Category Archives: Power of Many

Oneness In All Achaia

The history of the church in Achaia initially originated from the Thessalonian disciples in the province of Macedonia. When Paul, Silas and Timothy left Philippi, they passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, and then came to the city of Thessalonica (At 17:1). There was great receptivity of the gospel in Thessalonica, and thus, the newly converted disciples evidently said to the two evangelists, Paul and Silas, that they would take ownership of Macedonia. They said to the evangelists that they should to go on to the city of Berea, and then to the province of Achaia. So they sent Paul and Silas on to Berea, while Timothy stayed in Macedonia (At 17:10).

Paul was then accompanied by some of the Berean brethren on his way to Athens where he again preached Jesus as the Christ and Son of the one true and living God (At 17:15). After Athens, Paul ended up in the city of Corinth that was located in the province of Achaia (At 18:1). If Aquila and Priscilla were already Christians when Paul arrived, we could assume that the church already existed in Achaia upon Paul’s arrival.

The Thessalonian disciples truly took ownership of their responsibility as disciples of Jesus to reach out from Thessalonica in order to preach the good news of Jesus. It was only about six months after Paul left Thessalonica when he wrote back to the Thessalonians the following words:

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord … so that you were examples to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place(1 Th 1:6-8).

 

By the time Paul arrived in the province of Achaia, the “word of the Lord” had already spread throughout the province through the mission efforts of the disciples in Thessalonica. Upon his arrival in Achaia, the word of God had gone into all the province because of the efforts of some very zealous disciples who wanted to share the opportunity to unbelievers to come out of idolatrous religiosity and into the fellowship of the Son of the one true and living God.

We might assume that since Paul found Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth, these two may have been contacted first by the Thessalonians in their evangelistic outreach to Achaia (At 18:1-3). For some reason, it was easy for Paul to find these two Jewish disciples when he arrived. Some have assumed that he connected with them because they too were in the tentmaking business. This may be true. But the most probable reason why Paul and the tentmaking couple connected was because Aquila and Priscilla were already disciples at the time Paul arrived, possibly being the result of the evangelistic efforts of the disciples in Thessalonica. Stephanas and his household, whom Paul personally baptized (1 Co 1:16), were the firstfruits of Achaia that Paul baptized (1 Co 16:15). But since Aquila and Priscilla were from Pontos and Rome, they were not considered the “firstfruits” of Achaia. We might assume, therefore, that they were already Christians by the time Paul met them in Corinth.

With the help of Aquila and Priscilla, Paul’s personal preaching to all Achaia originated first from the city of Corinth (At 18:1-3). In order to understand the organic unity of the body of Christ throughout all Achaia, we must understand that Paul was not the only evangelist who preached throughout the many cities and towns of the province. We must come to some justified conclusions concerning his ministry in Achaia in order to develop a better understanding of what actually transpired throughout Achaia in reference to the preaching of the gospel and the organic unity of the body. Our conclusions concerning the existence of the church in Achaia lead us to a better understanding of the nature of the unity of the body of Christ as the members reached into all the world with the preaching of the gospel.

A.  Peter and Apollos preached in Achaia.

The division among some of the disciples that prevailed throughout Achaia manifested itself when the whole community of believers came together for the love feast/Lord’s Supper that was probably held in the city of Corinth (1 Co 11:17,18). The context of the 1 Corinthians 11 love feast/Lord’s Supper assembly is better understood with the view that this was an occasional meeting of all the Achaian disciples, not just those who resided in the city of Corinth.   In the context of this assembly for the regional love feast/Lord’s Supper, the opportunity presented itself for some disciples to manifest their inconsiderate attitudes and divisive behavior that were contrary to the nature of the unity of the body. Some disciples who had to come from great distances to the occasion were marginalized by the behavior of those who were quite inconsiderate and sectarian. The situation was so grave that some were even left hungry after they had journeyed a great distance to be at the meeting. Because of the ungodly situation that prevailed, we must determine what was happening during the assembled fellowship in order to understand the exhortations that Paul wrote to correct the situation.

  1. Exhortation for unity: Paul began the Corinthian exhortations on unity with the general admonition of 1 Corinthians 1:10:

Now I urge you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

This is the foundational statement that helps us understand the nature of the organic function of all the saints in Achaia, not just those of the municipality of Corinth. We need to determine if the preceding statement of Paul was an impossible mandate that was bound on the individuals of any particular group of disciples, or if it is a reference to all the members to maintain their fellowship with one another throughout all Achaia.

Taken literally, the statement might seem to enjoin on the disciples an almost cultic principle of unity if the mandate is to the members of any group of saints who were meeting in someone’s house. A dominant leader could certainly use this passage to bind what he considered the “same thing” on those over whom he dictatorially reigned in a particular house assembly. But we feel that this is far from the truth of the passage, and thus, we need to go further in our investigation of what Paul meant in order to understand what he was mandating in reference to the unity of the body of Christ.

 2.  The Achaian ministry of three preachers: Consider the fact that the personalities around which some of the division was occurring were the three evangelists, Paul, Apollos and Cephas (Peter). The fact that some of the Christians in Achaia were dividing over personalities was not the fault of any of the three evangelists. The fault of division was with those who sought an opportunity to call themselves after those they highly respected. This is something that is human nature, but can become the opportunity for those who have a sectarian spirit to divide the body of Christ.   However, we must not ignore the fact that Apollos was a Gentile and Peter was a Jew. Those who claimed to be of Apollos were possibly the Gentile converts in Achaia and those who claimed to be of Peter were possibly the Jewish converts. This is only an assumption concerning the nature of the division, but one that should not be ignored.

The disciples were calling themselves after these three personalities, whom, we could correctly assume, preached in all or portions of Achaia by the time Paul wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. We know Apollos preached in some places of Achaia (At 19:1). Notice carefully Apollos’ initial desires in his contact with Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus: “And when he [Apollos] desired to go to Achaia …” (At 18:27).

It was Apollos’ initial desire to go to the province of Achaia. He did initially go to all of Achaia, but first went to the principle city of the province, which was Corinth (At 19:1). However, we cannot assume that while he was in Achaia that he limited his preaching only to the city of Corinth. Since his original desire was to go to Achaia, we would assume that he ministered the word of God far beyond the city of Corinth. This seemed to be the nature of Apollos, for he was an adventurous evangelist, and true evangelists by nature continually seek to go to new places in order to preach the gospel.

We are not told when Peter (Cephas) was in Achaia. The only evidence that we have of him preaching in the region is Paul’s mention of his name when he, Paul, rebuked the Corinthian disciples for using him as an occasion for division over personalities. We would not assume that the Gentiles of Achaia would have used his name as an occasion for division simply because Peter’s reputation had spread to the region by the time Paul wrote the 1 Corinthian letter. The only valid conclusion would be that Peter was personally in the province sometime after Paul left Achaia, but before he wrote 1 Corinthians.

The ministry of the three preachers not only produced fruit through the preaching of the gospel, but those who were converted were naturally attracted to the personality who initially preached the gospel to them. The Achaian disciples had their favorite preachers, which favoritism eventually became one of opportunities to manifest a divisive spirit among them.

We would not assume that all three preachers (Paul, Apollos and Peter) restricted their preaching to the “city limits” of Corinth. This would have been most unnatural in reference to the work of an evangelist. We do not know how long either evangelist stayed in the province.   But one thing would certainly be true if their preaching began in Corinth. Visitors from all Achaia who came to Corinth and heard the message of the gospel, would have asked them continually to come to their areas throughout all Achaia and also preach the gospel. We would correctly assume that Paul, Peter and Apollos would certainly have answered these pleas. If they did not have the time to answer these “Macedonian calls,” then the visitors themselves would have returned to their towns and villages throughout all Achaia with the message of the gospel.

B.  The correction letter to all the disciples of Achaia:

 In order to understand the unity about which the Holy Spirit wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:10, we need to determine exactly those to whom the exhortation was written. Once this is determined, then some surprising light is shed on our understanding of the meaning of the passage.

We must remind ourselves of a very important historical fact concerning the early assemblies of the church in the first century.   Because we are often so prejudiced by our belief in autonomous assemblies, we must continually remind ourselves that such a belief and practice was foreign to the organic function of the early disciples. They never considered separating themselves from one another because of their necessity to meet at different locations. They never considered functioning independently of one another.

We must keep in mind that autonomous function is a modern-day behavior and theology that is read into the function of the early church. It is a theology, unfortunately, that is so strong among some today that it is considered almost heresy to even submit the possibility that the early Christians had no concept of behaving independently from one another because they met at different locations in assembly. The early Christians did not consider their assembly locations to be an opportunity by which they would denominate from one another in the organic function of the body. Therefore, we must guard ourselves from reading into the earthly organic function of the early church something that is unique to us today, but is foreign to the Scriptures. We must simply keep in mind that it was the church that was in the cities, not churches. Focus in the New Testament was on people as the church, not assemblies as the identity of the people as the church.

The assertion of the “autonomous” theology is so common today among religious groups that many have led themselves to believe that when a particular group of disciples is mentioned in the New Testament, then there must have been only one single assembly of the disciples of the church in the mentioned city. In other words, when in Revelation Jesus addressed the seven churches in seven cities of Asia, it is assumed that there was only one assembly (“one church”) in each of the seven cities that are mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3. We feel that such is not only an erroneous historical conclusion, but as previously stated, an attack against the organic unity and early growth of the church in the first century.

If we assume the late date of the writing of Revelation to be around A.D. 96, then the autonomy doctrine would assert that from the time of the massive conversion in Ephesus of Acts 19 in the middle 50s, to the date of writing of Revelation in A.D. 96, the church in Ephesus grew to only one single assembly in the city, and that assembly was meeting in the home of some disciple. We believe that such a conclusion is essentially preposterous, if not a denial of the early organic function of the body of members, not only in Ephesus, but also in all the major cities of the first century. We find it quite erroneous to believe that by the time the New Testament letters were written, that there was only one single assembly of disciples in Rome, Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, Ephesus, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Colosse. Such a conclusion seems to be the opposite of the Holy Spirit’s historical statement that the early Christians turned the world upside down for Jesus (See At 17:6).

We must also reconsider the autonomous single-assembly theology in reference to the early meetings of the disciples in the homes of the members. Again, there was no such thing in the first century as church buildings, school halls or civic centers in which the early Christians could meet. During times of Jewish persecution, which later moved into the state persecution of the Roman Empire, it would have been counter productive for the disciples to advertise the location of their assemblies by meeting in public places (compare At 8:3).

When the church went underground and met in caves (the catacombs) under the city of Rome during the heat of the state persecution of Rome, we think it would have been quite unreasonable for groups of disciples to function autonomously from one another in reference to their assemblies.   The Christians were struggling together for survival, not to survive in order to be denominated from one another.   While enduring the heat of persecution, the early Christians were drawn together, not separated from one another into independent groups.

With the understanding that the one church consisted of multiple-assemblies within the regions or cities of the first century, we approach mandates for unity that are expressed in statements as 1 Corinthians 1:10. We understand these statements with the view that the text is teaching that the disciples remained united.   1 Corinthians 1:10 was written in the historical context of some disciples denominating over personalities.   Paul wrote the exhortation in order to encourage the fact that Christ is not divided, and thus, they could not, as the body of Christ, be divided into independent groups (1 Co 1:13).

We consider exhortations as 1 Corinthians 1:10 to be exhortations that the disciples not allow their regular assemblies to become the opportunity to draw away from one another as independent groups.   Our understanding of the organic unity of the disciples who regularly met at different places, and possibly different times on Sunday, does not canonize for us any theology on assembly.   The early Christians’ multiple-house assemblies were simply out of necessity. However, sometimes their meetings in different houses became the opportunity for them to manifest a sectarian spirit on the part of some.   Meeting in only one place was not Paul’s answer to the problem. His answer was to correct their relationships with one another because they were all “of Christ.” They were all “of Christ” because they had all been baptized in the name of Christ (1 Co 1:12,13).

We do not, therefore, argue against the sin of division by offering a divisive doctrine of either legal union or cloning within or among autonomous assemblies. We do not argue for autonomy in order to promote a superfluous unity that is actually a union. We seek to deal with the sectarian attitudes that often prevails among disciples, regardless of where the disciples sit on Sunday morning. And in order to do this, there are some very interesting facts concerning those to whom the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians were directed.

