Introduction to hebrews (1)

We give credit to the apostle Paul as the choice of the Holy Spirit to inscribe the words of the Hebrew epistle. Because of his religious background, and ministry to the Gentiles, we conclude that the Spirit could have made no better choice. Paul, formerly Saul, was well seasoned in the religion of the Jews. He would eventually write the following statement in another epistle that was inscribed before the one at hand: “I advanced in Judaism above many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Gl 1:14).

Though a graduate with high honors from the school of the Pharisees, Paul experienced the frustrations of the Jewish religious heritage that had been handed to him by his forefathers and was taught to him by his professors. He eventually came to realize “that a man is not justified by works of law, but by the faith of Christ Jesus [who gave Himself for our justification]” (Gl 2:16). Paul realized that there was no power in the self-sanctifying works of a self-proclaimed righteousness that was inherent in the religion that came from his Jewish forefathers (See Rm 10:1-3). He, and thousands of other Jews like him at the time, believed in King Jesus in order that they might receive the justification that comes only through the incarnational blood of the Son of God.

A. The fifth defense of the gospel:

Before the document of Hebrews was written, two epistles had been added to the canon of Scriptures through the pen of Paul that dealt with the foundation upon which Hebrews was written. Both Romans and Galatians set forth arguments that were not only given by the inspiration of the Spirit, but were simply logical deductions of honest believers. Paul persuasively argued in these two letters that it is simply not possible for any man to live without sin in reference to any law, whether from God or man. This fact is axiomatic. It is axiomatic because its truth is self-evident. We are human, and because we are human, and weak, we cannot keep any law perfectly.

However, the religion of Judaism sought to make it so, that is, justification through perfect law-keeping. In order to accomplish this humanly impossible feat, the religious leaders of Judaism throughout the centuries were obsessed with adding legal guards around those laws that they deemed essential in order to be a faithful Jew. For example, they surrounded the Sabbath with a host of trivial rules that one must keep in order to guarantee that he or she did not break the Sabbath. In their thinking, if one kept the trivial laws, he would be guaranteed not to sin against the primary commandment of the Sabbath law. One could stumble in reference to violating the surrounding trivial rules in reference to the Sabbath, but would still be perfect in reference to the Sabbath. Unfortunately, the trivial laws (traditions) became as important as the original Sabbath law (See Mk 7:1-9).

If there were any infractions of one’s efforts to keep any ritual of Judaism, then the religious leaders embedded within their theology a system of self-sanctification. They believed that they could supposedly cleanse themselves when they were stained with sin against their added rites and rituals. The subsequent system of self-sanctification led to a religion of self-righteousness (Rm 10:1-3).

[Next in series: February 3]

The Right Call (B)

B. Preaching the resurrected and reigning Lord Christ:

We must remember that in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, that which cut the people to the heart was the gospel message of the resurrected and reigning King. “This Jesus God has raised up” (At 2:32). “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (At 2:36). This message keeps the chicken before the egg.

After the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus was no longer just the good Teacher from Nazareth. He was no longer just Jesus who walked with the disciples on the roads of Galilee. He was no longer just the brave Teacher who stood up and taught in the temple and the synagogues. He was now the resurrected, raised and reigning King Jesus at the right hand of God (Hb 8:1). This was the gospel message that cut the people to the heart on the day of Pentecost (At 2:37). This was the message that turned the world upside down. It will do the same today if we once again restore gospel preachers among us.

We seem to miss this point, even today among those who only want to know Jesus simply as the good teacher with His disciples on the road to and from Galilee. Such is brought out in the request of many who seek a more “personal relationship with Jesus,” which often translates into a “mere” relationship. At least it gives the appearance that if one behaves correctly he or she can have and maintain a “personal relationship” with Jesus. But this often becomes religious behavior because it is based on self-appointed merits by which one seeks the personal relationship.

One often concludes that if his or her relationship is to be “personal,” then one must bind on oneself “personal works” to perform in order to “measure up” to what he or she thinks Jesus would expect of us. When one fails in his or her own self-imposed standards of expectation, then he or she feels emotionally unworthy. This is performance-oriented religion. It leads to a lack of confidence in the sanctifying power of the blood of Jesus because our confidence is focused on our own self-imposed performance.

