Paul's Passing Thoughts

A Historical Survey of the First Century Christian Assembly – Part 4

Posted in Andy Young, TANC 2017 by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on December 13, 2017

 The following is part four of a four-part series.
Taken from Andy Young’s fourth session at the 2017 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny

< Part 1  •  Part 2  •  Part 3



What Does Giving Look Like?

Drive down just about any street in any town or city in any state in this country and it doesn’t take long for you to drive past a church building. If you made it a point to count the number of churches you see any time you are out driving about, I daresay you would be shocked at the number. I am reminded of the apostle Paul when he first arrived in Athens, and he wept when he saw the city wholly given over to idolatry. I can imagine the scene was similar. Imagine Paul walking down the road and over here is a temple to this god and over there is a shrine to that goddess, and another temple here, and another temple there. Is it any different with churches? Can we not also say the same thing about the proliferation of churches in our cities? Are our cities too not given over wholly to idolatry, the idolatry of institutionalized religion?

It used to be that you could tell a Protestant church from a Roman Catholic church. Catholic churches were these grand ornate structures with arches and stained glass. While protestant churches on the other hand were more subdued. They might have a steeple with a cross on top, but they were often much smaller and more humble looking. But that is not the case today.

Protestant churches today are building massive steel structures with large capacity auditoriums, high-tech sound and stage lighting, multimedia displays, coffee bars, multi-purpose rooms for banquets and sports activities, book stores, and more. And church ministries are no longer limited to the spiritual growth and edification of its members. You can now find churches involved in community services, free clinics, day care, even aerobics classes and yoga.

Now, none of these things are necessarily wrong in and of themselves. These are noble endeavors. But any person who does an honest evaluation of what passes for church today can come to the conclusion that church is big business. There is much money to be made in doing church, especially in the area of Christian education. It is not unusual for most protestant churches to have some kind of Christian day school, which of course requires its own infrastructure, its own building program, its own budget, its own system of authority.

There was a time when I bought in to all of this. I diligently put my hard-earned money in the offering plate when it was passed. I would be racked with guilt on weeks when I didn’t put in any offering because I was short on cash, and then I wondered how God was going to get me for not giving Him anything that week. I gave not just with my wallet but with my own hands and my time. How many hours did I volunteer helping with the construction of the new school building and gymnasium? How many hours had I invested in painting walls, running cable, working the sound system and stage lights for the school programs, and giving and giving and giving. It wasn’t just me but scores of others in that church who did the same, all so they could have a brand new 2 million dollar gymnasium and high school classrooms.

This is one of the things that hurt the most when we finally decided to leave that church. I remember that last Sunday vividly. I was filing away my choir music after the service that Sunday, and I began to weep. I looked around and thought about the 17 years of my life I had invested in that place, and it hurt deeply and profoundly. I wasn’t aware then of all I know now – that’s been a six year journey for me – but I knew something was wrong. It tore me apart to have to leave because I felt like I was leaving part of myself behind (in a sense I was), but I knew I couldn’t stay there any longer.

I believed that church was supposed to be about winning people to Christ. But that’s not for lay-people like you and me.  That’s for people like pastors and missionaries; you know, people who have special training and went to school to understand theology and stuff. People are slow to answer the call to evangelism, but they sure are quick to plunk their money in the offering plate for a cause. That way they don’t have to work, they can just put their offering in and let someone else do the heavy lifting and feel good about it the whole time. Churches are spending millions and millions of dollars on infrastructure, meanwhile millions and millions of people are on their way to an eternity in hell.

Did you hear what I just said?

Churches are spending millions and millions of dollars on infrastructure, meanwhile millions and millions of people are on their way to an eternity in hell!

But that’s ok; you just think about how good you feel because you went to church this Sunday and gave to the building fund.

Church infrastructure is all about authority, and authority is all about control. One of the best ways a church can control people is through the offering plate. Giving in the institutional church centers around the tithe. Keep in mind, many of us are already familiar with a lot of what I’m going to say, but I’m setting up the argument.  Plus this will be good for the benefit of those who have never heard any of this before.

Now what is the tithe? Tithe is an Old English word that means to pay a tenth. It may actually be a transliteration of the Greek word τιθετω (tie-THEH-toh) which actually means to lay in store or to reserve.   What is interesting is that the English word “tithe” is used in only two places in the New Testament.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” ~ Matthew 23:23

“But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” ~ Luke 11:42

In these two references, the Greek word is not “titheto” but the word αποδεκατουω (a-po-dek-ah-TOO-oh) which means to pay a tenth from. Why does this number, tenth, mean so much? How did we ever decide on this amount? In Malachi 3:8 we read the following:

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.” ~ Malachi 3:8

The Hebrew word translated “tithes” is the word המעשר (ma-asar) and it means “a tenth.” So the prophet Malachi is bringing a message from God to Israel or some group of people in Israel and apparently this group has not been paying tithes and offering.   Implicit in this passage then is the notion that the tithe is a requirement or commandment. Now I will get to the specifics of this in a minute, but suffice it to say that Protestantism has engaged in a type of replacement theology, and they point to this proof text here as evidence that the church is supposed to continue paying tithes.  That seems like it might be a reasonable assumption, and if you agreed with that assumption you would be wrong. Here is why.

The question we have to ask is this: Is there any place in scripture where God gave a specific commandment to pay a tithe? And the answer is yes. The very first place we see the mention of tithe is Leviticus 27:30.

“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD.” ~ Leviticus 27:30

So here we see indeed that God is requiring a certain percentage of what the people produce. The next usage of the word tithe appears in Numbers 18:26.

Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, ‘When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the LORD, even a tenth part of the tithe.’” ~ Numbers 18:26

The first thing I want you to see is that the Levites are responsible for collecting the tithe. But why them? Well you have to go up just a couple verses for that answer, go up to verse 23.

“But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance. But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.” ~ Numbers 18:23-24

Now what do we mean by inheritance? When Israel finally gets to the promised land, after they drive out all the Canaanites they will divide the land among the twelve tribes. And you will recall that Joseph gets a double portion. His inheritance is divided between his two sons, Ephraim and Manassah. The reason then that we don’t have 13 tribes is because Levi is special. Levi is consecrated unto God. God told them Levi doesn’t get an inheritance because He was to be their inheritance. Their inheritance is service to God through the temple. Since Levi doesn’t get any land, God provides for Levi through the tithe. So all the other tribes are required to bring a tenth of what they produce to the Levites as a means of providing for them.

We also learn by reading the Pentateuch that the Levites had specific cities assigned to them. In these cities were storehouses which stored all the tithes for the Levites and then they took from the stores as they needed. I think this is where the notion of the Greek word “titheto” associated with “tenth” originated. It seems as if in the Old English they took the Hebrew word for tenth, “ma-asar,” with the understanding that it referred to gathering the offerings into the storehouses, and they associated it with the Greek word “titheto” which means to lay aside or reserve, and that’s how we come to understand tithe meaning tenth.

Now, let me throw in one more little wrinkle. The Levites were to tithe as well. They were to bring what was called a heave offering to the temple. This heave offering was a tenth of all they collected from the other 12 tribes, and it went to Aaron and his direct descendants, basically anyone who was serving directly in the temple in Jerusalem. So not only did God provide for the Levites, but he provided for the priests as well.

Now if you go back and look at these passages that deal with the tithe there is no mention of money or currency.  The tithe concerns grains, cattle, and fruits. You see the things that the people have produced from the ground. This does not include clothes, this does not include furniture, this does not include cars or tractors or weapons or shoes or anything else that a skilled craftsman might make. So obviously there was some kind of economy for the Levites, some market they could engage in and trade for or produce for themselves.

The point I’m making here is that the tithe only deals with agricultural products, and it was a means to provide for the Levites. The Levites were to in turn tithe to the priests. And that brings us back to what is happening in Malachi 3. What God is saying in Malachi 3 about tithes and offerings is directed specifically at Levi and the priests. Look at the rest of the chapter following verse 8.

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” ~ Malachi 3:8-10

To understand Malachi 3:8 you need to understand the purpose of the tithe as we’ve just seen in Leviticus and Numbers, and it ought to be clear that this is a rebuke specifically towards the tribe of Levi. They had failed to tithe their own offerings to the priests, the heave offering that they were to bring to the temple which was the way God had provided for the priests. And God said you have robbed me because you have robbed the priests of what is theirs. The entire book of Malachi is a rebuke of Levi. The tithe is only one item in a laundry list of offenses throughout Malachi.

Now I suppose one could make the case that this rebuke of the tithe is a rebuke to all Israel. So for argument’s sake let’s assume it is. Does that really change anything? Does that change the fact of what the tithe is specifically; it’s purpose? Does that give us any liberty to take a commandment regarding the Levites and lay it over top of the church and say this includes the church now? Are we really beginning with the assumption that pastors and elders are the theological equivalent to the tribe of Levi?

And for what purpose? Is it to make sure that the pastors and elders have a living? Ok, I might give you that, but then why do we need building projects and missions budgets and expense accounts? That wasn’t what the tithe was for in the Old Testament. Remember what I talked about in part one about the rabbinical Jews pointing to a verse in Deuteronomy and claiming that was evidence for the command to build synagogues? They took that verse out of context and gave it an application for which it was not intended. Hasn’t Protestantism (and really it began with Catholicism), hasn’t the church done the same thing here with the tithe? For what? All to maintain some notion of authority that they do not have, because like Paul Dohse has said frequently here at TANC, buildings speak to authority, and what price won’t people pay for their salvation?

So what you have then is a system, tithing, tied to an institution for the purpose of maintaining control and authority.

Is there a better way or a right way? What should we be doing with our money? If we are meeting together in home fellowships, what about this issue of offerings? Should we even take offerings?

I want to focus on one particular passage here. We’re going to look at 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. Now don’t worry, I am not going to take the time to exegete the whole of these two chapters. What I want to do is establish context by providing some historical background. Chapter’s 8 and 9 teach us about giving. So by way of introduction let’s just take a look at the beginning of chapter 8 and then I’ll give some exposition.

1Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. 3For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

Take notice of the words I’ve emphasized. These are key.  If you are familiar with the book of Acts you should remember that Paul first visited Corinth on his 2nd Missionary Journey. So now Paul is writing ahead to these assemblies at Corinth and he’s letting them know that he’ll be coming through that area again. This is probably what will become the 3rd Missionary Journey. At this same time, there is a lot of persecution happening to the believers back in Jerusalem…

…by the way, let me throw this into the mix: Study the Book of Acts carefully and notice where the majority of persecution comes from. Do the believers experience persecution from secular sources? Do they experience it from the Roman government? I can think of one instance in Acts 19 with the guys who made the statues of Diana. But 99% of persecution comes from institutional religion. It is Jewish religious leaders who are the primary source of persecution against believers in this middle part of the 1st century.

So back to our text. So apparently during his 2nd Missionary Journey Paul must talk about this persecution going on in Jerusalem because at some point the Macedonians decide they’d like to take up a collection. Think of it as a sort of “care package.” They get word to Paul that they have this relief package they want to send back to their persecuted brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like what we saw happening with the early believers in Acts 2 and 4.

Now what is truly remarkable about this is that the Macedonians are experiencing tremendous persecution themselves. Think about the major cities in Macedonia: Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea. If you go back to Acts chapters 16 and 17, you can read all about the persecution Paul and Silas experience during that leg of their journey. They had this group of Jews following them around making trouble for them whenever they came into a new city. And the trouble didn’t stop after they left. We can read about all the trouble that there was in Thessalonica especially. And Paul even makes mention of that again in his letters to the Thessalonians.

So the believers in Macedonia are experiencing all this persecution from the Jewish establishment there. And notice the words Paul uses to describe them to the Corinthians. “Great trial of affliction.” “Deep poverty”. What I find remarkable is that despite their own persecution they have this desire to send a relief package to Jerusalem. They’re not thinking about themselves. They are thinking, “What can I do to help my brothers and sisters suffering in Jerusalem?”

Notice that nobody prompted them to do this. Nobody compelled them. Verse 3 say they were willing of themselves. They got no tax break under charitable deductions. They weren’t led to believe it was a means of grace. They weren’t worried about being brought up on church discipline if they didn’t give their 10%. No, this was a spontaneous response to a need that they saw. And out of genuine love and concern for their brothers and sisters in Christ, they gave, and many of them gave when they themselves had little to nothing to give. And Paul commended them for this.

There was an anecdote going around a few years back.  I have no way of knowing if it is true or not or just one of those feel-good stories that people like to circulate. This is before the time when the Internet became as widespread as it is today. This would have been before Facebook and Myspace and Instagram. People would forward things like this around through email and share it that way. But it was this story about this woman and her young children. I believe she was a widow. And their church was taking up a special Christmas offering for the poor and needy so that they could have a Christmas meal and presents and things. So the children come to the mother and they decide they want to contribute to this collection. And they know that they don’t have a lot of money themselves, but at the same time they don’t view themselves as poor and needy.

So the mom and the kids talk about how they can save money, what things can they do without so that they can have a little extra left over and give that money to this collection. And I think the mom offers to clean houses and the kids sell some toys and they go though trash looking for things they can fix up and resell. And all the time they focus on the poor needy families who will get to have a nice Christmas.

So the Sunday before Christmas this family goes to church. They put the money in the offering, and they just have all this joy because they were able to give to help a needy family. And I think you know where this is going. Christmas morning comes, and there’s a knock at the door, and they open the door and there is the pastor and his wife and a few other people from church, and they have a beautiful Christmas dinner for them and presents for the kids. And so the irony is that they got back what they gave. It’s a nice story. Like I said I don’t know if it’s true. It probably isn’t.

But I tell you this because I can speculate something similar happening in Macedonia. These people, out of love for the believers in Jerusalem figure out a way to give something to this collection going to Jerusalem, even when they have very little themselves. And apparently word of this collection gets around. Word gets to the believers in Corinth, and they decide that they want to add to this collection. They let Paul know, and Paul says, ok I’ll be back in about a year. Have your collection ready when I come back. In fact I believe Paul alludes to this at the end of his 1st letter to the Corinthians. Look at 1 Corinthians 16, he gives them specific instructions about how to take up this collection.

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.” ~ 1 Corinthians 16:1-3

Notice the expression “lay by him in store”. Paul is telling the Corinthians that whatever they decide they want to contribute to this collection for Jerusalem, set it aside, and then when they all get together on the first day of the week, bring together what they set aside. They were to do this each week so that it is already collected and they are not scrambling around at the last minute trying to get all this organized.

Paul uses this Greek word “titheto” that I told you about earlier. I want to point out that this is not a command to give a tenth.  This is not the word “apodekatoo” that means “to pay a tenth”.  Here we see “titheto” used in its correct context to mean to lay something aside in store for later.  Nowhere in these verses is there a command to bring a tenth of what they earned. He says you bring as God has prospered you. And the word “God” isn’t even in the manuscript. The word he uses for prospered means to succeed in business. So the idea is, you lay aside what you think you can spare of your surplus, or whatever you decide you are able to bring. We’ll see a similar sentiment in just a little bit, so file this away for just a second.

Fast-forward to where Paul is on his 3rd Missionary Journey, and everywhere he goes he’s telling people about what the Corinthians want to do in regard to this collection that the Macedonians started. And that’s what we read about in chapter 9.

1For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: 2for I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many. 3Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready: 4lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting.” ~ 2 Corinthians 9:1-4

Now Corinth was a prosperous city. It was a major trade route. So because of this constant flow of goods there was opportunity for people to make a lot of money in Corinth. Consequently, it is likely that many of the believers in Corinth were wealthy. So Paul commends them for their generosity. We don’t know the extent, but it must have been significant because Paul talks about it everywhere he goes. And their generosity inspires other people throughout the province of Achaia to give as well.

So Paul says that they had a year to get this collection gathered up, and since he was going to be there soon he was going to send some of his helpers on ahead (and one of them was probably Titus, because he’s mentioned in this passage) to make sure they have everything ready. It would be really embarrassing if when Paul got there that he found that they didn’t have everything they said you were going to have, especially since he’s bragged about them everywhere he went. He doesn’t want them to end up looking bad.

So this is the context. Once you have this background, then this next verse makes abundant sense. And it is a familiar one.

7Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” ~ 2 Corinthians 9:7

And of course any time the pastor gives a sermon about giving he undoubtedly points to this verse and then proceeds to mangle it to pieces. This verse sums up everything there is to know about giving among the assembly of believers.


“As he purposeth in his heart”

Look at how Paul described this with regard to the Macedonians. Back in chapter 8 verse 2 he refers to the “abundance of their liberality.” In Acts chapter 2 verse 45 we saw that the believers there in Jerusalem:

“…sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” ~ Acts 2:45

And in Acts 4 we are told again:

“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” ~ Acts 4:34-35

I will stress once again that this was a spontaneous response of these people out of the love they had for others in their family. They were not compelled to do this. And that leads us to this next point.


“Not grudgingly our out of necessity”

If your church says you need to tithe your 10%, is that giving as every man purposes in his heart or is that out of necessity?  Is it a genuine demonstration of love when it is expected of you to give? How are we supposed to give without grudge when the compulsion of the church for its members to give brings about bitterness and resentment, and can I even say, fear?

Any time you see the Body of Christ giving in the NT, what is it for?

What did James, the brother of Jesus, say regarding giving to the church?  Did he say:

  • It is your religious duty to give to the church to help spread the gospel.
  • It is your duty to give to the church to help build our new elementary school wing.
  • It is you duty to give to the church so we can give our pastor a much-deserved raise in salary.
  • It is your duty to give to the church so we can make sure the pastor has an expense account so he can take prospective members out for coffee at Starbucks.
  • It is your duty to give to the church so we can meet our missions budget this month.
  • It is your duty to give to the church so we can remodel and modernize our “worship center”
  • It is your duty to give to the church…and you fill in the blank.

On the contrary, James says the following:

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” ~ James 1:27

Notice that in all of those example I just listed, what is blatantly missing? There is no mention of widows and orphans. There is no mention of those who are in need. There is no mention of someone who is 3 months behind on his mortgage. There is no mention of someone who can’t afford her medication. There is no mention of someone who is going hungry. Are we so deluded to think that there can’t possibly be people like that in our own church? Or is it more likely that even if there are such people, the expectation is that they are still required to give their 10%. “But pastor, they don’t have anything.” It doesn’t matter, you give any way, how, “by faith”, and God will provide. Bring it into the storehouse like in Malachi 3, and God will bless you abundantly! Because if you don’t you’re going to get a visit from Bob the elder.

“But Andy,” you say, “What about the Macedonians? They were poor and they still found a way to give.” Yes, they did. But what is the difference? Was it out of a cheerful heart or out of necessity? Even in Corinth, Paul said, you give as your purpose in your heart. That means, if you are filthy rich and you don’t want to give, you don’t have to. And at the same time you don’t judge and condemn others over what you perceive they should be giving.

I am echoing much of what John Immel talked about in his third session at last year’s TANC Conference. John talked at length about Immanuel Kant and this notion of sacrifice. Kant basically said that what made sacrifice moral was when you did it out of a sense of duty, and even then it was only truly out of a sense of duty when it caused you soul-crushing pain.

What does church tell us? Give until it hurts. It’s a wrong application of the widow’s mite. The poor schlub in your church who finds a way to put something in the offering plate each week is somehow more moral and holy than the rich business owner who tithes regularly, because he’s not experiencing any pain in doing so. That rich person needs to give until it hurts. It’s his duty.

No!

Not grudgingly. Not out of necessity. But every man as he purposes in his own heart.

Think about this: In the institutional church, how much money that goes into the offering place each week gets to people who have an actual genuine need?

I said at the beginning of this session that church is big business. Consider this. In 2 Peter chapter 2, Peter is talking about false teachers and he says this.

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” ~ 2 Peter 2:1-3

Peter said that with feigned words (these guys are nothing more than pretenders) they will use you for their own benefit. They will “make merchandise” out of you. How many building programs, how many pastors’ salaries, how many books will you buy because you think these guys have the answers to life? Are you stupid?   They are using you! In fact this expression “make merchandise” is actually a word that means to trade like a commodity. They will trade you like a commodity. You are nothing more than corn or soy beans or pork bellies to them. The implication is that you will be their slave. Did you hear what I said? You will be their slave. With feigned words they will pretend to be something that they are not, and they will enslave you, and they will buy and sell you like so much chattel on the open market, and the worst part is you make yourself a slave willingly!