  1.  Stephanas and his household were the firstfruits of Achaia.   In 1 Corinthians 16:15, Paul wrote, “… brethren, you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia ….” Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus had come to Paul in Ephesus to minister to Paul “what was lacking on your [the Achaians’] part” (1 Co 16:17).   As they brought support from Achaia to Paul, they also reported to Paul what was happening among the disciples in Achaia.

In considering this statement in reference to the conversion of Stephanas and his household as the first ones to be converted in Achaia, why would we assume that Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus were only from the city of Corinth? Paul certainly addressed his first letter to the disciples in the area “to the church of God that is at Corinth” (1 Co 1:2). But we make a wrong assumption by not considering the second letter that was written to the same people. Because of the preceding statement, we wrongly assume that 1 Corinthians was directed only to the disciples who lived in the city of Corinth. But in the passage quoted above in reference to Stephanas (1 Co 16:15), Paul did not say that he was the firstfruits of the city of Corinth. Stephanas and his household were the firstfruits of Achaia, though they may have lived in the city of Corinth. It seems more logical to conclude that Paul was writing to all the disciples in all of the province of Achaia, not just to those in the city of Corinth. In other words, his letters were not exclusively to the disciples in Corinth simply because he mentions this city in the introduction of the first letter. When we get to the follow-up letter (2 Co), this point is made very clear.

The occasion for much of the division was when all the disciples of Achaia came together in the city of Corinth to celebrate the love feast/Lord’s Supper. This would be particularly true in reference to their provincial and occasional assemblies in one city for the Lord’s Supper. But the division among all the disciples throughout the province was not simply in Corinth. It was a provincial problem. The problem only manifested itself during the periodic regional assembly of all the members when they came together in Corinth for the love feast/Lord’s Supper.   (More on this in chapter 11.)

So in Paul’s reference to Stephanas as a representative of Achaia in 1 Corinthians 16:15, we could assume that Stephanas was not from Corinth, but from some other town in Achaia. In fact, Paul commended those who sent the representatives of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus to him with their support. The uniqueness of Stephanas and his household was that they had “dedicated themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Co 16:15).   This was to the ministry of the saints in all Achaia.

In 1 Corinthians 16:15 Paul said, You know the household of Stephanas ….” Paul’s mention of the household of Stephanas was not an introduction to this household. It was simply a statement concerning a household that they already knew. The knowledge of this household throughout Achaia, therefore, assumes that the three men, Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, were representatives to Paul from all the saints of Achaia, not just Corinth.

Stephanas and his household were known throughout Achaia because they had dedicated themselves to serve the saints throughout the province. When we investigate this matter in the second letter, the ministry of this household was certainly far beyond the city of Corinth. The division among the disciples was provincial, and thus, the one who was familiar with all the divided parts within the body was a household of dedicated servants who moved among the disciples throughout the province.

 Those to whom 2 Corinthians was directed clarifies those to whom 1 Corinthians was directed. With the comments of the previous point in mind, consider Paul’s introduction in the second letter:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia (2 Co 1:1).

Paul specifically addressed the second letter to the saints in the city of Corinth, but he tied these saints to all the saints in Achaia with the word “with.” This is one of the strongest statements in the New Testament that teaches the organic unity of the body of Christ in any particular region where there are Christians.

We deduct from Paul’s introductory statements in both letters that he was addressing all the saints in Achaia representatively through the saints who were in Corinth. The problem of disunity that Paul discussed was not exclusively with the saints in the city of Corinth. Those who claimed to be “of Apollos” or “of Cephas” or “of Paul” were scattered throughout the province of Achaia. They were scattered throughout the province because the former ministry of Paul, Peter and Apollos extended throughout the province.

3.  All Achaia was ready to contribute to the famine in Judea.   When Paul moved on in 2 Corinthians to his discussion of the special famine contribution for Judea, his commendation concerning contributions about which he wrote to the Macedonian Christians was not simply in reference to the saints in Corinth.

Concerning the ministry of the saints, it is not needful to me to write to you, for I know the willingness of your mind, of which I boast of you to those of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago. And your zeal has stirred up the majority (2 Co 9:1,2).

Paul boasted that the saints in all Achaia had prepared for the contribution. His boast was not in reference to the saints in the city of Corinth alone. The commendation was concerning all the saints in all Achaia. We conclude, therefore, that this statement ties the recipients of both 1 & 2 Corinthians together to be addressed to all the saints in Achaia. For this reason, Paul’s encouragement through the boast had to go to all the saints in all Achaia, the saints whom he addressed in both letters.

The pronoun “you” in 2 Corinthians 9:1,2 referred to all the Christians in Achaia, and thus, the letter of 2 Corinthians was written to all the Christians in Achaia. Therefore—and please note this—when Paul uses the pronoun “you” throughout the letter of 2 Corinthians, we must conclude that he was addressing all the saints in all Achaia. And we would go one step further in our conclusion. The problems that Paul addressed in 2 Corinthians reflected on the problems with which he dealt in the first letter.   Since this would be a logical conclusion, we would assert that 1 Corinthians was also directed to all the saints in Achaia who were dealing with some problems in reference to the unity of the saints.

It was in the context of his address to all the saints in all Achaia that the plea of 1 Corinthians 1:10 was made. Paul’s exhortation in reference to unity in both letters, therefore, was that the individual saints of Achaia not denominate themselves from one another, regardless of where they lived, with whom they assembled, or who they favored as their leader. Paul’s mandates for unity were not written to autonomous groups to be united as a network of churches.   His instructions were directed to individual members to be united with one another as the one universal body of Christ. If the members maintained their unity with one another, then the members of all their assemblies would be united.

 4.  Paul supported himself while preaching in all Achaia. One thing is certain concerning Paul’s preaching when he went to Corinth. He preached in all the province of Achaia, not just in the city of Corinth. Notice carefully the wording of his statements in 2 Corinthians 11:9 in reference to his support. He made the statements, “present with you and, “I was not a burden to anyone …. I have kept myself from being burdensome to you. In 2 Corinthians 11:10 he concluded these remarks with the statement, “As the truth of Christ is in me, no one will stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia.”   It is evident that he was addressing in 2 Corinthians all the disciples in all Achaia, not just those in the city of Corinth. As he traveled about preaching the gospel in all Achaia, he supported himself in order not to be a burden to any of the new converts.

Paul’s ministry was to the province of Achaia when he was personally in the province. The problems of the church of Achaia with which he dealt in the second letter, were problems he mentioned in 1 Corinthians. And since the second letter was directed to all the disciples in Achaia, then we must conclude that the first letter was also directed to all the disciples in Achaia.

In the context of the problem that he addressed in 2 Corinthians 11 concerning divisions surrounding the Lord’s Supper, we must assume that when he wrote both letters, they were addressed to all the Christians in the province of Achaia. The purpose for which the members of the church in Achaia came together for the love feast/Supper was actually lost in their independent behavior of being exclusive in some of their home assemblies. In order to correct their disconnected assemblies, Paul sought to correct their relationships with one another.

[Next lecture: October 31]

 

Beyond Assemblies

When we step down from a “high church” assembly identity of the church to a multiple assembly of the church of Christians meeting in small groups, we actually need to move down one more level.   Most of New Testament letters were written to correct dysfunctional behavior, whether this behavior was manifested in a dysfunctional assembly or when one was ordinarily going about his personal life in the world around him. About half of the New Testament is a record of the life and ministry of Jesus.   The remainder of the letters of instruction, and a final note of prophetic encouragement (Revelation), were addressed to individuals as members of the body. When we understand that the Bible was written to teach us the science of life, then we are on our way to understand better all the work that God put into giving us His instructions for life.

The main objective of the New Testament letters was not to identify the church by a performance of legal codes. We understand the epistles as instructions on living, not as a doctrinal constitution on church and assembly. It was not the purpose of the Holy Spirit to establish a legal code to identify the disciples in any particular community by a doctrinal code of assembly. It was His purpose to correct individuals in their individual relationships with one another in order that they be known for their love of one another (See Jn 13:34,35).   The New Testament is a textbook on how God wants us to love Him above all, our neighbors of the world among whom we must live, and one another as His children (Mt 22:34-40).

In some contexts of Scripture, the assembly of the saints became the opportunity for the carnality of some members to reveal itself. But we must not be diverted in our understanding of these texts by thinking that a pattern of assembly had been violated, and thus, a correct pattern was subsequently revealed. The problem in Achaia, for example, was not in the violation of a pattern of assembly, but in the dysfunctional relationships that some disciples fostered toward one another long before they arrived at the assembly. What corrupted their coming together in assembly was the unholy attitudes of some who were inconsiderate of others, not some doctrinal code of liturgy they violated.

As previously stated, there are few statements in the Scriptures that deal with the coming together in assembly of the disciples. The vast majority of inspired New Testament Scripture deals with the spiritual conduct of disciples outside assembly, and their struggles to survive in this world. We would, therefore, view the text of Scripture primarily as a road map on how to live our daily lives with one another in our struggles to live in a world that is hostile to faith.

Christians assemble with one another because of their one another relationships that are built on love (Jn 13:34,35). If there are those who need a commandment to be with their brothers and sisters in Christ, then they are struggling with loving their brothers and sisters in Christ. The solution to this lack of love is not legal commands on correct assemblies, but teaching on how to love one another, which is exactly what is contained in the New Testament letters.

If we come to the New Testament in order to discover instructions that will help us make it through every day, then we will get over our obsession of trying to find a legal code of conduct for an “hour of worship” once a week on Sunday morning. We will cease trying to identify ourselves by a brief encounter with one another on Sunday.

Almost all the disputes that occur among Christians come from those who have obsessed over some violation of liturgy on Sunday morning. Such disputes over supposed violations that take place during the “hour of worship” too often divert our attention away from correcting unloving attitudes that occur outside our assemblies.   We are saddened when we consider how many conflicts have resulted over the supposed “biblical” ceremonies by which the Lord’s Supper is supposedly to be carried out during an assembly. It is in controversies over subjects as the Lord’s Supper that reveal our character outside the assembly. In fact, this would be the context of Paul’s statement of 1 Corinthians 11:19: “For there must also be factions among you so that those who are approved may be made known among you.”

Our unloving and contentious spirits in matters of opinion make us no better than the Achaians who were drunken with the wine of the Supper, which wine some had consumed totally before the arrival of all the saints for the Supper (1 Co 11:17-34). We must continually remind ourselves that the epistles were written to correct dysfunctions in our personal lives. Once the dysfunctions are corrected, then there is no difficulty in our coming together in love. And in reference to the Achaians, there was a great deal of relational dysfunction among the members before they showed up at an assembly with one another.

The interpretive foundation upon which we base our understanding of unity is that the Holy Spirit seeks to reveal the will of God to those who believe in Jesus. Because we are less than perfect, the Holy Spirit had His holy hands full when He directed the early writers to give us direction concerning our behavior. When we read the Spirit’s epistles to correct social dysfunctions among the body of members, we keep in mind that He was focusing first on each member individually. If the individuals sorted out their lives, then the assembly of the individuals would be a joyous occasion for spiritual renewal.

In reference to unity, the Holy Spirit moved through inspired writings to correct relational functions that individual disciples are to have with one another. The early house assemblies were the opportunity for individual members to discover their spiritual and personal dysfunctions. It is easy to hide in the crowd of a large assembly and allow oneself to have his personality dysfunctions to go unchecked. But in the close fellowships of the early house assemblies, dysfunctional relationships revealed themselves. These dysfunctions then had the opportunity to be corrected in a spirit of love.

In the weekly assemblies of the Achaia members in their respective towns, there seems to have been little problem when the “Cephites,” “Apollosites,” and “Paulites” met in their own assemblies.   But when all the members of all Achaia came together to celebrate around the love feast/Supper, then their sectarian attitudes and behavior were manifested. They had no problem as long as they met in their own small groups.   But when all the members came together into one assembly, it was manifested that they were dysfunctional in their personal relationships with one another. It was this dysfunction that was reported to Paul, who subsequently wrote that it was not possible for them to come together to celebrate their unity around the love feast/Supper. On the contrary, their coming together in the assembly of all the saints manifested their disunity (1 Co 11:17-19). It was during this area wide assembly where the factions among them were manifested (1 Co 11:19).

