There Must Needs be Heresies

After a few weeks study at St. John’s University and Abbey, I am impressed by the perceptive Roman Catholic analysis of the weaknesses of Protestantism. They insist that Protestants are pressed between two unacceptable extremes. One extreme grows out of the assumption that man has an individual obligation to judge Bible truth. As a result, “a principle of disunity is embedded in the very essence of Protestantism.” On the other hand, in order to escape this evil, Protestants are guilty of hacking away at the body of essential truth of Christianity until they “sap it of all conviction.” (What Price Unity?” America, May 5, 1945, p. 95).

Of course, Catholics are not so perceptive in analyzing the appalling consequences of their own alternative to the Protestant dilemma. It hardly seems an improvement when one is asked to swallow a body of divine truth rooted in historical corruption, Biblical ignorance, and the intellectual intolerance of the Roman Catholic tradition. A Roman Catholic does indeed have his own certified brand of truth and unity, but he pays a staggering price.

But what of the Protestant predicament? I am not a Protestant, but it strikes me that there is a lesson for Christians to learn by examining the apparent incompatibility of truth and unity. The core truth of the lesson is that a belief in individual responsibility means one also believes in division. I unabashedly accept that conclusion. Protestantism, as a system of human religion supposedly reflecting the wisdom of good men, is indeed vulnerable to the taunts of Rome. Protestants ought to be ashamed that they can do no better. But Christians should understand that a rigorous search for truth necessitates that “there must be also heresies among you” (I Corinthians 11:19).

The Bible clearly teaches that division serves a useful and necessary function in the church. The acceptance of unity at any price will eventually “leaven” the whole body — such unity levels all to the lowest common denominator (I Corinthians 5:6-7).  Division is necessary so that “they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (I Corinthians 11:19). If the only vestige of the true church that existed today was the liberal Christian churches, I believe it would be impossible to distinguish the church of the Lord from every other form of religion. In the same way, if there is to be a church of Christ in another fifty years, it will be in the conservative churches today. Whatever might be the intention and hopes of many of those associated with liberal churches of Christ, it seems historically absurd to believe that after one or two more generations these churches will offer a distinctive alternative to the chaos of Protestantism. Finally, division is necessary to preserve the peace and sanity of the kingdom (Romans 14:1). A group united in the “same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10) — and only such a group — can take to the world a message of hope and peace.

This is not to say that division is good in any absolute sense. It quite obviously is not, and Jesus prayed fervently that his disciples would be one (John 17:11). He made it quite clear that Christian division would be a source of confusion to those who were not disciples. But if religious unity among all men of good will is desirable, the Bible never intimates that it is a practical end to be expected by Christians in history.

It is true that a Christian is obliged to work with both a love of the truth and a desire for unity. It is true also that Romans 14 teaches that under some circumstances two can walk together who do not agree and that a Christian is always ready to engage in dialogue about what is “essential” as a basis for doctrinal unity. There is no easy formula which answers all of the questions one must face in a lifetime. A Christian will take the issues one at a time, day by day, person by person, and weigh the respective tugs of truth and unity.

One could miss the central truth in this lesson, however, by gagging over the unpleasant day to day confrontations which arise. Practical problems should never obscure the very real Bible principle that truth is divisive. Again and again, those who start with a commitment to truth become weary along the endless trek through barren deserts of debate, bickering, and biblical legalism and opt for peace and unity. Some become too sweet-spirited to stomach the bitterness that is a part of division.

Some become tired of the long and tedious discussions of seemingly trivial subjects. Some long for the enlightened company of those who do not honor the truth. Some become exasperated by their human inability to find a final resting place, to fight the last battle and lay their armor down. They retreat in dismay. So many are overwhelmed by the responsibility for division which every man shoulders when he picks up his Bible to read it as the literal and comprehendible word of God.

Over and over again in the history of Christianity the weary have dejectedly begun the long and fruitless journey toward compromise and unity. In the minds of nineteenth-century Disciples of Christ, the quest for peace came quickly and logically to exclude the concept of the “restoration” of true religion. The renewed interest in “unity” movements in the church today stems, I believe, from the same mentality. It is a mind which has lost its spiritual toughness, which can no longer tolerate the consequences of a belief in individually perceived religious truth. Although we tend to see all of our differences in terms of case studies the ever present and argumentative “what would you do if” — they are generally, I believe, much more a matter of mood. Some come to love too much the sweet fruits of unity and to hate unreasonably the purifying exhilaration of strife. One who feels in mortal danger on one horn of the dilemma proposed by Roman Catholics is likely to be gored by the other.

I am not ashamed to admit that my teaching is divisive. Jesus came with a sword. I have helped to divide churches; I expect to divide more. I have also helped to unite churches that were needlessly and shamefully divided. Unity is wonderful in the truth of God; division is needed when the truth is at stake. It would be more comfortable if the dilemma were not there — but it is. We must live life as it is. If you have deep convictions, you must be prepared for careful, courteous, certain confrontation.