In a home fellowship assembly, what need is there of infrastructure? What need is there of paying a salary? What need is there of an expense account? What need is there of a missions budget?

In such an intimate family setting, what is the likelihood that the people in that fellowship will be keenly aware of the needs of the brothers and sisters in that fellowship? And when you gather together for your fellowship meal, how hard is it to say, “There’s a basket over there on the counter. Bill needs some help paying his electric bill this month. If anyone wants to, feel free to drop a few dollars in that basket so we can help Bill keep the lights on in his house.”  ” Mike and Sarah just had a baby. If anyone has some old baby clothes they no longer need, I am sure Mike and Sarah would be grateful if you passed them on to them.” “Jim is recovering from surgery. Is there anyone that would like to bring him a meal this week?”

This is what a family does.  This is what it means when we say that the Body of Christ is a family and not an institution.

~ Andy


< Part 1  •  Part 2  •  Part 3

A Historical Survey of the First Century Christian Assembly – Part 3

Posted in Andy Young, TANC 2017 by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on December 7, 2017

 The following is part three of a four-part series.
Taken from Andy Young’s third session at the 2017 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny

< Part 1  •  Part 2  •  Part 4 >


 

Breaking of Bread and the Lord’s Table

In part two we were talking about what a first century home fellowship might have looked like. I asked the question, what was the purpose of a home fellowship? What was the purpose of the believers assembling together? I made the case that the purpose of fellowship was for the mutual edification of the Body; each believer coming together and using their spiritual gifts with each believer building up the other. This mutual edification was accomplished through four functions:

  1. Through teaching of the apostles’ doctrine
  2. Through fellowship
  3. Through “breaking of bread” (fellowship meals)
  4. Through prayer

In this lesson I want to focus specifically on the function of edification through the “breaking of bread”.   As I pointed out in part two, it is normal for families to share meals whenever they get together. Since believers are part of God’s family, the situation is no different. An integral part of these fellowship meals in the first century would have been observing the “Lord’s Table.”

In 1 Corinthians 11:23-30 we have this familiar account of Paul’s talking about the “Lord’s Table.” Those of you who have grown up in church and still go to church regularly, every time there is a “Communion Sunday” the pastor will read from this passage whenever they hand out the crackers and the grape juice.

23For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. 27Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.”
~ 1 Corinthians 11:23-30

Side note: Notice that the passing around of the cup did not immediately follow the passing of the bread. The cup came after dinner, “when He had supped.” Jesus passed around the bread, they ate dinner, then He passed around the cup.

Now can I be honest with you? There was a time when those last two verses in the above passage scared the life out of me. I grew up in church. I was saved when I was 7 years old. Any time we’d have communion in church my parents always told me I had to wait until I was old enough to understand it. I think I was 14 or 15 before I finally took communion in church. But ever since then these words in verses 28-30 were always resonating in my mind: “Examine yourself,” “eat and drink unworthily,” “eat and drink damnation.”

Communion service in church is always this somber, solemn event. You have the slow quiet music, every one has their heads down and eye closed cause you’re supposed to be thinking about your sin and the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice. And the whole time I’m replaying all the events in my life since the last time I took communion. “Ok, did I miss any sin? Is there any sin I forgot to confess?”  So, I want to make sure I’m good to go because if I’m not (or I think I’m not) and I let the plates pass, I know someone is watching. Someone is going to notice I didn’t take communion.  And then they’re going to wonder, “Wow what sin does he have in his life?” So now I’m doing it for the wrong reason. I’m doing it just because I’m afraid someone will see if I don’t, and then does that make me unworthy?

So there is this vicious cycle of introspection. I hated communion Sundays because I always felt like I had to carry this burden and play this game of jumping through all these mental and emotional hoops. And then a couple weeks later I might get a bad cold and I wonder, “Oh, is God judging me because I took communion when I wasn’t worthy?” And then you have to pray and ask forgiveness for that. It ties you up in knots.

It is not supposed to be that way. The institutional church has ritualized the Lord’s Table into some mystical experience just like everything else in Protestantism, and they use the Bible to support the tradition. I maintain that the Lord’s Table was not a somber occasion of introspection but rather a time of rejoicing and fellowship.

If our aim is to get at the truth, let us first make sure we begin with the correct assumptions, and the way we do that is to take the time to set the historical context. Let us go back to the very first “Lord’s Table.” No, I don’t mean the one recorded in the gospels.  We have to go back even farther than that to the book of Exodus.

I wonder how many people in church know the real reason Jesus met with His disciples in the upper room that night before He was crucified?  We associate communion with the Last Supper, but I want to stress here that Jesus was not instituting a new ritualistic religious observance. Jesus was there with His disciples to celebrate Passover.

I say “celebrate” because that is exactly what Passover was, a celebration. It was the Jew’s way of remembering and celebrating their freedom from slavery in Egypt. Yes, there was the whole death angel thing and the blood on the door posts and everything, but the real reason for celebrating Passover was to remember their flight from Egypt.

This is also the reason why the streets of Jerusalem were crowded with people on “Palm Sunday” prior to the crucifixion. The city was swelling with people who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. In each of the four gospels we see this reference to the Passover immediately before the account of the crucifixion.

“Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified…Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.” ~ Matthew 26:2, 17-19

“And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?” ~ Mark 14:12

“Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover…Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat.” ~ Luke 22:1, 7-8

“Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him;” ~ John 13:1-2

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this. All four gospels give an account of the crucifixion. But the gospel of John does not say anything about the last supper. Verses 1 and 2 of chapter 13 contain the only mention of it. There was the Passover, and then after dinner Jesus did such and such. So John doesn’t focus on the last supper at all. He chooses to focus on the things Jesus taught them after supper. You have chapters 13, 14, 15, and 16; four chapters of Jesus giving last minute instructions to the disciples, and then from there you go to chapter 17 and the garden of Gethsemane, and then the soldiers come to arrest Him.

So having said all that, aside from the Passover lamb, what was the other distinguishing part of the Passover? It is referenced in the above verses, but if you go back to Exodus we read this:

“Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.” Exodus 12:15

So on day one, before the feast of Passover, they had to get all the leaven out of their house. Now let us not dwell on the supposed symbolism of leaven. It is not important to this discussion. But my point is that we seem to have this idea that the only kind of bread Jews ever ate was unleavened bread. That is simply not true. If that were the case, God would not have commanded them to get rid of it. There is no point in saying “get rid of the leaven” if you are not using leaven in the first place.

What is leaven? Leaven is anything used to make baked good rise. Today we use either yeast or baking soda or baking powder as leavening agents. Yeast is a microbe that eats the sugar in the dough and digests it and produces carbon dioxide gas, and that gas creates little air bubbles between the strands of gluten in the dough and makes bread rise and get big and fluffy. Baking soda and baking powder cause a similar effect by causing a chemical reaction to take place in the batter. Any of you who have ever baked a cake or cookies knows that if you let your cake batter or cookie dough sit around to long before you bake it, they turn out flat because the chemical reaction is all used up.

Now in Old Testament times (and in some other countries they still make bread this same way) families made enough bread to last a whole week, perhaps more.  And they didn’t use yeast, they would use a “starter” lump which was a small amount of dough with some kind of leavening agent in it, and they would store that starter in a clay jar.  They also had these huge wooden kneading troughs that were big enough to make enough bread for a week. When they were ready to make bread they would add the flour and water and salt and sugar and oil, then they would add the starter lump and knead that all together.  When they were done they would take a portion of that dough and put it back in the clay jar and that would become the starter for the next batch they would make next week. So when God told them to get rid of all the leaven, they were to get rid of all the jars of starter they had in their house.

My attempt at Old Testament unleavened bread

What exactly is unleavened bread like?   Is it just regular bread made without leaven? Well not quite. There is actually a recipe for it found in Exodus 29:40 which says one tenth deal of fine flour (about a gallon) and one fourth of a hin of olive oil (about 3/8 of a gallon).  This is approximately 3 parts to 1. Now I remember thinking when I saw that simple recipe that this is the same recipe for pie crust. Same ratio and everything. 1-½ cups of flour and 1 stick (which is a half cup) of butter. You cut the butter into the flour until it is all mixed and then roll it out and bake it. That’s exactly how Israel made unleavened bread. They rolled it out flat into a pan and placed the pan over the fire or baked it in an oven. And what you have is something with the light and flaky texture of pie crust. Some people think of unleavened bread being like a pita or a tortilla, but it’s not. It’s the same texture as pie crust. In a minute I’ll get to why that is significant.

So this is the kind of bread they ate with the Passover meal. Now God told them that they were to eat this bread for seven days. This would seem to suggest that it was a command from God. But in reality, it becomes more a matter of practicality than simply a command from God. In fact, if we were to look at the account we would see that this is not so much a command as it is God simply informing them of what to expect over the next week.

The the very next day after the Passover, Pharaoh is so engraged over the death of his own son that he wants the Jews out of Israel immediately. He can’t get them out of there fast enough. This is why God told Israel that on the night of the Passover they were to have everything ready. They took baths, they got dressed, and they had their shoes on because they had to be ready to flee at a moments notice. And since they put all the leaven out of the house they didn’t have time to make any bread after they left. All they had was this unleavened bread.  They couldn’t make a week’s worth of leavened bread because God told them to put the leaven out of the house.

So along with the celebration of Passover you have this feast of unleavened bread that is incorporated with Passover, and this is all part of this celebration remembering when Israel was freed from Egypt, and they ate unleavened bread for the next six days afterwards because that’s the only kind of bread they had to eat.

Fast-forward a thousand years or more, give or take. We find Jesus in the upper room with his disciples and He passes around bread to them. Can I stress this any more? This was not a new thing to them. For one thing, even if they were eating a regular meal they would have had bread because bread with the meal was part of the culture. Since this was the Passover meal, the bread was unleavened bread.

Now go back to what I said before about the pie crust. What happens when you put your fork through pie crust? It breaks. It is the same with unleavened bread – you can’t tear it or cut it, you have to break it because that’s its texture. So when you hear this expression, “breaking bread together,” this is a reference to the breaking of unleavened bread that was part of this Passover celebration.

