow through the word of God on their own with the right to think freely.

While many other nations of the world at the time were trapped in the quagmire of their own traditions that kept their economies in stagnation, and thus remained economically dysfunctional, the American socio/economic culture relished in the Christian faith that led them to develop into the most economically powerful country of the world.

We have heard the statement, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We grew up with the cultural identity, “If it ain’t broke, we can make it work better.”   The view that we must have toward our faith is that we must never relinquish ourselves to a state of thinking that our faith is unbroken and that our forefathers had it all figured out.   They did not know it all. We must always assume that we have strayed from God in some area of thinking or behavior, or have been led astray by the world of worldliness, or the deceptions of misguided religiosity. We must always be as the father who had enough sense and faith to at least get his afflicted son to Jesus. He cried out to Jesus, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).

Our faith always needs fixed. If we convince ourselves that we have come to the climax of faith, that we have arrived and need no changing, then we are doomed to suffer from our own religious bondage and fall in the stagnation of unbelief. We must always assume that our faith needs “fixin.” If we do not, then we will terminate our thirst for that which builds faith, that is, the word of God: “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17). Those who believe that their “unbelief” does not need “fixin,” are those who have stopped their ears from hearing the word of Christ.

The early pioneers of America believed that their Bibles would keep them plowing a straight furrow that led them straight to heaven. So instead of coming together in assembly to entertain themselves with their self-imposed religiosity, they came together to be “entertained” by the teaching of the word of God. This is so different from the generation that we witness today among those of the cheerleading preachers of concert assemblies.   It is so different from those who have strayed to the institutionalization of accepted methodologies or religious traditions that they have created after their own desires.   Bible study is often a forgotten behavior of many modern churches, and because it is forgotten, millions of adherents to traditional religions throughout the world today have consigned themselves to validate their faith by the heritage of their fathers, or by an emotional experience with others in a hypnotic assembly of religionists.

Most cultures of the world today were not born out of an immigrant population that sought for change from the ways of the old world from which they immigrated. When we travel Africa, it seems that some are stuck in a time warp from which they cannot escape. In fact, many have said that when traveling throughout different parts of Africa it is like going back centuries in time. The comment has been made more than once concerning some parts of Africa, “These folks have lived this way for two thousand years.”

Change is not conducive to African culture. It is almost unnatural. In fact, if any nation would assert that “we are a developing nation,” then that nation is actually confessing that those of its culture have a very difficult time with change. These countries need to keep in mind that Europe, America, and many Asian countries of the world, were once “developing,” “Third World” countries in their past a half century ago. But because they were not afraid of change, they moved on. They are now “developed countries” giving aid to those underdeveloped countries who often fight against change, and thus resign themselves to the bondage of their own socio/economic dysfunction.

Our culture often determines how we view the functionality of our faith. If we live in a culture that is resistent to change, then we will often view with caution any changes that we would make in our religious behavior if we learn more truth from our Bibles. Change frightens those who are traditional in their culture. For this reason, it is very difficult to change from misguided and established religious beliefs and ceremonies in order to follow the directions of the word of God.

If we do not change when we find ourselves stuck in misdirected religiosity, then we will spiritually die, if indeed we are not already dead. The farming community of America changed out of necessity for survival. It was fine when our grandfather walked behind a horse in order to plow and plant the land. His father’s family could survive with a horse. But that land which our great grandfather homesteaded in the middle of the nineteenth century will not support humans today without all the changes in farming techniques that have been made throughout the years. Farmers had to change to bigger and better equipment in order to live off the land. The farms had to become larger in order to support just one family.

When we grew up in central Kansas, as children we would rummage through old deserted farm houses of farmers of yesteryear who had long moved away. There were old deserted farm houses throughout central Kansas. The farmers who lived in those houses were all gone and their farms were consumed by other farms. Change was necessary, both in the lives of those who moved on and those who stayed, in order to survive.

