Basic Biblical Principles 1
We need to be a religious people, founded in the truth. I hope, in the next several months, to present some basic biblical principles in this column. No matter how long we have been Christians, we can still use a refresher course once in a while. So whether you are a newborn Christian or have been a Christian for many years, I hope you will take the time to read these articles. The first thing that we need to understand is that God gave us the bible and it is His inspired word. It sets for us a pattern of living that we need to follow.
The bible is a collection of books and letters, written by men who were inspired by God. How do we know this?
First of all the bible says so (2 Tim. 3:16). But that is not enough for some people. How else can we know that it is inspired? The bible was written over a period of more than a thousand years, by many different men. It would be impossible for uninspired men, even in a much shorter time span, to produce a work so consistent. The bible is not a history or science book, yet everything it does say about history, science, and even archeology is absolutely accurate. The bible also contains literally hundreds of prophesies. Many of these are very detailed prophesies, not general prophesies like you might read about in the Enquirer, today. Yet every one of these prophesies came true, exactly as prophesied, except one. How could a book put together by men be that accurate, unless those men where inspired by God. (By the way the only prophesy not to come true, yet, is the prophesy of the second coming of Christ. Anyone care to wager their soul, that the second coming of Christ will never happen?) The lives of the men who wrote the New Testament also give testimony that what they wrote was true. Not one single man ever recanted on what he wrote, despite the fact that they faced brutal, agonizing death for not recanting. Since none of the original manuscripts exist today, how do we know that the version we have today is accurate? After all many uninspired men spent endless hours in copying these manuscripts. How do we know that they did not make mistakes. Well, in fact, they did make mistakes, but there are so many copies from different sources, that it is possible to put together a virtually error free version. The only unresolved discrepancies are extremely minor (e.g. spelling errors or whether to use the or a) and have no impact on any scriptural teaching.
How do we know that our bible is complete? How do we know that books or letters weren’t added by mistake? By studying early church historical documents and quotations by early church leaders, it is possible to put together a collection of books and letters that were accepted by the early church. Jewish history and New Testament quotes of Old Testament scriptures help to define what books should make up the Old Testament.
Now that we have it, what do we do with it? Is it a book of philosophy? Is it a general guide for those times, but must be updated for our times? The answer is, of course, no. Why would God go to all the trouble of giving us the bible, if it was something that we could just take or leave at our whim? God intended for us to have this gift, as something that we could base our lives on. It is our duty then to study it and apply what we learn to our everyday lives. We must take it as a whole. We cannot take the parts we like and throw away the rest. We definitely cannot replace any part of it with the wisdom of man. Too many people, today, feel that the bible is only a general guideline or that it is out-of-date. The bible is a gift from God. He would not give us an old, worn out document that constantly needs to be updated as cultures change. No, he gave us a living document, that applies to everyone in every time.
Basic Biblical Principles 2
The bible is divided, of course, into the Old Testament and the New Testament. These are further divided into books, chapters and verses. It is important to remember that the chapter and verse divisions are creations of man and not inspired by God. The original manuscripts did not contain any paragraph divisions or even any punctuation. Therefore in studying the bible, we need to be careful in not assigning any significance to chapter and verse divisions. In fact each verse should be studied in the context of the verses surrounding it and not taken as a stand alone thought.
Three historical ages are covered by the bible. The Patriarchal Age began in Genesis and continued until the Law was given in Exodus. The Mosaical Age began with the Law and ended sometime between Jesus death on the cross and the Day of Pentecost, when Jesus ascended into heaven. The Christian Age begin on the Day of Pentecost, when the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit and Peter preached the first Gospel sermon. This means that the events described in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) occurred in the Mosaical Age, while people were still under the Law.
If we do not understand when the Christian Age began, it can lead to confusion. For example, some people claim that baptism is not necessary, because the thief on the cross was not baptized, yet was saved. (See Luke 23:39-43) Baptism was not necessary for the thief on the cross for the simple reason that he lived and died under the Mosaical Law. The Mosaical Law did not require baptism. We live under the Christian Age, which does require us to be baptized. (Acts 2:38 and many other verses) Since we live in the Christian Age, we are subject to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles and not the Law of Moses. So do we have to obey the Ten Commandments? With one exception, yes, because nine of the ten are reiterated or expanded upon in the New Testament. The only exception is number four: remember the Sabbath.