I think there is significance to this.  As we saw in part two, when the believers gathered for fellowship one of the functions of edifying each other is the “breaking of bread.” Could it be this is reference is more than just about sharing a meal together?  Could this be a reference to New Testament believers observing the Passover and eating unleavened bread? Certainly in Acts 2 it is since at this point in the early history all the believers are Jews. Notice that they never stopped being Jews. The ceremonial feasts had special significance to them, especially now being disciples of Christ.

Fast-forward once again to our opening text in 1 Corinthians 11. Now we don’t have Jews, we have Gentiles, and quite possibly a mix of Hellenistic Jews as well, all believers, all having fellowship together. There is a strong implication in this text that they still observe Passover. We see no evidence of Jesus ever implementing any new ceremony or tradition. The only thing He said at the last supper was to do this in remembrance of Him.

Jesus’ point was that every time you have this celebration of Passover, when you break the bread, remember my broken body. When you drink the wine, remember my shed blood. So He wasn’t telling them to do anything new. If anything it was a way of saying, remember my last day with you before my death.

And along with that last day, remember everything I taught you that night in the upper room, all 4 chapters-worth in John’s gospel.

Along with that last day, remember that I will not drink this wine with you again until we drink it together in the Kingdom!

So if we are to assume then that the believers in Corinth were in fact observing Passover and eating unleavened bread for that reason, what is the deal with Paul’s rebuke to them? What is  all this talk about damnation and being unworthy?

Again, we need to start with the correct assumption, so let us try to figure out the context.  Rather that starting at verse 23 like most churches do, in an attempt to establish context, let us backup to verse 16.

16But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the assemblies of God. 17Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. 18For first of all, when ye come together in the assembly, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. 19For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”

We need to take this apart because there are several key phrases in this passage that give us clues as to what is going on, and I’ve emphasized those phrases above.   Let us start with this word “contentious”. This is the Greek word φιλονεικος (“philoneikos”). It is a compound word. You have “philos” which means “to be fond of” or “love for” (Philadelphia – city of brotherly love. Philanthopy – love for mankind.) The second part is the word “nikos” which means “to conquer or rule over.” So you have one who is fond of ruling over others. One way of translating this is “rivalrous”.

The suggestion here seems to be a class issue where you have some who view themselves to be in a certain social strata. The idea of rivalry or having those who deem themselves better than others because of their social standing runs counter to the reality of the Body of Christ. Paul says that kind of thinking has no place here. We have no such custom. Remember what Jesus said?

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, ‘Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you…’”~ Matthew 20:25-26

So here we are now in this Gentile culture, and this is what Jesus talked about. Paul says that I know you guys have this custom where you think that if you have a certain social status that that gives you the right to rule over others and entitles you to certain privileges (and that is the key word, privilege). You do indeed have a situation in these fellowships where you have people from every social strata.  You have some who are merchants, some who would be considered aristocrats in society, and then you have a large number who are bondservants. So these people are bringing these social divisions into the assembly. But that’s not going to fly here. That’s not how we do things in the assembly. In fact Paul calls it heresy.

19For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you”

What is the heresy?  Giving preference and recognition to those with a higher social standing.  Now look at this next part. Because you want to create this hierarchy of importance…

20When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:20-21

Paul says, you are not meeting for the right reason. Your motivations are wrong. You’re not here to fellowship with each other and celebrate Passover. You have the socialites getting to the assembly early, and because of their assumed privilege they don’t think they have to wait around for the bondservants to get there. What is supposed to be a time of fellowship and mutual edification has turned into a drunken slosh fest. And then by the time the bondservants and other latecomers get there, there is no food left and they go hungry. Now Paul gets really nasty.

22What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the assembly of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:22

Here’s the distinction – those who have houses to eat and drink in, (the privileged, the elite, the rivalrous, those who are fond of ruling over others) and those who have not. The have’s and the have not’s. This is the clear social distinction that they seek to bring into the assembly.

Now when you consider what these home fellowships had turned into, especially when it came to celebrating Passover and Paul’s scathing rebuke of them, these next verses should make abundantly more sense. We have now come back to where we started.  This is really not that difficult to understand when we start with the correct assumption. Let’s begin with verse 27. Paul has just finished reminding them that with the Passover is a remembrance of Jesus’ death. Now he says this:

“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:27

Guilty is the key word here. When we hear guilty we immediately think condemnation. And since Protestantism has this focus on the law being the standard for righteousness there remains this notion of still being under law and being under condemnation. So then was it ever any wonder that any of us had this nagging anxiety in the pit of our stomachs every time we took communion? Wondering, “Am I guilty?”

This word translated “guilty” is the Greek word ενοχος (“enochos”). It is derived from a root word that means to hold in or to be liable for. It carries with it a sense of responsibility. It does have a legal usage. When we speak of liability we are talking about legal responsibility.  The law in every state requires drivers at minimum to carry “liability” insurance on their car.  That means that you are legally responsible (liable) for any damage done to someone else’s property in the event you cause an accident.  Liability also has an accounting usage. You have assets and liabilities. Assets are things that add value, liabilities are things that take away value.

Do you see what Paul is saying here? Are you going to take responsibility for your behavior?  When you come together for fellowship are you an asset to the fellowship or are you a liability?  If you start behaving the way these Corinthians were, especially when it comes to the Lord’s Table, you are a liability. Write that word “liability” in the margin of your Bible.

“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be a liability of the body and blood of the Lord.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:27

You take away the value of it. Furthermore, verse 29.

“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:29

For some reason this word is consistently translated “damnation”. The Greek word is κριμα (“kreema”) and it means judgment or the sentence rendered by a judge. It is a legal word. It carries with it no religious connotation. It is the root word in several other familiar words in the NT for example.

κρινω (kreeno) – the process of rendering judgment. Legal proceedings. (“kreema” is the derivative used above in verse 29)

διακρινω (dia-kreeno) – discernment. Judging between.

κατακρινω (kata-kreeno) – to judge against – condemn; condemnation

All of these words appear in some form in this passage in 1 Corinthians 11.

Damnation has a religious connotation and implies eternal condemnation in hell, or Sheol, or ultimately the Lake of Fire. Notice what happens when you talk about damnation in the context of this passage. When you tell people that if they take communion and they are somehow not worthy, they are in danger of damning themselves to hell. Can you see how this can be confusing? It is confusing because you are starting with the wrong assumptions, the wrong premise.

Now without straying too far off track let me put it in these terms. You have people thinking this way because Protestantism is a religion that keeps people under condemnation on purpose. You tell people they need to live by “faith alone.” You tell them Jesus keeps the law for them. You tell them any time they think they’ve done a good work that they put their justification at risk. And now you’ve got this very same kind of perpetual introspection going on during communion when they are supposed to be celebrating and remembering. And now they think, “Wow, if I am unworthy to take communion, maybe I’m not really saved. Maybe I need to ‘get right with the Lord.’ Maybe I need to respond to an alter call. I don’t want to take communion when I shouldn’t be and end up being damned.”

What’s Paul saying? Three words are in play here; judgment, discernment, and condemnation. Let us consider these verses with a better understanding of these three words in their context.

“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation (kreema – judgment) to himself, not discerning (dia-kreeno) the Lord’s body.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:29

“For if we would judge (dia-kreeno, use discernment) ourselves, we should not be judged (kreeno, have the need to be judged, go through legal proceedings).” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:31 

“But when we are judged (kreeno, when we go through legal proceedings), we are chastened (it is for the purpose of Fatherly discipline) of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” – ~ 1 Corinthians 11:32

This is so simple. This is the difference between discipline and condemnation. This is the difference between being under law and not under law. The world is under law. When they are judged, they are condemned because they are under law. But when God “judges” us, it is for the purpose of Fatherly discipline and not condemnation. Can this be any clearer?

Let me make this as simple as possible. Use good discernment.  That is Paul’s rebuke to the Corinthians. They were not using good discernment. This drunken fest into which they turned the fellowship and the fellowship meal was not using good discernment. And in the process they became a liability to the Body of Christ. Do I need to go through all the verses about our “conversation,” our way of life, the way we conduct ourselves in this world? Do I need to go through verses about controlling our bodies, controlling ourselves, because this is part of our sanctification?

Do you see the application here? Use good discernment so that you are not a liability to the fellowship. Peter said judgment must begin at the household of God. This is what he means. Use good discernment, and if you don’t there may come a point when discipline and correction is necessary so that you do not become a liability. This is why Paul said what he said in verse 30.

“For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:30

This isn’t God striking you dead. Yes, it may be Fatherly chastisement, but this is simply God allowing the natural consequences of your behavior to take its toll. Think about it. If you have this drunken fest going on and people are eating and drinking themselves to excess, what kind of toll is that going to have on the physical body? And if you have others showing up late and there is no food for them, are they going to get nourishment and be healthy and robust? So it affect both groups of people here. It doesn’t just affect the individuals using bad judgment, it affects the whole assembly.

So what was Paul’s solution? Just wait for everyone to get there. Verse 33

“Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation (kreema –judgment). And the rest will I set in order when I come.”
~ 1 Corinthians 11:33-34

Bad word. It is not the word for condemnation. It is the word for “judgment” or “discipline.” The kind of judgment that results from using bad discernment.  Condemnation has to do with sin and eternal damnation.

To be continued…


< Part 1  •  Part 2

A Historical Survey of the First Century Christian Assembly – Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on December 6, 2017

The following is part two of a four-part series.
Taken from Andy Young’s second session at the 2017 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny

< Part 1  •  Part 3 >



What Did a First Century Assembly Look Like?

Can we all agree that Protestantism has no clue? The exception would be the big dogs at the top; men like Piper and Sproul and MacArthur; leaders of academic institutions and seminaries. It’s clear that the laity is confused about what they believe, but I believe that many pastors are just as confused as the laity.

Their confusion is evident any time you try to have a discussion with any of them. They don’t know how to reason. The only thing they know is how to regurgitate what they were taught in seminary. They all have the same playbook they read from, so any time you ask them a question that requires them to think or honestly evaluate their orthodox position on a matter, they simply double down on the same pat answers.  They revert immediately to some “authority.”