By Ed Harrell

Moses

Without doubt one of the most significant characters in the history of the people of Israel is Moses. He brought them out of the land of Egypt and slavery, he brought them the words of their God, and he led them through the wilderness to the very border of the Promised Land. For forty years Moses was the visible leader of the people of God. What made Moses into a leader? Was he effective? Can we use his example to teach us how to be effective leaders of God’s people? Let’s look at Moses’ example and see what we can learn.

Even though Moses was raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, his earliest years were spent with his natural mother as she was the one called upon to be the wet nurse for the baby Moses. During those years she instilled in the young boy a knowledge of who he was, one of the people of God. The people of God were waiting for God to rescue them from the slavery they were left in. God had promised to Abraham that four hundred years were all He would let the people stay in the land of Egypt. The time for deliverance was near and it looked like the young man Moses was being positioned in the best possible way to lead the Israelites.

In the years after he was given completely into the care of his Egyptian teachers, Moses never forgot his heritage. He used the opportunity God had given him to learn the best that he could. He became wise in the teaching of Egypt (the most advanced civilization of that day). (Acts 7:22) He became a powerful soldier in one of the world’s most powerful armies. “By the time he reached the age of forty, there was probably no greater leader . . . in all the land than Moses.” (Rodgers, p. 35) Indeed to man, and most likely to Moses, he seemed to be the perfect leader to set the Israelites free (cf. Acts 7:23-25). But God does not see as man sees. Moses rashly decides to take matters into his own hands by joining his people. Almost immediately he finds an excuse to begin the rebellion by killing an Egyptian. But instead of being the rallying call to bring the people to his side in rebellion, it rather leads to his betrayal into the hands of Pharaoh. “However, this attempt was in the energy of the flesh and, although God had chosen him for this great task, he attempted through self-effort to bring it to pass. This never accomplishes what God has in mind.” (Rodgers, p. 35)

Instead of facing the wrath of Pharaoh, Moses flees from Egypt. Certainly by then he must have thought that he was wrong about his usefulness in God’s plans. God must have decided on someone else. The next forty years Moses spends as a simple shepherd. He leads mild-mannered sheep along mountain trails to find food and drink for them. He probably fought off wild beasts to protect his sheep, and his heart was probably torn with grief when one of his sheep died. A far different man he became than the young self-reliant man who thought he could deliver his people from Egypt with the might of his arms and the eloquence of his speech.

Yet it is exactly this kind of man that God chooses. God does not want a leader who thinks he can stand alone. God needs leaders who know how to provide, protect and show compassion. The humble are useful to God, the proud cannot serve Him well. So when God calls upon Moses to be the leader of His people and deliver them from bondage, Moses protests that he is not fit to lead. Moses was still thinking in human terms. No longer was he the strong young man he had been. He was no longer well known, he had not used his voice for speeches in many years. Moses did not think he could act as a leader. “When he met God at the burning bush, he was a broken man.” (Rodgers, p. 36)

That is why God chose him. He chose him because he no longer thought of himself as the leader. God wants Moses to rely on Him. God tells Moses to tell the people that He, the great I AM, had sent Moses, and God would deliver the people with His own powerful hand. So eventually Moses agrees to lead the people and when the people hear that God will deliver them, they believe and worship God (Ex. 4:31). Perhaps with this initial success “the old feelings of success and conquest came back.” (Rodgers, p. 36) However, God does not let him keep those old feelings for long.

Things do not proceed as Moses and the people probably expected. The Pharaoh did not let them go immediately. Instead things got harder for the Israelites. Even Moses was reduced to blaming God for the trouble on Israel. (Ex. 5:22-23) Moses still thought God should act as man desired. But God is not a man. A leader of God’s people has to be able to accept God as God is, not as man wants Him to be. A leader of God’s people must be able to accept adversity without doubting in God or His plans. So during the time of the plagues upon Egypt, Moses is growing in his faith toward God and in his ability to be an effective leader.

After the plagues while the people were leaving Egypt, Pharaoh and his army approached. Here might have been the great opportunity for the military mind of Moses. Moses, trained as a mighty warrior of Egypt, could he defeat the Egyptian army with his band of slaves? A question never to be answered because Moses had learned a lesson about leading God’s people: let God lead. Moses told the people, “The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” (Ex. 14:14) But that faith did not excuse Moses from acting. He simply waited for God to tell him what action He desired, then he did as he was told. Moses had finally become a fit leader of God’s people.

Yet leadership always involves problems. Moses quickly faced a series of problems that would test his leadership. First there was the problem of water for all these people. Although Moses had learned to trust in God, the people “failed to trust God or respond to Moses’ leadership.” (“Moses”) When the people brought the problem to Moses, he cried out to God. (Ex. 15:25) Moses did not try to solve the people’s problems by himself. These were God’s people and he knew that God would be able to solve their problems. In like manner Moses let God solve the problems of food and meat. Moses refused to be the one to solve the problems. God was the true leader of this people. One who leads God’s people must always remember whose people they are and allow God to be the source of answers to problems.

But leadership requires more than a casual commitment. When Moses was up on Mount Sinai, the people committed a very great sin. They turned against God and Moses, and God said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.” (Ex. 32:7) No longer did God claim the people as His own. They were Moses’ people and he had brought them out of Egypt. Originally that was exactly what the younger Moses had intended. He was going to be their savior. Now God was offering Moses the chance to be the kind of leader he once wanted to be.