I firmly believe that we are lucky to live in the Christian Age, because in this age we can truly be free from the bondage of sin. We have much more freedom of worship than was allowed under the Mosaical Law. But, we must remember that with freedom comes responsibility. We can no longer worship by rote. We must worship with our hearts, minds, and souls.
Basic Biblical Principles 3
Jesus, as God’s son, came to earth to live a sinless life, gave Himself as the perfect sacrifice on the cross, was buried, and was resurrected on the third day to reign forever as our spiritual king. This is the underlying message of the New Testament.
He lived on earth as an example for us. He sacrificed His life on the cross to pay the price for our sin that we could not pay. He arose on the third day to show that He had overcome death and to establish His kingdom. He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us. A significant result of all of this was the establishment of Christ’s church. God made Christ the head of the church (Eph. 1:22). Christ is also the foundation of the church (Matt. 16:15-19).
But what exactly is the church? Do we say we meet at the church on the corner of Telegraph and Bryn Mawr? Many people think of churches in this way, but the church is NOT a building. Look up “church” in your concordance and replace the word “church” with “building” in those verses and see how funny it sounds.
The church is a collection of people. It is made up of the “called out”, the sanctified people who call upon Jesus Christ as Lord (1 Cor. 1:2), in other words, those who are saved. The church is Christ’s body (Eph. 1:23).
How many churches did God create? Or asked another way, how many bodies does Christ have? Of course the answer to both questions is one. The critical question we have to ask ourselves is, “Am I a member of that church?” Acts 2:38 and many other scriptures tell us how to become a member of the one and only church. We are to repent of our sins and be immersed in water for the remission of our sins. We then have to live our lives according to the principles set forth in the bible.
So far I have only talked about the worldwide church, but the bible also uses the word church to refer to a local congregation of believers. This raises a very sensitive issue. There are many organizations that call themselves churches. To which of these should I belong? I should belong to the one that matches the biblical pattern set forth in the New Testament. Do the organizations that refer to themselves as the “Churches of Christ” match that biblical pattern? The “Churches of Christ” were founded on the principle of restoring the New Testament church. Based on my study of the New Testament, I strongly believe that we have come very close to the biblical pattern in many important areas: membership requirements; organization; funding; worship; and others. Have we perfectly restored the New Testament church? Probably not, we need to study with an open mind to learn what the bible is telling us and put into practice what we learn.
Now comes the really sticky part. If I am a member of a “Church of Christ” does that automatically make me a member of the one true church? I would like to say yes, but unfortunately I can’t. For example, one could be a member of the “Church of Christ” and be secretly and knowingly living a sinful life. Also, one could be a “member” if one claimed to be immersed for remission of sins, when they in fact had not. On the other side of the coin, if I am not a member of a “Church of Christ” does that mean that I am not saved? This is a question that I cannot answer. I live an imperfect life and worship in a congregation that is not absolutely perfect, yet I fully believe that through God’s grace I am saved. Does God’s grace extend to someone who was scripturally immersed, lives according to God’s principles, except that he worships in a “church” that is not properly organized? I do not know. Just how far does God’s grace extend? That is up to God, not me. What I do know is that the safest path is the one that is described in the bible. Why take a chance by cutting corners or doing things according to man’s wisdom? Let us study to find the perfect path to salvation, so that we can then show others the way.
Basic Biblical Principles 4
One of the differences between the churches of Christ and other religious affiliations is in the way we are organized. So who is right and who is wrong or does it make any difference?
Yes, it does make a difference! God gave us, through the Bible, how He wants the church to be organized. We would have to be incredibly arrogant to think that we could substitute our wisdom for God’s wisdom, in the organization of the church.
So then we must study the Bible to understand what God wants for the church. Then we must follow it to the best of our ability. One thing that God wants us to know is that Christ is the one and only head of the church. (Eph. 1:22 and 5:23) Also, the Bible tells us that each church is to have its own elders (Acts 14:23) and their job is to direct the flock (1 Tim. 5:17). Since each congregation is to have its own elders to direct their affairs, then that means that each congregation is autonomous. The Bible does not justify linking congregations together in larger organizations, whether state-wide, nation-wide or world-wide. It is also important to notice that churches, in the Bible, are always portrayed as having multiple elders. The early churches were organized this way for many years. Then some elders started putting themselves above other elders and eventually over the elders of other congregations. This led to a hierarchy of church leaders, which ended up with one man being the “head of the church”. But the Bible tells us that the head of the church is Christ Jesus.