I remember the last conversation I had with a pastor. This would be almost 3 years ago. We left the church in Columbus in 2011 and we started going to a small country church not far from where we live. And so this would be I think January or February 2015, maybe even before that.  We had made the decision that we just needed to get out the institutional church once and for all. So my wife convinced me to talk to the pastor.

I just wanted to leave.  I told her there was no point in talking to them because it wasn’t going to do any good. But I wanted to make my wife happy, so I went. I met with the pastor and the assistant pastor one evening after dinner, and I must have sat with them for about an hour and a half. And I tried to explain what I thought was wrong with the current church model.

They just didn’t get it. They were completely sold out to the authority of the institutional church. They couldn’t fathom any other way of doing things. And the laity is the same way. We had someone comment on the blog not too long ago, “Oh I like the home fellowship idea, but how do you guard against error?” Here is part of his comment:

“You say Jesus is the authority, and He certainly is, but here is the issue: Who decides what interpretation of Jesus’ teaching is apostolic? David Koresh had a home fellowship (please know I am in NO WAY comparing him with you) and he had the same Bible and yet they were full of errors. Where is the protection of sound doctrine if every Christian were to decide to start their own ‘house’ church?”

So when I first read that my initial response was, ok David Koresh was the authority. So this guy is worried that home fellowhships might end up like the Branch Davidians without authority, but they had an authority in David Koresh and they still believed error. So his point is irrelevant because having authority is no guarantee that you are not going to have error. In fact, I would go so far to say that it is error that produces the perception for the need of authority. The authority of Protestantism and the institutional church is actually the logical conclusion of the error they perpetrate.

What has John Immel been trying to ingrain in us for the last 5 years? Assumptions drive behavior. The authority of the institutional church is the product of their assumption. I am going to channel John Immel here – Man is depraved. He is existentially evil. The nature of his existence is evil. He is fundamentally flawed so that he cannot perceive truth. Because he is fundamentally flawed, because his mere existence IS evil, he is he is disqualified from being able to take action for good. He must therefore be compelled to take action for good, and because he must be compelled the take action, that requires some authority to exercise the use of force and violence if necessary.

So you see authority is ALWAYS what you get when you start with the wrong assumption. But what if you start with a different assumption? What if you assume from the beginning that man IS competent; that man DOES have ability? Then that means authority is not necessary. The apostles did not exercise authority over the assemblies. They taught doctrine and persuaded through reason. And if people didn’t believer their arguments, they were free to go live their lives. They were the ones who had to answer to God. The apostles weren’t going to stand in judgment in their place.

Now I am going to say one more thing about authority before I get into what a 1st century home fellowship looked like. I made the case in a blog article a few years ago that elders were optional. 1 Timothy chapter 3 lists the qualifications of an elder, and

Bob the Elder: ever vigilant for false teaching on the horizon!

the word is really better translated “overseer.” The Latin form of this would be “supervisor.” First of all the function of an overseer or supervisor is not one of authority. The Greek word is επισκοπος (epi-scopos), and the etymology of the word actually describes someone who stands at the top of a fortress wall as a sentry looking outward for any signs of danger. A sentry has no authority. He has no command authority. His job is simply to send out the warning cry when danger is coming so that appropriate action can be taken.

This is the way it is with an elder (overseer) in an assembly of believers. He might be gifted to teach, but his role is that of a sentry looking out for danger and warning others to take appropriate action. (In the same sense he is a soldier; a warrior!) Note: he has no call to compel the action. He cannot force others to take action. All he does is sound the warning cry.

The other point I want to make with regard to 1 Timothy 3 is that in most of your Bibles you see the expression, “if a man desires the office of a bishop.” The Greek manuscript says nothing like that. The word “office” is not in the manuscript. In fact the word “man” isn’t even in there. The way this verse literally read in the Greek is “if any desire oversight.” Let me say this a different way so that you understand. “If any desire to be overseen.” Different wording, but it communicates the same idea. The desire to have an overseer begins with the assembly. Overseers are optional. The assembly gets to decide if it wants an overseer or not.

Paul goes on to say further that if you want an overseer, that is a good thing. It is probably a good idea to have someone on guard duty. If there is danger out there (and there is) you probably want to have someone who is adept at finding it, seeing it early, and warning others to take action (perhaps even willing and able to engage in battle). But such a person has no call to exercise authority to compel other to take action. And Paul then goes on in the rest of the chapter to list the characteristics of someone who would best be suited for this kind of job.

So what kinds of things go on in a home fellowship? What happens when believers meet together for fellowship? Perhaps the first question should be why? Why do we meet for fellowship? Are we even commanded to? How often? I believe the best example we have is found right at the very beginning.

42And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the assembly daily such as should be saved.” ~ Acts 2:42-47

This example of believers’ fellowship is repeated for us in Chapter 4:

32And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” ~ Acts 4:32-35

Actually, if we wanted to we could make the case for an even earlier example of believers’ fellowship at the very beginning of Acts. If you remember on the day of Pentecost you had 120 believers in an upper room. What do you think they were doing? Even before that, you had the Eleven with their family members, probably also in an upper room where they cast lots to decide on a replacement for Judas Iscariot. There was this period of approximately 10 days from the time Jesus ascended into heaven to the day of Pentecost. What do you suppose they were doing for those 10 days?

Just something to think about, you know, because Protestant orthodoxy tells us that the church started at Pentecost. Well, no, believers were having fellowship together before that.

“All things common”
So if we go back to Acts 2, we have this expression “all things common.” Now, everyone here associated with TANC Ministries are solid individualists. Anyone who follows TANC Ministries is most likely an individualist himself. We believe in the rights of the individual and the notion of private property. The idea of Americanism was founded on the Enlightenment ideologies of individualism. So when we come to a verse in the Bible that talks about “all things common,” I imagine that would have a tendency to make us cringe a little on the inside.

In fact many will point to passages like this in the Bible and use that to make the case for collectivism. But let us not make the mistake of taking the collectivist ideology of “common good” and conflating it with the Biblical understanding of “all things common.” They are not the same things. When Luke wrote the Book of Acts he did not have in mind the “common good”. Luke is describing the characteristics that all believers share in common with each other.

Let’s take apart this phrase “all things common”. First, the word translated “all” is the typical Greek word παντα (“panta”), but it is preceded by an α (“alpha”). Now in most Greek words, the letter “alpha” serves as a negative particle and negates the meaning of a word. For example “a-nomia.” Nomos means “law,” so “a-nomia” would mean “no law” or “lawless.” But in this case, the “alpha” has a breath mark on it, making it pronounced with an “h” sound, so this would be “ha-panta”. What this does is gives extra emphasis to the word it modifies. So when Luke says “all things” he is emphasizing “all” absolutely. It qualifies the extent of the meaning of all. It is all things absolutely.

The word translated “common” is the Greek word κοινος (“koinos”). This same word provides the root for the word κοινωνια (“koinonia”) which is often translated “fellowship”. I’ll talk more about this idea of “fellowship” in just a little bit. Common can be understood a couple of different ways. It can mean common as in shared by all. If you look at the circles to the right, you can see that one is red and one is green. I might ask you, what do these two circles have in common? They are both circle, but we could also say they are both the same size. We could get even more specific and say they have the same radius, the same diameter, the same circumference, the same area.

Question: does their sameness at all take away from their individuality? What if they were the same color? Would they cease to be individual circles? No. Notice that even though they could be the same “absolutely”, they still remain individual circles. Their individuality is preserved. Really the only way to make both these circles absolutely the same would be for them each to occupy the same time and space, and then what you really have is only one circle, and you have effective destroyed both in the process. You no longer have two distinct individuals.

This word for common has a parallel meaning in the Hebrew that is often translated as “profane.” Now we usually associate profane with profanity or foul language. But the basic meaning of profane means common. In my 2014 session we looked at holiness and we learned that the opposite of holy was profane. Throughout the OT there was often this contrast made between the holy and the profane. Profane in this sense carries with it the idea of being ordinary or regular or everyday or just like everything else; common.

This might not be the case so much these days, but when I was growing up we had a set of regular dishes for everyday use, but we had a special set of dishes that we used for company or for holiday meals. In the true sense of the words, the regular dishes were profane, and grandma’s good china was holy. There was a distinction made. Now there was nothing magical or mystical about grandma’s china.  It didn’t have bestowed upon it some dispensation of divine power or attributes.   What made it special was the fact that it was set aside for special occasions. If we used grandma’s china every day it would no longer be special.   This is the difference between holy and profane or common.

So when we say that these first believers in Jerusalem in the 1st century had all things common, we mean that they were all just like each other. They shared certain characteristics that made them just like every other believer. So what were those characteristics?

They are part of God’s family.

What does it mean to be part of God’s family?

  • Born again
  • God is their Father
  • Jesus is their Big Brother
  • They have God’s righteousness (because they are born of God)
  • They are free from condemnation
  • There is no sin
  • They are free to love through obedience to the law.
  • They are part of the Body (εκκλησια “ekklesia” – “assembly”)
  • They have spiritual gifts – edification (well talk about that in a minute)

Now let me ask you this. Does having all things absolutely in common mean that everyone was identical? No. Each person still retained their individuality. Think about their professions. You had merchants, skilled craftsmen, skilled laborers, you had those who were slaves (δουλος “doulos” – bondservants). You had each person being productive in themselves, producing those things necessary to sustain life, each in their own way. And yet they had all things in common. When a merchant was born again did he give up being a merchant? When a bondservant became a believer did he cease to be a bondservant to his master? Incidentally, you often had the situation of masters and their bondservants both in the same assembly of believers who were born again, and yet their earthly relationship to each other didn’t change.

So each person in these assemblies of believers are still productive individuals. Each is pursing a value exchange for the things that are necessary to sustain life. But then you have this line in verse 45 of Acts chapter 2.

“45and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”

The same sentiment is repeated in chapter 4:

“…neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common…34Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”

“As every man had need”
So what is going on here? Let us put this in context. Here we are in Jerusalem and the immediate area and however far out in Israel the gospel has gone thus far. We learn in a few chapters that is has gone as far north as Damascus. In fact you have this individual by the name of Saul; a devote Pharisee; well versed in the law; studied under Gamaliel. Saul has received written authorization from the Jewish leadership to go out and find believers and put them into prison (or even execute them in many cases).