Yet Moses is no longer the bold and arrogant young leader. He has learned humility from those years leading sheep. But he has also learned to care for the sheep. Boldly Moses stands before God and intercedes for the children of Israel. (Rodgers, p. 41) Humbly he reminds God that they are His children whom He had brought out of Egypt. He also reminds God of the effect it would have on God’s reputation if He destroyed His people in the wilderness. (Exodus 32:11-14)

Moses has been able to intercede on behalf of the people placed under his care. He has put into practice the leadership skills he spent his first eighty years in acquiring. But there are greater challenges facing his leadership. To begin God has agreed to let Moses take care of the problem of idolatry going on with the children of Israel. Moses must be able to discipline the children of Israel if he is going to lead them on behalf of God.

When Moses finally approached the camp of Israel, his initial reaction was one of uncontrolled anger (Exodus 32:19; cf. Cook, p.89). The anger is certainly a result of his early years in Pharaoh’s house where strict obedience was to be expected. Moses breaks the tablets and grinds up the golden calf and makes the people drink of the gold dust mixed with water. Perhaps that would have been the end of the discipline except that some children of Israel were continuing in their idolatry by running around naked (Exodus 32:25). More severe discipline was required for some. This continued rebellion was a test of Moses’ leadership. If he failed to get the rebellion under control, then he could never lead this people for they would always be rebelling against him and God. So Moses calls for those who were loyal to God. The rebels, about three thousand men, were put to death. (Exodus 32:27-28) The rebellion was at an end. But Moses knows that his leadership is still called for. Now he must lead the people back to God and he calls upon them to set a day aside for the LORD. But Moses knows the sin is very great and that sin requires atonement. Moses knows that he may be called upon to make that atonement (Exodus 32:30). So when he stands before God, Moses takes responsibility for his flock and offers his life for them. God does not accept that offer, but he does not allow Moses to forsake his position as leader either. He tells Moses to “go, lead the people”. (Exodus 32:34)

Again Moses had passed a challenge to his leadership. He was able to discipline the rebellious people, quash the resistance of the more stubborn rebels, bring the people back to God, and be accepted by God as still a fit leader for His people. However, his success led to more challenges to his leadership.

Being chosen by God as the leader and then reaffirmed in that leadership position caused some other potential leaders to be jealous. The first attempt to take over, or at least share, the leadership came from Moses’ own family. Miriam and Aaron protested to Moses that they were at least as capable as he was as a leader. After all God spoke to them, as well as to Moses, they said. (Number 12:2) Moses did not make a rebuttal, perhaps as is stated, it was because Moses was such a meek man (Numbers 12:3). Again consider how much has changed in Moses life. Where is the bold and arrogant young Moses who killed the Egyptian? Moses has learned his lessons about leadership. The battles belong to God, so Moses steps aside and lets God do battle. The Lord wastes no time in putting Miriam and Aaron back into their places (Numbers 12:5-12; cf. Edersheim, p. 2:164). Once again Moses is called upon, this time by Aaron, to personally intercede with God. (LaSor, p. 109)

The next challenge to his leadership came in the form of a full-fledged attempt to permanently remove Moses from leadership. The people rose up to stone him to death, along with Caleb and Joshua and Aaron (Numbers 14:10). Once again it is notable that Moses intercedes for the people who sought to kill him (Numbers 14:13-20). But still Moses must accept that the people under his care are to be punished. Moses has to bear with the people in the consequences of their sin, for again he must lead the people back to God and prepare the next generation for entering the Promised Land.

One last attempt is made to displace Moses as leader. This challenge came from the leaders of the assembly. Two hundred and fifty men led by Korah of Moses own tribe of Levi (Numbers 16:1-2). These men protested that Moses and Aaron had made themselves too important, that Moses had failed to bring them to the Promised Land, and that the priesthood should not belong exclusively to Moses and Aaron (Jones, “Korah”) Again Moses faces the battle by saying that the Lord would choose (Num. 16:5) And again Moses was rewarded by God doing battle on his behalf (Num. 16:28-35), and also again Moses is called upon to intercede for the rebellious flock he leads. (Jones, “Korah”)

The final challenge to Moses’ leadership was one that he did not overcome. For the final challenge that faces all leaders is one that comes from within — pride. Moses had struggled and succeeded in letting God do battle with the obvious rebellions and challenges. Moses had stood up for the people time and again sparing their lives even while they sought to kill him. But deep down inside Moses was still the Egyptian trained leader of men. The constant complaints were wearisome. Finally, while the people yet again complained about needing water, Moses slipped. “Moses looked at the people as they were in themselves, instead of thinking of God who now sent them forward, secure in His promise, which He would assuredly fulfill.” (Edersheim, p. 2:186) In the heat of his frustration or anger Moses complained that he must again bring forth water for them (Num. 20:10; cf. Rodgers, p. 55). Moses had said HE was bringing forth water. It was not Moses who brought the water; it was God. Moses had failed to give God the glory due to Him. Perhaps he felt justified in having a share of the glory after all he had put up with, but God immediately notified Moses that he would be punished for his sin (Num. 20:12). “Certainly, this should teach us that no individual can sin with impunity, regardless of who he is or what his station in life.” (Rodgers, p. 55)