It is certainly a noble desire to feel close to Jesus. But our meritorious behavior is somewhat misguided if we seek such a relationship that is based on our own performance of self-imposed laws. It is somewhat misguided because the object of our relationship is no longer the man Jesus whom we seek to know according to the flesh in the records of the gospel. The man Jesus is now King and Lord over all things.

Paul certainly knew Jesus as a man while Jesus was in the flesh, for he lived in Palestine during the ministry of Jesus. He even persecuted those who followed the Nazarene called Jesus. He persecuted these followers even unto death because he believed that Jesus was only a rebellious leader of a sect of Nazarenes.

But Paul’s understanding of Jesus changed from Jesus the man to Jesus the resurrected and reigning Son of God. After the gospel of the ascension of Jesus, he once wrote the following words to some who possibly considered Jesus as only a renown teacher from of Galilee:

“Therefore, from now on we know no man according to the flesh [including Jesus]. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no more” (2 Co 5:16).

If we are preaching that people must have a personal relationship with Jesus according to the flesh, then we are not preaching the gospel message that we must establish a gospel covenant relationship of peace with King Jesus. We are preaching an earthly message because we are seeking to attach people to a concept of Jesus while He was yet in the flesh. But now we do not know Him as such.

What the people understood from the message of Peter on Pentecost was that it was no longer Jesus according to the flesh. It was the resurrected Jesus who was reigning as Lord and Christ. And being at the right hand of God and reigning on David’s throne meant that the resurrected Jesus is now King and Lord over all things (See Mt 28:18; Ep 1:21-23). He is now as Isaiah prophesied of Him:

“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6).

Church existed in the first century because people believed in the gospel message of the reigning King Jesus. If we would speak of personal relationships with this King, therefore, we must seek out how we would establish a covenant relationship with King Jesus who is now reigning over all things. He is now Lord and King! He is the One before whom all of us will eventually give account.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that everyone may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Co 5:10; see Jn 12:48).

Jesus is now the King about whom He spoke when He taught His disciples. He is the King with whom each one of us must make peace before He comes again with His mighty angels (Lk 14:32; see 2 Th 1:6-9). Whatever relationship one might seek to establish with this coming King, it must be a relationship of reverence, awe and submission. We must establish a covenant with this King before He comes. In order to do this, we must obey the gospel of King Jesus in order to come into the realm of His grace (Gl 3:26-29). This is what those who were cut to the heart on the day of Pentecost realized, and thus were willing to do what Peter instructed: “Repent and be baptized every one of you” (At 2:38).

  1. Preach Christ: We preach Jesus the Christ and King. This was the message of the early disciples. Some have had difficulty understanding Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17 when he referred to this message: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Those who are of a legal heritage have reversed the order. They would conclude from their catechism of identity that evangelists must first be sent to be legally baptized, and then the baptized believer must be discipled in matters of knowing the Christ. This is revealed by those who preach church in meetings without mentioning Christ.

This is the reverse order of what Peter preached on Pentecost. It was the reverse order of all the evangelists who obeyed the commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel. It was the reverse order of what Paul preached in Corinth upon his initial arrival in the city. He later wrote to the Corinthians, and all those in the province of Achaia, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received” (1 Co 15:3). And that which he received was a risen Christ who died for our sins and was resurrected to reign as King of kings (1 Co 15:3,4). This is the gospel message that we must first preach as we go into all the world.

When Philip encountered the eunuch on his way back home to Ethiopia, he preached “Jesus” to him (At 8:35). It was only later, and after hearing this gospel message, that the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What hinders me from being baptized” (At 8:36). And herein is the difference between preaching a legal catechism of restoration, and the gospel of the incarnate Son of God who lived on earth under the name of Jesus. This Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, and is now reigning as the King who will come again. It is, therefore, as Paul wrote, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Co 1:23).