There are least three other words used in some translations of the Bible that are used interchangeably with the term “Elder”: Shepherd, Overseer, and Pastor. The term “Pastor” has been misused to such an extent that it has a totally different meaning in today’s language. The word “Pastor” has come to refer to the preacher of a congregation. Although in many religious organizations the preacher has taken on the role of an Elder and the Elders (if there are any) have a mostly figure-head type of role. This is contrary to Biblical teaching in so many ways. First, the “preacher/Pastor” is often the only Pastor, which violates the multiple Elder/Pastor requirement or there is a head “Pastor” and one or more assistant “Pastors” which is contrary to the practices of the early church of having no hierarchy of Elders. Often the “preacher/Pastor” is appointed by a higher authority than the local congregation, which is a definite violation of Biblical teaching and early church practices. Finally, these “preacher/Pastors” quite often do not meet the very strict Biblical requirements of being an Elder/Pastor.
What, then, is the proper relationship between the Elders/Shepherds and the congregation? This can be summed up very well by 1 Peter 5:2 and 3. The Shepherds are to oversee the congregation and the congregation is to follow the Shepherds. But, the Shepherds are not to “lord it over” their flock. The Shepherds must always try to do what is in the best interest of the flock and not what is in their own best interest. This means that the Shepherds must get to know their flock and listen carefully to what the flock wants and needs. The Shepherds also have the responsibility of protecting the congregation from false doctrine (Acts 20:28-31).
When congregations are organized properly and all parts of the organization try hard to live up to their individual responsibilities, then things tend to run more smoothly, inter-personal relationships are closer, and there is less likely to be divisions among the congregation. Isn’t it amazing how things go so much better when we do things according to God’s wisdom, instead of trying to use our own?
Basic Biblical Principles 5
What is worship?
In the Old Testament there are two different words that are translated “worship”. These words show us the attributes of worship. The meaning of the words refer to ideas of humility, reverence, and obedience. Similarly, the New Testament Greek words translated “worship” have these same ideas, but they add honor and service.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament tell us the following things about worship:
1) We are to worship the one true God, only. (Exodus 20:3-5, Matthew 4:10, and Revelation 14:7) In fact, worshiping of other gods is said to be equivalent to prostitution (Judges 8:27).
2) We are to worship with praise. (1 Kings 47-48 and Hebrews 13:15) and
3)We are to worship in joyful song. (Psalms 100:2 and Ephesians 5:19)
The New Testament adds these things:
1) We are to worship with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:28) and
2)We are to worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)
In the Old Testament, sacrifice was a critical part of their worship. Sacrifice is tied into worship in the story of the testing of Abraham by God (Genesis 22:1-5), in the exodus (Exodus 10:26) and in the promise made in Joshua 22:27. In the New Testament, the sacrifice of bulls and goats was replaced by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (Hebrews 10:1-10).
There are actually two parts to our worship. One occurs when we come together to worship God on the Lord’s Day. The other is in our day-to-day living (Romans 12:1).
When we come together for worship, we generally understand that we come together to pray, to sing, to encourage one another, to give of our means, and to commune around the Lord’s table. We need to do these things with humility, reverence, obedience, and honor. We need to do these things “in spirit and in truth”. The “truth” part does not give us too much trouble, but the “spirit” part can be a real problem, sometimes. Do we sing with all the enthusiasm that we can muster? Do we follow the prayer leader’s words and maybe add a few in our own thoughts? Do we give as God has given to us or do we give what we think is the minimum that will be acceptable to God? Do we listen to the lesson and try to improve our spiritual lives by what we learn? During communion, where are our thoughts? Are they on the sacrifice that was made for us? Are they on the suffering of Jesus on the cross? Are they on the glory of His resurrection and the hope of everlasting life that He has given us? I am not saying that we do not do these things well, but there is always room for improvement. At least in my worship.
What about the other part of worship? (Romans 12:1) How do we worship God by offering our bodies as a living sacrifice? By living each and every day of our lives by the aspects of worship described in the first paragraph: humility, reverence, obedience, honor and service. When we do something well, do we thank God for the skills that he has given us? When we look around us, do we see the hand of God in our lives? Do we honor God by doing those things that He would have us do? Do we use our lives in service to others (see Matthew 25:30-46)? These are things that we can do in every aspect of our lives, whether we are at work, at school, or at play. And, as we do them we are worshiping God.