So what lessons can we learn from Moses example of leadership? We learn first that a leader may need to be educated in the ways of the world. God’s people live and work and move in the world. Knowledge of how the world works is a helpful tool. But the leader must always remember that his training is only a tool. More important than an earthly education are humility and service, like what Moses learned as a shepherd. Then God’s leader must be able to balance the two parts of his training, leading the people of God with wisdom and humility. Also the leader must be willing to sacrifice of himself and to intercede on behalf of God’s people, even when the people are unkind toward, or rebelling against, the leader. Finally, the leader must be able to step aside and let God fight the battles, and then he must give God the glory. For it is only in God that the battles can be won. Moses, as a leader of God’s people, was “a man who performed great deeds in the strength that only God can provide.” (“Moses”)

By Glenn E. Hamilton

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cook, F. C. ed. The Bible Commentary: Exodus-Ruth. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953.

Edersheim, Alfred. Bible History, Old Testament. 7 vols. 1890 ed. Reprint 1 vol. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.

Jones, T. H. “Korah.” New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Ed. I. Howard Marshall, et al. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

LaSor, William, et al. Old Testament Survey. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

“Moses.” The Revell Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1990.

Rodgers, Thomas. The Panorama of the Old Testament. Newburgh: Trinity, 1988.

“Not Given to Much Wine”

A favorite passage that is used to support the moderate use of alcoholic beverages is 1 Timothy 3:8. One of the qualifications for the office of a Deacon is “not given to much wine.” It appears the wine is not condemned but the quantity of wine consumed. However, abstinence from alcoholic beverages is required of the Eldership (1 Tim. 3:2-3; Tit. 1:7). Is this a sanction of intoxicating wine for Deacons as long as they never become Elders?

It certainly makes no sense to permit drinking of some alcohol for an office where deacons should be aspiring to become Elders. Under the Old Law, priests were not even permitted to be present in the tabernacle if they have drunk an intoxicating drink. If they were inebriated in the temple the penalty was death (Lev. 10:9). The purpose for that statute was to provide the people with the ability to distinguish between the holy and the unholy (Lev. 10:10). Using the same reasoning, it seems strange to think that someone in the position of a Deacon would have to be considered unholy if the consumption of alcohol is permitted at all. Given that all Christians are priests under the New Law, the distinction between the holy and the unholy should still be recognized by one’s use of alcohol.

It could also be easily argued that Paul is setting up a double standard if this phrase is an endorsement for the consumption of alcohol. Yet, Paul begins the qualification for Deacons with the acknowledgment that the qualifications between the two offices are similar. He says, Likewise deacons must be…” (1 Tim. 3:8). Since the Bible would never contradict itself, the phrase under consideration obviously does not sanction the use of alcohol.

Samuele Bacchiocchi, in his book entitled, Wine in the Bible, illustrates the absurdity of assuming this phrase condones the drinking of alcohol as follows. “If you are a bishop, you must abstain (nephalios) from wine and not even be near wine (me paroinon – 1 Tim. 3:2-3). If you are a deacon, you may drink wine moderately (me oino pollo – vs. 8). If you are a woman, presumably a deaconess, you must abstain (nephalious – vs. 11) from wine. If you are an aged man, you must abstain (nephalious – Titus 2:2) from wine. If you are an aged woman, you must drink moderately (me oino pollo – Titus 2:3). Now what would happen if a woman happened to be both aged and a deaconess? Would she be abstinent one day and moderate the next?” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p. 250)

The absurdity can also be illustrated by evaluating other similar phrases found elsewhere in the Bible. The most striking passage is Ecclesiastes 7:17. It reads, “Do not be overly wicked…” (NKJV). Does that mean it is all right to be moderately wicked? When Paul said, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body…” (Rom. 6:12), does he imply that sin is acceptable as long as it doesn’t control us? When Paul wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world…” (Rom. 12:2), does that mean a little worldliness is acceptable provided conformance hasn’t been reached? Surely, Peter wasn’t implying that the Christians were riotous when he wrote, “Wherein, they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot…” (1 Pet. 4:4; KJV).

The literal translation of the phrase directly from Greek is “not wine to much being addicted” (Marshall, The Interlinear Greek – English New Testament, p.825). The New American Standard Version of the Bible translates it as “not addicted to much wine.” Obviously any amount of addiction is too much. Therefore, we can tell that the phrase in question is using a loose form of speech. The phrase should not be understood as permission to drink but as a prohibition against being intoxicated with any amount of wine.

