Tagged: history

What Was Herod Seeking?

Magi Following the StarFear will make you do strange things. It will make you do terrible things.

Fear can make you hurt others. Ultimately, it will hurt you more than anyone else.

Zach Williams has recorded a song titled “Fear Is A Liar”. To date, the official has over 22 million hits. It captures well the destructive nature of fear.

It’s also true that fear functions as a God-given self preservation mechanism. The great quandary which confronts us requires us to discern between real and imagined fears.

As Jesus prepared for his return to heaven at the end of his earthly ministry, he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) This promise forms a wonderful bookend to the events of Jesus’ birth.

Jesus was born into an environment filled with fear. His parents had made a long journey to Bethlehem out of obedience, and fear, of the occupying Roman legions. Although Judea experienced relative stability under the rule of Rome and the 33 year reign of Herod, it wasn’t exactly peace as we know it. Many people sought a return to true Jewish independence and purity of worship. While Herod maintained order with an iron hand.

Fear consumed Herod the Great. He was paranoid about protecting his throne. He killed family members. He executed his wife and his brother. He had his sons killed. He believed in eliminating all potential competitors to his power.

Consumed by fear Herod lashed out creating an environment of retribution and fear.

It wasn’t only family. Rebellions and revolts were not unusual during the reign of Herod. His commitment to extinguish these revolts kept him in the good graces of Rome. Like other provincial rulers of the time opposition was met with violence and usually death. By modern standards, Herod was a monster.

Life was cheap when it came to maintaining the peace and the power.

Then Jesus, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, arrived. Herod recognized the threat. He murdered all boys under the age of 2 in the village of Bethlehem.

Jesus was born in this world or fear. Jesus lived in this world of fear. Jesus’ parents fled to Egypt to protect their son’s life.

When we apply the titles of Isaiah 9:6 to Jesus, ‘Prince of Peace’ isn’t just filling in space to provide cadence. Herod had every right to fear Jesus. Jesus was born to become king. Jesus was born not only to replace Herod, but to replace Herod’s environment of fear with and environment of peace. Significantly, in contrast to Herod, Jesus wasn’t ever proposing to maintain peace through violence. He maintains peace through peace.

Thirty-three years later, Herod the Great is long dead. Jesus himself is about to die. But while Herod’s final days were filled with increased paranoia, Jesus could approach death and promise his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.

Fear isn’t dead.

Fear is real, and sometimes it’s healthy.

But fear is often a liar. And when fear festers it fosters hurt and turmoil.

I’m not suggesting that all Jesus followers just need to “think happy thoughts” to solve all our problems. I am suggesting that we need to take seriously Jesus’ mission to bring peace to the world, including to our world.

The apostle Paul explains it this way in Romans 8:14,

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

May the love and peace of Christ overcome your fears this Christmas and in the year ahead. May you find refuge in the arms of your Father and strength in His Spirit. May you find joy in your adoption as a child of God.


Vision Sunday 2010

Read Psalm 126 here.

At the start (or close to) of each year, Lawson Road takes time to look back on the previous year and forward to the current year.  We look back seeking to identify how we, as a church, have served God in the previous 12 months.  However, we don’t want to take credit for ourselves, so we also seek to acknowledge how God has worked through and among us over that period.

The church members benefit from this process because they often don’t realise how the church has grown or how many guests visited us during the year.  Vision Sunday also provides an opportunity to highlight ministries that take place outside the spotlight, and share their victories with the rest of the congregation.

When we turn our gaze to the coming year we attempt to predict the opportunities and challenges we will face as a church.  Of course there is a measure of futility associated with this task, but we would also be irresponsible if we didn’t make any plans.  We mainly emphasise our need to seek and prepare for the opportunities God will send us to serve Him and share His Good News.

As I prepared for this annual event it occurred to me how many Biblical examples I could find of this process.  The concept of looking backwards at God’s activity in our lives and using those experiences to inform our future faith forms a recurring example in Scripture.

