Disagreeing Like Jesus

Why did the Jewish religious establishment kill Jesus? They didn't like Him. And why didn't they like Him? Because they didn't like what He had to say.

How frequently do you dislike what others say—whether you disagree with their beliefs or opinions, or you disapprove of their tone or lack of tact?

One of the chiefest differences between the followers of Christ and all other people must be in how we handle disagreement, criticism, opposition, antagonism, and persecution. Love your enemies. Bless your enemies. Pray for your enemies. Show patience and longsuffering, like God has shown you. Forgive with no end, as God has forgiven you. Return their venom and spit with humility and respect. This is a basic tenant of the lifestyle of Jesus of Nazareth. Any other response to resistance and confrontation is not of the Spirit of Christ, but of the same spirit as that of the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus' day: a spirit antithetical to Christ—a spirit of "antichrist."

So, now you must question yourself: "How do I respond when I am criticized? How do I react when my beliefs or opinions are challenged? Do I feel like a "champion of the faith" when I cheapen another who disagrees with my beliefs? How do I respond when I don't think that someone is giving me the respect I feel I deserve? Am I displaying the Spirit of Christ, or a spirit inversed to the lifestyle of Jesus? Who have I disagreed with recently? Did I convey genuine love in my effort to convey what I believe to be the truth? When I don't like what someone has to say, does my heart respond any differently than the Pharisees'?"

Jesus taught them the truth, and they disagreed with Him because they weren't willing to humbly question what they were taught. They couldn't even admit that they could be wrong. They were totally convinced that what they were taught was "the faith once delivered to the saints." But it wasn't. So, they disposed of the truth-teller.

How did Jesus respond to their criticism and disagreement? He did what He could do to communicate the essence of His message, then He allowed them to torture and execute Him publically. He then tore Himself from the grip of death and walked among them again.

So, if what you believe to be true is indeed the truth, then there must come a time when you stop talking about it and show it to be true. Jesus' ultimate proof of what He said was what He did.

Let our lips tell the glory of Jesus Christ. But let our lives tell it with a greater eloquence.

My Own Expanded Translation of the Love Poem of 1 Corinthians 13

4 Perfect Love patiently tolerates annoyance and disrespect,
never succumbing to shortsighted temper.

Love is constructive and kind,
always fostering others and contributing good.

Love does not boil with jealousy or stew with envy,
never leaning to suspicion or lusting for control.

Love is not anxious to impress,
never bragging or exaggerating its status.

Love does not suffer from an inflated ego,
never cherishing exalted ideas of its own importance.

5 Love does not act dishonorably and is not rude,
never bringing shame to those it holds dear.

Love does not pursue its own selfish interests,
never demanding its own way or insisting on its own rights.

Love is not irritable or touchy,
never allowing itself to be provoked.

Love is not resentful or bitter,
never keeping a grudge or a record of wrongs.

6 Love does not applaud injustice or imperfection,
never gloating when someone is wronged or flawed.

On the contrary, Love cheers alongside Truth—
they share in the joy of each other’s triumphs.

7 Love extends its protection to all,
absorbing every blow.

It exercises faith in all,
defying every fear and reservation.

It expects the best from all,
seeing what no one else sees.

It endures every difficulty,
but never loses heart.

8 Perfect love still stands when everything else has fallen.

First-Century Thinking (part 3)

Again—and for the final time in this series—let’s ask ourselves, "What observations may we make, from the New Testament and church history, about the operation of churches in the first one-hundred-or-so years of the existence of the institution of the local church?" and "How might persecution alter the way our churches operate or the way we perceive what things are important?"

In light of the fact that the world had very few copies of the Scriptures, and that the first printing press was yet to be invented for another several hundreds of years, what teaching methods were employed by the pioneering Christians of the first century? There was no curriculum. Very few people in the world owned a personal copy of any substantial portion of the Bible. How much emphasis was placed upon Scripture reading, repetition, meditation, and memorization? What might this teach us about the value of community in Bible reading and discussion?

How geared were church meetings toward lost people? How sensitive were church meetings, ministries, and programs toward potential church members? In cases of persecution, church meetings were most certainly not public knowledge. So, in what ways did they assimilate new members?

