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

The Antidote to Change - Truth, Purpose, and Authority

 

Matthew 6:33BUT SEEK YE FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS; AND ALL THESE THINGS SHALL BE ADDED UNTO YOU.”

 

            In August, 1984, a member of the Lord’s church publicly defended God’s truth on the nationwide Phil Donahue show by quoting Scripture after Scripture to support the fact that the church had followed the proper, biblical course of action in disciplining a wayward member.  His persistent appeal to the Bible seemed to antagonize and irritate many members of the audience.  Their sentiments are summarized in the words of one woman who stood and, as Mr. Donahue held the microphone for her, stated with apparent frustration and exasperation:  “From being here today I just feel that you people are blinded by the Bible.  They don’t see anything else but the Bible!”

            What a tremendous complement.  But there are many today who would not see such a charge as a complement.  Unfortunately there are many in the church today that according to this person have regained their eyesight.  Rather than saturating their minds and the minds of their hearers with God’s words, they have replaced them with novel programs and methods, new doctrines and philosophies.  They have abandoned the biblical approach in which God’s words are set forth as preeminent.  Where once minds were so absorbed with Bible that the mouth could hardly be opened without Scripture being quoted, now preachers and others pay more attention to those things rooted in books, writings, and teachings that have come from modern psychology, sociology and denominational theology.

 

            Jesus still says,

 

John 8:32AND YE SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.”

 

            God through the inspiration of Paul still says,

 

II Thessalonians 2:10-11 “AND WITH ALL DECEIVABLENESS OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS IN THEM THAT PERISH; BECAUSE THEY RECEIVED NOT THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH, THAT THEY MIGHT BE SAVED.

 

            Just as God had recorded through the prophet Jeremiah;

 

Jeremiah 9:3  “AND THEY BEND THEIR TONGUES like THEIR BOW for LIES: BUT THEY ARE NOT VALIANT FOR THE TRUTH UPON THE EARTH; FOR THEY PROCEED FROM EVIL TO EVIL, AND THEY KNOW NOT ME, SAITH THE LORD.”

 

            We still have the direction;

 

Ephesians 4:14-15  “THAT WE henceforth BE NO MORE CHILDREN, TOSSED TO AND FRO, AND CARRIED ABOUT WITH EVERY WIND OF DOCTRINE, BY THE SLEIGHT OF MEN, and CUNNING CRAFTINESS, WHEREBY THEY LIE IN WAIT TO DECEIVE; BUT SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE, MAY GROW UP INTO HIM IN ALL THINGS, WHICH IS THE HEAD, even CHRIST.”

 

            The antidote to the terrible sickness among our brethren that is bringing about these changes must include a return to the priority of truth.  Truth must take precedence over everything else – unity, peace, harmony, warm feelings of togetherness, and fellowship.

            We must recapture the passion that the Psalmist had for the words, laws, statutes, ordinances, and regulations of God reflected in:

 

Psalms 119:97  O HOW LOVE I THY LAW! IT is MY MEDIATION ALL THE DAY.”

 

Psalms 119:142 “THY RIGHTEOUSNESS is AN EVERLASTING RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND THY LAW is THE TRUTH.”

 

            Only out of a serious commitment to truth can we achieve the unity that God wants us to have.  Only out of a deep and abiding loyalty to truth can we find the peace and fellowship with God and subsequently with each other as true children of His.  It is time for us to open our eyes and once again become “blinded by the Bible.”

 

Purpose

 

            Once we have grasped fully the reality of God, the certainty of His written word, and the priority of truth in directing human behavior, we must come to grips with the central purpose of human existence.  Why are we alive?  Why do we exist?  Why did God put us here on this planet?

 

Ecclesiastes 12:13 “LET US HEAR THE CONCLUSION OF THE WHOLE MATTER: FEAR GOD, AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS: FOR THIS is THE WHOLE duty OF MAN.”

 

            Within churches of Christ, the flurry of excitement generated by the scramble for the sensational and the faddish, the pursuit in religion of the momentary, that which gratifies, that which changes, has created a loss of perspective.  The shift to emotion and the preoccupation with pleasing self have blinded folks to spiritual reality.  Those caught up in the process of change are unable to see the foundational premise of human existence – what life is all about.

 

            Hear Jesus:

 

Mark 12:28-31 “AND ONE OF THE SCRIBES CAME, AND HAVING HEARD THEM REASONING TOGETHER, AND PERCEIVING THAT HE HAD ANSWERED THEM WELL, ASKED HIM, WHICH IS THE FIRST COMMANDMENT OF ALL?  AND JESUS ANSWERED HIM, THE FIRST OF ALL THE COMMANDMENTS is, HEAR, O ISRAEL; THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD: AND THOU SHALT LOVE THE LORD THY GOD WITH ALL THY HEART, AND WITH ALL THY SOUL, AND WITH ALL THY MIND, AND WITH ALL THY STRENGTH: THIS is THE FIRST COMMANDMENT.  AND THE SECOND IS LIKE, namely THIS, THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR AS THYSELF.  THERE IS NONE OTHER COMMANDMENT GREATER THAN THESE.”

