This series of 26 lessons was developed for classroom presentation from the book by David Miller that should be required reading for every preacher, elder, and Bible school teacher in the Lord’s church: Piloting The Strait”.  This book is available from a variety of bookstores, Sain Publications at www.sainpublicans.com as well as from David Miller at www.apologeticspress.org.

 

CHANGES IN THE CHURCH

SPECIFICS OF CHANGE - MISCELLANEOUS #2

 

The Authority of Elders

 

Jeremiah 23:3-5 “AND I WILL GATHER THE REMNANT OF MY FLOCK OUT OF ALL COUNTRIES WHITHER I HAVE DRIVEN THEM, AND WILL BRING THEM AGAIN TO THEIR FOLDS; AND THEY SHALL BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE; AND I WILL SET UP SHEPHERDS OVER THEM WHICH SHALL FEED THEM: AND THEY SHALL FEAR NO MORE, NOR BE DISMAYED, NEITHER SHALL THEY BE LACKING, SAITH THE LORD.”

 

The question of whether elders possess scriptural sanction to act with authority in the discharge of their shepherding responsibilities has received considerable attention in recent years.  Some would argue that they have no more power over the affairs of the congregation than that provided by their example and ability to lead.  This position is found mostly among those who want to change the Lord’s church to suit themselves and want good elders out of their way.  The position is that the elders authority extends only to those whom they can persuade, convince, influence, etc. to follow their lead and they have no authority to make decisions that are binding on church members — decisions which members are scripturally obligated to honor.  Therefore, to bring to light the unspoken part of their argument, if through their charisma and ability to persuade they can sway the congregation to go another way then they have the right and authority to do so.

God is certainly free to structure the government of His church any way that He should choose.  If He intended to set up the church in such a fashion that the membership would rule through the democratic process with majority rule He could have done so.  If, on the other hand, He wanted the local church to be managed, directed, and governed by a plurality of imperfect men who have met specific qualifications, we must be willing to conform ourselves to that divine intention.  If the results that God’s system is imperfect because men bungle God’s intentions, abuse it, or use it to accomplish their own petty, self-centered purposes, we must not abandon God’s pattern just because men have failed.

When God chose to position within His church a plurality of older men to function as elders, shepherds, overseers, or bishops, He obviously intended that these men be listened to, heeded, and respected.

 

I Thessalonians 5:12-13 “AND WE BESEECH YOU, BRETHREN, TO KNOW THEM WHICH LABOUR AMONG YOU, AND ARE OVER YOU IN THE LORD, AND ADMONISH YOU; AND TO ESTEEM THEM VERY HIGHLY IN LOVE FOR THEIR WORK’S SAKE and  BE AT PEACE AMONG YOURSELVES.”

 

Hebrews 13:17 “OBEY THEM THAT HAVE THE RULE OVER YOU, AND SUBMIT YOURSELVES: FOR THEY WATCH FOR YOUR SOULS, AS THEY THAT MUST GIVE AN ACCOUNT, THAT THEY MAY DO IT WITH JOY, AND NOT WITH GRIEF: FOR THAT is UNPROFITABLE FOR YOU.”

 

Moral Issues - Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage

 

Divorce is rampant in our society.  Some statisticians say as many as one out of two marriages end in divorce.  This matter is not a pleasant one for those who are adversely affected by Bible teaching on the subject.  Not only has our culture and country rejected God’s pattern and direction concerning marriage, churches of Christ all over this country and most in this city have rejected God’s instructions as well.  Our brethren who would change the church to suit themselves almost in their entirety welcome those into their fellowship that are unscripturally divorced and remarried.

What was/is God’s purpose concerning marriage?  Genesis Chapter Two is the source of God’s instruction.  God laid out very simple instructions that transcend time and have not been altered by His law, or commandment to this day.  The context of God’s instruction is the crowning glory of his work; the creation of the human race.

 

Genesis 2:18 “AND THE LORD GOD SAID, it is NOT GOOD THAT THE MAN SHOULD BE ALONE; I WILL MAKE HIM AN HELP MEET FOR HIM.”