By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net

 

ABRAHAM: The Father of our Faith

The apostle Paul said “that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7), but what was so special about Abraham and his faith? What kind of faith did Abraham have? How did that faith react in suffering? How did that faith react in failure? How did that faith react in prosperity? How did that faith react in doubting? The only way to know the answer is to look at the life of Abraham, see how his faith reacted to the circumstances of life, and then decide how best to place that kind of faith in our own lives. (“Abraham”)

Abram, as Abraham was called when he is first introduced to us in the Bible, was born and raised in the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. (Gen. 11:26-32) Ur was “the capital city of the Sumerians, one of the oldest civilisations [sic] in Mesopotamia.” (Keller, p. 20) Archaeologists have also uncovered many useful pieces of information about the metropolis of Ur of the time of Abram. For example, Ur was a very pagan city containing at least five major temples in its sacred precinct, the largest of which was dedicated to the moon-god. (Keller, pp. 13-14, cf. Josh. 24: 2, 14-15) Despite the greatness of the city, the Bible says that Abram’s father took his family and left Ur to go to Canaan, but stopped at the city of Haran. (Gen. 11:31)

Why did the family choose to leave the city of Ur? Were they looking for a better life? Perhaps they were looking to become rich. The Bible does not leave us guessing. God later tells Abram, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans . . . .”(Gen. 15:7, NASB) God had moved the family to go to Canaan, but they stopped and settled in Haran. God had a plan for Abram, but Abram’s family became and obstacle to the plan by remaining outside of Canaan. So the first challenge to Abram’s faith in God would be whether he would stay with his family in relative safety and security or whether he would follow God into unknown places.

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;’” (Gen. 12:1, NASB) God has set the stage for this first test by telling Abram to leave everything. When one wants to follow God, all earthly entanglements have to be shed. “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him . . . .”(Gen. 12:4, NASB) Abram’s faith is seen in his action: he “went forth” as he had been told. “His obedience and trust in the God who has called him are exemplary.” (LaSor, p. 49) All faith requires obedient action. “Abraham’s faith is perhaps best seen in his ready obedience whenever called by God.” (Wiseman, “Abraham”) “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Heb. 11:8; cf. Jas. 1:26)

When Abram reaches this new land which God promised to him, he builds an altar and calls on the name of the LORD. (Gen. 12:5-9) Throughout the Bible there are examples of people calling on the name of the LORD. (e.g., Gen. 4:26, Joel 2:32; Acts 22:16, Rom. 10:13) When someone calls on the name of the LORD, they are either establishing, maintaining, or restoring a relationship with God. Specifically, such a call “denotes the claiming of God’s protection”. (NBD, “Call”, p. 159) Abram has trusted in the Lord and has acted on that faith; now he claims of God the protection God had promised. Abram and God are in a relationship with mutual requirements.

Does faith mean that Abram never again sinned (disobeyed God)? No. Problems soon arise in Abram’s new relationship with God. There is a famine in the land to which God had sent Abram. (Gen. 12:10) Abram’s lack of faith is seen in that instead of calling on God and relying on His protection, Abram decides to leave the promised land and find a new place in Egypt. When Abram arrives in Egypt his faith weakens farther for instead of relying on God’s promise to bless him, Abram lies and has Sarai lie about their relationship. (Gen. 12:11-16) “Abraham . . . [is] to be condemned for [his] complicity in lying, no matter how noble a motive [he] may have had, or how much truth the lie contained.” (Kaiser, p. 120) Eventually it is the pagan Pharaoh that rebukes Abram on behalf of God. (Gen. 12:17-20)

Does that mean Abram is not a good model for faith? Certainly not. Consider how Abram reacted to the rebuke. He leaves Egypt and returns to where he was supposed to be in Canaan. (Gen. 13: 1) When Abram got back to where he had earlier built an altar, “Abram called on the name of the LORD.” (Gen. 13:4) He restored his relationship with God and placed himself again under God’s protection. The faith of which Abraham is our father, is a faith that turns back to God in sincere repentance after times of wandering apart from God.

Since Abraham’s faith did not mean he was sinless, someone might think instead that his faith meant that he had absolutely no doubts in God’s promises. A little farther along in his life, Abram still has no child and he asks God how He will keep His promise. (Gen. 15:2-3) God responds by yet again promising Abram many descendants from his own body. (Gen. 15:4-5) “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6, NASB) Notice yet again that since God “reckoned” Abram’s faith as righteousness, it shows that Abram was not righteous (sinless) on his own (cf. Rom. 4:1-5). But does it mean that Abram no longer had any doubts about God’s promise? No, look at what the passage says immediately after God promises the land again to Abram, “He said ‘O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?’” (Gen. 15:8, NASB) Abram still has doubts and needs assurance in spite of the fact that he believes God. He knows that God can keep His promise, but he also knows that he is not a perfect follower (as seen already in the Egypt incident). Can Abram be sure the promise will be fulfilled even if he should again sin. So God patiently makes a covenant with Abram in a form that Abram could understand: a Chaldean covenant (Rodgers, p. 26) And God made this covenant unilateral meaning that “the responsibility for its fulfillment would rest totally on God.” (Rodgers, p.26; cf. Kaiser, pp. 129-130) From here on Abram accepts God’s promise without doubt, God will fulfill it because He must. In like manner our faith like Abraham’s must accept, in spite of any lingering doubts, that God will fulfill His promises.