Our message to draw people to the cross is the good news of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, reign and final revelation of King Jesus from heaven. It is this message that cuts people to the heart. It is this message to which people gravitate away from institutional religiosity to a relationship with the One who is now reigning over all things. This is the power of the gospel to change the lives of those who realize that they will eventually give account of themselves before a returned King (Jn 12:48; At 17:30,31). This is the right and only mediator through whom we must call all men in order to reconnect with the God who is over all things.

[End of series.]

The Right Call (A)

The problem that eventually leads to a decline in any movement, whether restorational or ecumenical, would be the original call upon which the movement was initially based. Legal restorationists often make a call for restoration that is based on what we would consider a catechism of law. This is done in order to establish a legal identity for those who seek to be identified with the movement. Those who identify with the catechism are allowed to be in fellowship with the movement. Those who find flaws in the catechism are considered to have left the movement.

The nature with this system of identity is that we become serious students of law, but often overlook the cause as to why the early church came into existence. In our call for legal restoration, therefore, we often marginalize Christ by seeking to restore the law of the “New Testament church.” We do so by seeking to identify legally the church in the New Testament. Our favorite books become Acts and the epistles, and not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with the coronation of the Lord Jesus Christ in Revelation. The primary subject of our sermons is based on law, not the Lord Jesus Christ. We often become judges of one another in order to make sure that each one of us conforms to the catechism that identifies who we are. We are thus intimidated to conform to catechisms of law, rather than live the gospel which we have obeyed. But if our obedience was not initially in obedience to the gospel of Christ, but to law, then we easily carry on with law keeping without focusing on Christ.

However, when we follow the message of the early disciples, we discover something that is quite different than what is often preached today among those who seem to believe that they have a copyright on restoration. We are encouraged, therefore, to take another look at the message that was preached among Jews and Greeks in the first century. The result of the message was so phenomenal that it was proclaimed that the Christians had turned the world upside down (At 17:6).

A. Preach the gospel:

Remember when Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15)? The message of the early evangelists was the gospel, not the “law of the church.” Their message to those who obeyed the gospel led to a transformed life. They were transformed in response to the gospel reign of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rm 12:1,2; Cl 3:1,2).

The gospel was not a catechism to identify the church. It was a message that had the power to save and change lives. The church of the saved was the result. The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was the cause. Church was the body of individuals who were saved and transformed.

Unfortunately, we have often reversed the focus of the early disciple. We make the identity of the “church” the message, and the gospel of Christ an afterthought. In fulfilling the great commission of Jesus, we have been guilty of going into all the world and preaching church first.

In preaching “church” as our central message to the religious world, not only is our message often sterile of the gospel of God’s love through Jesus, it is also a simple appeal to “join the church of our choice.” So in order that the preacher seemingly guarantees the “right choice,” prooftext upon prooftext—precept, upon precept (Is 28:10)—are accumulated under each point of a multiple-point outline in order to identity the right church. The preacher thus proves that he is a messenger of a legally-defined New Testament church, and not a preacher of the gospel. He is getting the egg before the chicken, forgetting that the gospel produces the body, the body (church) does not produce the Christ.

[Next in series: January 25]

The Wrong Call (F)

F. Gospel foundation only:

Our quest for unity must not be based on catechisms, but on the gospel of Christ. If we call for a restoration of a correct catechism, then we often bind on ourselves the task of choosing a supposedly correct catechism upon which we must all agree, which catechsim will supposedly bring us all together in unity. And in order to establish the correct catechism, we must bind on ourselves a hermeneutic by which we will all understand the Bible alike, and subsequently, come to some common conclusions. These are legal restorations that usually produce division because they are not based primarily on the gospel.

Inevitably, our hermeneutic of legal restoration of necessity involves deductive conclusions, and inherent in deductive conclusions is division. Deductive conclusions are subject to the minds of men, and thus, we are often left to the mercy of those among us whom we consider to be our scholars to make the correct deductions. We subsequently submit ourselves to a hierarchy of authorities who only have the right to hand down interpretative dictates to the laity.