One obstacle to acceptable worship is sin. In 1 Samuel 15:25 Saul asked that his sins be forgiven so that he could worship the Lord. In Matthew 5:23-24 we are told that we need to resolve differences with our brother, before we are offer our gift. And, in 1 Peter 3:7 we are told that an improper relationship with our spouse can hinder our prayers. This does not mean that we have to be absolutely sinless before we can worship God. But, it does mean that if we know of something in our lives that is not right, then we need to take care of it right away, so that we can be right with God and our worship will be acceptable to Him.
Basic Biblical Principles 6
This month I would like to focus in on our worship together as a body. There are five parts of our worship as a body.
Singing: Romans 15:11, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 14:15, and James 5:13 all tell us that we are to sing. We are to sing from the heart. That means that we have to follow and understand the words that we are singing and to do it with gladness in our heart. We do not come to be entertained, but to participate. That is why do not have a choir. Notice, also, in these verses there is not one mention of a musical instrument. We use the early church as our example and the early church did not use musical instruments. Musical instruments were not added to the worship service until several hundred years later.
Communion: The Lord’s Supper was established in Luke 22:15-20. It established the eating of the unleavened bread and the drinking of the fruit of the vine as the symbolic meal that memorializes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Acts 20:7 established the first day of the week as the time for this memorial.
Giving: We are commanded to give as we have been prospered. 1 Corinthians 16:2 sets aside the first day of the week for this, also. The Jews in the Old Testament were required to give at least 10% of their income to support the Lord’s work. The wealthy were expected to give even more. The New Testament does not establish a set figure for us. But, would God expect any less of us than he did of them. Most importantly, what we give must come from the heart and not begrudgingly.
Preaching (exhortation, encouragement, admonishment): Romans 12:8, Colossians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 4:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, and 2 Timothy 4:2 instruct us in this aspect of our worship. There are many ways that this could be accomplished. In these times, we choose to do this in part by hiring a preacher. But, that does not absolve us of our duty to encourage one another individually.
Prayer: Matthew 21:13, Acts 1:14, and Acts 2:42 tell us about communal prayer. As in the other aspects of worship, we need our heart in this one, too. As the prayer is being led, are we listening to the words or are our minds wandering to non-spiritual things? I have trouble with this, sometimes, and have to remind myself to concentrate on the prayer. When we lead a prayer, are we praying to be heard of men or God?
Now that we know what to do, we need to know when to do it. Since the early church met together on the first day of the week and the Bible identifies that as the time to meet together as a body for worship, then that means that we too should meet on the first day of the week, every week.
But, what about Sunday night, do I have to come Sunday night, too? Our salvation may not depend on whether we are at worship service on Sunday night, but what example are you setting for others, especially our children. If others see that we have more important things to do Sunday evening than go to worship service, then they see what our priorities are. Our salvation may not depend on whether we attend Sunday night, but others salvation might depend on the example we set.
Basic Biblical Principles 7
Just recently Dave preached an excellent sermon on “prayer”. It is strictly by coincidence that my Shepherd’s Pen, this month, is on prayer. I thought about postponing this to a later time, but I decided against it because it is such an important topic that it could be covered more that twice a month and still be edifying.
The bible has a lot to say about how we should pray:
1. We should pray with a pure heart. Mark 11:25 tells us that we should forgive anyone, that we have something against, before we pray. For example, if we have just had a blowup with someone, that would be a good time to pray. But, we must be careful to let go of our anger and to forgive that other person first.
2. We must pray with our spirit and our mind (1 Corinthians 14:15). Prayer is not something we do by rote, we must think about what we are saying in our prayers. We need to put our hearts into our prayers.
3. As we pray, we need to be clear minded and in self-control (1 Peter 4:7). I sometimes fall asleep while praying in bed at night. But, that is not what God had in mind for us when we pray. We need to be alert and in control of our emotions.
4. We must pray with joy (Philippians 1:4). What a privilege to be able to talk to God. Try to call the President of the United States or the CEO of a major corporation, see if he or she will talk to you. But, the most awesome God, the creator of the entire universe, the most powerful being ever, will listen to you anytime you want to talk to Him. Even better than that, He will answer your prayer in the way that is best for you. When thought of in those terms, it should be very easy to be joyful while praying.