However, having faith in His promises did not keep Abram from trying to help along the fulfillment of the promise. Sarai gives her servant Hagar to Abram as a concubine in order to have a son through her. (Kaiser, p. 121) Although a son was born through Hagar, God makes it clear to Abraham (for God changed his name) that He does not need anyone’s help to keep His promises. (Gen. 17:17-22) Again Abraham had done the wrong thing. He did not turn away from God as he had earlier by going to Egypt, rather he had tried to help God keep His promise. (Kaiser, p.121) Sometimes we might try to figure out how to help God keep his promises, but God does not need our help. God told Abraham to let Him worry about keeping His own promises. And with faith Abraham was able to stop trying to anticipate how God wanted the promise fulfilled.

Yet sometimes it seems there is no earthly way possible for God to keep His promises. Does fear that promises may not be kept excuse us from having faith in God? Consider that after Abraham had the promised child, Isaac, God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Was that a reasonable demand? Did faith require obedience to demands man might consider unreasonable? Did faith require obedience to a command which might negate a promise of God? Here was God testing Abraham “to know his heart and to see if he would obey and fear the Lord who gave him the son he loved so dearly.” (Kaiser, p. 124) In chapter 22 of Genesis, we finally see the culmination of the faith of which Abraham is the father. “Abraham can meet the test in only one way – total and complete faith in the God who promised him Isaac and fulfilled the promise when it was beyond human means. Abraham meets the test.” (LaSor, p.49) He did what God asked. No more failures, no more doubts, no more trying to anticipate God. Abraham simply obeyed. “His faith rested in a belief in God’s ability, if need be, to raise his son from the dead (Gen 22:12, 18; Heb. 11:19).” (Wiseman, “Abraham”)

Abraham finally learned the lesson of faith. “In hope against hope he believed . . . being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” (Rom. 4:18, 23) Abraham’s faith is one we are called to emulate. “As a true believer, he struggled successfully with doubt, found comfort and strength in prayer, and met life’s greatest challenges by acting on the conviction that God’s Word is trustworthy, to be believed, and to be obeyed.” (“Abraham”) He is an example to us, not that we should imitate his weaknesses, but rather that despite our own weaknesses we might believe that God is able to perform what He has promised to us. As Abraham’s faith began with believing things he had not seen (the land, a son), our faith is also called to begin with believing what we have not seen, “as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead”. (Rom. 4:24)

By Glenn E. Hamilton

“Abraham.” The Revell Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1990.

Kaiser, Walter, Jr., et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

Keller, Werner. The Bible as History. Revised ed. New York: Bantam, 1980.

LaSor, William, et al. Old Testament Survey. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Rodgers, Thomas. The Panorama of the Old Testament. Newburgh: Trinity, 1988.

Wiseman, D. J. “Abraham.” New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Ed. I. Howard Marshall, et al. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

 

Slip-Slidng Away

When changes occur, it is common for those who bring in new ideas to reinterpret past events to prove that their ideas are really what people thought and wanted all along. Even when the changes are recent and people still remember what life was like before the changes, they just put a spin on the old ideas.

There is a whole generation who have now lived in a United States where abortion has always been legal, where most married couples get divorced, and where homosexuality is prominently discussed. Is it a wonder that young people just assume it was always like this; or if it wasn’t like this, life must have been worse? For example, I frequently read that the era before no-fault divorces was a time when many women were trapped in abusive relationships. Human nature doesn’t change (Ecclesiastes 1:10). I doubt there where more abusive husbands in the past than there are today. Yet, history is redefined. What occurs today is assumed to be better than the past. Rightly did Solomon sorrowfully say, “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after” (Ecclesiastes 1:11).

It is a fact that most of the churches who wear the name “Church of Christ” hold a liberal view of the Scriptures. Liberalism is a philosophical approach to law, whether we talk about constitutional law or the law of Christ. A liberal advocates a free approach to law. Anything is allowed that the law doesn’t specifically restrict, and even then, the law is interpreted so as to give the least restraint possible. The majority of churches of Christ refer to themselves as “mainstream” churches. They will attack those who hold more conservative beliefs as being too restrictive; using terms such as “pharisaical” or “anti” to address conservative-minded Christians. At the same time, they will attack those who take liberalities further than they desire to go. The Max Lucados and Rubel Shellys of the world are too liberal in their view.

Interestingly, the last few decades have brought a reinterpretation of the views of past brethren. Brethren among the mainstream churches assume that their beliefs are the ones brethren have always held. Thomas B. Warren, in his book “Lectures on Church Cooperation and Orphan Homes” argued “If you can find anyone who taught this before 1955, you will be doing me a favor.” Yes, teachings have changed in the church, but it might surprise you who has changed.

Consider the idea of churches establishing and maintaining homes for the needy. Paul taught, “If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed” (I Timothy 5:16). The primary care of the elderly fell upon their family. The church only cared for a limited set of widows who had no family and who had met strict guidelines (I Timothy 5:3-16).

In 1930, brother A. B. Barret, founder of Abilene Christian College wrote, “Individual Christians, any number, may scripturally engage in any worthwhile work, such as running colleges, papers and orphanages, and other individual Christians may properly assist them in every proper way; but no local congregation should be called upon, as such, to contribute a thing to any such enterprises. Such a call would be out of harmony with the word of the living God. And if any congregation so contributes, it transcends its scriptural prerogatives” (Gospel Advocate, March 13, 1930). Yet, today Abilene Christian College regularly solicits and accepts funding from mainstream congregations across the country.