  • God’s actions in the Exodus form the basis of his demand for future exclusive worship in Exodus 20.
  • Many of the Psalms follow this pattern.  For example, the first 3 verses of Psalm 126 look back to God’s deliverance and the joy that accompanied it.  That experience then forms the basis for expecting God to again deliver with joy in the last 3 verses.
  • Hebrews 11-12 uses the lives of past godly leaders to motivate faith in present day Christians.  “Since we’re surrounded by [these previous examples of faith] … let us run with perseverance… fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Heb. 12:1-2)
  • The Lord’s Supper embraces this head swiveling principle.  At it’s core, the Supper commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ.  Yet looking backwards in turn inspires us to look forward and motivates our present actions, “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

This may seem like a logical process to apply to Scripture since it was written a couple of thousand years ago, but how about in our own lives and churches?

  • How many examples do you have of God working in your life?  How do they impact your faith as you move into the future?
  • Do you agree that most Christians don’t have many specific examples of God’s activity in their life?  Why do you think that is?
  • Have you ever been part of a church that could share a history of God’s blessing that motivated them to move confidently into the future?
  • I suspect that most church members don’t know their congregational history and therefore many examples of God’s grace, love and rescue are quickly lost.  What’s your experience?  Does it matter?

Unity & Division in the Restoration Movement

In 1906 David Lipscomb agreed with the Director of the US Census that the Church of Christ was a group of churches distinct from the Disciples of Christ, and they were listed separately by the government for the first time.  This is the best we come up with as an official date for the separation, but in reality the two groups had been moving in different directions for over 50 years.

The establishment of the American Christian Missionary Society in 1849 proved to be a controversial development.  Some churches felt that since Scripture does not “authorise” non-congregational organizations then they are unbiblical.  The alternative view simply saw the Society as a practical way to conduct world evangelism using resources that no individual congregation had at its disposal.  However, this did not result in widespread division within the Restoration Movement.  Even those opposed to the establishment of the Missionary Society were known to speak at its annual meetings.  Unity remained a compelling value.

The debate concerning the missionary revealed a more significant disagreement regarding the reading and interpretation of the Bible.  The above discussion demonstrates that one side of the debate sought biblical “authorisation” for everything they wanted to do, while the other side implemented what the Bible commanded but felt free to make practical additions in other areas.  This fundamental hermeneutical debate that  proved to be closer to the core of the subsequent division than the individual disagreements over musical instruments in worship and missionary societies.  Richard Hughes (p48) quotes David Edwin Harrell Jr. as aptly observing that if the churches “had not disagreed over instrumental music and missionary society, they would have divided over something else.”

In the end, however, its seems more human motivations precipitated the division.  During the civil war the American Christian Missionary Society, which was based in the north, passed a resolution that said in part,

Resolved, that we unqualifiedly declare our allegiance to [the United States] government, and repudiate as false and slanderous any statements to the contrary.  That we tender our sympathies to our brave and noble soldiers in the field who are defending us from the attempts of armed traitors to overthrow our government….

In the tit-for-tat that followed the ACMS was criticised by the southern churches, and the issue of biblical authorisation became the primary rationale for that criticism.  More importantly, the tolerance of differences that had existed prior to the civil war evaporated.  Support for a missionary society now became grounds for breaking fellowship.  The debate regarding instrumental music in worship followed a similar path that became grounds for breaking fellowship after the Civil War.

This is not to take sides on the biblical discussion of either of these issues, but to point out that one of the major changes was not the teaching on the issues, but the importance attributed to the issues.  The attitude of tolerance and love was replaced by one emphasising doctrinal uniformity.

Considering the church structure and teachings of the Disciples of Christ today and comparing them to the Churches of Christ, division would eventually have occurred no matter how committed each side was to unity.  The original plea of the Restoration Movement contained the seeds of conflicting values and over time this conflict became more obvious.  But I’ll write more about that next week.

The issue of who we fellowship with is a big one.  Most Christians would have problems joining in worship with a Buddhist.  But how about a Catholic or someone from another denomination?  Should members of the Church of Christ fellowship with all other churches that have the same heritage and name?  If you were on holiday in a town with a broad choice of churches, but no Church of Christ, who would you worship with?  What guidelines do you use in deciding who you will fellowship with?  How does the Bible help you with this choice?

Restoration: A Futile Pursuit?