After over a century and a half of farming the land, fertilizers and circle (pivot) irrigation are now absolutely necessary in order to produce any crops from the soil. In other words, if the modern mechanism of circle irrigation did not exist, the land on which central Kansas farmers now farm would have to be vacated, for it would not produce enough crops to pay for the fuel to power the equipment to plant and harvest. The state of Kansas would subsequently be depopulated and the land would go back to nature.         Change, therefore, was necessary for survival.

When change must occur, and we fight against it, then we will die. Those who are resistant to change must take another look at what is necessary to make their faith grow again. Church leaders who are resistant to change, are invariably those leaders who lead members to their spiritual graves. They will lead members to lose their first love (Rv 2:4).

[Next lecture: June 8]


Moving Away

Those whose faith is not supported by the unchanging authority of the word of God will move endlessly from one organizational religious identity to another. Even when we accept the word of God as the divine written authority of our faith it is difficult to keep our faith focused on the unchanging behavior of true discipleship. A move from the original standard of faith can often happen even before the passing of the first generation of those who restored the word of God as the foundation of their faith.   This was why Paul marvelled when he wrote to the first converts of Galatia. “I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel” (Gl 1:6). This may be understandable since these first followers of Galatia had no written standard to keep them on track.

The letter of Galatians was written by the Holy Spirit to turn them back on course to the one true gospel they had received from Paul.   But even with this standard, it is always the desire of men to fabricate their own faith, and then carve a god in a stone or piece of wood who would condone their wayward religiosity. The fact is that we have been created by God to be religious beings, and thus, we will create some religion in the absence of God’s word. Unfortunately, the descendants of the founding fathers of any faith often drift away from the desires of their fathers. The conclusion to this axiomatic truth is that there must always be concrete truth that are the final authority in all matters of our faith. And it is this truth that must be restored as the foundation of our faith if we wake up one day through the enlightenment of our personal studies of our Bibles and discover that we have moved away from the word of God.

When living in the chaos of religious diversity, there are those sincere Bible students who will rise up among us with a cry to restore the old paths of the faith from which so many have drifted. We call these restorationists rebels. They are leading a rebellion against wayward religiosity. Because they are rebels against the establishment, their efforts to restore the original comes with a great deal of pain. Because of the emotional pain that is inherent in any effort of restoration, there are few brave souls who have the spiritual stamina and knowledge of the Original Directive, to take a stand for the divine order. The number of people who would join the choir of restoration, and sing the melody of change, is always few. There are always few restorationist rebels in the religious world because we find our security in our traditions and reassurance of conforming to the norms of the religious establishment. For most people, therefore, changing from the norms of the establishment is simply too unsettling. It is too painful to admit that what we presently believe and do is flawed in reference to the word of God.

While living in the comfort of our religious traditions, or customs, change is often considered to be disrespectful to the ways of our fathers. So when a studious anomaly does speak out, or does something different in order to restore the divine order, he or she is often labeled a rebel, a “change agent.”   The “rebel” thus suffers the burden of being subjected to all sorts of games the devil plays in order to bring him back into conformity with the crowd. As a rebel to Judaism, Jesus ended up on a cross because He sought to restore the faith of the people of God by steering it away from the Jews’ religion.

We were constructed beautifully by our Creator to be an emotional being who seems to be inherently resistent to change from the status quo. But maybe we are understanding our emotional and traditional state of religious behavior from the wrong perspective. Could it be that God created us with the ability to live intellectually and emotionally in an environment wherein change would guard us from stagnation in error and a life-style that is contrary to His traditions?   After all, do not the words “repentance” and “restoration” mean change? If there is no repentance, then there can never be a transformed life.   If there is no restoration, then there can never be a return to God’s ways if and when we go astray. Without repentance and restoration we are doomed to end up as religious misfits who have all gone our own ways. It is for this reason that if we are not on a continual course of restoration, then certainly we are destined to create a religiosity after our own traditions, and not the original traditions that come from the mandates of the word of God. Once our traditions are moved into the category of law, we are doomed to establish a religious heritage that is based on tradition and not the word of God.

[Next lecture:   June 5]