5. We are to pray when we are in trouble (James 5:13). Unfortunately, for some that is the only time that we pray.
6. We are to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This verse has always troubled me. It obviously can’t be taken literally, because if we prayed all of the time we would get nothing else done. What it does mean then, is that we should not allow gaps in our prayer life. We should be regular in our prayer life and not allow events in our lives to interfere with our prayer life. We need to have a prayerful attitude at all times.
7. We need to pray to be heard by God, not seen by men (Matthew 6:5-8). Our personal prayer lives are very private things. We pray to praise God and to let Him know the things that are on our heart.
Matthew 6:9-13 is often called the Lord’s Prayer, but many people feel a more accurate name would be the “model prayer”. Jesus’ disciples asked Him how they should pray and Jesus replied with this “model” prayer. It is not God’s intention that our prayer lives consist of memorizing this prayer and reciting it repeatedly. But, I believe that our prayers should contain the elements that are shown to us in this model prayer.
Our prayers should contain praise for our God. I believe that this should definitely include thanksgiving for all God has done for us.
God wants us to ask Him for the things we need physically. Even though we know that He knows what we need before we ask. Physical needs are not things like winning the lottery or a new car, but are the basic things we need for living: food, shelter, and clothing.
We need to ask God for forgiveness, for us and for others. It is so very important to remember that God will only forgive us to the extent that we are willing to forgive others.
And last but not least, we need to remember that we are to ask for things in prayer that are according to God’s will and not ours. God knows what will be good for us, while we often find out that what we thought would be good for us, isn’t good for us at all.
Our prayer lives are very important. We need to constantly be trying to improve our prayers and our prayer life. This does not happen just by chance, it is something that we must work on continually.
Basic Biblical Principles 8
Words are important. We use words to communicate with each other. That communication can be faulty if we do not understand the meaning of the words that we use. Today, many biblical words are used improperly or are used so routinely that we forget what the real meaning is. I want to mention some of them and discuss their proper usage.
churchThe word church comes from a Greek word meaning “the called out”. It refers to a group of people, a congregation. Many people use the word to refer to the building where a church meets. While this may not do any real harm, it is still not correct. We need to make sure that we understand what the church is and teach that to our children.
We also need to remember whose church it is. Matthew 16:18 tells us that the church belongs to Jesus.
When studying the bible it is important to understand that the word church is used both in a local sense (a congregation) and in a global sense (the church as a whole). We can tell which sense is being used by examining the context of the usage.
pastorThis word is severely misused in the denominational world. The Greek word translated “pastor” actually means “shepherd”. The words “shepherd”, “pastor”, “bishop”, and “presbyter” all refer to the office of “overseer” as described in 1Timothy 3 and as “elder” in Titus 1. Many denominations combine the roles of evangelist and elder into one office that they call “pastor”. While these may be good, dedicated men (and in some cases: women), they often do not meet the biblical requirements of the office. Also, they often serve as a the sole leader of their congregation. The bible clearly indicates that there must be two or more elders for a congregation.
ministerThis word comes from the Greek word for a public servant. A minister is a worker for the church. We should all be serving in the role of minister.
evangelistAn evangelist is someone who preaches the gospel, either in a public way, through sermons, or privately, through personal bible study.
saintThe word “saint” has come to mean someone who has reached a superior level of righteousness. In fact all, who have put on their Lord Jesus Christ in baptism and are living true to His word, are saints.
SabbathThe Sabbath is the sixth day of the week, on which God rested from His creation. It is Saturday, not Sunday.
clergy/laityIn many denominations there are of two levels of Christianity: the clergy, who are ordained and the laity, who are non-ordained. This is an invention of man, there is no such division described in the bible.
priest/priesthoodIn some denominations there is a separate priesthood to act as a go-between man and God. This was the way of the Old Law. When Christ established His church, He made us all priests. See 1 Peter 2:5 and 9. We now have direct access to God, through prayer. Jesus is, of course, our High Priest.
Reverend, Father, etc.Most denominations use titles to honor their “clergy”. Titles such as “Reverend” and “Father”. The bible clearly warns us about the use of titles in Matthew 23:8-10. Titles feed the ego, but humility is what God wants of us.
amenWhy do we say “amen” at the end of a prayer? The word means “may it be so” or “so be it”. When we say “amen” at the end of a prayer, we are affirming the thoughts of the prayer, whether it was our personal prayer or one led by someone else.
There are probably many other words that could be included in this column, but these are the ones that came to my mind. If you have others that you would like discussed, let me know.