What seems to have transpired was that some house assemblies assumed a certain “personality,” or at least surrounded themselves around a certain personality. In reference to the Achaian situation, for example, the “Cephites” were fine when they met together with one another. One group even harbored a certain member who was living immorally with his father’s wife (1 Co 5:1-5).

Regardless of how different groups dysfunctionally condoned immorality or sectarian behavior in their assemblies, corrections had to be made. The sectarians could not hide in their own groups. The immoral person could not hide among those who condoned his sin.   Neither could Jews or Gentiles separate themselves from one another into either Gentile or Jewish groups (See Gl 2:11-16). The behavior of every member, regardless of where he or she assembled, affected the entire church.

We might conclude that if one can maintain a dysfunctional spirit or immoral behavior while assembling with the saints in a particular group, then the assembly is too impersonal, or the group has compromised the moral teaching of the word of God. A participatory and interactive assembly of the saints is an opportunity for each disciple to correct dysfunctional personality characteristics in a spirit of love. If immorality is involved, then the immoral can be rebuked.

When we correct our personality dysfunctions in a spirit of love, then the assembly of the saints becomes an adventure in personality discovery. When we live in a relational environment where our morally can be checked, then we are kept safe from falling if we repent. When we are in an assembly of brothers and sisters where relationships are functional to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another” (Js 5:16), then our assemblies are conducive to spiritual support and character building. It is then that our coming together is for the better, and not for the worse.

What the Holy Spirit did do through the instructions of the written word of God is to correct the dysfunction of individuals in order that the individuals have an opportunity to rejoice in assembly.   When we meet together in love, our spirit of worship is enhanced. Assembly becomes the sweet opportunity to taste the essence of what God intended should occur in a relational gathering of all the parts of the body. It is for this reason that every assembly of the saints should be an opportunity for edification.

It is through edification that the power of the unified body is released. When the many are edified through assembly, the power of each member is released. It is our conclusion that every assembly of the saints should be for edification, for when each member of the body is edified, the power of the Spirit that works in every member is released on the world through the energized witness of each member of the body.

[Next Lecture:   October 29]

The Many As One

Jesus knew how His disciples would of necessity have to organically function after He sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost. He knew how they would have to function during years of persecution.   Because the disciples would first be targeted by their Jewish persecutors, and then by the state persecutors of Rome, they would of necessity have to feel good about meeting in small groups from house to house. And thus, in His own ministry, Jesus set the example of teaching from house to house (See Mt 8:14; 9:10,23; Lk 5:29-32; 14:1; 15:1-32; 19:5).

During His earthly ministry, Jesus went from house to house ministering the word of God to the people and speaking of the change in kingdom reign that was soon to come in the lifetime of His disciples (Mk 9:1). In order to prepare His Jewish disciples for a change in kingship in heaven, He taught many concepts concerning His kingdom reign that were soon to come (Download Book 9, The Reign of Christ, BRL, africainternational.org). Because His coming kingdom reign was such a dramatic paradigm shift in the heavenly realm, it is interesting to note how Jesus at first subtly taught on the subject, and the location where He taught these important subjects.

A.  The disciples ministered from house to house.

Jesus’ house to house ministry seems to have established a pattern for the early disciples. They too ate their food in fellowship with one another from house to house (At 2:46). They ministered the word of God from house to house (At 5:42; 20:20). And when Saul wanted to find Christians during his campaign of terror, he went from house to house in order to search for them (At 8:3).   The expansion of the body of Christ into all the world from its very beginning was from house to house. This was not a pattern of ministry to establish a precedent for either evangelism or assembly, but simply the natural process by which the early church organically grew. It is our task to discover how the early disciples remained one organic body as they numerically grew from house to house throughout the world.

What is interesting about the early house to house function of the body was the unity that was maintained among the Christians regardless of whose house in which they assembled. Though the fellowship meetings were of necessity in the homes of the members, the members in any particular city continued to function as one united body. They never viewed themselves as autonomous from one another simply because they had to meet in their homes.

If there were many Christians in a particular city or region, then the common place of exhortation and teaching was in the homes of the members. For example, Aquila and Priscilla had a meeting of the saints in their home when they lived in Asia (1 Co 16:19). Paul found twelve disciples in Ephesus who were undoubtedly meeting in the homes of the disciples for many years before he encountered them (At 19:1-5). Nympha had a fellowship of disciples meeting in her home (Cl 4:15). When Aquila and Priscilla moved on to Rome, they continued to use their home for the assembly of the disciples (Rm 16:5). When reading the context of Romans 16, it is interesting to note the numerous household fellowships of the disciples that were taking place throughout the city of Rome, and yet, Paul did not consider any of the household fellowships to be autonomous from one another.

The kingdom reign of Jesus comes into existence in a particular region through the addition of members to the body by God after people obey the gospel. Added members then enjoy the serendipity of fellowship with other Christians who have likewise been baptized into Christ (At 2:41,47). Their unity as part of the body is a blessing that comes with their common obedience to the gospel, not because of a union of independent groups who have cloned their assemblies after one another in order to conform to one another. Unity among individual members is simply inherent in the members’ common obedience to the gospel.

Since we are given no information in the New Testament on any organizational mechanism as to how all the disciples in a particular city remained united as one church, we must assume that in view of the fact that the church is always one, whether locally or internationally, then the Holy Spirit assumed that we needed no instruction on how the Christians in any region should orchestrate unity on their own accord. It was simply understood that everyone who believed in Jesus, and was obedient to the gospel, would be a part of the one body of Christ. There needed to be no instructions on how to be that which was only natural to be when added to the universal body of Christ. The early disciples simply did not allow their necessity of meeting in different homes throughout a city to separate them into independent groups that had no fellowship with one another.

Church buildings came into existence at the beginning of the fourth century. It was Emperor Constantine who orchestrated a political move to bring Christianity into harmony with pagan religions throughout the Roman Empire. Throughout the centuries before the appearance of the first church buildings, however, it was the custom of the disciples to meet in numerous homes wherever they had the opportunity to assemble. But with the coming of larger assemblies in church buildings, the disciples in any particular city had a tendency to separate themselves from one another as members of different assembled groups naturally grew closer together in their weekly assemblies. What was natural in human relationships seemed to move the groups further away from one another as groups.

Before the large assemblies, there were small assemblies in several homes throughout a particular city. The small assemblies seemed to encourage all the members of a region to function as one body.

It was not that the initial Christians established a “doctrine” that the church should meet in homes. Meeting in the homes of the members for almost three hundred years was simply the necessity of the day, which necessity after three centuries of the existence of the church, must have been the established custom of the disciples. But it was only a custom.

The mention of house assemblies in Scripture precludes no necessity that we today must do likewise. Therefore, we must assume that when studying through passages in the New Testament that deal with the unity of the church, we must understand that the disciples were meeting in the homes of the members. But because they were meeting in small groups, they were not denominated into different autonomous groups because of their necessity to meet in their homes. We emphasize the house assembly function of the early Christians in order to better understand the New Testament statements that are made in reference to unity.

The problem comes when one reads his church building culture of today into the text of New Testament statements that refer to the assembly function of the saints. And in doing so, one usually has the tendency to assume that the early disciples in their house-assemblies functioned autonomously from one another in their assemblies as large church-building-oriented assemblies function today. But if we make this assumption, we are reading into the text of Scriptures something that is contrary to the facts of history and certainly alien to the unity of the body of members in the first century. What usually happens is that the preacher teaches on a New Testament text in reference to unity, but assumes that the passage is speaking only to those who are seated before him.

It is important to keep reminding ourselves of this point because when the subject of church unity is under consideration, those who are accustomed to assemblies in church buildings often assume that purpose-built church buildings must be read into New Testament contexts that deal with the unity of the saints. In doing this, some often force themselves to imagine how supposedly large independent assemblies within each city worked together as one church in the city. In many ways, our building culture of today actually hinders our objectivity in interpreting passages that deal with the unity of the body.

The unity of the church in the first century was not based on how large assemblies of disciples organized some system by which they could work together as one assembly of disciples. On the contrary, the historical context of small house assemblies did not present an obstacle for the early Christians to remain one body.   The necessity of their being small drove them to associate with others in the city who were also disciples of Jesus.   Their focus on unity was on individuals enjoying their common blessing of unity, regardless of where any individual member was located on Sunday.

The New Testament was not written in the context of identifying the church by its meeting in assemblies. The existence of the church was determined by individually baptized believers wherever they were located. The statements of unity in the New Testament were directed to individuals, which individuals regularly assembled with other baptized disciples wherever possible. The exhortation of New Testament passages were written to correct dysfunctional relationships between individuals, not dysfunctional relationships between different independent assemblies of Christians.

The problem of assemblies functioning independent from one another was corrected by exhortations to individuals. The assembly of the disciples in the early church in any particular city was never allowed to be an opportunity for division between any Christians. Division only came when certain groups of elders, or individuals, separated assemblies of disciples under their own control, much like what exists today in different cities throughout the world.

For the preceding reasons, there was never any case where one assembly of disciples in the first century disfellowshipped another assembly of disciples. Since membership of the body is individual with God, it would be senseless to believe that one assembly of disciples could collectively disfellowship any individual in another assembly by disfellowshipping the entire group of disciples. The fact that some today have done such is proof of their denominational behavior in reference to assemblies being the identity of the church.

Now reverse the preceding in reference to baptized individuals as Aquila and Priscilla who were regularly sitting in an assembly of unbaptized Jews (At 18:24-26). Would their sitting among the unbelievers be justification to disfellowship Aquila and Priscilla because they met with unbelievers every Sabbath in the synagogue? We assume that they met with other disciples on Sunday, if indeed there were other disciples in Ephesus at the time. But what if there is an assembly of people who believe in Jesus and are meeting in a community where there is no assembly of the disciples? What if they are the only assembly in a pagan or idolatrous community where there are those who believe in Jesus? Could a Christian sit in their midst? We wonder if Paul separated himself on Sunday from the twelve disciples he found until they obeyed the gospel in the name of Jesus (At 19:1-7)? We pose these questions to those among us who are quick with all the answers to condemn an individual disciple because he or she does not have the opportunity to sit in a legally sanctioned assembly, if indeed one existed in the area where he lives.

The answer to the above scenarios is that the Christian should simply start an assembly in his own house. And that is exactly what happened in the first century.   This is what Aquila and Priscilla did, though for evangelistic purposes, they took every opportunity to meet with other religious people as long as they were allowed. The early Christians started their assemblies in their own houses, and stayed there for several centuries.

B.  The many remained one.

In every city of the first century wherein Christians resided, the Christians were meeting throughout the city at different locations. Each member was functioning as part of the one organic body of Christ. In a city as Jerusalem, with an estimated 30,000 members, plus children, there were meetings in hundreds of homes throughout the city. In fact, if we were to make a conservative estimate, we might assume that there was an average of 25 members, plus children, meeting in every house. If this estimate is anywhere near the average assembly, then there would have been about 1,200 house assemblies in Jerusalem by the time of the events of Acts 15. And yet, when the events of Acts 15 were recorded by Luke, he made the statement, “Now when they [Paul and Barnabas] came to Jerusalem, they were received by the church [ekklesia]…” (At 15:4).

When we read accounts of the activities of the disciples in Jerusalem, Luke always referred to the church as a single body of disciples. We must take Luke’s use of the word ekklesia into the rest of the contexts of Acts where he records the presence of Christians in different cities. For example, when Paul went throughout Syria and Cilicia, he strengthened the “churches” (At 15:41). The better translation of the word ekklesia in this context would be that he went to and strengthened the assemblies of the disciples in the cities that he visited. When he went throughout Galatia, the “churches [assemblies] were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily” (At 16:5). The number of disciples increased in all the regions that he visited, and therefore, there was an increase in house assemblies.   These are the only two cases where Luke uses the plural of ekklesia in reference to the disciples. We would conclude that he does so in order to reaffirm to Theophilus, the one to whom the document of Acts was directed, should understand that the disciples were meeting throughout cities and regions of the Roman Empire in different assemblies, though they were the one ekklesia of Christians.