 

            When asked by the scribe “WHICH IS THE FIRST COMMANDMENT OF ALL?”  Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 which required people to love God with their entire being.  He then added Leviticus 19:18 to His answer which required people to love their fellowman.   He concluded that no other commandments are greater than these and on these two commands hang all the Law and the Prophets.  He cut through all the regulations and responsibilities of mankind to pinpoint the number one concern, the ultimate task of every human being: to lovingly obey God.

            We turn to the “schoolmaster” and find that God through the inspiration of Moses gave his people the same direction under the prior covenant:

 

Deuteronomy 10:12-13 “AND NOW, ISRAEL, WHAT DOTH THE LORD THY GOD REQUIRE OF THEE, BUT TO FEAR THE LORD THY GOD, TO WALK IN ALL HIS WAYS, AND TO LOVE HIM, AND TO SERVE THE LORD THY GOD WITH ALL THY HEART AND WITH ALL THY SOUL, TO KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS OF THE LORD, AND HIS STATUTES, WHICH I COMMAND THEE THIS DAY FOR THY GOOD?”

 

Moses, as part of his preparation of the people for his death, repeats this basic direction in:

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-16 “SEE, I HAVE SET BEFORE THEE THIS DAY LIFE AND GOOD, AND DEATH AND EVIL; IN THAT I COMMAND THEE THIS DAY TO LOVE THE LORD THY GOD, TO WALK IN HIS WAYS, AND TO KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS AND HIS STATUTES AND HIS JUDGMENTS, THAT THOU MAYEST LIVE AND MULTIPLY: AND THE LORD THY GOD SHALL BLESS THEE IN THE LAND WHITHER THOU GOEST TO POSSESS IT.”

 

            After urging the people to set their hearts on all of God’s words and to command their children to be careful to observe all the words of God’s law, he added:

 

Deuteronomy 32:47 “FOR IT is NOT A VAIN THING FOR YOU, BECAUSE IT is YOUR LIFE:…..  It is your life….It is your life to what?  Repeat Deuteronomy 30:16 from “TO LOVE THE LORD THY GOD,

 

            In the New Testament we find that Jesus stressed the same type of emphasis on obedience to His word:

 

John 14:15IF YE LOVE ME, KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS.”

 

John 15:14 YE ARE MY FRIENDS, IF YE DO WHATSOEVER I COMMAND YOU.”

 

            Jesus lived his life perfectly doing just as he commands us to do:

 

John 6:38FOR I CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN, NOT TO DO MINE OWN WILL, BUT THE WILL OF HIM THAT SENT ME.”

 

            In summary to these few thoughts regarding our purpose we emphasize that all must have a “reason for being.”  After surveying all of the pursuits to which people apply themselves in this life – pursuits which Solomon himself, had enacted in his own life – he tells us (by the inspiration of God) what our “reason for being” is on this earth.  He said, in essence, I have seen it all, I have done it all, I have acquired it all; I have fully immersed myself in everything this old life has to offer to the human race and here is my conclusion:

 

Ecclesiastes 12:13 “LET US HEAR THE CONCLUSION OF THE WHOLE MATTER: FEAR GOD, AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS: FOR THIS is THE WHOLE duty OF MAN.”

 

            As I have pointed out many times in these lessons and others the word “duty” in this translation doesn’t appear in the original so what God is really telling us through pen of Solomon is that the “whole of man”, the “all of man” is to fear God and keep his commandments.

 

Authority

 

Colossians 3:17  AND WHATSOEVER YE DO IN WORD OR DEED, do ALL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, GIVING THANKS TO GOD AND THE FATHER BY HIM.”

 

            Perhaps no other doctrine is emphasized so frequently as the principle of authority.  The Scriptures make clear that from the beginning of human history, God has required people to structure their behavior based upon His will.  We human beings have no right to formulate our own ideas concerning religious truth.  We must have God’s approval for everything we do.  So what is the meaning of the expression in Colossians 3:17 “in the name of the Lord”?

            Luke gives us the answer in Acts 4:7.  The religious authorities were extremely upset that the apostles were continuing to teach those things that they thought they had stopped when they crucified Jesus:

 

Acts 4:7  AND WHEN THEY HAD SET THEM IN THE MIDST, THEY ASKED, BY WHAT POWER (authority), OR BY WHAT NAME, HAVE YE DONE THIS.”

 

They had continued to teach the same things that Jesus had taught.  They had healed a man and proven to people who would listen that the source of their teaching was our precious saviour.  Another 5,000 men had been added to their ranks, this thing they thought they stopped by crucifying Jesus was getting out of hand.  The word “power” refers to authority.  The Jewish leaders were demanding to know by what authority these men were acting.  Who was giving them the right to teach what they were teaching?  What authoritative source approved or sanctioned their particular actions?  Peter’s answer:

 

Acts 4:10  BE IT KNOWN UNTO YOU ALL, AND TO ALL THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL, THAT BY THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH, WHOM YE CRUCIFIED, WHOM GOD RAISED FROM THE DEAD, even BY HIM DOTH THIS MAN STAND HERE BEFORE YOU WHOLE.”