 

Genesis 2:21 -22 “AND THE LORD GOD CAUSED A DEEP SLEEP TO FALL UPON ADAM, AND HE SLEPT: AND HE TOOK ONE OF HIS RIBS, AND CLOSED UP THE FLESH INSTEAD THEREOF, AND THE RIB, WHICH THE LORD GOD HAD TAKEN FROM MAN, MADE HE A WOMAN, AND BROUGHT HER UNTO THE MAN.”

 

Genesis 2:24 “THEREFORE SHALL A MAN LEAVE HIS FATHER AND HIS MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE UNTO HIS WIFE: AND THEY SHALL BE ONE FLESH.”

 

Here in this one simple statement is God’s will for all mankind for all time. God’s will is one man to marry one woman for life.  That is God’s general marriage law and it still stands today the same as the day it was given with the one exception that we will cover in just a moment.  In fact His Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ confirmed and reinforced this law in his own ministry.

 

Matthew 19:3-6 “THE PHARISEES ALSO CAME UNTO HIM, TEMPTING HIM, AND SAYING UNTO HIM, IS IT LAWFUL FOR A MAN TO PUT AWAY HIS WIFE FOR EVERY CAUSE?  AND HE ANSWERED AND SAID UNTO THEM, HAVE YE NOT READ, (he’s referring to Genesis 2:24) THAT HE WHICH MADE them AT THE BEGINNING MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, AND SAID, FOR THIS CAUSE SHALL A MAN LEAVE FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE: AND THEY TWAIN SHALL BE ONE FLESH? WHEREFORE THEY ARE NO MORE TWAIN, BUT ONE FLESH.  WHAT THEREFORE GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER, LET NOT MAN PUT ASUNDER.”

 

However, God, perhaps realizing man’s inability to behave himself, did through His Son Jesus Christ provide the one exception to one man, one woman for life.

 

Matthew 19:9 AND I SAY UNTO YOU, WHOSOEVER SHALL PUT AWAY HIS WIFE, EXCEPT it be FOR FORNICATION, AND SHALL MARRY ANOTHER, COMMITTETH ADULTRY: AND WHOSO MARRIETH HER WHICH IS PUT AWAY DOTH COMMIT ADULTERY.”

 

What is fornication?  This term in the original Greek is the term porneia, also the root word for pornography, and refers to illicit sex of any kind.  Jesus is saying that if a person’s mate is sexually unfaithful to that marriage relationship, by forming a sexual union with someone else, be it male or female, that person is guilty of fornication.  The innocent party has the scriptural right, if he or she chooses to exercise that right, to divorce that mate on the grounds of sexual unfaithfulness, and then to contract a second, legitimate, scriptural marriage.

 

Moral Issues - Abortion

 

Jeremiah 6:15 “WERE THEY ASHAMED WHEN THEY HAD COMMITTED ABOMINATION?  NAY, THEY WERE NOT AT ALL ASHAMED, NEITHER COULD THEY BLUSH: THEREFORE THEY SHALL FALL AMONG THEM THAT FALL: AT THE TIME that I VISIT THEM THEY SHALL BE CAST DOWN, SAITH THE LORD.”

 

We recoil in horror at the thought of the Israelite people sacrificing their babies by fire in the arms of the idol Molech that was worshiped by their Canaanite neighbors.  And I don’t know of any leader or congregation of the church that has endorsed the slaughter of babies yet; but at the pace that our brethren are embracing the ways of this world the problem will probably arise, even in my lifetime.  And the people of this world are sacrificing their babies to personal whim, convenience and for other mundane excuses every day.

More than 4.400 babies are aborted in this country every day.  Every year 1,600,000 children are killed by abortion doctors. Between 1973 when the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand, and today (May, 2003) some 41,000,000 million babies have been slaughtered.  An entire generation of children has been destroyed.  In fact, thirty percent of all babies conceived in this country are killed before they ever see the light of day — and the slaughter continues.

A significant number of Americans consider abortion to be an acceptable option.  Regardless of social arguments, political arguments and the medical arguments surrounding this problem, the spiritual arguments take priority.  How does God feel about abortion? What is His view of the matter?