Luke did not determine the existence of the church in any city by the number of assemblies in a particular city, but by the individual disciples in the city. When he discusses the growth of the church in Acts, it is growth in members, not assemblies (See At 1:15; 2:41,47; 4:4; 6:7). He emphasized the oneness of the disciples in any city by using the singular term “church” that referred to all the disciples who were numbered as members of the body. But when a teacher came through town, Luke used the plural of ekklesia in order to emphasize the method by which the disciples assembled to be taught and encouraged.

We find it quite interesting when biblical interpreters do not figure into their historical studies of the church the fact of the numerous assemblies (“churches”) of the saints in the cities to whom the epistles were written. Invariably, some interpreters come to a particular epistle that is addressed to the saints in a city that is named, and yet, they assume that there was only one single assembly of the saints on Main Street and Central Avenue in the city. Such an historical prejudice does no justice to our understanding of the organic function of the body. In fact, such an interpretive prejudice twists the meaning of those texts that deal with the organic unity of the members of the body. Instead of understanding the “unity passages” of the New Testament in the context of multiple-assemblies of the church in any particular city, some unnecessarily force themselves into wondering how large single-assembly churches supposedly worked together as one church in a city. We believe that the real picture is that the disciples were all one church as individual members. This fact was understood by the first readers, regardless of where any individual member was located on Sunday morning. The word “church” (ekklesia) did not refer to literal assemblies of the members, but to the members as God’s called out assembly of people.

With some interpreters, the single-assembly prejudice is so ingrained in their interpretations that they lead us to deny the rapid growth of the early church. For example, after at least three decades of the existence of the church in Ephesus, it is assumed by some interpreters that there was still only one single-assembly of the disciples in the city of Ephesus when John recorded the following statement in the book of Revelation, “To the angel of the church of Ephesus …” (Rv 2:1). To believe that this statement assumes that there was still only one assembly of the disciples in Ephesus after such a long period of growth is certainly a denial of the early growth of the church in Ephesus.

It is not that there was only one single-assembly of disciples in Ephesus at the time Jesus addressed “the church” in Ephesus in Revelation 2, but the singularity of the word “church” teaches the unity of the individual disciples who were meeting in many house assemblies throughout the city, and yet, they were united as one church. The assumption that there was only one single-assembly of the church in Ephesus, and other cities of the New Testament, is a subtle denial of the unity of the disciples within these cities.

Some might argue that the multiple assemblies of the church in a particular city or region is not relevant to our discussion on the unity of the organic body. But we would certainly argue to the contrary. Without going into the novice nature of such reasoning, we would contend that we cannot understand the nature of the unity of the universal body of Christ unless we first understand the house-assembly function of the disciples when the epistles were written and addressed to the early disciples in any particular city or region. The epistles were directed to the members of God’s family who were all working together as a single unit, though there were corrections made in the letters in order to correct their relational dysfunctions.

The discussions in the following chapters of this book will validate the necessity of this conclusion. One will also come to the conclusion that the present assembly behavior of the church makes it difficult to understand how the disciples in a particular city as a whole in the first century could be united as one in Christ while meeting at different locations throughout a city or region.   But if we could set aside our modern-day single-autonomous-assembly prejudices, we can better understand that we are united as individuals in Christ, regardless of where, when or with whom we sit on Sunday morning.

[Next lecture: October 26]

 

The One-Member Church

One of the first things to remember in order to understand the oneness of the disciples is, as stated previously, to always view the body of Christ from the point of view of Jesus from heaven.   And since Jesus is reigning in heaven with all authority on earth through His word, then it is only logical that we should always view His body from how He sees the members organically functioning on earth in obedience to His word. We know this is difficult, since we are earthly bound and confined to space, time and location. But this is not the case with Jesus who looks down on His people as they work through the struggles of this world in order to spread His aroma to those who are seeking hope.

We must never forget that Jesus now has authority over all things (Mt 28:18).   He is the head of all things for the sake of His body (Ep 1:22,23). We must, therefore, always view His body to be worldwide (universal) for His reign is universal. Since the body is composed of individual members throughout the world, then the body of Christ is universal.   We must always view the function of the body first to be universal before we can understand the local organic function of parts of the body in any particular region of the world. This is how Jesus from heaven looks over the function of the members of His body on earth.

The body of Christ exists wherever there is a member of the body, not an assembly of the body. An assembly of the body does not constitute the existence of the church in any particular location. Members, not assemblies, validate the presence of the body of Christ.   Assembly is not the evidence of the existence of the body, because the body was in existence in its very beginning on the day of Pentecost before there was the first assembly the following Sunday. When the first person came forth from the waters of baptism in Jerusalem on the Pentecost in A.D. 30, and was added to the church of disciples by God, the church was in existence.   The first assembly was not until a week later.

The church existed, therefore, before there was an assembly of the members of the body who had been added to the body of God’s people (At 2:47). This is why we must conclude that the church is not identified by its assemblies, but by individual members who have been born again and added by God to the body. When we understand this one point, we have accomplished a quantum leap in understanding the oneness of the universal body of Christ.

When we approach our Textbook, therefore, it is God who adds individuals to the spiritual body that exists throughout the world (At 2:47). Wherever there are individuals who have obeyed the gospel, the church exists.   We seek to expand the kingdom reign of Jesus throughout the world by preaching the gospel in order that people have the opportunity to be added to the body of disciples. And where one person has been added to the body, the church exists.

We do not establish the church in any particular area by baptizing people. The church has already been established. Establishment of the church took place in A.D. 30 in Jerusalem.   Church establishment, therefore, can never happen again. We may establish assemblies, but we can never establish the church. Wherever the gospel was preached after the Pentecost of A.D. 30, the church grew, but it was not established again.

We need to be careful, therefore, when we use the terminology “establish the church.” If we use this terminology, we may be revealing our assembliology theology.   In order words, we may be seeking to validate the existence of the church in a particular location by establishing an assembly. If we think this way, then keep in mind that the church was first “established” in Jerusalem in A.D. 30 on the day of Pentecost before there was any “official” assembly of the disciples.

It might help to consider this in the following manner: If we go into a city and preach the gospel, and only one person obeys the gospel by the time of our departure from that city, then we must ask ourselves, “Does the church now exist within the city?” If we say that it does, then we are on our way to focusing on individuals, not assemblies, as the identity of the church throughout the world.

The next time we ask someone, “How many churches are there in Nairobi,” we will caution ourselves. When we view Jesus looking down on individuals from heaven, then we are beginning to understand that Jesus is with us everyday of our lives, not just on Sunday morning. If we happen to be walking alone through the valley of the shadow of death some place in the world, we can find comfort in the fact that Jesus is there because we are a member of His body, the church. We do not have to be sitting in an assembly in the valley of the shadow of death to believe that we are “church,” and Jesus is there with us.

It may be that sometime in the future we will have to kneel down outside Jerusalem as Stephen and be stoned for our faith.   If we do, then we can be assured that Jesus is standing at the right hand of the Father, looking down on us as we breathe our last breath of life as a member of His body.

[Next lecture: October 23]

 

Identity Of The Body

We seek to encourage Bible students to gather in order to discuss the work of the body of Christ. As long as “authorities” are not gathering together to establish a common authority among them, then meetings for mutual study move us in the right direction to reconnect as the body of Christ. In order to reconnect, we encourage members of the body to gather in order to discuss the word of God as the authority for our common unity.

When Bible lovers gather to study the word of God, then nothing but good can happen. After all, God delivered His word to us in a written manner that would promote unity and the breaking down of theological walls that would separate the members of the body from one another. As long as everyone agrees that the word of God is the authority upon which we base our unity, then we will succeed. But if we base our unity upon the common agreement of men of authority, then we will accomplish only union, and thus remain with unions when God asks for unity.

Rare is the Bible interpreter who does not read into the text of Scriptures his current patterns and policies of religious thinking and behavior. Those who do not realize this challenge have a difficult time being objective interpreters of the Scriptures. They are often the first to fall victim to organizational structures of authority and practices that fall far short of the unity with which God has blessed His people.

We have found that those who are cultic in their legalistic answers for the unity of a local body of believers are the first to encourage division of the universal body of Christ. Inherent in their legal doctrine for unity is the cause for denominating their body of disciples from all other denominated groups who believe in different outlines of legal doctrine. In their efforts to clone their flock into a legal community, where unity is based on total conformity to forms and norms, they have led themselves away from those who have slightly different codes of forms and norms that define their unique groups.

Injecting our commonly accepted traits of religious behavior into the Bible is a subtle mistake in hermeneutics, and one that lends the interpreter to developing eschewed understandings of various Bible texts that speak of unity. We would be the first to confess that we too wear glasses that are scratched with our traditions, and thus, often give us a distorted view of Bible texts.   Therefore, we are very cautious to put a smile on our face and finger on the passage, in order to guard ourselves against binding where God has not bound.

It is for the preceding reason that we continually read and study the Bible text in order that our thinking be totally molded around what the text actually says. This is our only concern. Nevertheless, this is still no guarantee that what we purport to be the correct interpretation is sometimes flavored with our habitual and traditional practices and beliefs. And thus, we seek to extend a great amount of mercy toward those with whom we differ in view of the fact that we too will one day stand before One from whom we will plead for mercy (Js 2:13). We would rather err on the side of being too merciful, than on the side of legally excluding those whom God may have accepted through grace.

A.  The influence of assembly behavior.

When discussing the subject under consideration in this book, it is almost without exception that we seek to read into the text of Scripture something that transpires during the ceremony of our regular assemblies on Sunday morning. We have unfortunately allowed our corporate assembly obsessions, that have been exported throughout the world, to define our faith, or worse, to validate a group of disciples to be “the true church,” and thus a church that can be accepted into our fellowship.

We would name this obsession with legal assembly rituals or liturgy as “assembliology.” This is the study of rituals and liturgy that we use to define our faith. Those who seek to identify the existence of the church by a certain legal ceremony of assembly behavior, have actually established the first signs of cultic behavior.

We have invented the term “assembliology” for lack of a word in our dictionary that would identify our obsession with legally designated liturgies that take place during the “hour of worship” on Sunday morning. Assembliologists are those who define who they are by how they legally perform certain Sunday morning ceremonies. Because we all become accustomed to the formalities of our assembly, we often unknowingly allow the ceremonies of our assemblies to define both our Christianity and our relationship with others. In doing this, we often denominate ourselves from one another because of the differences that define our unique assemblies.

We do this because we do not allow freedom of worshipful expressions to be different from one worshiper to another.   We thus clone the ceremonies of our own assemblies with others in order to construct a pretense of unity, then appoint ourselves as judges of those who do things differently. One single reading from Acts to Revelation manifests the dubious validity of this “doctrinal” identity. Nevertheless, this is where most of us are, and thus the challenge that faces anyone who would discuss the subject of unity among members of the body.

Because we are obsessed about defining who we are by the liturgy of our assemblies, we conclude that any differences in assembly “style” assumes that those who do things differently are of different faiths.   The liturgy of our assemblies, not individual discipleship, becomes the standard by which we determine if we are the “true church.” We use the legal “pattern” of our assemblies to define who we are, and to some, the standard by which we determine those with whom we will have fellowship. The end result is that we unfortunately determine an individual’s salvation by the assembly in which he sits on Sunday morning.   We have thus forgotten the individual’s personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, by assuming that his being added to the body by God is endangered by the location of the stump on which he sits on Sunday.

Have you ever heard the statement, “He has left the church!”? Some make this statement in the sense that they have the right to subtract from the church the one whom God has added simply because someone has determined to sit somewhere else in another assembly (See At 2:47). Sometimes what is actually meant in the statement is that the judge who has made the statement is saying that one’s salvation is dependent on what assembly one attends.

Have we become so judgmental and legal that we can assume that we are in the position to determine one’s personal relationship with God by where he sits on Sunday morning? In the above declaration of someone “leaving the church,” what is actually meant is that one has left one liturgy of assembly for another liturgy of assembly, and thus has left the liturgy of the “approved” assembly.   We link our identity of the church so close to our liturgies of assembly that we have concluded that our assembly is the identity of the true church. This is a preposterous conclusion and theology.

The problem is that our adherence to common codes of assembly become so strong that we judge our own relationship with God by what we do on Sunday morning. Because we define our faith by the codes or liturgy of our assembly, some will even sacrifice a personal relationship with someone who sits on a pew or bench in another assembly. We make judgments on relationships according to what each person customarily does during the “church assembly.”