Basic Biblical Principles 9
Each member of the church has at least one role to perform. The specific duties of that role or roles may vary from person to person depending on our individual skills. For example, one deacon may be involved in financial matters, while another may be tasked with caring for widows. However there are some duties that we are all responsible for, no matter what our basic role is. We all need to study so that we can share the Gospel with those that are lost. We all need to participate fully in our worship services. We all need to live according to God’s principles.
The role of an elder is to oversee the local congregation. We are charged with protecting the flock from those who teach error. We need to be involved with teaching, encouraging, and even rebuking (gently) the members of the congregation, as needed. We are to pray for those who are sick. While we do oversee the congregation, we do not rule by decree. We must work with the congregation in a mutually cooperative manner. Which is why we try to keep the congregation informed on our plans and seek ideas and suggestions from the congregation.
The role of deacon is described in Acts 6. They were to relieve the Apostles of the day to day workings of the church. Today, they perform that important role for the Elders. Just as the early deacons were involved with more than just the physical needs of the church, deacons of today need to be involved in the spiritual needs of the church, as well. We need to be grateful for the work which these men do and make every effort to help them out in whatever way that we can. There is too much work to be done, for these men to do all of it by themselves.
The role of a man in the church is to be a spiritual leader. He should be prepared to take an active role in the worship services. This might be song leading, praying, reading scripture, teaching, and serving at the Lord’s table, according to his skills. He should also be a spiritual leader at home, teaching his children to pray and to study the bible, while setting an example of Christian living.
In our “enlightened” age, the role of the woman, in the church, is very controversial. But, the bible is very clear about what a woman’s role is and what it is not. A woman may not usurp the spiritual authority of a man (1 Timothy 2:12). This includes all those worship service activities of men listed in the paragraph, above. Many people, religious or otherwise, think this is an outdated concept, which comes from a time in which women were treated as possessions. But, God tells us specifically why a woman was not to have spiritual authority over a man. In the very next verse (1 Timothy 2:13), God says that it is because Adam was created first, then Eve. I do not fully understand the reason for this, but do we really want to question God’s wisdom in this matter?
Women are commanded to teach the younger women (Titus 2:4). Women may also teach children. They may also participate in bible classes, as long as the class is being led by a man.
The wisdom of man sees some of these roles as more worthwhile than others. An elder’s role is more important that a deacon’s. A man’s role is more important than a woman’s. This is not the case, see 1 Corinthians 12:12-25. These verses make an analogy between our physical bodies and the body of the church. Just as all our body parts are important to us, all of the parts (roles) of the church are important. In fact verse 22 says that the parts (roles), we think are least, are the ones we can’t live without. Please, do not feel that your role is any less or any more important than somebody else’s role, that comes from the wisdom of man, not God. Whatever our role is, we should do it to the best of our ability and not worry about how important others think it is.
Basic Biblical Principles 10
One of the most important relationships, in a church body, is the relationship between the elders and the members. If this relationship is solid, then things move along in a much smoother fashion. This month I will talk about the roles and qualifications of elders, in the hope of strengthening what I feel is an already strong relationship.
But first, let us review some terminology. The bible uses several terms for the office of elder. The words elder, shepherd, pastor, presbyter, bishop, and overseer are used interchangeably to represent the same position of leadership.
The elders are to act as shepherds for the flock. See Acts 20:28. Shepherds love and care for their flock. They want to see that the flock is well fed, spiritually. Literal shepherds lead their flock into areas that are safe from predators and where there is ample forage and water. Elders should do much the same thing, in a spiritual sense, for the members of the church.
Elders are to direct the affairs of the church. See 1 Timothy 5:17. This does not mean the elders dictate absolutely what goes on in the church (1 Peter 5:3). The elders need to know the needs of the church membership. They need to listen to the flock. Then they lead the flock based on the wants and needs of the flock, but always in accordance with God’s principles.
Elders are to pray for the sick (James 5:14). In our elder’s meetings, the first item on the agenda is to list those who are ill, facing medical procedures, or struggling with something in their lives. Then we pray for each person according to his or her needs. We ask for your help in keeping us informed of any prayer needs you may have or that you may know about. (If you want it kept confidential, we will honor that request.)
Elders are to teach the word of God (1 Timothy 3:2). This can be done in many ways: classroom teaching; one-on-one teaching; setting an example; etc.