God did not clone our minds to come to the same conclusions through a deductive system of reasoning. Our hermeneutic of “deductivism,” therefore, is inherently flawed with human reasoning. And since we are independent in our thinking, our deductive process of reasoning often leads us to different conclusions. We subsequently become different sects if we seek to bind our conclusions on one another as the catechism of “our church.”

However, there is hope in all sectarianism. There is hope if we once again refocus on the gospel as the foundation for unity. There are no deductive conclusions to be made about the gospel. What is revealed as gospel in the New Testament is stated in clear statements and historical events. No interpretation is needed. If we all refocus on the foundation of the gospel, then we may not at the beginning originate from the same sect. Nevertheless, if we persistently focus on the gospel of Jesus, we will eventually end up together on the same path.

The path of almost everyone originates out of some past religious heritage. But if we continue to focus on the gospel, our paths will inevitably converge, regardless of our religious origins. It is simply the beauty of the gospel to produce that which we all crave, that is, brotherhood in Christ.

We must be warned, however, that as restoration movements age, they inherently become the heritage of the people. And when the deductive conclusions of the movement become a part of the heritage, then they become the authority of the heritage. We have thus doomed ourselves to eventually decline in numbers as new generations arise who are not attached to the heritage of the fathers. As such is now happening in the American religious scene, unfortunately those who are trapped within what are now heritage movements have a difficult time understanding the reason for their decline. Their catechism of doctrine seems to be failing, and because the heritage is identified by a legal catechism, to some it is quite disconcerting to witness the decline of their religious heritage. They simply do not understand. But as Paul wrote to the Corinthians—we use his statement somewhat out of context—we would say, “And yet I show to you a more excellent way” (1 Co 14:31).

[Next in series: January 23]

The Wrong Call (E)

E. Unity efforts:

In such a scenario of embedded division, sectarian groups will inevitable arise. In order to establish some harmony among those who were inherently divided because of the way in which they have understood the Bible, a superficial unity is often established between those who discover that they must come to some common deductive conclusions.

In such cases, differences are often debated among the sects of misguided restorations. But for the sake of not having “division in the church,” agreements are made upon which a great number of the dissidents can come to a common understanding on what is binding and what is a matter of opinion. These are often legal matters of agreement that subsequently become the identifying characteristics of the movement, or those who would be identified as a part of the restoration movement for unity.

It is at this point that the movement as a whole becomes sectarian, and thus is separated from all others who have followed the same system to determine their own behavior and theology in seeking to be the church of the first century. Unfortunately, the restoration movements that were initially started to produce unity, inadvertently encouraged the adherents to circle around and become that from which they fled.

Ecumenical movements are somewhat different. They are efforts to restore unity among different existing religious groups. Because these movements are efforts to produce some semblance of unity in a community of sectarianism, the adherents to such efforts must first realize that all ecumenical movements are orchestrated by men who come together in order to speak in peace with one another. Unfortunately, in order for religious leaders to speak peace in the same room through theological compromises, or at least theological temperance, the authority of the Scriptures is often set aside. Simply because there is an effort to be together for the sake of peace among different religious groups does not mean that we should leave our Bibles at home. True unity must be based on something greater than our forbearance of one another’s theology.

We have, fortunately, witnessed some ecumenical efforts on the part of many religious leaders who want to lay aside their theological deductions in order to unite on the gospel alone. There is some hope for these movements. In one such meeting where we were invited to speak with the leaders of such a movement, the question was asked by one of the leaders, “How can we be united when we all believe so many different doctrines?” Our response was, “When we understand the gospel correctly, and agree to be united on the foundation of the gospel, then many of the theological differences simply fade away and are not important points over which we should argue, and thus stay away from one another.”

We are in contact with hundreds, if not thousands of church leaders who have grown weary of division over senseless issues. These leaders seek unity that is based on the gospel more than the preservation of their religious heritage, or the uniqueness of their particular group. Theirs is a thirst to respond to the gospel alone.

Admittedly, these are independent churches who have already released themselves from the shackles of traditional religions. They have left the sectarianism of traditional religion, but in their “restoration,” they have become sectarian among themselves because their initial move was not based solely on the gospel. Nevertheless, these independent church leaders realize where they are. In the midst of so much evil in their communities, they have come to the conclusion that in some way they must work together. They now seek to work together in their communities in order to be united on the foundation of the gospel. We would write and confess that this is indeed an exhilarating time in history where such restorations to the gospel are taking place.