Consider also our presence in an assembly with another person who behaves “differently.” If we might feel uncomfortable about someone sitting beside us who is raising their hands during the assembly, then we know we have a problem.   The one raising his hands may be judging the person beside him to lack somewhat in spirituality because he does not raise his hands. It has come to the point in some situations that our body movements in assembly are used to determine if one’s worship is acceptable to God, or in some situations, whether one is truly spiritual in his or her worship.

When there is no passage to judge something to be wrong in our assemblies, but we still feel uncomfortable, then we must conclude that we are allowing our feelings to determine doctrine, and worse, our salvation or the salvation of others. This is the practice of binding where God has not bound. Because of our feelings, we have made ourselves judges and lawgivers of others.

When we devise our own standards or behavioral practices that lie in the realm of freedom, then we have gone too far. We have made ourselves expert judges of others by using our own personal “assembly traditions” as the standard by which to determine what should or should not happen during the “hour of worship” on Sunday morning. We then wonder if we would be comfortable sitting with Paul Saturday after Saturday as he went from synagogue to synagogue (See At 17:2). And then Aquila and Priscilla were every Saturday in the synagogue when Apollos eventually came by with exhortations from the Scriptures (See At 18:24-26). We would conclude that if one cannot find a text of scripture that is violated by some behavior or ceremony of liturgy, then we have no right to judge another.

B.  In search of liturgy:

We have combed through the New Testament scriptures several times in hope of discovering some legal and formal liturgy that would define a “scriptural” assembly. But our searches have always ended in vain. We have even looked at the disorderly assembly of 1 Corinthians 11 to find some liturgy of how the Holy Spirit corrected the Corinthians’ confusion in assembly. But still we find no established legal ritual that would constitute a “biblical” assembly. We have, however, discovered that in assembly Christians should never become involved in behavior that Paul said the unbelievers would consider “madness” (1 Co 14:23). Nevertheless, the desire of some to have a legal identity of the church by an assortment of prooftexts on assembly rites is very strong among us.

The desire to identify the church by its assembly is so strong that we will often seek to piece together some sort of legal outline that will bring comfort to ourselves that we are the true church.   As long as the “assembly outline” is performed on a regular basis on Sunday, then we can even neglect our sinful relational attitudes toward one another outside the assembly and throughout the week. We have made our legal assemblies the “atoning sacrifice” for ungodly behavior that follows the “closing prayer.”

What we have discovered among “outline-oriented” assembliologists is an unfortunate selectivity of liturgies that would supposedly define a legal assembly. In establishing these theological legalities for assembly, some have used functions that Christians are to do daily, and thus, confined these functions to an “hour of worship.” After the outline of legalities are performed on Sunday morning, then it is assumed that one can walk away after the “closing prayer” with the feeling that he or she is justified before God until the next “appointed hour of worship.”

In establishing our outline for “true worship,” we have selected singing, the proof texts of which actually define the life-style of Christians in their daily walk of life (See Ep 5:19; Cl 3:16).   We have also selected prayer, though prayer too should constitute the nature of our daily discipleship (1 Th 5:19).   And then there are our contributions, from which we would deprive and delay the needy on our doorstep until we can be satisfied the following Sunday to have performed our giving as a legal ritual of assembly.

Some are so eager to find a Sunday morning liturgy for assembly that they twist 1 Corinthians 16:1,2 out of its historical context. The historical context was that Paul asked the disciples to gather their special contribution for the famine victims in Judea when they gathered together, which was on the first day of the week (1 Co 16:3). However, our eager assembliologists seem to forget the last part of verse 2: “… so that there be no collections when I come.” In other words, during all those Sundays when Paul was present with them, they were to have no contributions.

We must not forget that we often confine the preaching of the preacher to scholastic presentations on Sunday in order to make him the “pulpit preacher.” By assigning him the title and position, we limit his desire to truly preach the gospel to the lost who usually never show up at our assemblies.

But on one point we might score. The love feast/Lord’s Supper is and should be celebrated with regularity. And this the Ephesians seemly picked up on in celebrating the feast/Supper on the first day of the week (At 20:7). Other than the example of the feast/Supper on the first day of the week—and it is only an example—we find no function of the body confined to Sunday that should not be continued throughout the week. We must question how that which is to be the daily function of discipleship can become a legal definition of what would constitute a legally sanctioned assembly? If we answer that what we are to do daily cannot be used to define a legal assembly, then certainly there can be no legal outline of assembly, that if conducted, would constitute what we would call the identity of the “true church.”

Nevertheless, we have led ourselves to believe that as long as our legal liturgies are performed on Sunday morning, then we can go on our way after the “closing prayer,” often continuing our dysfunctional relationships with one another and others. For six days after the “closing prayer” there is often a famine in preaching, singing, praying and giving until the next appointed hour when these functions are to be legally performed in order that we can say than an “official” assembly has been conducted.

 The intensity by which we identify the church with a legal performance of ceremonies on Sunday will determine the intensity by which we will determine if we are the people of God by our assemblies, and not by our love for one another.

When we search in the New Testament for a “true” form of assembly, or “scriptural identity of assembly,” we discover few details of how the early church actually functioned in their assemblies. Because we cannot find an outline to define a supposedly “scriptural” assembly, we become somewhat uneasy. Our failure to discover an “assembly outline” leads some to question their faith. But we would remind ourselves that the lack of any directives as to how an assembly should be conducted should help us understand that the Holy Spirit is saying that there is a great deal of freedom in the area of how we meet together.   And since there is freedom in this area of the function of the organic body, then we would caution ourselves not to bind where God has loosed. If we bind a certain liturgy of assembly where God has not bound, then we are the ones who divide the church, not those who would seek freedom where God has not bound.

We must state the preceding because of what James said: “There is one lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (Js 4:12).   When it comes to “styles” of worship or ceremonies of assembly, every disciple must ask himself, “Who are we to judge another?” When we establish any liturgy of assembly that we assert to be “scriptural,” then we know that we have become divisive. We have become divisive in separating ourselves from others who simply do things differently.

In the area of missions, we have found it quite amusing how some report back to supporters “their successes.” They will hand an outline of assembly ceremonies to a group of people, print out a name on a sign that identifies the particular group for which they have claimed to be an “established” church, and then write to supporters with the terminology, “church established.”

If a unique sign is hung over the heads of those who are performing a canned ceremony of assembly identifies the body of Christ, then whatever happened to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus? A supposed correct order of assembly does not atone for our sins and keep us “faithful.” A presumed “name of the church” hanging around our necks offers no atonement.   We are children of God by faith, not by assembly ceremonies and signs. The children of God are identified by their daily walk in the light of God’s word, not by what they momentarily do on Sunday morning. The church exists when repentant believers obey the gospel in order to wash away their sins (At 2:38,47; 22:16).

C.  Division based on different liturgies of assembly:

If we are so confident to piece together certain ceremonies by which our faith should be defined by our assemblies, then we may have no scruples about reading into the text of Scriptures our customary behavior in assembly. Once we have convinced ourselves that the traditions of our assembly are “scriptural,” then it is easy to lay “aside the commandment of God” in order to hold our assembly traditions (See Mk 7:1-9). The next step is only theologically natural. “All too well you reject the commandment of God so that you may keep your own traditions” (Mk 7:9).

One might conclude that we are making frivolous statements in reference to the oneness of the body of Christ in the context of assembly behavior. If one comes to such a conclusion at this point in our study, then it is possible that the deed has already been done. The behavior of our assemblies may be so traditional that there is no hope for any objective investigation of the oneness of the disciples since our differences in assembly will continually govern how we relate to one another. If the points on our assembly outline are confidently affirmed, then we have gone too far to investigate objectively these matters in the Scriptures, for there are often no scriptures in the New Testament to investigate in reference to that which divides churches over assembly behavior. We are left with the dilemma, therefore, of dividing over those things about which the Scriptures say nothing.

We need to make something clear. If one does not come to the conclusion in his study concerning the assembly of the saints that there is no New Testament established liturgy or ceremony of what would constitute a “scriptural assembly,” then the remainder of this study is useless.

If a group of disciples are so confident that what they do in their assembly is the only way an assembly should be conducted, then that group has separated itself from others who conduct their assemblies in a different manner. In fact, if such a group were transported to the first century, they would probably have a difficult time fellowshipping the first century Christians. They would because they have led themselves to be the judges and lawgivers of “scriptural assemblies” by the standard of what they do in their assembly. There can never be any unity among those who have a legalistic form of assembly if their definition of assembly lies within the silence of the Scriptures, and thus within the area of freedom. Legalistic codes of liturgy can never be a basis for unity simply because we have our different rules for ceremonial liturgy. Assembly experts can only work for unions of churches, not unity.

Nevertheless, because we are often so prone to be traditionalists in reference to our religious behavior, especially in our view of the function of our assemblies with one another, we must always reinvestigate our source of validation as Christians. The pages of our Bibles must be worn with use and marked with inscriptions that indicate that we are continually searching God’s word for direction in the matter of our assemblies. We must guard ourselves against making any legal rules of assembly that are not written in the word of God.

We must, however, caution ourselves about using some New Testament texts in order to establish rules for assembly. For example, we do not want to restore the assembly of the Achaians as such was described by Paul in 1 & 2 Corinthians.   We must keep in mind that these texts were written to correct dysfunctional assemblies, and thus, should be interpreted and applied with caution. There are some behavior characteristics of the first century Christians we do not want to restore. But in rightly dividing the word of truth, we seek to see past the dysfunctions of the early disciples in order to discover and apply those truths that God desires that we implement in our lives.

(Now for those who would feel quite uncomfortable at this point of study concerning liturgies of assembly, we would suggest that you download Book 5, The Cross and The Church, chapters 22-27, BRL, from africainternational.org. Also download Book 24, Authentic Church, and read chapter 13. The study of these books and chapters give a reasonable definition of the assemblies of the early church.)

[Next Lecture: October 20]

 

 

Setting The Stage For Hierarchy

When groups of disciples remain independent from one another over a long period of time, they crystallize with an independent spirit. If they have one man as their leader (preacher/pastor), then they naturally crystallize around that one personality. Once a group has crystallized, it has become a denominated group that is functioning autonomously from all other groups in the area who may also be functioning in the same manner. A denomination is a group of disciples who are usually led by a single personality, or group of leaders, who are indigenous in their function, and often self-reliant on their mutual fellowship. In order to maintain their identity, they often adopt a unique name, maintain a certain behavior or liturgy in assembly, and sometimes dress themselves with a unique style of clothing.

The independent group’s interpretation of those passages that deal with unity often becomes twisted. The group interprets the “unity passages” of the New Testament with an almost cultic application. They interpret the unity passages in a manner that makes these passages refer to unity within their particular group, and not to all the members of the one universal body of Christ. Their interpretation of passages as 1 Corinthians 1:10, therefore, is almost cultic in that they seek that everyone within their denominated group should “speak the same thing and have the same judgment” according to what the preacher or leaders dictate.

Once autonomous groups were established in the early church, and maintained by key leaders, then the stage was set for a hierarchy of leaders among many churches to develop in the years to come. The independence (autonomy) of some groups continued on for about a century until a sociological trigger moved the leaders of these groups to form a universal association in order to restore some sense of unity among the churches. Separated groups who would call themselves after either a particular fellowship, tradition or personality carried on, though the nature of their relationship with one another was based more on an agreement for union rather than a spirit that the members were one body in Christ. The “northside” church on the north side of town did its own programs and the “southside” church on the south side did theirs. All went well as each group independently functioned in their own ministries while they continued on in their own unique fellowships.

We assume the preceding history because of what Paul personally warned the Ephesian elders was coming among the disciples in Ephesus (See At 20:29,30). We also base our conclusions on a specific written exhortation that he made a few years later to the same disciples in the same city (See Ep 4:1-6).   His personal warning to the leaders was that some among them would draw away groups of disciples after themselves.   In the written exhortation a few years later, he encouraged all the members that they should be “eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ep 4:3). Because the division did come, we conclude that they did not heed the personal warning, nor the written exhortation. Some did draw away disciples after themselves, and thus, did not keep the unity of the Spirit.

The problem developed, therefore, when each fellowship of disciples became so separated from one another that they did not consider themselves as one church, but several churches in a single city.   Their spirit of autonomy had moved them to be independent groups within the same region. At least, they were not working together in the unity of the Spirit according to Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:3.

