ChristianDefinedAs Paul made his defense against the accusations that had been leveled against him he said this,

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today.” (Acts 22:3)

Not even the New American Standard, known for being quite literal, makes a literal translation of a very important word Paul uses here – feet. The NIV and NASB use the word “under” but the image here is sitting at someone’s feet (just as Mary did with Jesus – Luke 10:39) to be taught.

This is an image of discipleship. Over the years discipleship has been more tied to following than to sitting. Jesus had many followers who weren’t disciples so being a disciple is more than being a follower. A disciple is someone who has dedicated themselves to the teachings of their particular instructor or rabbi so that they can imitate them or “follow in their footsteps” to to speak. So when you hear someone’s disciple teach, you are most likely hearing the teachings of their rabbi because their words and actions are a direct reflection on what they received from their rabbi.

In John 13:34-45 Jesus talks about how the world can know they are truly his disciples,

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This is discipleship 101. When Jesus says that there is something they are to do or say that will tell the world who He is and shows they are truly His disciples it is going to boil down to the core essence of Jesus’ teaching and the actions and values that underlie them.

Jesus pointed out one thing. I would have expected Him to say love God. Instead Jesus said, “love one another.” That doesn’t mean that anything else goes as long as you are loving about it. It does mean that this one thing is of central importance and that without it all the rest is pretty much useless.

Jesus ties in the success of their mission to the quality of love one disciple has for another.

That should either encourage us or frighten us because I see a lot of enmity in the body of Christ today. As a direct result, according to Jesus, I cannot help but connect that with the fact that so many churches are in decline and so few churches are actually reaching anyone more than 1 or 2 people each year at most. Not only are churches in decline but we also have a Christian message that lacks teeth…that can’t seem to gain any traction…that the volume of the Gospel message is at a 10 but the volume of our bickering and arguing is at a 25. That just won’t work because it doesn’t reflect our Rabbi well enough to work.

Misunderstanding Love
I am convinced that a part of our problem comes from a gross misunderstanding of love in our world today that has bled over into God’s people. Love has many definitions and I am not going to try to define it here but I will say a few things I know about love. Love will cost you something because love requires you to give. Somehow as Christians we have bought into a consumer mentality in regard to how we see the church and how we see others. Consumers can never truly love the entity that provides their desired items and services from because consumers are seeking to take and that is antithetical to love. If we view Christianity as a consumer and other Christians as a consumer would, we will truly bite and devour each other that ultimately leads to mutually assured destruction (Gal 5:15).

I see Christians take things from other Christians all the time and that isn’t love. I see them try to take the dignity of others. I see them try to take the joy from others. I see them try to knock others down to exalt themselves. I don’t know where people learn that (including myself at times) except that I do know they didn’t learn that following and sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Love must define us. Jesus said so. If it doesn’t, we are disobedient and will never have the effect in this world God expects from us.

So let us love well and let us expect up front for it to cost us something. Let us be willing to pay the price, to not always get our way, to humbly respect people we disagree with while still being able to have a loving conversation about our disagreements. Let us repent of any selfish way that is found within us and turn from self-focus to others-focus. I truly believe a renewed love for one another will ultimately lead the world to listen with fresh ears to a people who actually are truly different.

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Thanks to Jerry Starling for his comment on the previous post that pointed my thoughts in this direction.

17 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, this is also used as an argument to allow our “brethren” to go off the biblical path. If we would only love them, we would understand why:
    we NEED instrumental music
    we NEED women preachers and elders
    we NEED to get away from the necessity of baptism
    we NEED to to find “new brothers and sisters” from groups who are so far out, that inspiration etc. no longer means anything to them
    here is a difference between the concept of loving one another and understanding and maintaining Biblical principles.

    1. Rudy,

      In the same way “being sound” is used to beat people up, etc. Of course we need to understand and maintain biblical principles. You are absolutely correct on that. That was never called into question. In fact above I wrote this,

      “That doesn’t mean that anything else goes as long as you are loving about it. It does mean that this one thing is of central importance and that without it all the rest is pretty much useless.”

      We can take any good thing and abuse it, even the scriptures…even love…even a desire to have correct understanding of scripture and correct practice.

      I am sure you can lump more progressive minded people into a camp with a specific set of beliefs just as easily as someone could go the other way with it. That is very tempting to do…it is “low hanging fruit” so to speak. But to actually engage in a meaningful and biblical discussion that is done in love and respect on the topics you mentioned would be worthwhile.