The following year, brother F. B. Srygley wrote, “These churches were independent of each other and of all other congregations. They were not bound together by any organization under the control of the eldership of any of these churches, neither were they banded together under one board created by any state or national law … there was no discussion among them about how to build and control institutions such as orphanages, homes for the aged, or hospitals for the sick. There is no more authority in the New Testament for the control of such things than there is for control of a farm or health resort. Sometime after the apostles died … men became dissatisfied with this simple organization, which eventually led to the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The Catholic church then undertook to organize in a way to control schools, hospitals … we now have brethren that should know better trying to find authority for owning and operating such things under the overworked rule of expediency” (Gospel Advocate, May 14, 1931). Hence, the debate over church supported institutions did exist prior to 1955, unlike what brother Warren asserted. Since the Gospel Advocate was and remains the popular paper of the mainstream churches, brother Srygley’s comments show that the churches in the 1930s held a conservative view against the use of institutions.

In 1946, Guy N. Woods argued “There is no place for charitable organizations in the work of the New Testament church” (1946 Annual Lesson Commentary, page 338). In 1954, B. C. Goodpasture stated, “The church is all sufficient for the work God intended it to do. It needs no aids or auxiliaries.” Brothers Woods and Goodpasture later changed their position. Today the mainstream churches support a wide variety of organizations, such as orphanages, nursing homes, and schools. A change did occur, but it was away from a conservative view of the authority of the Scriptures.

There has also been a change in how churches supported the work of spreading the gospel. Paul stated, “You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs” (Philippians 4:15-16). Other churches joined with the Philippians to support Paul so that Paul later wrote to the Corinthians, “I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so” (II Corinthians 11:8-9).

Regarding this simple method of each congregation sending support directly to preachers of the gospel, David Lipscomb wrote in 1874, “The simple congregation can cooperate, help, assist, by each of them doing just what the master commands them … what are usually termed cooperation are really not cooperation of the churches, they are an organization, combinations that do the work of the church … two churches, both working by the same law for accomplishment of the end are cooperation.” The view 125 years ago among the churches was similar to the pattern laid out in the New Testament. Each congregation independently supported preachers of the gospel. That two or more congregations happened to decided to support the same man meant they were cooperating in the spread of the gospel in that area. No further organization was needed.

In 1921, M. C. Kurfees wrote, “Hence, the fact that one church is contributing to sustain a missionary is no reason another church or churches may not do so if one is too poor financially to sustain the work; in such a case, each church maintains its own independence, and sends directly to the support of the missionary in the field” (ACC Lectures, 1920-1921, page 55).

Foy E. Wallace, Jr. also commented on this topic in 1931, “For one church to solicit funds from other churches for general distribution in other fields or places, thus becoming a treasury of other churches … makes a sort of society out of the elders of a local church, and for such there is no scriptural precedent or example” (Gospel Advocate, May 14, 1931). That same year, F. B. Srygly wrote, “These elders had no authority to take charge of the missionary money or any other money or means of any church except the one over which they were overseers” (Gospel Advocate, December 3, 1931). The following year H. Leo Boles wrote, “There is no example of two or more churches joining together their funds for the support of the gospel” (Gospel Advocate, November 3, 1932).

We see, then, that the common view in the past agreed with the scriptural pattern. Congregations did not pool their funds, but solely cooperated through common but independent action. Today, the mainstream churches accomplish almost all their support of preachers through sponsoring churches. A preacher finds a congregation to sponsor his work and that congregation then solicits and collects funds for that preacher, which it then sends to that preacher in the form of a salary. Yet, most brethren among the mainstream churches refuse to believe that this was not the way it used to be done.

Changes are also evident in the way preachers were trained to preach the gospel. The apostle Paul wrote the young preacher Timothy exhorting him, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2). One of the duties of a preacher is to train preachers for the next generation.

In 1915 J. D. Tant wrote, “He and I agreed that this society was unscriptural. Then I told him the church of Christ has its Bible college society with its president, secretary, treasurer, board of directors, etc. to collect money from churches to teach the gospel and do other good works. Then I asked by what process of reasoning could the digressive missionary society be unscriptural, and our college society be scriptural” (Firm Foundation, June 8, 1915). While it has long been the practice of colleges to accept funding from congregations, it was frequently argued against the practice, even within these same colleges. In 1939 Guy N. Woods argued, “The ship of Zion has floundered more than once on the sand-bar of institutionalism. The tendency to organize is characteristic of the age. This writer has ever been unable to appreciate the logic of those who effect to see grave danger in the missionary society but scruple not to form organizations for the purpose of caring for orphans, and teaching young men to be gospel preachers” (ACC Lectures, 1939, page 54).

Later, George DeHoff clearly stated, “What is God’s institution to educate and train men in the gospel? Answer: The local church” (Christian Magazine, January 1951). Brother DeHoff’s answer reflects the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 4:11-16. Christ organized the church to train its members to be mature Christians. Yet today the majority of churches will only accept a preacher who has been trained at a college or preacher-training school run by brethren. Rarely does a local congregation train up preachers. Instead, promising young men are sent somewhere else to be trained.