We work with a great number of independent churches throughout the world. Many of these groups are doing the best they can with what they know. They have for years functioned under the authority of their own name or leader in order to identify themselves to be either “Paulites,” “Cephites,” or “Apollosites.” We know of one town in South Africa with a population of about 8,000. There are 28 independent churches in this one town, all doing their own thing, while maintaining their separation from one another by the members’ identity with any one of the particular groups. Their pastors/preachers keep them separated from one another because members of their respective groups understand that increments in their pay checks depend on the attendance of Sunday morning assemblies.   The church situation of this small town may be extreme, but it does illustrate the common church environment of many cities of the world.

Independent churches work with people in order to focus their lives on God, but they usually do not consider themselves in fellowship with one another as the one universal church. Their belief in group autonomy keeps them away from one another.   Their interpretation of Jesus’ statement, “I am the vine. You are the branches,” is interpreted to mean that they as independent church groups are the branches. In the context of this statement, however, Jesus was speaking to the twelve individuals in His presence at that time who were His apostles (See Jn 15:5). He was the vine, and they as individuals were the branches. The branches were not groups connected to Jesus, but individuals.

By the close of the first century, many groups declared their independence from one another. The declaration came from the leaders, not the members, as certain leaders began to draw away disciples after themselves (See At 20:29,30; 3 Jn).   And for this reason, the division into autonomous groups was contrary to the spirit of maintaining the organic function of the one universal body of Christ.

All went well until the great persecution by the state of Rome. It was this persecution that drove the Christians together, but it was also out of this persecution that a universal hierarchial apostasy eventually arose, which apostasy is known today as the Roman Catholic Church.

As independent churches today throughout Africa become weary of being on their own for so long, they are starting to come together. They are coming together through regional “pastors’ forums,” “pastor fellowships,” or common missions or organizations, the very thing that many broke away from over a century ago.   Those who have caused the problem of division are those who seek to contrive a corporate merger where the authorities of each independent group remain intact while an effort is made to bring more union among the churches in the community or nation. In these efforts to promote more union, the authorities of each group remain in control over “their churches.” Nevertheless, we see this as a positive move to encourage some level of unity. However, we believe that as long as each independent church retains its own authorities over each group, only union, not unity, will result.

In the early church apostasy, the bishops (elders) of independent groups were driven together by the state persecution of Rome. But according to what Paul said was coming during his ministry, it was the bishops of these autonomous groups who had drawn away disciples after themselves. They eventually started to form unions of the groups of disciples over which they assumed control. When the autonomous groups, with their bishops, chose at the regional meetings one bishop to represent each independent group, then you know the rest of the story. From the regional meetings there came international meetings, over which a “chairman” (pope) was eventually declared.

The book of Revelation explains the trigger that drove the disciples together. However, when John recorded the visions of Revelation, he did not picture the coming together of the persecuted as churches forming “unions” with one another as independent groups. He pictured the saints as individuals who gave their allegiance to Jesus, not to any particular church group. This was the message of the key verse of the book:

These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings.   And those [individual Christians] who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful (Rv 17:14).

By the time of the visions of Revelation, some of the leaders of the churches had already gone too far. Paul’s prophecy of leaders drawing away disciples after themselves in Acts 20, Peter’s pronouncement in 1 Peter 5 that the lords had already arisen among the disciples, and John’s identity of the denominating behavior of Diotrephes had already progressed to the point of dividing the church. When the disciples of all the divided groups struggled through about 150 years of persecution by the Roman Empire, it was the key leaders who encouraged Christians to remain faithful, regardless of the particular sect of the church to which they belonged.

Defense documents came into existence in the second century as men whom we call “Apostolic Fathers” wrote defenses of Christianity to the state of Rome. Second century apologists as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Hermas, Polycarp and Papias wrote defenses for the entire church. The Didache (130 – 150) was written in order to define and defend the teaching of the early church. If men stood up today, which some do, to represent the church before existing governments, then in their writings we would have a distorted view of the church, for they would write an all-inclusive definition of Christendom.   We will see this happening even during the time of Paul’s imprisonment in A.D. 61,62. (More later in chapter 16.)

By the end of the third century, and into the beginning of the fourth, the leaders of churches were well on their way to forming a worldwide network of authorities who would speak to the government of Rome on behalf of the church. By the time the Roman Emperor Constantine came along, the organized bishops started to pattern themselves after the organization of the Roman Empire.   When Constantine incorporated the church into the political environment of the Roman Empire, the stage was set for the development of the worldwide network of what became the Roman Catholic Church.

The definition of the one universal body of Christ then took on a different definition. Unity was defined by every authority of each church group falling under the control of the central government of the universal church. In actuality, autonomous groups about whom Paul, Peter and John warned, were brought into union with one another under the authority of a common authority. By the middle of the third century, the church had organized into the order of networked authorities.

In some contexts today, we see the meeting of the “authorities” of the independent churches moving in a similar direction.   A chairman is designated for a year, which chairman is given the authority to organize the meetings and establish the agendas of the meetings. We keep in mind that we are only in the early beginning of what takes several decades to develop. The meeting of the leaders is a beginning to promote unity, but the leaders who often meet must be cautious about establishing any one person or committee as a central authority for all the churches that are represented. If a state persecution would come along within any particular nation where the preachers of the independent churches have their regional meetings, we wonder if regional preachers’ forum would be organized in a manner that would politically give the church a voice before the government.

It is for this reason that we often misunderstand the early beginnings of hierarchal authorities that began in the church before the close of the first century. All that is needed to form a union among corporate autonomous groups is a sociological trigger. In our context in South Africa, we are not at the stage of state persecution.   However, political ambitions on the part of some church leaders have historically presented them with the problem of not being able to separate the affairs of the church from the politics of the state. Many pastors would like to have a seat in parliament, and thus, the independent churches for which they preach are viewed as a voting constituency. We have attended meetings of preachers where the reason for the meeting was to call everyone together to be represented before the government. Such meetings are not for the purpose of getting ourselves into the word of God for serious unity, but for exalting personalities to create unions. And so, in all of this jostling for either power or influence we do not forget Rome.

[Next lecture: October 17]

 

 

Depending On One Another

In studies of church history, we have found that few church historians consider the New Testament beginnings of any apostasy that eventually leads to a global network of authority. Most historians usually study the documents that were written by the apostate church once the apostasy had advanced to the point of being recognized as something different to what is recorded in the New Testament.

When we study church history in reference to Christianity, our study must always begin with the warnings of apostasy that are recorded in the New Testament. We then proceed to any historical documents that explain the development of the apostasy that is defined by specifics in the warnings of the New Testament. We seek to identify those characteristics of apostasy that lead to international networks of authority that infringe on the authority of Jesus over His body. When we study hierarchal apostasy in the New Testament, we discover the first indications that eventually lead to a slow transition from the original into worldwide networks of churches that are exclusive in their belief and behavior, and are controlled by a hierarchal network of authorities. The New Testament, therefore, is our only standard by which we can define a any apostasy, whether doctrinal or organizational.

The case history of the church of Ephesus is a good example of how a transition from a Bible-oriented system of leadership is made to independent groups that are led by lordship leaders. By the time Paul revisited the church in Ephesus on his last mission journey, he warned that there would arise from among the leaders in Ephesus those who would separate disciples into autonomous groups that they could control. When he made the statement, “from your own selves will men arise” (At 20:30), he was personally and specifically warning the Ephesian elders who would lead groups of disciples into autonomous churches that were controlled by some of them.

The authoritarians that would arise from among them would certainly arise from future elders in Ephesus. But Paul’s immediate concern was that from the elders he was personally addressing in the Acts 20 meeting there would arise some who would draw away disciples to establish autonomous groups. In other words, the apostasy was immediate, and in the lifetime of these elders. By the time Peter wrote his first letter a few years later in the middle of the 60s, lords had already arisen among some elders (See 1 Pt 5:1-4). Paul prophesied that such was coming, and Peter said that it had already arrived by the time he wrote 1 Peter 5. The apostasy in Ephesus could have happened within a period of about ten years after Paul’s Acts 20 meeting with the Ephesian elders.

What happened was that men with leadership ability failed to implement in their lives Jesus’ mandate that there would be no lords with authority in the church (See Mk 10:35-45). Those who would be great would be the servants of all. The gradual change came in the leadership in some places in the church when men started to assume a percentage of the “all” authority Jesus has over the universal membership of His body. When leaders start assuming some authority, the ground work is being laid for a worldwide hierarchy.

The heart of the problem always centers around authority. The New Testament teaches no such thing as apostolic succession, that is, one person of supposed authority transferring the same authority on to others. In the Roman Catholic Church, apostolic succession is a primary teaching in reference to the organization of the church. It is a teaching that authorizes the continued authority of a pope to succeeding popes. It is believed that Jesus passed authority first to Peter, and then Peter passed his apostolic authority on to a successor who followed him as the pope of the church.   But there is no evidence of such a teaching as apostolic authority that is passed from one generation of leaders to another.

The prophecy of Paul in reference to the Ephesian elders was that it would be individuals who would draw away disciples after themselves by assuming authority over the groups. Paul viewed this denominating of the body as an apostasy, not as a natural course of church growth. His prophecy was a warning, not the establishment of apostolic authority that was supposedly invested in those who would draw away the disciples into groups over which each would exercise authority. It may have been the case that these elders (bishops) passed on authority to their successors of the denominated groups that they had initially drawn away after themselves. Or, it may have been that succeeding elders simply followed the lordship example of the first generation of lords. Whatever the case, Paul certainly did not pass on to the Ephesian elders any apostolic authority that they in turn should pass on to those who would follow them.   He actually warned them against such.

The foundation for a separated group with authoritative leaders was contrary to the universal unity of the body of Christ.   It was apostate succession, not apostolic succession, since it was an apostle who condemned the drawing away as a departure from the organic function of the body under the sole authority of Christ. It is a contradiction within the doctrine of apostolic succession that the very people after whom the doctrine is called (the apostles), are the very people, as Peter, Paul and John, who condemned any supposed succession of “apostolic” authority.

Nevertheless, independent groups were beginning to be formed in the middle and latter part of the first century when leaders drew away disciples after themselves. Once these disciples were separated into independent churches by leaders as Diotrephes, and some as those among the Ephesian elders, then the foundation was laid for the union of groups through the cooperation of authoritarian leaders.   This would fully develop in the second and third centuries.

In order to maintain the separation of these groups who called themselves after either individuals or groups of leaders, the leaders maintained the independence of their respective groups, though the leading authorities sought in some way to function with one another.   It was at this time in history when the one universal church began to be dysfunctional in reference to being a united fellowship of members. The fellowship of independent members had turned into a fellowship of independent church groups who were led by authoritarian leaders. These leaders sought to connect the groups with one another through councils and synods. The stage was thus set for the eventual rise of a chief bishop to be appointed. This primary leader would eventually in history become the pope of all the denominated groups.

The initial development of independent groups was first witnessed by Paul among the disciples in Achaia, who during his lifetime, denominated themselves after different personalities. Each group was calling itself after a particular leader, and thus taking pride in a selected personality as Paul, Apollos or Cephas.   In this case, however, none of these men assumed any authority over any group of disciples (See 1 Co 1:12,13), neither did they work among the new converts in Achaia in any manner to encourage any groups to function autonomously from one another.   Regardless of the sincere efforts of godly leaders, however, it seems that unless each member struggles to maintain the unity of the faith in the bond of peace, autonomous groups will arise among the disciples. Such seems to happen even if good leaders teach and work against the denominating of the church (See At 20:29,30).

Because of the early sectarian spirit among some of those of Achaia, we should be alerted to the fact that when disciples regularly meet as groups, they must be cautioned that as individual groups they should not consider themselves to be a unique fellowship in their relationship with other groups. Being regularly with familiar faces must not move us to ignore other brothers and sisters who do not have the opportunity to be with one’s fellowship. Our growth in love with one another must not separate us from those with whom we cannot regularly fellowship. The fact that the body is one universally means that each member is in fellowship with all the members of the body throughout the world.