      I hope that makes sense and I appreciate you stopping by.

      1. It makes all the sense in the world. What does not seem to make sense is the way in which this is practiced, especially by those of my brethren who want to go, “progressive.”
        Some of the passages which seem to be forgotten deal with the relationship love=obedience. This is how we know we love God – by obeying His commandments. Loving our brother needs to fit in with this concept.
        Wheaton is all shook up because one of their professors stated that she is convinced that the God of Islam and Christianity is the same God. She decided to express her love for Muslims by wearing a hijab. No problem with the Wheaton faculty. But the moment she made the God of Islam equal to the God of Christianity, the Board reacted – and rightly so.
        Our brethren want to express their love for others (often those of different fellowships) by breaking down the walls that separate us. Somehow, “we” seem to be the ones who compromise our beliefs; but we love them…
        Of course, the compromises are “never about doctrine…” Always “traditions.” And that is why some of “we” find baptism no longer necessary… And why we think that Paul’s ideas about the role of women are no more than “cultural and traditional issues.” I heard a professor from ACU last year bind himself into knots trying to explain that one. I even ordered the recordings, just to make sure that what I heard was indeed what I heard…
        But “we” love them…
        Might be interesting to see something here about what role obedience plays in the concept of love. God seems to find it important…

        1. We are called to love even the disobedient, the non-believer, the Muslim, and even our enemy. Help me understand what I am missing in saying that.

          Love is never conditioned on obedience. Maybe I am reading you wrong here. Help me out.

          What you are getting at isn’t (I hope for you) actually a love issue but is an inclusion issue. If it is a love issue for you…that we love those who are obedient and that’s it…then that is a much larger discussion and is quite problematic.

          Blessings.

          1. How do we know we love God? How do we know we love Christ? How do we know we love one another?
            Never said that we should only love those who obey.
            What I see happening (and have seen over the past 20 years) is that “loving others” has become more a matter of compromising our obedience to God by giving up certain important parts that define children of God. We are not only defined by how (and maybe this is a better word) we accept and/or treat others, but by holding to God’s word, as well.
            Because I love others, I share the message of the cross. Because I love others, they get my time, my attention, my talents, my shirt when necessary (May have to rethink that one, since Canada will be visiting here next week).
            But by accepting them as members of groups which believe in a “Just ask Jesus in your heart, and all is well – and, by the way, when you get a chance, you may want to get baptized,too) love is lacking, seriously lacking in practice.

        2. Again, your problem is not love but what constitutes inclusion into the community of faith. Again, it goes the other way too…one can be so legalistic as to require various markers of faith to really be “in” that were never required in the New Testament itself. This is a human problem, not a progressive/love problem…it just gets expressed in different ways based on a variety of factors.

    2. I think these words from Paul apply here,

      “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” – Philippians 1:9-11

  2. Jesus not only tells us to love one another, he also tells us how much we are to love each other: “Love one another as I have loved you.. How much does Jesus love is? In John 15:9 he tells the twelve (and through them, is as well if we Revelation in him). “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you . There we have it. We are to love each other with the same love that exists in the godhead.

    Now what were you saying about love being “namby pamby religion”?

  3. It is quite obvious that there many, still too many, members of the Church of Christ who fear love, who see it as a softness that takes away every sense of uniqueness, that takes away the courage to fight.

    That is why the CoC, with a few exceptions, is ignored by most Christian communities whose depth keep their minds and hearts yearning and striving toward a deeper relationship with Christ, with one another, and with those they meet day in day out. In short, when it comes to “debating”, their conclusion is, “We don’t have time for all that”.

    All wings of the CoC that shut themselves off from the world, and from other members, become ineffectual and never realize the call and experience of being “the great physician”. Oh, they will continue to educate, write and preach for themselves, especially in certain parts of the country. But, unfortunately, small vessels can hold a lot of pride.