Elders must encourage others (Titus 1:9). I think that this is one of the most important roles for an elder and it is something that can be done on almost a daily basis. It is important that when someone does something well, that we show our appreciation. It is also important that when someone is discouraged for whatever reason, that we help them to overcome that discouragement.
Titus 1:9 also says that an elder must be able to refute those who oppose sound doctrine. This is part of a shepherd’s job, to protect the flock from predators. Elders must also confront any “predator” who would draw the flock away from spiritual safety and security.
Another role of elders is to resolve conflicts within the church. An example of this is found in Acts 15:1-2. God does not want us to take our conflicts to the courts, or other venues, where reproach can be brought on the church (1 Corinthians 6:1-7).
Because of the benefits good leadership can bring to a church and the problems that poor leadership can cause, the bible sets very significant qualifications for a man to be an elder. We (the elders) need to be continually evaluating ourselves, to see that we continue to meet the requirements of the office. The congregation needs to make sure that men chosen for this role, meet all of the requirements that God has provided for us.
The qualifications for elders are described in several places in the bible. 1 Peter 3:1-7 gives the following list of elder qualifications. An elder must be above reproach. He must not have anything in his life that would bring shame on the church. He must be the husband of one wife. An elder must therefore be a man. He must be temperate, keeping a steady, controlled emotional state. He must be self-controlled. A man, who cannot control his anger or his actions, can cause so many problems, especially if put in a leadership role. An elder must be respectable. An elder must be hospitable. This is more than just having visitors in one’s home. He must be open and friendly with new people, helping visitors to feel welcome and wanted. He must be able to teach. He must not be a drunkard. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, nor greedy. He must manage his family, including his children, well. If a man cannot manage his family well, how can he be expected to manage his church family? He may not be a recent convert. He has a good reputation in the community.
Titus 1:6-9 adds several requirements. He must have believing children, who are not wild or disobedient. He must not be over-bearing. He must be willing to compromise in non-doctrinal matters. He will not insist on his way at all times. An elder will love things that are good.
Finally, 1 Peter 5:2 says that a man must be not only willing but eager to serve. This is not a position that a man should be drafted or coerced, in any form, into taking. This does not mean that a man being asked to serve as an elder should not weigh the responsibilities of the office that he is considering. He must look carefully at the qualifications and examine himself as to whether this is a position that is right for him, at the time. He must have the support of his family. In the end, a man who is qualified will take on the responsibility, willingly, looking forward for the opportunity to serve God more fully.
Basic Biblical Principles 11
There has been a concept in the religious world for many years. It is called premillennialism. Our brotherhood has mostly abandoned this concept, but there are others who still believe in its premises.
Premillennial literally means “before the millennium.” Its basic concept was that Jesus would return before the end of the second millennium. In other words, before the year 2001. In the last hundred years, there have been many predictions on when the Christ would return. ALL of them were wrong. Even trying to predict the second coming is folly, because Matthew 24:36 tells us that not even Jesus knows when it will occur.
Associated with Premillennialism are some other erroneous concepts that are far more dangerous than trying to guess when Christ will come again.
Some premillennialists believe that Jesus came to earth to start an earthly kingdom, but was rejected by the Jews. So God had to change his plans and implement the church, instead. Then Jesus would return later and begin His earthly reign. At His return, the righteous would be taken up to heaven, while those who were not worthy would remain behind to have a second chance to live right. During this 1000 year reign, the devil would be chained in the pit, where he would have no power over us. Much of this is based on a misinterpretation of Revelation 20:6-8.
Jesus did not come to start an earthly kingdom (John 18:36). He came to start a heavenly kingdom. In fact, His rejection by the Jews was due, in part, to His refusal to restore the physical throne of David. The religious leaders of that time, would have accepted Jesus as king, if He could throw the Romans out of Israel. But, these same leaders could not stand idly by while Jesus overturned their religious order, so they had Him crucified. God was not surprised by the rejection of Jesus by the Jews, He even predicted it in Psalms 118:22.
God’s plan of salvation was not modified because of the rejection of the Jews. God’s plan has been there since before the creation of the universe. 1 Peter 1:20 tells us that Jesus had a mission given to Him before the “creation of the world”. That mission was to implement God’s plan of salvation. The church is not an afterthought, but has been part of God’s plan from the beginning.
Do not be deceived, we are already living in the last age. This age began on the day of Pentecost, after Jesus ascended into heaven and it will continue until Jesus returns. Revelation 20:6-8 does not speak of a new age to come, it speaks of the age we are in now. The devil has already been bound. When Jesus rose from the grave, the devil lost much of his power over us, because we now have Jesus as our redeemer. His blood washes away our sins. Without Jesus, those sins would have condemned us to be separated from God eternally, just as Satan has been condemned.