[Next in series: January 21]

The Wrong Call (D)

D. Inherent sectarian restorations:

When we call for a restoration we must be careful in establishing the foundation upon which we base our call. If we are not cautious, then we may end up with some unfortunate conclusions that inherently cause us to divide from one another.

In our picking and choosing what we consider to be the “New Testament church,” we saddle ourselves with an inevitable sectarian conclusion. We will often go to battle with ourselves over determining which behavioral examples of “the New Testament church” should be binding, and thus, be restored. We leave ourselves with the daunting challenge of sifting through a catalog of examples of the early disciples we read about in the New Testament. We diligently sift in order to determine what we should restore in reference to the early disciples’ response to the gospel.

Our hermeneutic for determining that which should be restored is often inherently sectarian. We find ourselves fighting legal battles over the example responses of those, who in their obedience to the gospel, escaped the bondage of legal religion. In our misguided call for a legal restoration, we subsequently legalize the examples of the early Christians’ deliverance from the bondage of legal justification. We often develop a systematic theology of law from the examples of those who through faith in the grace of God were set free from the bondage of systematic theology.

Any systematic theology is inherently sectarian. Here are some examples of deductive applications of examples that have become a part of someone’s theology that has led to sectarianism within their restoration movements: Some have concluded that there should be only one cup used during the Lord’s Supper (Prooftext: Mt 26:27). Some have concluded that contributions could be made only on the first day of the week (Prooftext: 1 Co 16:1,2). Some have concluded that individuals must be baptized the same hour of the night (Proof text: At 16:33). Some have concluded that assemblies of the church must be autonomous from one another (Prooftext: ?). Some have concluded that members must place their membership with a particular autonomous group (Prooftext: ?). Some have concluded that all singing must be congregation (Ep 5:19). Some have concluded that their group must have a specific name in order to label their uniqueness, and thus separate themselves from all others who do not conform to the dictates of their accepted church law.

This list of differences goes on, depending on where one is and with what group he or she is associated in fellowship. The call to restore the “New Testament church” forces on us a hermeneutic of understanding and application of the New Testament in a way that inherently divides us from one another. It is inherently divisive because it is a call for the restoration of the wrong subject.

[Next in series: January 19]

The Wrong Call (C)

C. Call to gospel, not sectarianism:

A call for the restoration of the “New Testament church” is misleading, if not sectarian. It is misleading in that it sets up everyone who would be a theologian with the task of determining what characteristics of the church we read about in the New Testament should be restored. And once this church is supposedly restored on the foundation of law, it is unfortunately assumed that salvation is in this restored biblical church. Church thus becomes the savior, not the Christ in whom we are saved as the church. We subsequently find our security in church rather than Christ.

In our efforts to restore today what we read in the New Testament, our focus must first be on the gospel, not on the dysfunctional response of the early disciples to the gospel. In the midst of a catalog of dysfunctional behavioral and doctrinal problems in the early church of the New Testament, each “church theologian” today is left with the daunting task of determining what examples of the early disciples must be restored.

In order to make a correct decision to determine what is “binding” today in our call for restoration, we have often progressed through a host of hermeneutical gymnastics in order to bind today those behavioral responses of the early disciples who were struggling out of legal Judaism and pagan idolatry. When we cannot come to a common outline of binding their examples in our misguided call for restoration of the “New Testament church,” we often fuss over our hermeneutical gymnastics. In our debates with one another over “issues,” we inadvertently became sectarian in our relationships with one another.

The call for a “restoration of the New Testament church” inherently results in sectarianism among all those who have the noble desire to “speak where the Bible speaks.” However, we forget about “being silent where the Bible is silent.” We are not silent for each sect among us determines to carry on with their own hermeneutical conclusions and practices from the authority of “examples” and “necessary inferences.” Or, in setting aside any New Testament examples or inferences, we simply depend on our favorite religious performances or works in order to express our faith.