Now imagine you are a business owner in Jerusalem, or you are trying to sell your product at the local market. People know that the religious leaders are looking to arrest believers. Do you risk your customers finding out that you are one of these believers? Or how is your business affected by the knowledge that you are a believer? How many customers quit on you because of hatred or fear? What if you are a worker and your employer finds out you are a believer? How many people find themselves out of work because of their faith? Try to speculate on all the various circumstances in which believers in Jerusalem immediately find themselves. This is the kind of persecution that was a reality for many believers in these assemblies.

Now despite this persecution, you still need to eat. You still need clothes. You still need a place to stay. You still have a family for which to provide. What do you do? Most people go to family. But what do you do when your family has cast you out? Remember last lesson we talked about getting thrown out of the synagogue and the stigma that goes with that? Where do you go?

And this is where this reality of the Body of Christ being a family is so vital. We are a literal family. We are all brothers and sisters. And when one of your family members is hurting, when another part of your body is hurting, there is this natural desire to care for those who are hurting. And this is what you see happening in Acts 2 and Acts 4. You have the Body of Christ recognizing a need, seeing other members of the Body suffering under persecution, and then taking action to meet that need.

What did they do? They didn’t go to the government and demand everybody pay taxes to confiscate wealth and redistribute it. This is important – of their own volition they sold their surplus and brought it to the assemblies so that it could be given to those who were in desperate need. Why was that? Because they had all things common. Yes, what they sold was the result of their own production, but they also recognized what they had in common; they were a family.

I’m going to talk some more about giving in the assemblies in another lesson, but let me make one more comment on this point. Lest any of us should think that this is an argument for a welfare state, let me remind you of this. In Paul’s 2nd letter to the Thessalonians, he said this:

“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
~ 2 Thessalonians 3:10

Do you remember the context of this verse? You originally had a situation where the believers there thought they had missed the rapture. And they were also concerned about what happened to their dead relatives. Would they see them again in the Kingdom? And Paul assured them that death was not the end, in fact the dead are going to be raptured first, in the First Resurrection. And he also gave them a list of things to look for that had to happen before the rapture occurred.

As a result, by the time Paul got around to his 2nd letter to them, what happened is you had a handful of people who decided that they were just going to sit and wait around for the rapture. If Christ could come at any moment, then why bother working? And then these freeloaders would come to the fellowships and mooch a free meal off of everybody.

Now it is one thing to be out of work or in need because you are under persecution. It is an entirely different matter to willingly refuse to work when you are able to do so. It is one thing to be unable to work because of immediate circumstances; it is another to choose not to work because of laziness. So if we contrast these two situations where in Acts you have persecuted believers having their needs met by others in the assembly versus in Thessalonica where you have people refusing to work, I think you can understand the difference. When we say “all things in common,” we are talking about making sure each other’s needs are met because we are a family, and a family cares for itself. But I think the implication is clear that such care is meant to be temporary, and the expectation is that the individual in need will resume providing for himself as soon as he is able.

“With one accord”
We just spent all this time looking at what it meant to have all things in common, and I think this next point relates to it. It should seem pretty obvious then what “one accord” means, but lets take a look at it just for sake of clarity.

The word in the Greek is ομοθυμαδον (homo-THOO-ma-don). It is made of the prefix “homos” meaning “at the same time or place,” and the root THOO-mos meaning “passion”. Literally it refers to heavy breathing or the kind of breathing that results from exerting effort. If you are passionate about something that means you put your all into it. You exert effort. Homothumadon suggests being together for a common purpose, and it was a purpose that these believers were passionate about. They dedicated all their efforts toward it. You can see how this is related to the idea of having all things in common. Not only did they have a common family, but they shared a common purpose.

“With singleness of heart”
There is another expression in Acts 2:46 that is worth noting. It says that when they met for fellowship they still maintained their cultural Jewish heritage by meeting regularly at the temple. But they also went from house to house and shared meals together. I’ll talk more about this in a moment, but notice that they did this with “singleness of heart”.

Now this seems to simply be another way of saying “with one accord”, but look at the word. In the Greek it is the word αφελοτησ (ah-fell-AW-tace). Literally it means “without stubbing your toe on a stone.” Now the picture here is of what in their culture they would refer to as a stumbling block. Jesus was called a “rock of offense” or a stumbling block. The idea is a road paved with flat stones, and as you walk along you don’t see that one of the stones has heaved up a little bit and you trip on it. (You take offense at it).

This word aphelotase refers to a path that is smooth and even, and you don’t trip on it. It refers to simplicity. In this context, “singleness of mind” means that you don’t have any hidden agenda. No hidden motive. You are not “double-minded.”

When the believers met for fellowship there was no false agenda. They were there for one simple purpose.  In part one we talked at length about what the purpose was not. It was not for the purpose of worship. We talked about worship and what it means to worship “in spirit and in truth.” Basically that worship does not happen at a place, so we don’t assemble for worship. Worship is what happens whenever we show love through obedience to the law. Worship is when we show love to God and to others. So we do this every day. When we behave like the children of God that we are, we are worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth because we are doing what He made us to do.

So then if the reason we assemble is not to worship, why do we assemble? The answer can be found in Ephesians.

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:”
~ Ephesians 4:11-12

The entire epistle of Ephesians is a fantastic treatise on the subject of the Body of Christ. Paul develops a logical progression of thought about the “mystery” that was hid from Old Testament saints; that God would join Jews and Gentiles together into one Body that would be neither Jew nor Gentile. Paul refers to this as the New Man. In chapter 4 Paul details that the giving of spiritual gifts was for the express purpose of edifying the Body of this New Man.

At last year’s conference I talked about the exercising of spiritual gifts in love. I want you to notice how Ephesians 4 closely parallels 1 Corinthians chapter 12. The idea is that every believer has a specific gift. These gifts are analogous to physical body parts and the functions they perform. It should be clear then that the purpose of gifts is to allow the body to function as a whole; to do what it was designed to do. In this case, the Body’s purpose is to go out and spread the gospel and make disciples.

When we gather together with other believers, this affords us the opportunity to use our spiritual gifts. They don’t benefit us directly. We use our gifts to help build up other believers. Building each other up makes us stronger and it equips us to have the skills and the tools we need to go out and tell others the good news of the Kingdom. Therefore, the purpose of the assembly is not to worship, but rather to provide an opportunity for mutual edification of the Body. Let me repeat that. The purpose of assembling together is for mutual edification of the Body.

Now that mutual edification happens through four functions. And Luke lists them for us in Acts 2 verse 42.

1. Edifying the Body Through Doctrine
Not to be accused of “scripture stacking”, let me show you these to make the point about how the believers were taught from the apostles.

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” ~ Romans 16:17

Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” ~ Philippians 4:9

“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” ~ Colossians 2:6-7

“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;” ~ 2 Timothy 3:14

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions (“paradosis” – precepts) which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” ~ 2 Thessalonians 2:15

“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:” ~ Titus 1:9-10

“That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:” ~ 2 Peter 3:2

Teaching is the major function of the assembly. To have teaching you have to have a teacher, and a teacher is one of the spiritual gifts. One thing about a teacher: He needs to be able to persuade. But the most important job of a teacher is to teach people HOW to think, not WHAT to think, that’s indoctrination. That’s called state sponsored education. Teaching isn’t having people remember facts and figures. Teaching involves training people how to apply abstract concepts to life in a rational manner.

So when you’ve got teaching going on in a home fellowship, a teacher should be taking the apostle’s doctrine and not saying, “Believe this or else.” It is, “Here is why this is so, and here is the best rational argument for why this is so.”


2. Edifying the Body Through Fellowship

I’ve already talked about this notion of having all things common. The word common is the word κοινος (“koinos”). The word fellowship then is derived from koinos.  It is κοινωνια (“koinonia”). It means a partnership. Of course the best partnerships are the ones where the partners have something in common. Common goals, common interests. So the purpose of believers assembling is for fellowship, to share in that commonality, to be an encouragement to each other, to love and support each other, to rejoice with each other, to weep with each other. Look at these verses and think about this notion of fellowship and what it means.

God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” ~ 1 Corinthians 1:9

And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” ~ Galatians 2:9

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:”~ Ephesians 3:9 (New man)

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” ~ 1 John 1:7

And we could also add all the “one another” passages to this. Take your Bible software and look up the phrase “one another” and then apply those verses to this function of fellowship and you get the idea.

Of course there is a negative aspect of fellowship. You have verse like these:

“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
~ Ephesians 5:11
 

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”
~ 2 Corinthians 6:14

Do you see the logical reasoning behind this? Fellowship has to do with what you have in common. So Paul begs the question, how can you have anything in common with that which is not righteousness? How can light be a partner with darkness? The answer is, it cannot. You cannot “fellowship” with darkness and unrighteousness because you have nothing in common. The whole notion is the antithesis of what fellowship is.

This is why I find the whole notion of bringing unsaved people to church ludicrous. They have no business there. It can be of no benefit to them because they have nothing in common with believers. The strict definition of church is the assembly, the Body of Christ, for the mutual edification of the Body. How can you edify someone who is not part of the Body? You cannot.

This is why believers are ambassadors. This is why evangelism is an individual mandate. Each member of the Body needs to be equipped to go out to the lost, preach to them, and in preaching they hear, and in hearing they believe, and when they believe, NOW they are part of the Body, and they can join the assembly and be edified. That is fellowship.

3. Edifying the Body Through Breaking of Bread
I have a friend who comes from a big Italian family. His “nana” is from the “old country” as you say. And as is the custom with Italian families (and I guess this is true with any large family) it wouldn’t be a family gathering without food. That’s just the custom. You get family together, you eat. And some families can put out quite a spread!

So it should not be unusual that when the believers assembled together in the 1st century that their time of fellowship involved sharing a meal together. This expression “breaking of bread” has become a euphemism for having a meal, but it has its origins with the Lord’s Supper, or the Last Supper, or the Lord’s Table, or whatever you want to call it. So the suggestion here is that the Lord’s table was an integrated part of their fellowship meal. It wasn’t a separate ceremony or “ordinance”. It went hand in hand as part of the fellowship meal. And I am going to talk more about that in detail in part three.