Finally, let us consider the matter of churches sponsoring recreation for its members. The apostle Paul scolded the Corinthians, “What, do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God?” (I Corinthians 11:22).

In 1948 B.C. Goodpasture wrote, “For the church to turn aside from its divine work to furnish amusement and recreation is to pervert its mission. It degrades its mission. Amusement and recreation should stem from the home rather than the church. The church, like Nehemiah, has a great work to do; and it should not come down to the plain of Ono to amuse and entertain. As the church turns its attention to amusement and entertainment, it will be shorn of its power as Samson was when his hair was cut. Only as the church becomes worldly, as it pillows it head in the lap of Delilah, will it turn from its wanted course to relatively unimportant matters. Imagine Paul selecting and training a group of brethren to compete in the Isthmain games!” (Gospel Advocate, May 20, 1948). Yet today, the mainstream churches frequently fund social meals for its members. They furnish gymnasiums for use by their members. Many congregations sponsor youth sports leagues. Who appears to have changed their view regarding the work of the church?

The brethren quoted in this article are not authorities in the matter of determining what is right or wrong regarding a particular issue. However, their writings prove that these issues were considered and for the most part rejected many years ago. Mainstream churches of Christ have followed a new path. They have walked there for so long that they have forgotten that it wasn’t always this way. They find comfort in the position of the majority instead of searching for the ancient landmarks (Proverbs 22:28).

By Jeffrey W. Hamilton

The Importance of Assembling

First Century Christians lived in a time where their government declared war on Christianity. The assaults on people of faith were not done in secret (Heb. 10:32-34). Lands, homes and property were taken by the governing powers. Preachers were regularly interrogated by civil authorities for speaking the truth about Christ (Acts 5:17-18).

Members of the church did not want to assemble because of the government intrusions (Heb. 10:35-39). It just wasn’t safe going to church. Aquila and Priscilla were forced to leave their home in Rome due to the edict of Claudius (A.D. 49) expelling all Jews from the city (Acts 18:1-2). Apparently, many Christians were likewise caught up in the explosions throughout the Roman Empire as history records the “plundering of their possessions” (Heb. 10:34) assumedly as they fled. Philo accounts how Jews in Alexandria were forced to leave their homes and herded together in the city (In Flaccum 8.56). “Their enemies overran the houses now left empty and began to loot them, dividing up the contents like spoils of war.” The incidence was “accompanied by other acts of public outrage and violence (cf. F. F. Bruce, NICNT: Hebrews, 269). 1 Would we blame these Christians for not attending services given their concerns for their personal welfare?

The Hebrew writer records how the early Christians “endured a great fight of afflictions;” became “gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions,” while implying many were mistreated by simple association with other persecuted Christians (Heb. 10:32-33). Philo (Against Flaccus 72, 74, 84-85, 95, 173) and Josephus (Against Apion 1.43) recorded how Jews were subjected to public humiliation and abuse in a theater during an organized massacre (A.D. 38).

Of course, we know how Paul spent many years in prison for his faith (Col. 4:18; Phil. 1:7; Heb. 10:34). We could reminisce of Stephen’s murder (Acts 7:58ff), John the Baptist’s execution (Matt. 14:6-11), or James death under Herod Agrippa (A.D. 43). Not to mention the persecution lead by Saul that left many Christians injured or dead (Acts 22:4-5).

It is in this environment that the Hebrew writer warns the brethren not to forsake assembling (Heb. 10:25). He immediately conjoins such an act to willful sin (Heb. 10:26-31). After which he implores them not to quit their faith after everything they have been through already (Heb. 10:32-39). The act of forsaking the assembling of saints is indicative of one who draws back to perdition (Heb. 10:39). To further encourage the battered brethren, the author of Hebrews sights many examples of people with the kind of faith that doesn’t draw back (Heb. 11). Endurance becomes the theme as the Hebrew writer returns to the hostility present at that time (Heb. 12:1-4). Ultimately, Christ is the perfect example of faith as one “who endured such hostility from sinners.”

Isn’t it strange how our brethren will often water down the importance of assembling? The early Christians went to church knowing it could mean their arrest, torture or humiliation. To be associated with Christians was enough to ruin one’s life. Yet, the book of Hebrews chronicles the explicit commands and exhortations not to throw their faith away by forsaking the assembling. Forsaking church services is a reflection of our faith.

Imagine our brethren on the judgment day telling Christ on the throne that they thought it better to miss the assembling of the saints for any number of reasons. There were sporting events, family socials, overtime at work, minor health complaints, the need to sleep in, etc. What would the early Christians think of those excuses after all they went through? God wouldn’t excuse their desire to forsake church services just because they were being persecuted! God certainly won’t excuse our forsaking church services for any reason within our control.

In the near future, persecution might be added to our list of reasons to forsake. Will we miss the assembling of the saints just because it could cause us to lose our possessions, our dignity or even our life? Christ “laid down His life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16). Is He asking too much when He requires our attendance in worship to Him?

1Daniel H. King, Sr., The Book of Hebrews, Truth Commentaries, Guardian of Truth Foundation, p.351.

By Steve A. Hamilton

shamilton@rap.midco.net