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