While the Bible does not speak directly to the practice of abortion, it does provide enough relevant material to enable us to know God’s will on the matter.

 

Zechariah 12:1 “THE BURDEN OF THE WORD OF THE LORD FOR ISRAEL, SAITH THE LORD, WHICH STRETCHETH FORTH THE HEAVENS, AND LAYETH THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, AND FORMETH THE SPIRIT OF MAN WITHIN HIM.”

 

God is the giver of life.  That makes human life sacred.  God is responsible for implanting the human spirit within the human body.  We humans have no right to end human life — unless God authorizes us to do so; and civil governments are authorized to do so in order to punish men for crimes and protect the general population.  Innocent babies hardly qualify for that category.  So if God places the human spirit in a human being while that person is in the mother’s womb, to end that life is to go directly against God’s action of “FORMING THE SPIRIT OF MAN IN HIM.”

But when does the human spirit enter the human body and thereby bring into existence a human being? When does God implant the soul into the body — at birth or prior to birth?

 

Ecclesiastes 11:5 “AS THOU KNOWEST NOT WHAT is THE WAY OF THE SPIRIT, nor HOW THE BONES do grow IN THE WOMB OF HER THAT IS WITH CHILD: EVEN SO THOU KNOWEST NOT THE WORKS OF GOD WHO MAKETH ALL.”

 

Solomon equates fetal development with the activity of God in this scripture, this inspired record for our instruction.  Job describes something very similar in:

 

Job 10:11-12 “THOU HAST CLOTHED ME WITH SKIN AND FLESH, AND HAST FENCED ME WITH BONE AND SINEWS; THOU HAST GRANTED ME LIFE AND FAVOUR, AND THY VISITATION HATH PRESEVED MY SPIRIT.

 

David is even more specific:

 

Psalms 139:13-16 “FOR THOU HAST POSSESSED MY REINS: THOU HAST COVERED ME IN MY MOTHER’S WOMB.  I WILL PRAISE THEE; FOR I AM FEARFULLY and WONDERFULLY MADE: MARVELLOUS are THY WORKS; AND that MY SOUL KNOWETH RIGHT WELL.  MY SUBSTANCE WAS NOT HID FROM THEE, WHEN I WAS MADE IN SECRET, and CURIOUSLY WROUGHT IN THE LOWEST PARTS OF THE EARTH.  THINE EYES DID SEE MY SUBSTANCE, YET BEING UNPERFECT, AND IN THY BOOK ALL my members WERE WRITTEN, which IN CONTINUANCE WERE FASHIONED, WHEN as yet there was NONE OF THEM.”

 

God appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet, even before he was formed in the belly:

 

Jeremiah 1:4-5 “THEN THE WORD OF THE LORD CAME UNTO ME, SAYING, BEFORE I FORMED THEE IN THE BELLY I KNEW THEE; AND BEFORE THOU CAMEST FORTH OUT OF THE WOMB I SANCTIFIED THEE, and I ORDAINED THEE A PROPHET UNTO THE NATIONS.”

 

God called Isaiah to be a prophet from his mother’s womb:

 

Isaiah 49:1 “LISTEN, O ISLES, UNTO ME; AND HEARKEN, YE PEOPLE, FROM FAR; THE LORD HATH CALLED ME FROM THE WOMB; FROM THE BOWELS OF MY MOTHER HATH HE MADE MENTION OF MY NAME.

 

Paul tells us in his writing to the Galatian brethren:

 

Galatians 1:15  BUT WHEN IT PLEASED HIM WHO FROM MY MOTHER’S WOMB SET ME APART AND CALLED me BY HIS GRACE.” (Conf.)

 

Galatians 1:15 “BUT WHEN IT PLEASED GOD, WHO SET ME APART even FROM MY BIRTH, AND CALLED me THROUGH HIS GRACE.” (ESB)

 

God knew Jeremiah, Isaiah and Paul long before they were born and set them aside for a specific purpose; set their role in this world.  Would it be strange or illogical to think that God could look into our lives as well, even before we were born; even before we were conceived and know what our lives will be like.  If this is not strange or illogical then would it be strange or illogical to think that God gives man his spirit or soul at conception, when the human form begins to be? This subject is deeper far beyond our time or ability to cover here but brethren if we embrace everything else the world does; can this abomination of abortion be far behind?