4. Edifying the Body Through Prayer
This one should go without saying. I don’t think I need to mention the importance of prayer. How many references could I cite, countless, where we are instructed repeatedly to pray for each other, pray for he unsaved, pray for our political leaders, pray for peace, pray for healing, pray for safety, pray for deliverance.

I have often found it remarkable as I read through the New Testament all the people Paul mentions in his letters, and all the people for whom he prays. Can you imagine just how much time Paul must have spent in prayer; the number of people he came in contact with? I wonder how big his Facebook friend list would have been? But seriously, how much time must he have spent in prayer and still find time to write to the assemblies, and earn a living, and eat, and sleep, and travel?  I think such a realization would have to be a rebuke to all of us because I know I certainly don’t pray as much as I should.

So there must have been a lot of time dedicated to prayer in these assemblies for all the needs that there must have been. Think about what great prayer warriors these early believers must have been.

So there you have it. The four functions of the assembly, all for the central purpose of mutual edification of the Body. All so that we can go out and make disciples. I don’t think it is unrealistic to have home assemblies once again in the 21st century that function the same way. Really what you see in the home fellowship is brothers and sisters behaving like a family. It’s really that simple. We are part of God’s family. We are his born again children. And this is how He wants his children to behave: loving each other, serving each other, and building up each other.

To be continued…


< Part 1  •  Part 3 >

A Historical Survey of the First Century Christian Assembly – Part 1

Posted in Andy Young, TANC 2017 by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on December 4, 2017

The following is part one of a four-part series.
Taken from Andy Young’s first session at the 2017 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny

Part Two  •  Part Three >


 

Clearly there is a problem with the institutional church. But what is the alternative? I honestly don’t believe that Jesus ever had in mind what passes today for “the church”. Ironically what we see today in the beast that is institutionalized religion is frighteningly reminiscent of the religious and political climate in which Jesus found Himself during His ministry. And I daresay that He would be any less harsh with the likes of the John Pipers and the John MacArthurs and the Kevin DeYoungs of the world than He was with the scribes and Pharisees.

So what is the alternative? Does the Bible prescribe a model for us to follow. I will say outright, no there is no prescribed pattern. In other words there is no place in the NT where any of the apostles said this is how you meet and this is what you do.  We can, however, come to a better understanding of just what God had in mind when He chose to make mankind His literal offspring.  Let us begin by examining the forerunner of the 1st century assembly, the Jewish synagogue.

 

A History of the Synagogue

The word synagogue is from the Greek word συναγωγη (soon-a-go-gay). It is made up of the prefix “soon” meaning “together with” and the verb “a-go” meaning “to lead or bring”. Literally then it means “a bringing together.”

There is very little information regarding the origin of the synagogue. Most of what is assumed about the synagogue is due to tradition. This is because the synagogue is so closely associated with Jewish institutional religion. Most people simply assume the synagogue was a central fixture among Judaism going back as far as Moses.

However the origin of the synagogue is probably much more recent than that. Some historians believe that the synagogue evolved out of necessity during the time of Babylonian captivity. Since the captive Jews had no access to the temple in Jerusalem for worship and sacrifice, spontaneous assemblies of Jews would meet in their local communities for times of prayer and teaching. These captive Jews would gather at a location central to their community, perhaps someone’s home. In time, many would erect buildings for this select purpose. These buildings were called “Beth K’nesset”, or “House of Assembly”.

If the name alone doesn’t suggest that these buildings existed for a sole purpose, consider also that the configuration of these buildings had dedicated certain rooms for specific functions; one room for prayer, another for instruction, and so on. Some synagogues even had fully organized religious schools.

Excerpt http://scheinerman.net/judaism/Synagogue/history.html

“What happened to the Jewish people in Exile in Babylonia? We know that Exile lasted for 70 years, until Babylonia was conquered by the Persian Empire under King Cyrus, who gave the Jews permission to return to their land and rebuild their central sanctuary. During those 70 years in Babylonia, Jews settled and built homes, started businesses and raised families. They faced an unprecedented religious crisis: Exiled from their homeland and unable to offer sacrifices to God, since offering could only be made in the central sanctuary in Jerusalem, the Jews in Babylonia wrestled with whether their covenant with God was still operative. The prophet Ezekiel, who had preached before the Destruction and who had gone into Exile with them, assured them the covenant was eternal, and that God would some day return them to their Land. He shared with them a vision of valley of dry bones which God would bring back to life, covered with muscles, sinews, and flesh, a divine sign that the nation Israel would one day be resurrected from exile to live again as a nation in her own Land. In the meantime, to preserve their traditions, it seems that the Jews in Babylonia gathered together on market days (Mondays and Thursdays) and participated in some combination of worship and study. Some scholars believe that these gatherings gave rise to worship services, and that prayers were composed for use at this time which were eventually brought back to the Land of Israel when some of the Exiles returned, and incorporated into the cult worship when the Second Temple was eventually built.

“Most of the Jews in Babylonia, however, remained there even after King Cyrus permitted them to return to the Land of Israel. By then, most Jews had been born in Babylonia; some were even the children of Jews born in Babylonia. They had built homes, businesses, and lives in Babylonia. While sacrifices could be offered only from the altar in Jerusalem, prayers could be offered anywhere. The focal point was still Jerusalem, however, as we know from Daniel’s prayer — he faces Jerusalem when praying to God. In time, schools of study grew in Babylonia, especially in the aftermath of the Destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 69 C.E., where prayer and study were full-time activities for the learned class. By the first century, synagogues emerge as the central institution of Jewish life once the Temple is destroyed, a place where study, worship, meeting, celebration, and civic meetings take place. There were synagogues not only in Babylonia, but in Alexandria and throughout the Land of Israel, in places such as Dora, Caesarea, Nazareth and Capernaum”

Hang on to that idea “central institution” because I’m going to come back to that.

After the return to Israel following captivity, the synagogue remained a vital part of the Jewish community even after the reconstruction of the temple. In Jerusalem alone, at the time of its destruction in 70 AD it is estimated that there were between 390 and 480 synagogues.

Synagogues were the cultural center for the Jews. It was as if they were expected, because they were Jews, to gather at the synagogue on the Sabbath. But since the synagogue was also the place where teaching took place, I can conceive groups of Jews going to the synagogue at different times during the week for instruction or to attend community functions of some kind.

Synagogues were not restricted to specific locations. No uniform design or floor plan existed, and so each community of Jews was at liberty to build their synagogues as they saw fit to meet their own requirements. They could be located on the seashore, along riverbanks, in the center of town, or even in private dwellings.

As such, the synagogue was also often used as a place of lodging for travelers. Many private dwellings in this culture often contained fully furnished third floors for the express purpose of housing visiting out-of-town family members. Therefore, it is likely that purpose-built synagogues or private dwelling used for that purpose may have been constructed with the same third flood lodging space. Consider this, the term “inn” that is found in Luke 2 that was already occupied by the time Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem is more properly translated as “guest chamber” and could refer to this upper room of a private dwelling. Indeed, this guest chamber, as well as the upper room where Jesus and the disciples held the “last supper”, the upper room where the 120 disciples in Acts 2 were filled with the Holy Spirit, and the third floor window out of which Eutychus fell when he fell asleep during Paul’s marathon teaching session in Acts 20 could have very well been in a synagogue.

Now you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to do this. Anybody with some kind of rudimentary Bible app with a search function can do this. You can quickly search your Bibles and you swill find no mention of synagogues in the OT. Now there might be one exception to that in Psalm 74, which I believe is a lamentation regarding Israel being led into captivity. There is one mention in verse 8 about the enemy burning up all the synagogues. But in that instance the Hebrew word translated synagogue is referring to fixed times and seasons or more specifically festivals and the places where those festivals were held and does not necessarily imply a synagogue in the sense we know it per se.

Furthermore, there is no commandment to be found anywhere in the OT instructing the Jews to build synagogues. However rabbinical Jews will suggest otherwise. Now this is organized, institutional religion we’re talking about here. We’re talking traditions, we’re talking orthodoxy. Look at what they do. They claim that that Torah mandates that Jews follow all properly instituted decrees accepted by the community at the time the decree was made.

That is to say this – here is the logic behind this: They claim the Torah commands that everyone follows the decrees of the religious leaders. So if the religious officials make a decree that says you must build a synagogue, then the command to build a synagogue is sanctioned by the Torah. This is how they conclude that synagogues are a Torah-mandated institution. And the scripture they use to back this claim is Deuteronomy 17:11.

“According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right hand, nor to the left.”
~ Deuteronomy 17:11

Now looking at this verse, there is a huge problem here.

This verse is the conclusion of a larger context that is dealing with legal matters. You’ve got a dispute between two parties. Moses says if you cannot resolve the matter, you go to the place that God appointed for judgment. You go to the Levites and they will settle the dispute. And when the Levites render a judgment, you will do exactly as they say according to their verdict.

Notice this is very specific context to this verse. And what did the Jewish religious leaders do? They took a verse in scripture and applied it to an incorrect context. They took something that was talking about rendering a judgment in a legal matter and said, this verse means we are commanded to do whatever the leaders tell us to do. This is orthodoxy or tradition with Bible verses hung on it. In this case this is how they get to synagogues being a scriptural mandate. They have conflated religious orthodoxy with scripture.

And this is the thing I want you to get out of all of this. Synagogues today are still characteristic of ancient Jewish synagogues. But what I think has become obvious by now is that synagogues also share in common many characteristics of today’s institutional church.

Notice the progression. Let us accept the assumption that synagogues began as a means to fulfill a cultural void during Israel’s captivity. This happened spontaneously – of its own accord. It was local. It was within specific communities. This was the result of what happens when individuals get together and figure out a way to solve a problem. But look at what happened over time. Look at what happened when some authority got its hands on it. It became institutionalized. Synagogues today and synagogues in the 1st century drifted far from what they were originally intended to be.

Is this not a parallel to what happened with the church? First century believers met spontaneously in local assemblies. They probably began in these same synagogues, but I would imagine that due to being a follower of Christ being in conflict with the religious orthodoxy within the synagogues there in Jerusalem, many of these believer found themselves ousted from their local synagogue. There were no longer welcome there.