Churches of Christ have their origins in what is commonly referred to as the “Restoration Movement” of the 1800’s.  The movement’s name comes from its goal of “restoring New Testament christianity” or “restoring the New Testament church”.  The early pioneers were reacting to the excesses the witnessed in existing denominations.  Their solution was to begin anew by returning to Scripture and following the pattern they found there, rejecting subsequent human innovations.

As I have been teaching a class on the history of the Restoration Movement it occurs to me that the goal of “restoring the NT church” is equivalent to chasing the wind.  The stated goal implies that at some point in time a pure, perfect, original church existed and that over time it was corrupted.  However, I’m not sure which church this would be?

The first church in Jerusalem was overseen by apostles, not elders and deacons.  It met in the temple every day; not something we can or would do.  Did they do the 5 acts of worship every time they met?  Or did they only have a “real” worship service on Sundays?  We’re not told these answers.  Although it consisted of Jews from many parts of the world, its first membership was still only Jews.  How long did it take for the church in Jerusalem to have a significant number of Gentiles?  Is monoculturalism really something we want to restore?  How much do we really have in common with that first church described in Acts 2:42-47.  With as little information as we have, we certainly can’t just study the Jerusalem church and use it as a complete pattern for church today!

The difficulty we next face when we go outside the first 12 chapters of Acts is that most of the NT letters are written to churches facing significant problems.  We might want to restore the NT church, but not the Corinthian church with its infighting and lax moral standards.

The Philippian church apparently tolerated an open dispute between two members (4:1).  Paul had to encourage some Philippian church members to “live worthy of the gospel” (1:27) and “Do everything without grumbling” (2:14).  Shouldn’t these have been things the local leaders addressed?  Do we really want to restore a church with this reputation?

When churches today speak of “restoring the NT church” they’re not really picturing an actual church.  They’re referring to an ideal church that they’ve created by pulling together teaching from various Biblical writers to create what must be the “pure pattern”.  The underlying assumption (which may or may not be accurate) is that if Paul told one church to do something, then every church was doing or to do the same thing.

So Paul tells the Colossian church to sing (3:16) and pray (4:2-3), but says nothing to them about the Lord’s Supper, or making a regular or weekly monetary contribution.  Did the Colossian church practice the Lord’s Supper and regular collection?  We’re not told!  But since the Lord’s Supper and the regular collection are instructed in 1 Corinthians, then all these components become part of the ideal New Testament church.

Furthermore, it took several centuries for the New Testament to be collected and distributed.  Apparently even after spending so much time with Paul, Timothy and Titus were unaware of the qualification of elders and deacons.  So for the first 50 years of the church there were no clear criteria for appointing church leadership!

When we recognise this process we also must acknowledge that we cannot have a goal of restoring the New Testament church because, IT NEVER EXISTED!!  Basic grammar dictates that you can’t restore something that hasn’t existed.

I am not dismissing the numerous teachings that this process has promulgated.  I believe in the importance of weekly Lord’s Supper, communal prayer, singing etc.  However, if we’re to be a true NT church, shouldn’t we emphasise the things the New Testament emphasises.  According to my count, only 7 NT books mention singing, yet we are known as a capella Churches of Christ!

If we really restored the NT church, wouldn’t we speak a lot more on righteousness?  Wouldn’t we discuss peace and unity a lot more?  Wouldn’t overcoming racial and cultural barriers be a bigger part of our identity?  The list could go on….

I am extremely indebted to my spiritual forefathers for their “rediscovery” of believers immersion for the remission of sins, for their teaching on regular open communion, and even for their calling us back to the heart of worship with a capella singing.  But I believe we have a lot more to restore before we’re truly a New Testament Church.

A new blog page

This is just a quick post to draw your attention to the new “Links” page I’ve added to this blog.  (Just click the “Links” tab at the top of this page.) I’ve started by adding some links for sites dealing with the history of the Restoration Movement.  Over time, I hope to add links on other topics.

Thanks for your support and interest in this blog.


Is Church History Important?

I’m currently teaching a Wednesday night Bible class on the history of the Restoration Movement.  However, I seem to be having a difficult time justifying why it’s good to study this topic.  Some people think we should just study the Bible, others seem to think I’m turning the Campbells into apostles or something.  While all I’m trying to do is demonstrate that our beliefs and church practice today are influenced by the teachings of these pioneers from the early 1800’s.Alexander Campbell 01

In an ideal intellectual world, we would all come to the Bible with a blank mind ready to absorb its teachings.  However, we don’t live abstract, isolated lives.  Even as seekers we approach God seeking different things: help with a relationship, freedom from addictions or guilt, purpose in life, a place to belong and be loved…  So when each of these people open the Bible they’re looking for answers to different questions.  Different verses will appeal to them and they will share different benefits of being a Christian.