 

            Think for a moment about the enormous implications of this biblical principle.  No human being has the right to introduce into religious practice an activity for which the Scriptures provide no approval.  We human beings are simply not free in God’s sight to fashion religion and morality according to our own desires.  We could site example after example and have studied several in prior lessons:  Cain, Nadab and Abihu, Saul, Uzzah.  These people were engaged in religious activities.  They were attempting to worship the one true God.  They were believers.  Yet they failed to get it right and were rejected and/or punished because of that.

            The New Testament illustrates this same principle.  Jesus has all authority:

 

Matthew 28:18 “AND JESUS CAME AND SPAKE UNTO THEM SAYING, ALL POWER IS GIVEN UNTO ME IN HEAVEN AND IN EARTH.”

 

            Only Jesus has the authority to define and designate the parameters of human behaviour in general and religious practice in particular.  No human being on earth has the right to do anything in religious practice or worship to God without the prior approval of Christ.

            Many churches of Christ are introducing into their practice all sorts of activities and programs for which there is no scriptural approval.  Upon what basis are these innovations justified?  “Well, it meets our needs”, “It gets more people involved”; “It brings in lots of people”; “It generates enthusiasm”; “It allows us to get things done”; “Oh, we really like it”; “It stimulates interest”; “It keeps our young people’s attention”; “It creates a warm, accepting environment”; etc.

            When it is all said and done, when we’ve gone through all the rationalizing as to why we do what we want to do in religion, we are still faced with whether what we do is, in fact, in accordance with God’s instructions.  By definition, being faithful to God requires that we conform to divine direction – that we are to do right in God’s sight.

 

I John 3:7 “LITTLE CHILDREN, LET NO MAN DECEIVE YOU: HE THAT DOETH RIGHTEOUSNESS IS RIGHTEOUS, EVEN AS HE (Jesus) IS RIGHTEOUS.

 

Acts 10:35 “BUT IN EVERY NATION HE THAT FEARETH HIM, AND WORKETH RIGHTEOUSNESS, IS ACCEPTED WITH HIM.”

 

When one “transgresses” (i.e. goes ahead) and does not abide or conform to the doctrine of Christ

 

II John 9 “WHOSOEVER TRANSGRESSETH, AND ABIDETH NOT IN THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST, HATH NOT GOD.  HE THAT ABIDETH IN THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST, HE HATH BOTH THE FATHER AND THE SON.”

 

he becomes unfaithful and removes himself from the benefits of God’s grace (and the fellowship of God and should be removed from the fellowship of God’s followers!)

 

II Peter 2:20 “FOR IF AFTER THEY HAVE ESCAPED THE POLLUTIONS OF THE WORLD THROUGH THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST, THEY ARE AGAIN ENTANGLED THEREIN, AND OVERCOME, THE LATTER END IS WORSE WITH THEM THAN THE BEGINNING.”

 

Hebrews 10:26-31  “FOR IF WE SIN WILFULLY AFTER THAT WE HAVE RECEIVED THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH, THERE REMAINETH NO MORE SACRIFICE FOR SINS, BUT A CERTAIN FEARFUL LOOKING FOR THE JUDGMENT AND FIERY INDIGNATION, WHICH SHALL DEVOUR THE ADVERSARIES.  HE THAT DESPISED MOSES’ LAW DIED WITHOUT MERCY UNDER TWO OR THREE WITNESSES: OF HOW MUCH SORER PUNISHMENT, SUPPOSE YE, SHALL HE BE THOUGHT WORTHY, WHO HATH TRODDEN UNDER FOOT THE SON OF GOD, AND HATH COUNTED THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT, WHEREWITH HE WAS SANCTIFIED, AN UNHOLY THING, AND HATH DONE DESPITE UNTO THE SPIRIT OF GRACE?  FOR WE KNOW HIM THAT HATH SAID, VENGEANCE belongeth UNTO ME, I WILL RECOMPENSE, SAITH THE LORD, AND AGAIN, THE LORD SHALL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.”

 

            When we abandon truth; when we deny the purpose for which we know we were put here; when we refuse to accept his authority we become such as the Holy Spirit described through Paul:

 

Galatians 5:4 “CHRIST IS BECOME OF NO EFFECT UNTO YOU, WHOSOEVER OF YOU ARE JUSTIFIED BY THE LAW; YE ARE FALLEN FROM GRACE.”

 

The Jewish Christians did so by rejecting Jesus Christ and trying to return to the Mosaic Law.  Our apostate brethren do so by rejecting God and turning to the doctrines and philosophies of men.