In the letters that were written to the early first century church in different cities or regions, there are many exhortations to maintain unity among believers. These exhortations were given because of the inability of all the members to regularly see one another’s face every time the saints in a particular city or region came together. The fact that the Holy Spirit exhorted the disciples to maintain unity was based on the house assembly function of the disciples. Since all the Christians in a particular area could not meet together regularly at the same time and in the same place, encouragement was needed from the Spirit that they work at preserving their unity in Christ, regardless of where and with whom they regularly assembled (See 1 Co 1:10; Ep 4:1-6; Ph 1:27).

The fact that these exhortations are in the letters that were directed to the church in particular cities or regions is evidence that a sectarian spirit was coming into the church at the time the letters were written. Some house fellowships were being drawn away from the whole of the church in the cities by dominant leaders who sought to lord over their house groups.

Because it is natural for a group of Christians who regularly meet with one another on a weekly basis to lose contact with other groups who also regularly meet together, we might have an indication of how to better approach the context of 1 Corinthians 11. Since both 1 & 2 Corinthians were actually directed to the saints in all Achaia who were meeting in homes throughout the province (2 Co 1:1), then the event of the love feast/Lord’s Supper that is discussed in 1 Corinthians 11 may have been an occasional and provincial meeting of all the Christians in all Achaia. At least this is something to consider in view of the problem that prevailed and Paul’s instructions to correct the problems in 1 Corinthians 11. It was an occasional opportunity for everyone to reconnect and to celebrate together as one body in order that each member be reminded that they were one body, though they were many members meeting in many different locations. The regional eating of the love feast/Lord’s Supper would encourage everyone to be reminded of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:16:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not the fellowship of the [universal] body of Christ?

Paul continued, “For though we are many [members scattered throughout Achaia], we are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Co 10:17). Unfortunately, that which was to bring them together to be of the same mind and judgment, the love feast with the Lord’s Supper, became an occasion for some to manifest their sectarian spirit.

We must also keep in mind that the Christians in Achaia received instructions from somewhere to have a regular love feast and Supper together. We assume that the Holy Spirit directed them to do such in order to promote the unity of the disciples throughout all the region of Achaia. Their eating together of a meal, with the celebration of the Supper, was an opportunity for all of them to remember that they were “one bread, one body,” and in fellowship with one another regardless of their inability to meet together as one group at the same place and the same time on any Sunday.   But when a sectarian spirit entered in among them, they were calling themselves after different personalities, and thus, groups became independent from one another according to their assemblies. By the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the event that was to call them together as one body in fellowship with Christ, became the occasion to manifest that some were behaving independently of one another, even at this early date in the history of the church.

[Next lecture: October 14]

 

Close To One Authority

In order to understand clearly that from which we often are tempted to stray, it is necessary to know some basic Bible teachings that are often ignored. After all, apostasy means leaving sound teaching and going after that which is not true. We must, therefore, first understand the true model of how God intended that we as members of the body be freely networked with one another throughout the world in a spirit of unity. Since the body of Christ is globally one, then there are necessary teachings in the New Testament that identify its oneness. At the same time there is a foundation of teaching that will always keep sincere members from constructing either a national or international network of hierarchal authority in which men are placed as rulers over the body.

A.  One head, one universal body:

Jesus is the only head of the body (Cl 1:18).   He has all authority over all things (Mt 28:18). In order for the body to be one and universal, these two truths must never be compromised. As Luke wrote the historical document of Acts, therefore, he wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to record an historical account of how the King of kings worked in the lives of individuals. He recorded how the Spirit worked to produce an internationally united army of believers. Luke portrayed the organic function of the body as it spread as one body into all the world.

In focusing on the function of the one organic body, the Holy Spirit wants us to understand that the success of the disciples in evangelizing their generation was in the fact that the members of the body remained one universal body. The many members, regardless of where they lived, never viewed themselves to be separated from one another. When reading through the book of Acts, therefore, one principle is clear: The disciples always functioned individually in a united organic manner in order to accomplish the mission of Jesus. The disciples functioned as each one was personally committed to the function of the one universal body.

The early disciples accomplished all that we read in the New Testament without any hierarchal authorities on earth who regulated their function. There is a great lesson here for those who feel that we cannot effectively do the work of our personal ministries unless we fall under some authority on earth to tell us what we must do. Even the disciples in Jerusalem were functioning in reference to their ministry to the widows for several years before some racial prejudices led to the neglect of some Grecian widows (At 6:1-7). A group was chosen to sort out the problem, but when the problem was sorted out, the organized group was disbanded. One member of the group, Stephen, went on to heaven (At 7:59,60), and another, Philip, went on as an evangelist to Caesarea (At 21:8).

The point is that the early disciples needed no organizing authorities to muster them into doing that which each disciple was personally to do in his own life in order to be a disciple of Jesus.   This may be a strange thing to highly organized institutional churches today. All we would ask is that those of the corporate church today take another look in the book of Acts concerning the organic function of the body of Christ.

The disciples of the first century simply went about doing their personal ministries without establishing any church organizations with some earthly hierarchy of authority that controlled and manipulated the disciples on earth. They went about preaching the gospel in order to generate individual and voluntary commitment to the King of kings. When any one individual obeyed the gospel, he was added by God to this functioning body of disciples (At 2:47; see Ep 4:11-16).

New converts were not added to any particular group of disciples. They were added to the one universal church of disciples who functioned as disciples wherever they were scattered (At 8:4). The power of the body, therefore, remained strong as individuals were discipled to the one Lord of all things. As the body grew, it exerted so much influence in the societies to which Christians went that the world was turned upside down as a result of the impact of their ministries (At 17:6).

B.  Apostasy to error:

In Peter’s quotation of Joel 2:28, he historically positioned the beginning of the church in Jerusalem in A.D. 30 (At 2:17-21).   He quoted Joel’s introduction to his prophecy, “And it will come to pass in the last days …” (At 2:17). The events that transpired on the A.D. 30 Pentecost took place “in the last days.” These were the last days of national Israel and God’s unique Sinai covenant relationship with Israel. According to Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, there would arise before the destruction “false christs and false prophets” among the people (Mt 24:24). Between A.D. 30 and A.D. 70, therefore, the beginning of apostasy would arise.   Apostasies would certainly arise throughout the history of the church, but there would be a great apostasy before the close of the first century.

We assume that Timothy was in the region of Ephesus when Paul wrote the following warning: “Now the Spirit clearly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith …” (1 Tm 4:1).   Both Paul and Timothy were in the latter times, the last days of national Israel. In these times there were false christs and prophets who were “giving heed to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tm 4:1).   In his second letter to Timothy, Paul mentioned two such false teachers in the church. Paul warned Timothy in reference to his relationship with such men:

But avoid profane and empty babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their word will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who concerning the truth have strayed(2 Tm 2:16-18).

That about which Paul warned Timothy was already happening. The error of the two false teachers was already spreading when Paul wrote the preceding statement to Timothy in the middle 60s. Peter also was not unaware of what was transpiring among those to whom he wrote.

But there were also false prophets among the people [of Israel], just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their shameful ways.   And because of them, the way of truth will be blasphemed (2 Pt 2:1,2).

Specifically in reference to our subject of hierarchal authority, Paul identified the nature of hierarchal leadership in the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Notice carefully the autocratic behavior of the “man of lawlessness” who would set himself up as a center of reference in religious matters:

Let no one deceive you by any means, for that day will not come unless there first come a falling away, and that the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God (2 Th 2:3,4).

This apostasy states that the one who would set himself up, would do so with religious authority. He is one who would go as far as demand worship.   Peter’s statements identify the nature of the apostasy that was coming in the lifetime of his immediate readers, as well as any apostasy throughout history that is always lurking somewhere in the leadership of the church. Though Jesus taught that lordship leadership should not be among His disciples, such happened in the church in the first century. Therefore, we must always be cautious about setting ourselves up as authorities among the disciples (See Mk 10: 35-45).

Paul warned the Ephesian elders about those who would set themselves up as rulers over groups of disciples that they had drawn away from the sole lordship of Jesus (At 20:29,30). Peter wrote that such apostasy was already happening at the time he wrote 1 Peter in the middle 60s (See 1 Pt 5:1-4). When John wrote 1 John, the agents of apostasy were already at work. John warned, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits … because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1). If we date 1 John the middle or end of the 60s, then there was apostasy among the disciples at the time John wrote. The prophecies of apostasy had already started to be fulfilled by the middle and end of the first century. John reminded his readers,

Little children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now there are many antichrists. By this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us … (1 Jn 2:18,19).

It was the last hour of national Israel.   The church had been warned by Jesus that this hour would come. The New Testament prophets verbally explained the nature of the apostasy that would come, and thus in their warnings identified the nature of different apostasies to error.

One of the primary apostasies would be an apostasy to hierarchal authority among the disciples. As students of the Bible who must be on guard against any apostasy, we must be prepared to define a true apostasy, and then take measures to arm the church with the truth of God’s word.

If division in the church must happen in reference to guarding the church against apostasy, then those who would preach another gospel must be cut off as Paul encouraged those legalistic teachers in Galatia to do themselves in reference to their relationship with the body of Christ.   “I could wish that those who are troubling you would cut themselves off from you (Gl 5:12).

It was certainly a sad day in the history of the function of the organic body of Christ when a Christ-sent apostle would wish that those who preached a legalistic gospel (Gl 1:6-9), would cut themselves off from the universal body of Christ. But unless their deception should continue to injure the family of God, it was best that those who bind where God has not bound should leave.   John said they would go out from among the disciples, but in the beginning, “they were not of us” (1 Jn 2:19).

[Next lecture: October 11]

 

The Birth of Hierarchy

Any study of the universal unity of the body of Christ must consider the development of universal hierarchies as the Roman Catholic Church. It is necessary to consider such hierarchies in view of the universality of the church.   There is certainly a difference between the earthly hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the heavenly hierarchy of the church of the New Testament. Therefore, in order that we not end up with a Catholic hierarchy, we must carefully consider the New Testament texts that explain the universality of the church that exists without all the authorities on earth that are characteristic of the Catholic Church, and other networks of authority that are maintained by religious groups around the world.

In order to construct a worldwide network as the Roman Catholic Church, a foundation must first be laid that is conducive to the birth and development of such a network. Once the foundation is laid, then only time is needed for the hierarchy of authority to develop. Over time, men who seek authority for themselves, move their movement from freedom in unity to an institutional network of authorities.

In the case of developing a worldwide network of control as the Catholic Church, it takes decades to develop such a hierarchal system. The progress is slow in development. The origins of such church networks are first embedded in what is considered harmless leadership behavior among the adherents of the movement. When those who seek to bring the style and system of world lordship leadership into the body of freed disciples, a foundation of behavior is laid that eventually leads to the bondage of the disciples under the authority of the designated leadership.

There is a natural sense of security in lordship-led movements, and thus, as believers seek to be reassured by their autocratic leaders, hierarchal networks of authority are easy to develop. It is simply appealing to the vast majority of potential adherents to have a “king” on earth whom they can see. In our worldly thinking, we can relate better with a “king” on this earth than one who is supposedly a long way off on the throne of David at the right hand of God in heaven.

Once the foundation for a structure of authority is laid, then an historical trigger is all that is necessary to set the digression on its way to a networked authority that is not reversible because it is led by those who enjoy their positions of authority in the organized structure.

In this initial chapter we must focus on the universal unity of the body for which Jesus prayed. It is necessary that we step back for a moment in order to suggest some thoughts in church history that are usually not discussed in the context of how networks of authority originate in their early stages of development.

The challenge of any book written on the subject of unity is that we must first view the worldwide body of Christ from the top down, and not from the bottom up. We must view the function of the disciples as the organic body from the throne where the King is seated with all authority (Mt 28:18). Once we fully understand the universal kingship and headship of Jesus over His one body, then we can better guard ourselves from forming any hierarchal network of authority that would take the place of Jesus’ reign in our hearts (See Rm 5:17).

(For more study on this subject, download Book 55, The Organic Function of the Body of Christ, Biblical Research Library, africainternational.org.)

A.  Understanding history from an institutional perspective:

Because of our present institutional view of the church, our inclination is initially to view the function and organization of the church from the bottom up. In doing this, we have often formed a distorted view of the worldwide organic function of the members of the body. We want to center leadership around local authorities we have designed to be our leaders and decision-makers. But if we look from heaven down, we see the church from the viewpoint of Jesus and the authority of His reign. We then view godly leaders assuming responsibility of the sheep because they have submitted to Jesus’ authority. And this is exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted us to see when He directed Luke to write the document of Acts. We see the disciples functioning universally as they were controlled by King Jesus in heaven through His word.