When a group eventually agrees on the “identifying characteristics of the church,” the claim is often made that the “New Testament church” has been reestablished in our time. Once the form of this identity is inscribed on outlines and written in books and tracts, then it is usually propagated throughout the world as a mission message that is to be preached. The preaching of the “restored church” usually places the messengers (missionaries) in conflict with other institutionalized churches among the nations who are preaching that they too have “restored the church.” In our zeal to duplicate a form of identity of the “biblical” church, Christ is often marginalized and the “doctrine” of the catechism is capitalized.

Unfortunately, the fallacy of both the call and the hermeneutic to restore the “New Testament church” is that we are seeking to restore the wrong foundation upon which we would be the New Testament church. We obscure why the New Testament church existed in the first place. In our obsession over binding and loosing according to our theological hermeneutics, we lose sight of that which should bring people together as church. We forget that we should first be preaching Jesus Christ, and then the response that people should make to this gospel message.

We must be clear. It is not our task to restore the “New Testament church.” Nowhere in the New Testament is this plea made. But if this is our plea, then we are left with the task of determining which “New Testament church” we would seek to restore. Should it be the “New Testament church” in Corinth? Should it be the “New Testament church” in Ephesus at the time the disciples in Ephesus had lost their first love? Which “New Testament church” must we restore?

Because we confuse ourselves with the dysfunctional behavior of some churches we read about in the New Testament, we cast off that which we do not want to restore and set out on a hermeneutical journey to pick and choose what is worthy to become the major points on our outline of the “identity of the New Testament church.” For example, we choose the example of the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week by the church in Troas (At 20:7), but we discard fasting for missions by the church in Antioch (At 13:1-3). We make our contributions into the collection plate on Sunday morning, but refuse a contribution to a homeless person on Monday morning. Many other examples could be listed. In our hermeneutical inconsistencies, we become theological humbugs.

[Next in series: January 17]

The Wrong Call (B)

B. Restoration of the gospel of Christ:

A common slogan that unfortunately leads to sectarianism is the call that we must restore the “New Testament church.” When living in the midst of religious confusion, this sounds like a noble call. It sounds like a call for restoration that is away from the sectarian denominationalism in which most of the “Christian” world lives. But it is a deceiving call that has embedded within it flaws of human reasoning. This may not at first be noticed, but the results of many misguided restoration movements throughout history has proved that restorations that are not based on the gospel eventually lead to the establishment of more religious sects.

In making a call for the restoration of the “New Testament church,” we often have our favorite Old Testament passages that were originally stated in the context of an Israel that had gone beyond repentance and repair. Nevertheless, we quote proclamations as, “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths” (Jr 6:16). Since Israel was beyond restoration at the time, for the people replied, “We will not walk in it” (Jr 6:16).

These calls of the prophets for repentance were vain when they were initially stated because God had already doomed Israel to go into captivity. The same calls in reference to restoration today are misapplied because the premise upon which we seek our noble goal is flawed.

The outcome of our call for restoration is often unsatisfactory because we misapply the call of the prophets for Israel’s repentance. We unfortunately use the prophets call for repentance as prooftexts in order to call for restoration today. But we miss a critical point. A call for repentance is different than a call for restoration.

Our use of the Old Testament pleas to Israel is out of context in reference to our plea to all religious groups today. The prophets pled for a return from going after Baal. All of us today believe in the God to whom the prophets pled for Israel to return. Using their pleas for repentance to the God of heaven is out of context in reference to our plea today to those who are stuck in religion, but believe commonly in the one God of heaven. We call for restoration from religion, not to the one true and living God in whom we all believe.

When the early disciples went forth to preach the gospel, their gospel call was not a plea to restore “the old paths” of the Old Testament. Those paths were nailed to the cross by the gospel event (Cl 2:14). The preaching of the gospel by the early evangelists was a call for a paradigm shift, not for a restoration to the “old paths” of the Sinai law. Their call was for a paradigm shift from self-justifying law-keeping to the grace of the God who sent His only begotten Son into the world. The early evangelists, therefore, called on the world to believe on this Son. We would settle for no less today. It was a paradigm shift from Judaism to faith in the crucified Christ. Today, it is still a paradigm shift from religion to the gospel.