In addition to bringing our own circumstances to church, we also join churches that have particular contexts and different experiences.  Churches of Christ have always taught 6 steps of responding to Gospel (often called Steps of Salvation).  Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized, Grow.  However, of those we have tended to emphasize baptism.  Why?  I believe that we do this partly because Alexander Campbell and other early Restoration leaders emphasized it in their teaching as a point of differentiation between their understanding of Scripture and that of the Baptists and Presbyterians.

So when a new Christian joins a Church of Christ, they join a church that emphasises baptism even though the other 5 “Steps” are just as important.  A church with a different history might emphasise “Grow” or “Love your neighbour”.  In the 4th & 5th centuries a significant group known as Donatists made “Confess” an emphasis.  They split from the majority church because they believed that anyone who had denied (recanted their Confession) Christ during persecution could not be restored to church leadership.  We don’t give that much emphasis to “Confess”, but we’ve also not experienced persecution like that church did either.  Our different history gives our churches a different emphasis.

So while church history differs from a verse-by-verse study of the Bible, it helps us understand why we study particular passages more than others, and why we read them a particular way.  This is not to say that Church History operates without the influence of the Holy Spirit, but rather, the Holy Spirit works through history.  A study of history and of those men and women of faith who’ve preceded us helps us to be more honestly introspective about our beliefs.  It should also encourage us to spend more time separating human influences from the Spirit’s work.  Finally, learning about the lives of our spiritual forebears can encourage us in our faith walk as we see how God worked in and through their lives.  Isn’t that what Hebrews 11 is all about: learning from the lives, holy and hurt, of those traveling ahead of us.  Looking backwards so that we can move forwards.

How much do you know about your church history?  Do you find it helpful or irrelevant?

Connecting with God

  • Read Hosea 11 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (17 May), you can listen to it here.

I believe that all of history is connected and serves a purpose for God. I linked to Hosea 11 at the top of the page because this chapter demonstrates how historical events impact God.  God is not just an impassive observer of life on Earth.  God’s dealings with Israel in the 700’s BC were influenced by the events of the Exodus 700 years earlier.  And the events of the Exodus were prophesied to Abraham (Gen 15:13-14) another 500 years earlier.  One thing leads to another, and God’s in control.

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both contain lists of genealogies in their first few chapters.  These lists contain a lot of names we know nothing about, but they do have a point.  They remind us that God spent thousands of years preparing for the arrival of Jesus.  Jesus’ birth was not just an afterthought.  His earthly ancestors connect Jesus to every major event of history recorded in the Bible all the way back to Creation.

In a similar way we are connected to the great examples of faith described in Scripture.  We have a special blessing because we look back at these faithful followers of God through the lens of the cross.  In Hebrews 11:39-40, we read

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Their faith is rewarded when it is passed on to us.  Likewise, we have a responsibility to pass on the torch of faith to others. Our life has a purpose.

In his book Epic, John Eldredge presents history as a story written by God, with each of us having a role, a purpose.  It begins and ends in a perfect, peaceful garden, but in between it’s a classic battle of good and evil, of love and sacrifice.  Christians recognize that we have a role to play in this story.  We’re part of the struggle against evil, representing God in the world.  We believe that the final script has already been written and God wins!

In contrast many people reject the idea that God controls the span of history.  Eldredge quotes (p9) Neil Postman who gives a striking summary of the alternative worldview.

In the end, science does not provide the answers most of us require.  It’s story of our origins and our end is, to say the least, unsatisfactory.  To the question, “How did it all begin?”, science answers “Probably by an accident.”  To the question, “How will it all end?”, science answers, “Probably by an accident.”  And to many people, the accidental life is not worth living. (Science and the Story That We Need)

The Bible has many ways of reminding us that God has a purpose for our lives.  Do you have a favorite verse that reminds you of this? Please leave a comment and share your verse with us.