So, what will the end of time be like? No one knows exactly how it will happen and, for sure, no one knows when. But the bible does tell us some things about the end of time. It will come like a “thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Matthew 24:5 warns us that many will claim to be the returning Christ. But, we do not have to be concerned with that, because when the real Christ returns, everyone will know it. The real Christ will return “in the clouds, and every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7). He will return to the sound of trumpets, with great power and glory (Matthew 24:30-31). The dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive will be caught up to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The heavens and the earth will be destroyed by fire, even the elements will be destroyed (2 Peter 3:10). Then will come the judgment, where all people on earth, living or dead, will be judged according to the life they have lived. The righteous will go to their reward, in heaven (Matthew 25:34) and the unrighteous will go to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41).
The question we need to be asking ourselves is, “Are we ready for Christ to come?” Many of the parables of Jesus teach us about the need to be ready when the master returns. There will be no second chance.
Basic Biblical Principles 12
This month’s Shepherd’s Pen is a collection of four short articles. There is no particular connection between these articles, except that each subject, has been at one time or another, a matter of controversy.
PredestinationThere is a dangerous concept called “predestination”. It states that God predestined some people to be saved and predestined the rest to be condemned. How does this effect us? Well, if we are predestined to be saved, it does not matter how we live, we will be saved. On the other hand, if we are predestined to be lost, there is nothing we can do to avoid it, no matter how hard we try. This is especially dangerous, because of the tendency to give up trying to live a Godly life.
This concept comes from a misunderstanding of Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:4-12. The word translated “predestined” means “limited in advance”. We know that God established His plan of salvation before the world was created. And that His salvation was “limited in advance” to those who would follow His commands. So, these verses are not talking about individual predestination, but predestination for any and all who believe in God and follow His principles. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 tells us that God wants “all men to be saved”, not just a select few. Joshua 24:15 tells us that we must choose who we will serve. If we choose to serve God, we are predestined for salvation. If we choose to serve ourselves, we are predestined for condemnation.
Once saved always savedThere is another dangerous concept called “once saved always saved”. This concept teaches that once we reach that “saved” state, there is nothing we can do to become “unsaved”. What is dangerous, about this kind of thinking, is that once we have been “saved”, we no longer need to be careful to live by God’s laws. We can cut corners and take chances with the way we live, because we are “guaranteed” to be saved. I have no idea where this concept comes from in the bible. I have found no verses that support this concept. On the contrary, there are many verses that contradict this concept. See Galatians 5:4, Revelation 2:4-5, 2 Peter 3:17, 1 Corinthians 10:12, and 2 Peter 1:10. To be fair, it is my understanding that those who subscribe to this theory believe that someone who falls away, was never “saved” to begin with. But even that does not seem to agree with what the bible has to say.
HomosexualityHomosexuality is a hot topic in today’s news. It has also become a very controversial topic in religion. We need to weigh what we hear on the news and what is talked about in everyday conversations, with what the bible has to say about the subject. Homosexual acts are consistently condemned in the bible. The towns of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed (Genesis 18:16 - 19:29) because of the grievous sin of homosexuality. The New Testament also tells us how God feels about homosexuality. Romans 1:24-32 condemns all forms of sexual immorality, by equating it with idolatry. Included in this is homosexuality, which God refers to as unnatural. God also warns us not to approve of those who participate in all manner of sin, including sexual immorality. The only sexual activity that the bible approves of, is that between a husband and his wife.
How then should we treat homosexuals (or any sinner, for that matter)? We are to have care and concern for them, to love them, without condoning what they do.
SorcerySorcery would seem not to be a major problem in this “enlightened” world of today. Yet, our newspaper carries a horoscope section, there are advertisements for psychic hot lines on TV, and there are several listings in the yellow pages for psychics and palm readers. The Old Testament strongly condemns all forms of sorcery (Leviticus 19:26 & 31 and Deuteronomy 18:10). In fact, in Deuteronomy it is listed with child sacrifice as a forbidden practice.
Reading your horoscope for fun may not be a problem, but taking any of these things seriously is a sin. John 14:1 says we are to put our trust in God and in His son Jesus, not in horoscopes, palm readers, and psychic hot lines.