[Next in series: January 15]

The Wrong Call (A)

In order for one to call himself out of religion, and especially the heritage of religion that was handed to him by his forefathers, there must be a restoration. But in order to generate a paradigm shift in a restoration from religion to gospel, a very important decision must be made. This decision involves the “what” and “who” unto which one must be called for direction in his move.

A. Tethered to God through His Son:

One must make a decision to untether himself from the bondage of heritage authority in order to be tethered to God through Christ. This means that the gospel is the means by which we approach God. There can never be two tethers in our relationship with God. One cannot be tethered to the religion of one’s past, and at the same time, seek to be tethered to God through the gospel of His Son. It must be one or the other. Christ can have no competition in a restorational paradigm shift.

In their preaching of the gospel, this was the choice the early disciples presented to the Jews who were in the first century in the bondage of the Jews’ religion (Gl 1:13). It took Saul the persecutor some time to make the choice to be Paul the apostle, but he eventually made his way out of religion and into Christ. And of those things he counted sacred in the Jews’ religion, he wrote,

“I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things. I count them refuse so that I may gain Christ” (Ph 3:8).

One can be, therefore, tethered only to Jesus. “For there is only one God and one mediator [tether] between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tm 2:5). There is only one Lord (Ep 4:5). Peter was very specific about this matter: “There is salvation in no other [than Jesus Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (At 4:12). It is only through Jesus that one can be tethered to God. This leaves religion outside the realm of establishing a relationship (covenant) with God. Salvation is not through meritorious religiosity, but through Christ alone.

Unfortunately, throughout history there have arisen numerous misguided efforts on the part of sincere people to establish a relationship with God, which relationship has been obscured by the influences of their religion. In their desire to establish a gospel relationship with God, some have been diverted in the wrong direction by religion. After a few decades, they ended up back where they started. They left sectarian religiosity in order to establish a direct relationship with God, but because they based their paradigm shift on the foundation of their forefathers’ religion, they missed their desired destination. They circled around and ended up being that from which they fled. They left sectarian religion, but constructed a sectarian movement that inherently produced different sects within the movement. Restorations in religion are only disguised reformation movements. And reformation movements always lead to the birth of more religious sects.

[Next in series: January 13]

Endangered World Evangelism

E. Endangered world evangelism:

The behavior of Diotrephes was evil because his behavior would lead to the loss of many souls. On the other hand, Gaius was doing well in supporting those who came his way and left to evangelize other areas. Gaius was living the gospel. Diotrephes was discouraging Gaius from his gospel living. Diotrephes’ behavior, therefore, was contrary to the gospel.

If evangelists were not supported, then many people would never have an opportunity to hear and obey the gospel. Those who live the gospel know this. Diotrephes’ behavior, however, was disrupting the evangelistic function of the body of Christ because he was threatening Gaius and others who supported the preaching of the gospel. In contrast to living the gospel, he was doing evil by obstructing the evangelistic function of the body of Christ.

We must look beyond Diotrephes when interpreting the “evil” that was encouraged by this one individual. The problem went far beyond both Gaius and Diotrephes. If Diotrephes’ example and influence were continued into the next generation of leaders after him, then the preaching of the gospel to a great extent would terminate before the close of the first century. It was for this reason, therefore, that the Holy Spirit deemed it critical that this very short letter be included in the cannon of Scriptures for the church for centuries to come.

The church must be warned about allowing any leader to capture the church to the detriment of evangelizing the world. If Diotrephes’ behavior of church leadership were passed on to those who followed him, then his cancer of opposition to the gospel would have been catastrophic. Thousands of souls would have been lost.

But in order to satisfy the immediate frustrations of Gaius, John advised Gaius to receive Demetrius (3 Jn 12). Gaius must put himself in the fellowship of those who have a good reputation (3 Jn 12). We thus assume that Demetrius had the reputation of living the gospel that must be preached throughout the world. Demetrius may have been a messenger sent by John with John’s letter in hand. Whether he lived in close proximity to Gaius, or was one of John’s fellow evangelists, John encouraged Gaius to receive and fellowship him as a source of good.