    1. It seems that “many, still too many, members of the church of Christ…” seem to sacrifice unity and like-mindedness and being of the same mind at the expense of “sharing the love…”
      Most Christian communities whose depth keep their minds and hearts yearning and striving toward a deeper relationship with Christ, with one another… define the relationship based more on “what seems to work best” than on what is the Biblical way.
      The Baskin-Robbins mentality seems to grow and grow (More flavors, more choices – each can get what they like). Pick a group, any group, don’t worry too much about what is believed.
      Interestingly enough, that is just the opposite what those looking for answers want. They want clear statements about what one believes, rather than vagueness… And here “we” are, sacrificing one thing after another to make ourselves “attractive.”
      “We” are following denominational practices more and more. “We,” who have historically argued for the priesthood of all believers and against Clergy, now have at least 14 professional titles for those who work “full-time” with congregations. “We” now ask for Graduate degrees. “We” now offer salaries “commensurate with experience.” “We” now believe that when one has more education, one must be better believers, more spiritual – and therefore better qualified to do the work God has assigned to each individual believer!
      “We” now pay competitive salaries, with fringe benefits. “We” now pay a “worship minister” (whatever that is) and AVERAGE of $ 87,000.00 per year, who works an average of 40-50 hours a week. “We” pay for involvement ministers, youth ministers, campus ministers, outreach ministers, executive ministers, managing ministers… But it’s okay, “we” love each other…
      And yes, I have a strong opinion about this… 😉

      1. If you are saying that it is unbiblical to pay ministers then I would point you to a few verses.

        First are the words of Jesus instructing his disciples to accept support for their work – Luke 9:1-5. Jesus himself had people who monetarily supported his ministry.

        Paul said it was right – 1 Tim 5:17-18.

        There is clear example and even teaching on this in the New Testament so I am not sure why you would go there.

        To set the record straight on worship ministers, if they made 87k per year they would be the hands down, by far, highest paid group of ministers by quite a bit. The ACU survey has them at $57,750 but I shouldn’t even have to bring that up because it is a moot point.

        On the love, likemindedness and unity point. Love is essential to unity because we will never all agree on everything. Ever. Not on every conceivable point in an absolute sense. It just won’t happen. I am sure you are aware of that. What is more, love is then required for us to maintain unity in Christ despite our disagreements. Things won’t always go the way I want or the way you want but we still love each other anyway.

        I hope you are not disparaging elderships and people who have devoted their lives to ministry. I hope you are not judging someone else’s servant. We are told not to do that. I don’t assume you are but it sure feels like it.

        I hope the verses above are helpful to you in your studies as we all seek the truth in these matters. God bless.

        1. I think indeed that it is unbiblical to have the kind of paid ministry system we are employing, yes. In the New testament we see MISSIONARIES paid, and sometimes, elders. But there was no such thing as a “staff.” I did the studies of the passages, I did the studies of the words used, I did the study of the history of the development of professional ministry, I did the study of our “own” developments.
          I do not disparage elderships – other than those who are more business managers than spiritual shepherds. I do not disparage anyone who serves others.
          I am not judging anyone, and if the earlier response gave you that impression, I apologize.
          What I am trying to do, is show how “we,” under the guise of “love” have made too many compromises with the Biblical text. “We” seem to emphasize those “areas” where “we” agree – and prefer not to discuss those areas where “we” are called by God to be different. “We” no longer seem to have a distinct message because that has been deemed to be unloving.
          Paul took the areas of agreement with Judaism in stride, and yet, made it very clear that there was a distinct, clear difference between him and his brethren of Judaism – using the term “brethren” in a different way than when describing his fellow Christians.
          “We” seem to have lost the idea that speaking of the coming judgment should always be a part of the proclamation of the Gospel. “We” seem to have forgotten there is an inherent friction within Christianity and others – because that is not the loving thing to do.

          1. I am glad we have autonomous congregations that on one hand add to the fact that not every church will agree with your interpretation or go along with you on that and that you can still find churches that do. Maybe you are just as much looking for the place that fits your view as much as you say others are doing it. Does that make you as Baskin Robbins consumer as you accuse others of being in your previous comment? I don’t think so. It makes sense to worship at a place where we feel is trying to be biblical. That doesn’t make you a consumer unless you make it an idol.

            On paid ministers we will just have to disagree. You are standing in an extreme minority position on it in principle for a reason. Can it be taken too far? Of course it can.