Were public offerings made, or were the regular offerings secretly received? Did they take Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 to apply to the local church?

How frequently did they practice the Lord’s Supper? Did it coincided with the Passover? Was it a weekly event? Was it scheduled, or was it observed as needed?

How did they conduct church business? Do we have Scripture to prove that they always voted before making decisions? If so, how were children’s opinions weighed against those of adults? Did they set aside a particular meeting for the purpose of handling business? Rather, did they tackle each item of business as it presented itself? Were certain sorts of business left to the wisdom of the overseers, deacons, and other leaders? If a particular church were organized in a “house-to-house” manner, how might their business be performed?

How much commitment was expected of members? How significant of a lifestyle change was expected of new Christians uniting with a church?

When “the church” was mentioned, did their minds automatically picture a building or a programmed-service? Did people come as they might come to an entertainment hall?

Did they ever have an “altar call”? Did they have an “altar” at all? Did they play music during the invitation? Did they sing during the invitation? Was there an even an invitation, as we know it?

Did they “dedicate” babies? Did they have a sort of “chapel church”? Were young children baptized?

Did they just baptize people because they wanted more church members? Or, was church membership seen as a benefit of being baptized and not its purpose? Was there even such a thing as institutional “membership”? Was baptism itself considered solely to be a means to an end, and not also an end in itself?

As we compare our way of doing things with what we know of theirs, then we find that some of our practices are ill-founded—perhaps even ridiculous—, and that others are simply left to our discretion, and that, within reason, depending on culture and circumstance, it makes more or less no difference how we do them. Simply put, there are things to which we must hold, but there are also many things over which we have great freedom. Some hills are worth dieing on, and some are only worth looking at as we pass them. We hold some things in an open hand and some things in a closed hand.

I think this is a healthy exercise. It helps us to reassess our priorities. It helps us to remember what is strictly biblical, what is unbiblical, and what is neither. It helps to stretch our minds beyond the confines of our cultures, traditions, and preconceptions. It helps to prevent us from becoming legalistic cults or libertine social clubs. I hope you have found the above questions and observations interesting. There are many other questions which could be asked, and, of course, many other observations made, but these should stimulate your mind to think “outside the box,” or, rather, “outside our box.”

I will leave it to you to think about these things more deeply.

Posted on Tuesday, March 06, 2007 by David Gregg | 3 comments | Links to this post
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First-Century Thinking (part 2)

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork in Part 1, let’s really dig into the application of our principle of first-century thinking. What observations may we make, from the New Testament and church history, about the operation of churches in the first one-hundred-or-so years of the existence of the institution of the local church? And how might persecution alter the way our churches operate or the way we perceive what things are important? Those are good questions. Let’s jump right in and see what answers they provoke.

In the Bible, God never really commands His churches when or how frequent their meeting times should be. While many in America would be quick to shake a finger at any church deciding to omit a Sunday-night service, we have no indication that the early Christian churches met for two different meetings on the same day. For that matter, Sunday was no day off for the people of the Greek world, and many of the Christians probably met either in the early morning hours before work or the evening hours after a day’s work. They knew that the Sabbath is fulfilled by resting in Christ (Hebrews 4). On the legal Sabbath, many would go to a synagogue and attempt to teach the Gospel of Christ, and they chose instead to meet together on the next day of the week, but we are not even restrained to coming together corporately on that day. Moreover, it is seemingly implied in Acts that some of them not only met, but lived together, making the tenacity with which we hold that our three-service tradition is the standard of all Christian meeting seem a little childish.

The Bible never designates church roles other than “overseer” (today called “pastor”) and “servant” (“deacon”). We have the freedom to set someone to a task. It also seems that some first-century churches had several “overseers.” And there might not have been a single person presiding over those overseers. If a church is in unity, with the leadership cooperating and led by the Spirit, and the church as-a-whole communicating and likeminded, then Jesus is at liberty to head His church. Can a church be a church without one man at the lead? Sure it can. Sometimes it might be helpful to follow one person's leadership more-so than others, but still we have freedom in this area too.