 

Moral Issues – Homosexuality

 

Another area of compromise with the world, resulting in change in the church that we need to guard against, pertains to homosexuality.  While the liberal element in the church has not yet been drawn into a wholesale endorsement of homosexuality, philosophically, the liberal mindset (that is the I’m OK, you’re OK attitude, the don’t condemn anyone for their actions, live and let live as we please approach) will inevitably relax its opposition to those who insist upon their right to practice this abomination.  Seeds have already been sown to achieve that end.

 

What is God’s will concerning human sexuality?

 

Genesis 1:27  SO GOD CREATED MAN IN HIS own IMAGE, IN THE IMAGE OF GOD CREATED HE HIM; MALE AND FEMALE CREATED HE THEM.”

 

God’s decision to have a female counterpart to the male was not coincidental. The female uniquely met the follow criteria:

 

1. Ended man’s loneliness - Genesis 2:18

2. Provided him a suitable helper - Genesis 2:18, 20

3. Provided a mate so that the human race could be perpetuated. Genesis 1:28

 

This is the divine arrangement for the human species. It didn’t take long for mankind to tamper with God’s divine will and alter God’s original intentions concerning human sexuality.

 

Genesis 4:19 “AND LAMECH TOOK UNTO HIM TWO WIVES: THE NAME OF THE ONE was ADAH, AND THE NAME OF THE OTHER ZILLAH.”

 

Genesis 16:2 “AND SARAI SAID UNTO ABRAM, BEHOLD NOW, THE LORD HATH RESTRAINED ME FROM BEARING: I PRAY THEE, GO IN UNTO MY MAID; IT MAY BE THAT I MAY OBTAIN CHILDREN BY HER.  AND ABRAM HEARKENED TO THE VOICE OF SARAI.”

 

Genesis 19:5 ‘AND THEY CALLED UNTO LOT, AND SAID UNTO HIM, WHERE are THE MEN WHICH CAME IN TO THEE THIS NIGHT? BRING THEM OUT UNTO US, THAT WE MAY KNOW THEM.” (other translations say “KNOW THEM CARNALLY’)

 

God has always and continues to condemn those who practice such; read

 

Romans 1:28-32 and I Corinthians 6:9-11

 

But you say that surely this problem just can’t be found among our brethren!  In 1979, an organization known as ‘A Cappella Chorus” (no, not the singing group A Cappella) was formed in Houston, Texas which claimed to be a “fellowship” of “gay and lesbian members of the Houston area Churches of Christ.”  A brochure published by the group calls for the church to “reassess its attitude towards homosexuality in the larger context of the full range of issues relating to human sexuality.”  The brochure states that a monthly bulletin is mailed to “gay members of the Church in 27 states, South Africa, and Micronesia” and that “additional Chorus fellowships have begun in Los Angeles, Nashville, and Seattle.”

The Dallas Morning News “Church Practices Open-Arms Policy” quoting the preacher for the Richardson East Church of Christ, Larry James, with reference to ministering to people with AIDS: “I don’t think we should pursue a pattern of condemnation. That’s not what Jesus did.” The article goes on to report that:

 

“Many of the people with AIDS who have come to Mr. James for counseling have been gay men.  The minister said he does not believe homosexuality is a sin.  “It’s a given — people do not choose it consciously.” (God made me do it by the nature he created. WLS)  However, he said he believes it wrong to act on these feelings.  The church operates a program for gay men who are unhappy and want to lead a celibate or heterosexual life, he said.  Those who are comfortable with their lives, however, he leaves alone.”

 

There’s more but this is more than enough.  I wish we had the time to cover the subjects of gambling and the lottery, immodest apparel and others as well in this section but suffice to say that we need to complete this series and must now turn to “The Antidote to Change”; or if you will allow an analogy, a prescription for this spiritual illness from the “Great Physician” in four lessons:

 

1. The Existence of God and Inspiration of the Bible

2. The Priority of Truth

3. The Perception of God’s Wrath

4. What are the Faithful to Do?