When we view the church from the throne of Jesus, we will better understand the connection of individual members to the one Vine (See Jn 15:1-4). We can better understand how individuals are united in Christ because of their common connection with Jesus and one another through their obedience to the gospel.   But if we view the church from what exists in the religious world today, then we will always end up with a distorted understanding of His kingdom and reign.

B.  Understanding history from a Catholic Church perspective:

Another mistake that church historians have often made is to interpret history from a Catholic Church point of view. Even protestant historians have used too many Catholic documents to construct the early development of the Roman Catholic Church. Researching material on this subject that is footnoted with Catholic Church resources must always be questioned.

The Catholic Church has always assumed that the Catholic Church can historically trace its beginnings back to Christ through Peter, who is supposed to have been the first Pope. With this historical prejudice, it is assumed that all historical documents that were written in the first and second centuries should be interpreted with the pretext that the Catholic Church hierarchy of authority on earth existed back to Peter. We would confess that different networks of hierarchy were development during the second and third centuries. But these developments were diverse. Not all eventually led to what is the Roman Catholic Church that we see today.

By formulating our view of church history from the school of Catholic history taught by Catholic theologians, we certainly have come to some erroneous conclusions of the universal body of disciples as explained in the New Testament. In particular, we have often assumed that the entire body of members throughout the world followed a direct line of Catholic apostasy from the very beginning of the church that was first established in Jerusalem in A.D. 30. In our study of the events of history, therefore, we must make every effort to refrain from interpreting history from the bias of those who would have us understand history from the perspective of the Roman Catholic apostasy. Though we can find no hierarchy of authority embedded in the teaching of the New Testament church, the church must always arm itself against such apostasies.

C.  Understanding history from a biblical perspective of apostasy:

In our research to understand the historical changes that took place in the church after its initial beginning, we must always assume that the apostasy from the original function of the body of Christ from its early beginning to the formation of the hierarchal authority of the Catholic Church, was constantly in motion. And thus, we must not assume that the Catholic Church apostasy, as well as any other apostasy to hierarchal authority, was a surprise to the Holy Spirit.   If we always assume that some apostasy is in progress at any time among Christians somewhere in the world, then we too will not be surprised when we wake up one day and find that we are in the midst of such. We must never assume that the Catholic network of authority was a unique happening in church history. On the contrary, we must always assume that such networks of authority are in some stage of development, if not fully developed, simply because there are always those among us who would draw away the disciples after themselves.

God knows the future, and thus, through the inspired historical statements made in the New Testament we would assume that He would give us some indication of what would lead to that which actually happened in the historical development and establishment of networked authorities.

We would also assume that the Spirit would give us some indication of how apostasy to hierarchal authority would begin, as well as instructions on how to prevent such. We would assume, therefore, that we can discover in our studies of the New Testament that the Holy Spirit would forewarn the early disciples concerning what would eventually take place, and thus give the early church instructions on how to prevent apostasies of hierarchal networks of authority. That which laid the foundation for apostasies as the Roman Catholic Church, that came centuries later after the establishment of the church, can be found in the warnings of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

The Catholic Church was not specifically in the mind of the Holy Spirit when He gave warnings concerning hierarchal apostasy.   If the Catholic apostasy was specifically in the warnings, then other hierarchal networks of authority that exist throughout the world today might excuse themselves from violating some of the warnings in the New Testament. We must keep in mind that there are numerous hierarchal networks of authority throughout Christendom today that fall under the condemnations of the Holy Spirit that are recorded in the New Testament. The hierarchy of the Catholic church is not unique among the religions of the world.

It is not, therefore, that the Spirit had the Catholic Church specifically in mind when He gave His warnings in the New Testament. He simply gave instructions on how such hierarchal apostasy develops, as well as instructions on how to prevent and correct such in the initial stages of development.   This is the theme of all warnings surrounding the rise of individuals and groups at any time in history who would lead disciples away after themselves in order to establish networks of authority among the disciples.

In the following chapter, we base our premise for hierarchal apostasy on that which laid the foundation for such apostasy in the first century. Similar apostasies are in development today among religious groups in different places of the world. It is always present in those who seek to steal some of the “all” authority that rests with our King in heaven.

During the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago, many protestant churches that were given birth out of those years of protest against Roman Catholicism, often copied the same network of authority of the Catholic Church. They have since become that from which they fled. These hierarchies of authority continue today in the protestant world.   When the Independent Church Movement started in the middle of the twentieth century, it was initially a protest against foreign networks of authority that were propagated around the world through missionary societies. But the independents who ran from the authority of the mission societies seem to in some places be circling around to become that from which they fled.   They too are laying the foundation in some places upon which a universal hierarchy of authority could develop, especially in some areas of Africa.

We must keep in mind that the development of a worldwide hierarchy of authority occurs over decades, if not centuries.   It is our task to assume that the Holy Spirit knew such hierarchies of authority would develop throughout history, and thus, we search in the New Testament for His instructions on how to recognize the early beginnings of such apostasies. Recognition aids in preventing such from taking place among ourselves.

Hierarchal apostasy should not come as a surprise to those who are knowledgable of history. Hierarchies of authority are simply the outcome of those who seek to have authority over others, and subsequently, bring this desire in among the members of the body.

[Next lecture: October 8]

 

Introduction

The foundation and introduction upon which any study concerning the subject of this book is made is John 17:20,21. The mandate of Jesus’ statement must permeate all our discussions. Unity must be the obsession of all those who believe in Jesus as the Christ and Son of God.   Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20,21 establishes the foundation upon which our relationships with one another must exist and continued, even in times of disagreement concerning our differences of opinion. In other words, when discussing our differences, John 17:20,21 must be the first rule for orderly discussion.

I do not pray for these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

 Jesus’ prayer for oneness was first in reference to “these” for whom He prayed on this occasion. It is imperative to understand those to whom the pronoun “these” refers. “These” would set the example for the rest of us, since the original mandate of Jesus’ statement was directed to “these.” Their oneness in Christ would teach us that Jesus’ prayer was answered in their lives, and thus, can be answered in our lives as we follow the example of what “these” who believed and taught in unison with one another.

Jesus was talking to individuals, not to groups. His prayer, therefore, was for the individuals to whom He spoke to be one. In this context, the individuals were His immediate disciples, the apostles. His prayer was that they as individuals remain united as one. “These” were to be given through the Holy Spirit, a unifying message upon which they would be one (See Jn 14:26: 16:13). The foundation for their unity, therefore, would be the unifying message with which they would go forth and evangelize the world.   The gospel message of the believers would be tested by the desire of those who believed in Christ to be one as the apostles remained one. John later wrote the following concerning the unifying message that he and the other apostles spoke:

That which we have seen and heard we declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us [the apostles], and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn 1:3).

After Jesus made the initial plea in His prayer for the oneness of the apostles, He then took the subject of His request for unity beyond the apostles. He prayed for those who would believe on Him “through their [the apostles’] word.” Again, He was speaking in reference to individuals who would believe the unifying message of the apostles. In believing the unifying message of the gospel, people would subsequently obey the gospel and be added to the one universal body of Christ.

Those who would believe as a result of the preaching of the gospel, would be individuals. They would believe as individuals, and as a result of their belief, be added to the group of those who believed and were baptized (At 2:47).

Groups of individuals would be united because the individuals of the groups would be one in Christ through their obedience to the gospel. We see in the prayer of Jesus that there should never exist among His disciples any such thing as autonomous groups of believers who would function separate from one another either as individuals or groups. In fact, in reading between the lines of Jesus’ prayer, He makes a prophecy against anyone who would separate groups of believers from the whole of His household of believers. In the prayer, Jesus’ point is very clear: One cannot seek to fulfill the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity if he in anyway constructs or seeks to maintain any ecclesiastical organization that functions in a manner by which the disciples of Jesus are separated from one another.

Jesus prayed that His immediate disciples be one in spirit and purpose as He and the Father were one in their spirit and purpose at the cross. When His immediate disciples went forth with the united message of the gospel, those individuals who believed came into the fellowship of the one body (See 1 Jn 1:1-3).   The obedient were inherently one because of the one gospel that they obeyed. Their unity, therefore, was a blessing as a result of their obedience to the gospel. It would be the task of the obedient, therefore, to maintain the unity with which they were blessed when they obeyed the gospel.

There was an apologetic in the prayer of Jesus that His disciples be one. The apologetic was “that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn 17:21).   If the oneness of the body is evidence that the Father sent the Son, then the opposite would signal to the world the fact that the Son did not originate from the Father. The unbelieving world would conclude that if the Father and Son were supposedly one, then certainly this oneness must be reflected in those who would believe on Jesus as the Son of the Father.

One of the reasons why we believe that Islam is not a true religion from God is because of the division that exists between the Muslim Sunnis and Sh’ites. Their mortal and endless conflict with one another is evidence that Islam is a religion of man, for no message from the one true and living God would cause such a mortal conflict. However, we must remember that the Muslim makes the same argument against a divided Christianity.

The Muslim points out our embarrassment, and probably our theological hypocrisy. He concludes that since Christianity is so denominationally split into countless sects, then certainly Jesus could never have been deity revealed from God. Jesus would be a prophet, but never God in the flesh.

The Muslim also accuses Christians of having a polytheistic faith. He asserts that the Christian has deified Jesus, and thus, he concludes that the Christ has constructed a theology of at least two gods, god the Father, and Jesus, whom Christians have deified to also be a god. Those who believe in Jesus, therefore, have a difficult time explaining to the monotheistic Muslim that God the Father and God the Son are one.   Christians have a difficult time defending their claim of one God when at the same time, they practice a divided Christendom.

Of course Muslims, and followers of other non-Christian religions, pronounce their judgments with the prejudice of their own uniqueness. Since all Muslims hypocritically look past their own diversity within Islam, they assume that they can judge Christians to believe in a Jesus who was only a good prophet, but not the Son of God. They do not understand the nature of the church amidst the diversity of so many false religious groups that pose to be “Christian,” and yet function divisively throughout Christendom.

Christendom is only a word that represents a collective of diverse religious groups that believe in Jesus. All these groups claim to have a stake in Jesus, but most do not do the will of the Father in heaven (Mt 7:24-27). We would not, therefore, allow the Buddhist or Muslim, or whoever, to deny the Sonship of Jesus because of the nonsense of every religious group who poses to be “Christian” simply because they cry out “Lord, Lord.” It is obedience to the truth of the gospel that the united apostles preached that produces unity.   And when there are those who do not submit to the truth of the gospel, then they have no right to claim the name “Christian.” This name is reserved only for those who have done that which qualifies one to be “of Christ” (See 1 Co 1:12,13).

So Jesus’ prayer is still valid. Not everyone in Christendom who cries out “Lord, Lord” is conforming to the unifying message of the gospel. Being Christian is validated by doing the will of the One after whom we call ourselves (See Mt 7:15-23). And thus, we search throughout Christendom for individuals who have obeyed the gospel. We seek for those who have obeyed the gospel, and thus, are deserving to be “of Christ” because of their obedience to the gospel. These are the individuals who would be one in Christ because they have done the will of the Father upon their obedience to the gospel.

We must delve deeper into the mire of denominational sectarianism as we make our journey past division and into the unity that brings power to the house of God. But in all of our mental meanderings, we must not lose sight of Jesus’ mandate that individuals who would call themselves after Him must be one.   We must force ourselves to look past church house signs and temples, and the pompous pretense of those who have called a group of disciples after themselves. We must even look past legalized assemblies that are presumptuously set forth as the identity of the church.

In order to discover the unity about which Jesus prayed, it is indeed helpful to study closely those texts of Scripture where the Holy Spirit has alerted us to watch out for certain signs that would lead to division among the disciples. While we are immersing ourselves in these chosen texts, we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus calls on individual Christians to be one as He and the Father are one. Our motive for doing this study is not only for our own salvation, but also for the salvation of unbelievers to whom we would preach a unifying gospel.   And while we preach, we must strive to manifest in our oneness the oneness of the Father and Son after whom we call ourselves.

[Lectures start October 5]