Because Diotrephes’ influence could possibly spread throughout the church at the time, the Christ-sent apostle John determined that he should personally show up at the door of Diotrephes’ house. If John had in mind his responsibility to exercise the duty of a Christ-sent apostle, then the ring of Diotrephes’ doorbell would not be pleasant.

By this time in the history of the church, Diotrephes had surely heard that disciples dropped dead before Christ-sent apostles in the early beginnings of the church (At 5:1-11). Some were delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that they might be taught gospel behavior (1 Co 5:4,5). Some were struck blind by a Christ-sent apostle (At 13:11). If John were coming with the same rod of discipline that Paul was prepared to use with some arrogant leaders in Corinth (1 Co 4:21), then Diotrephes was in trouble. John’s coming to Diotrephes would be as Paul’s coming to some arrogant leaders in Corinth:

“For I fear, that perhaps when I come, I will not find you as I wish, and that I will be found by you to be as you do not wish … lest when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I will mourn over many who have already sinned, and have not repented …” (2 Co 12:20,21).

We must mention the preceding because we wonder why John decided not to write a lengthy letter about the problem. “I had many things to write to you, but I will not with ink and pen write them to you” (3 Jn 13). John did not write a lengthy list of instructions because he possibly felt that this situation was so serious that it needed the direct intervention of God through a Christ-sent apostle. Therefore, John wrote, “I hope to see you shortly” (3 Jn 14).

When we are faced with problems among the disciples in the church, it is best to first determine if the problems directly affect the underlying principles of the gospel and our responsibility to preach the gospel to the world. There will always be personality problems among disciples. Such was the case with Euodia and Syntyche in Philippi (Ph 4:2,3). But when problems affect the God-defined organic purpose of the body of Christ to preach the gospel to the world, then it is time to take action. This was the case where Gaius lived, for the evangelistic function of the body was under threat. The mission function of the body to preach the gospel to the world was being curtailed.

This particular case involved a local dysfunction of the mission outreach of the church. But the problem could have gone further, and subsequently, affected the immediate area in which the participants lived. It would be worth mentioning in this context the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas when Paul determined that it was time to continue their mission into Asia (At 15:36).

There was a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas in reference to giving John Mark a second chance, for he had turned back on the first journey (At 13:13). When it came time to go on the second journey, Paul did not believe that Mark was mature enough to go into the difficult areas to which he planned to go. Paul and Barnabas divided over the level of Mark’s spiritual maturity, but both evangelists did not allow their disagreement to detour them from doing that which they must do, that is, preach the gospel to the world. Paul simply took Silas, and Barnabas took Mark, and all four men carried on in their mission to preach the gospel to the world (At 15:40,41).

Nothing should ever become an obstacle to the preaching of the gospel to the lost. If we allow dysfunctional problems in the local church to hinder the preaching of the gospel to the world, then we know that we are wrong. We are wrong because we are allowing personal squabbles to lead to the loss of souls.

It is not possible for most individuals as Gaius to quit their jobs and go into all the world as evangelists. If Gaius gave up his means of support, then there would be no support to give in order to send others into all the world. God’s system of world evangelism involves senders and those sent. Paul explained, “And how will they preach unless they are sent?” (Rm 10:15).

The point is that if a sender is discouraged in his responsibility to send, then there is a problem. God’s system of world evangelist breaks down. If another individual covets the money of the willing sender, then evil has entered the heart of the covetous person. This may have been the problem with Diotrephes. He may have simply coveted Gaius’ support money for himself. Such is evil.

We must never forget that the eternal soul of a person is far more precious than any personal disagreements we may have with one another, or any love of money (See 1 Tm 6:12). Diotrephes was standing in the way of the preaching of the gospel to the world. For this reason, the Christ-sent apostle John was on his way to deal with him personally in order to either bring him to repentance, or move him out of the way. In either case, the gospel mission of the organic body of Christ had to go on.

[End of series.]