  4. A somewhat predictable response 😉 Of course, even as autonomous congregations “we” have used the written word since the days of the Restoration Movement to share views, be they good or bad. My first experience with “brotherhood” writing was reading Wallace’s Review of the NIV, and that scared me. From there, the Firm FOundation, the Gospel Advocate, the Gospel Guardian, the Examiner etc., etc., etc.
    The Religious Police was everywhere.
    But the commonality of our claims, one of which was against Clergy, was still there. “We” now have succumbed… As far as salary is concerned, in a survey by ACU several years ago, salaries were already topping the $ 100k. How we can possibly justify that from a “Foxes have… but the Son of Man has not…” How “we” got there from tent maker missionaries… But I guess it is the “unlovable” thing to do to take issue with that, as well.
    What I am trying to get across, Matt, is that what masquerades as “love” is not always the true product. Sometimes “love” is nothing more than accommodating a desrie to just be like the others… We, too, want a king…

    1. You are right in saying sometimes love is nothing more than an accommodating desire to be just like others. Yes. It happens. Adultery also happens even by people who attend Churches of Christ.

      I am sure you realize the average salary among ministers is more like 50k.

      So let me ask you a few questions:

      Is a church (the people in it) that worships with instruments?
      Is a church (the people in it) with paid ministers lost?
      Is a whole church lost if they worship at a church that does issues you think are not biblical?
      What constitutes being in and being out (who should be included)?
      Do you agree with all of the practices and interpretation of the church where you now worship?

      Thank you for the conversation.

  5. Re. Salaries… I looked at the latest available from ACU, and came up with different averages.

    Your questions, in a bit different order…
    1. What constitutes being in and being out (who should be included)?
    Being baptized into Christ’s death (where forgiveness takes place) and being raised in newness of life. Pretty simple. God set that one.
    2. Do you agree with all of the practices and interpretation of the church where you now worship? And 3. Is a church (the people in it) with paid ministers lost?
    No. Should I let the differences be? Some, yes, others, no. I am a firm believer in “closed” communion, for example. The decision should not be up to the un-believer, but to the congregation. I announce that anytime I am asked to participate in the serving.
    I firmly believe in a mutual edification ministry, with as many of the men involved as possible. Will they all be as good, polished, clear and logical as I am? No. 🙂 I can show from Scripture that money was spent on “benevolence (in the way the word is used in our times, rather than in KJV English) and missions. As a congregation, we are getting more and more in that direction. Does that mean that the next congregation over is damned? Of course not. Will the elders have some issues when called to account by God? I strongly believe so. (But then, also for the way the entire budget is spent – most congregations spend more on real estate and salaries than on benevolence and missions).
    4. Is a whole church lost if they worship at a church that does issues you think are not biblical?
    Hm, having come from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I would certainly hope it to be the case that where error is taught, practiced and accepted there will be a problem! Of course, since they do not meat the Biblical definition of church, I’m good.
    Bringing it back to “us.” Whenever a group of members of the church of God goes off, as a group, not a few individuals, yes, I believe them to be lost. I was in the U.S. when George Lucas went off with the Discipleship movement, and how it grew into nothing different than any of the cults so famous in those days. Were there some good things? Sure. But these can also be found among, let’s say, the Mormon Church.
    Where I am, some members see no problems with allowing their kids to go to the local Baptist church, because “They have such a good youth program there…” For me, that should be a warning to “us.” Especially when some of our kids come back with “I gave my heart to Jesus, and now I am saved…”

    Matt, these things are bothering me more and more. I have been a member of the church of Christ for a decade or 2… or 3… I see how much change has been happening through these years. Some I am sure for the good, but others scare me. “We” are sending less people into mission fields than ever before. “We” are spending more and more monies “internally.” “We” have professionalized more and more. And we have ministers moving because of better salaries, better benefits, better buildings, better chances to build a name…
    “We” have become people followers, rather than God followers. After all, someone with a Ph. D. cannot possibly be wrong, right? Yes, before you ask, I do believe in the value of education (I work for an educational institution, so I better!). But somehow, I cannot see Paul (educated as he was), looking for fellow missionaries with degrees (Advanced degrees preferred).
    “We” have selected elders for years from the professional people, rather than the spiritual people. Thanks be to God – one area in which “we” seem to have changed…

    1. I appreciate your last paragraph especially. I think you are correct in saying that one of the biggest changes that has come is our failure to embrace the mission in a way that lines up with what we find in the New Testament. They never had a “build it and they will come” mentality. They were out looking for people. We have defined missions as foreign, as if everyone here is already ok. I think that paradigm shift in our “missions” ministry was once place we really messed up. We also failed to see the connection between evangelism and discipleship. Discipleship is the broader term that encompasses evangelism to spiritual growth and maturity. We opted for trying to baptize people rather than make disciples. I think, when that has happened (this hasn’t happened everywhere but enough to be noticed) we missed the ball.

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