Here is another thing: Did the New Testament churches ever send their pastors packing? Sure, in certain cases the communities of Christians were responsible to practice discipline, but did they play “pastoral chairs”—pastor swapping? I’m not sure that the way we do it is necessarily wrong, but is it really all that healthy as a norm? Shouldn’t indigenous leadership be the goal? Isn’t that what we require of our foreign missionaries, to establish indigenous leadership on the field? When a man is given a title, it is not the same thing as being given leadership. He earns leadership over an extended period of time. He grows into the title, which leads us to wonder if titles are even necessary in most cases. Why don’t we focus on raising up men who will have already earned leadership among a community of Christians by the time they are given the title, so that they don’t have to spend the first two years of their ministry in the local body trying desperately to earn the respect and trust of the people who are supposed to follow?

Did all of those ancient groups of Christians meet in full membership for each meeting? Or did they sometimes meet “from house to house”—a practice we call a “cell-group” or “multi-site” model today? If the necessary meeting space were not available (as the case might be for a large church under persecution), could the Christian body operate without ever meeting in full quorum? There are ways for the church to still operate as a whole, govern itself as a whole, and provide for participation with the whole, without meeting in a single space as a whole.

For first-century churches, how were their meetings arranged? What was the content like? How did speakers address certain issues? How much of the meeting was devoted to prayer? How much was devoted to testimony? Was it a firm rule to sing during every meeting? Did people get up and sing “specials?” Did they have the same speaker for every meeting? Did they have Sunday School? Did they have any sort of class format? For that matter, were they ever separated by age group? If they had separate classes, how were teachers assigned? How centralized was the teaching? Did all teachers teach on the same subjects? Who chose what was taught? Was there just one sermon or lesson given during a meeting? How long were these meetings? How structured was the time they spent together? Were the meetings programmatically scheduled? How dynamic were the meetings? Where the meetings the same every single time. How interactive might their meetings have been? How much was the congregation treated as a passive audience?

Think about these things. Apply first-century thinking to your ministry and understanding of the Scriptures. Next time, I'll leave you with the third and final installment of First-Century Thinking. Until then, God bless.

Posted on Friday, February 09, 2007 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
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First-Century Thinking (part 1)

When I hear the term "that old-time religion," I don't think of the way things were fifty years ago. I don't think of the two churches I grew up in—the city church with the huge pipe organ or the nearly two-century-old country church with the big picture of Jesus and Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb painted on the wall behind the pulpit. I do not think of the churches as they were when Billy Sunday preached his great crusades, or even of the days of the circuit preachers, of Edwards, and of Spurgeon. No. I think of the first century. I think of pure Christianity, before heresy and hypocrisy overcame Christ's fledgling churches. I think of simplicity—not that life was simple, just that they didn't have hundreds of years of tradition, pretense, and lethargy to keep them from their Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Once they understood that this thing—the church—was totally different from the religious systems to which they were accustomed, they were freed to shape their churches within the loose framework given in Scripture and progress in their purpose.

By "loose framework," I do not mean to say that there aren't rules. There are. That's why I used the word "framework." We have a framework for the operation of our churches. But it's not so meticulous that there is no room to adapt to changes in circumstance. It's a framework, but it's loose. Let me give you an initial example of what I mean by "loose," before we get into this further: the Bible clearly teaches that Christians ought to stick together, but it never requires Christ's people to meet in buildings—let alone own property. In the first century, Jesus personally led His church, which often met outdoors. In later times, church history tells us that some churches met in systems of cave-tombs, known as "catacombs," under Roman cities. If buildings are not even required for churches, then it follows that there must be no prerequisite architecture, decoration, ornamentation, or furnishing that is saddled upon the churches by the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians may meet in buildings, or they may not. If they choose to meet indoors, they may meet in rented facilities, living rooms, restaurant lounges, prison camps, or underground sewers. They may use pews, collapsible chairs, cots, bean bags, pillows, sofas, stools, or the floor—or they may choose to stand the whole time. They may choose to use a sign to identify to the public their meeting location, or they may not—signs would certainly not be a good idea during times of serious persecution and martyrdom. They may choose to build a steeple on the peak of the roof of a building they own, or they may choose to use all available roof space for energy-collecting solar panels to save on their electric bill. There are a great many things that God simply leaves to our discretion, as guided the wisdom he continues to give us as we grow.

I often think of the first-century churches when I seek an answer concerning how a church should operate today. There is tremendous value in this exercise—something I call, "first-century thinking." Apart from the example given above, what other observations may we make, from the New Testament and church history, about the operation of churches in the first one-hundred-or-so years of the existence of the peculiar thing we call Christianity? How might persecution alter the way our churches operate or the way we perceive what things are important? If the claw of persecution were to clamp down upon your community of Christians tomorrow (as it did in the first century), how would things have to change, in order for your church to not only survive, but to continue pressing on loving people and showing the light of Jesus to the world?

I'll leave these three questions to you to ponder for a time. Give me your thoughts, if you wish, and look forward to "First-Century Thinking (part 2)."

Posted on Saturday, January 27, 2007 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
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Sins of Sacrilege

Sac·ri·lege (n.): blasphemous behavior; the violation or profanation of anything sacred or held sacred.

The Third Commandment teaches that we should not take the name of the Lord in vain (Exodus 20:7). That does not just mean that we are prohibited from referring to God irreverently in our speech. If you are a Christian, you are a representative of Christ. You carry the name of Christ inasmuch as you are a Christian. With every action, you are communicating something about Christ. If those actions are sinful, then you are representing Christ unfaithfully—communicating a lie about the One whose name you bear. You are taking the name of the Lord in vain by your actions, and at the same time, bearing false witness of who He is (Exodus 20:16). And this does not just apply to children of God dishonoring the family name. Christian or not, we are ALL image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:27). We are representations of God—good or bad. No wonder sin is so painful to Him. Every sin is a lie about the character of God. It's offensive.

There is another aspect of this. Jesus said, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.... Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either" (Matthew 25:40, 45 HCSB). If my life is a sentence and everything I do is the verb, then Jesus is the object. In grammar, the object of the sentence receives the action of the verb. So, whatever I do, I do it to Jesus—good or bad. Jesus is the recipient of all our actions. Jesus said that to lust after another person is to commit adultery with that person in your heart (Matthew 5:27-28). If everything we do is done to Jesus, that means that lust is committing adultery against Jesus (whether you have a spouse or not)! You think that's bad? Whom are you lusting after? Not just a person. You are taking sexual liberty with the image of God, without the consent of God! It doesn't matter how willing the other person is, every sexual act outside of marriage is nonconsensual! It's God's image you're messing with! When you commit any sexual sin, you are raping the image of God! Get that? Every time you commit the sin of lust, pornography, fornication (sex outside of marriage), homosexuality, or adultery, you are raping Jesus! That sounds sacrilegious, doesn't it? It ought to. It is. Most of us—especially men—don't think too seriously about lust.

Did you know that God sees hatred as murder in the heart? It surprised me too, but here is the verse, "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer" (1 John 3:15). Jesus said that anyone who is angry with someone without a good reason is in danger of judgment (Matthew 5:21-22 NKJV). I didn't understand this at first, but then one day it made sense... What is the essence of hatred? Hatred is a fundamental disrespect, devaluing, or dishonoring of life—life that only God can give. Life is a very precious thing to God—sacred. He has chosen to give, to love, and to maintain our lives. Hatred is like standing before a painting, cursing about it's hideousness, with the painter standing right beside you. The painter is going to take your disrespect, dishonoring, and devaluing of his creation very personal. Isn't he? That painting is a reflection of the painter. In the same way, our hatred is offensive to God and is a direct insult against Him. And what is murder? At its core, murder is a disrespect, devaluing, or dishonoring of life. Murder is the final product of hatred. Murder is the final evidence that hatred has taken its natural course!

We're screwed up and need a Savior. Thank God, He's more patient and loving than we are. He's worth trusting.

A quick recap: Every sin I commit, I commit against God and as a representative of God. Every action I do, I do it to and for Jesus. If my life is a sentence and everything I do is the verb, then Jesus is the object.

For further study and reflection, read Matthew 10:40, Psalm 51:4, Matthew 5:38-42, and Matthew 5:43-48, for starters.

Posted on Thursday, January 11, 2007 by David Gregg | 4 comments | Links to this post
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Favorite Deviants