In John chapter 9 we have the account of a man who was blind from birth and Jesus came along and healed him. The Jewish leaders wanted to know who it was that healed him. In fact, they didn’t believe at first that this man was ever really blind. They went to his parents, his parents said, look he’s a grown man, he can speak for himself. You need to discuss this with him. And John says that the reason the parents said this was because they were afraid that they would be thrown out of the synagogue if they acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah.

When they came back to this man who was healed they asked him again. And what’s funny about this is the man gets kind of testy with these guys. He says, you already asked me this question and I already told you. And then he says, why are you so interested in Jesus? Do you want to be His disciples too?

And then he becomes even more impertinent with them. He says, you guys say you are disciples of Moses but yet you cannot answer if Jesus is the Messiah or not. This man who healed me – not everyone can do that. Only someone from God could do that. And these religious leaders got really angry at this point and they say, how dare you instruct us! And at the end of this account we read that they threw him out of the synagogue.

So I’m sure this kind of thing happened over and over in Jerusalem with the early believers. So they began to assemble and fellowship among themselves out of necessity. And I’ll get into more of what that might have looked like in later lessons. But here you have believers meeting spontaneously, seeing a need and finding a way to solve a problem. They had need of fellowship, they had a way were they could exercise their spiritual gifts for the purpose of building each other up. They had a way of providing for those among them who were in need. And this goes on like this for the first 50, 60, 70 years or so.

And then what happens? Some authority steps in and decides to centralize all the fellowships under one umbrella. You have the institutionalization of the home fellowship into what becomes the institutional church.

So this is my point. You can see what happens here.   There is this parallel between the synagogue and the institutional church.

 

Worship in the Synagogue

Now one other way in which we have a similarity between synagogues and the institutional church is with this notion of worship. In each of the sources I came across as I was researching the history of the synagogue, this idea of “worship” kept coming up. Every source was stuck on this notion of the synagogue being a center of worship. I saw this repeatedly.   And I think in our modern culture, and as historians review this information from the past, history becomes colored with the current understanding of the meaning of words, and so this idea of “worship” somehow implies some kind of ritualistic observance; some kind of liturgy or progression of acts that one performs toward a deity, and this is called “worship.” It might be reciting a prayer, reading holy writings, listening to a sermon, giving offerings, some kind of sacrifice.  This notion of worship then is applied to Christian worship and the institutional church.

One might ask the question, why do we go to church? I remember one time in particular when one of my own kids asked that question. Now, there are several fundamental fallacies with that question which I’ll get to, but lets take the question for what it is. The orthodox answer is we go to church to worship God. And that sounds like a reasonable answer.

Well, right off the bat, there is one glaring fallacy that should be obvious in the question itself. Why do we go to church? Stop right there. What are you assuming by asking that question? You are assuming that church is a place to which you go. So from the start the question is irrelevant because you should reject the premise of the question.

But assume you get past that faulty premise, the next thing you need to ask is what is the definition of worship? Worship is a modern English word that simply means to ascribe worth to something. Our understanding of the English word worship is not what the Greek and Hebrew words mean. We understand worship as this ritualistic experience that we somehow believe is required of us by whatever deity we happen follow.

And Christians are no different. If you don’t believe me, then ask yourself why you run yourself ragged every Sunday. Christians love to talk about a day of rest, but consider what you put yourself through every week. You get up at the crack of dawn, probably the same time you do for work during the week. You shower and primp and make sure you look your best, putting on your best clothes so that no one will think you’re not “fit for worship.” If you have kids, you run around the house trying to keep them corralled, getting them dressed and fed and washed and primped and then making sure they don’t get rumpled or dirty before you get to church. If you teach Sunday School, you have to get to church extra early to get things ready for your class. Oh wait, I have a committee meeting after the morning service; sorry honey, that roast you have in the oven at home is going to have to wait. And I’m sure there are any number of scenarios you could add to the mix.

You put it all together, and for a day that we are told is to be a day of rest, Sundays are probably the most stressful day of the week. To be quite honest, I came to point where I hated Sundays. And it wasn’t because of the doctrine I was going to hear. It was because of the hassle and just how exhausted I knew I would be at the end of the day.

All of this for some vague notion of worship.

But what did God have to say about worship?

Probably the best treatise on worship in the Bible is found in the gospel of John chapter 4. Now I will get there eventually, but I am going to set up some background first. A little more Jewish history. Many of you will probably already be familiar with this, but since most churches only view the OT in a redemptive context and have little to no interest in the historical context, I’m sure there a great number of people who will not comprehend the significance of just what is taking place in John chapter 4. This is why I am going to take the time to lay this groundwork.

So, Israel wanted a King. In the early history of Israel they were governed by judges, and then a little later God dealt with Israel directly through the prophets. So during the time of the prophet Samuel the people looked around at the other nations around them and saw their kings and their prestige, and they came to Samuel and said, hey, we want a king too. So God conceded to their desires and gave them Saul. Of course Saul ended up being a man who was rife with character flaws, so God unseated him and put David in Saul’s place, and you have this dynasty of kings that issues forth from David’s lineage. The next king following David was Solomon who is traditionally known as the wisest man who ever lived. Solomon too ended up having some character issues at the end of his life, and this ended up having direct bearing on what happened with his son, Rehoboam, who succeeded him. Because of the things Solomon did at the end of his life God said He would rend the kingdom from his son.

So there was a man named Jeroboam who had been a servant of Solomon. And one day a prophet came to Jeroboam and he told him that God would give to him ten tribes of Israel. So when Solomon heard this he wanted to kill Jeroboam. Jeroboam flees to Egypt, Solomon dies, and Rehoboam becomes king.

So now Jeroboam hears the Solomon is dead. He goes to Rehoboam and tries to make peace with him. Rehoboam doesn’t know what he should do. He calls in his advisors. The older, wise advisors say, yes make peace with him, give his what he asks for. The younger advisors who grew up with Rehoboam said, here’s what you say to Jeroboam. You think my father treated you harsh? Just wait!

“And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins. And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” ~ 1 Kings 12:10-11

So Jeroboam ends up leading a rebellion against Rehoboam. Jeroboam prevails, and the kingdom is divided. So you have the ten tribes of Israel to the north, also known in many OT scriptures as “Ephraim,” and you have the kingdom of Judah to the south.

Now here’s where it gets tricky. The temple is in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is part of the southern Kingdom of Judah. The Jews were required by the Moasic law to go to Jesursalem for all the major feasts, Day of Atonement, Passover, and so forth. They were supposed to bring gifts and offering to the priest in the temple at Jerusalem. Now that you have a divided kingdom you can imagine that for the people in the northern kingdom this would prove to be troublesome. I’m sure there were many devout who would still make the pilgrimage despite the tension between the two kingdoms, but for the most part, not many people are going to risk getting in the middle of this political powder keg.

Jeroboam realizes this, and being a shrewd leader he also realizes that if people keep going to Jerusalem they might eventually turn against him. And he says this in 1 Kings 12:

“Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan. And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.”
~ 1 Kings 12:28-31

And of course you know then the northern kingdom was infamous for having all manner of idolatry, and you know what happened with King Ahab and Jezebel and so forth.

Now I set all that up to bring us here. When we get to John 4, Jesus is in Samaria – the region that was once the northern kingdom. So already we are in a region that according their history and religion forsook going to Jerusalem for worship.

Second, we have to take into account the time of captivity. After 70 years, you have Ezra who leads a remnant back to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. But not all of those who return settle in Jerusalem. Some will go back to their homeland. And now they are accustomed to this practice of having a synagogue, assuming this was a practice that started in Babylon. Also by this time the synagogues have the beginnings of becoming institutionalized. So then for the next 400 years or so you have created a culture where it is perfectly acceptable to worship in a synagogue instead of making the trek to the temple in Jerusalem. These synagogues are going to be located wherever it is convenient, whatever a particular community needs. You are going to have all manner of “traditions” develop. And so when Jesus meets this woman at the well in John chapter 4, this is the background she’s coming from.

So now we will finally get to the text of John 4. This is a very familiar passage of scripture, and typically most teachers will focus on the first part of this account where Jesus offers this woman the “living water”. I want to focus on the second part of this interaction beginning with verse 19. So lets begin by reading there.

19The woman saith unto him, ‘Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. 20Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’”

Now before we go on I want to interject something here. The King James translates prophet with the indefinite article “a”. But in the Greek, the word prophet is preceded by the word “hoti” which is the demonstrative pronoun “that”. So what this woman is actually saying is, “Sir, I perceive that you are that prophet.”

Now just a few chapters earlier in John, we have all the people coming up to John the Baptist and asking him are you the Christ, are you Elijah, are you “that prophet”? So who exactly is the one identified as “that prophet”. This is actually a reference to Deuteronomy 18. Moses is talking to the children of Israel and he says this.

“The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;” ~ Deuteronomy 18:15

“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” ~ Deuteronomy 18:18

So this tells us two things. First it tells us that the people in Israel at this time have been waiting for this prophet to come along that Moses talked about. But second, it tells us that this woman at the well had some knowledge of Mosaic Law. Not only was she aware of Moses speaking about “that prophet”, but she also knew enough to know that Mosaic Law required certain types of ceremonial observances to take place in Jerusalem at the temple.

Now this woman is a thinker. Clearly she has some cognitive dissonance going on in her mind because of this conflict she perceives between her understanding of Mosaic Law and the traditions and orthodoxy she grew up with. Remember this all this historical background we’ve just covered?

Furthermore, she senses something different about Jesus. She recognizes Him as more than just a teacher. He knows all about her and who she is and has made this offer of “living water” to her. She sees Him as more than just a teacher but as an authority who might be able to help her resolve this conflict she has in her mind.

Notice how Jesus answers her question. Verse 21

21Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.’”

Understand that in the Old English, the word “ye” is a plural, collective form. So when Jesus says “ye”, He doesn’t mean her specifically, he means “all of you”, or “you” in a general sense. People in general. So what is Jesus point? He says, you’re really asking the wrong question. You are getting all hung up about a location, about WHERE worship happens because you have a wrong assumption about worship. How do we know this? Look at the next verse. 22

22Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.”

Now let’s skip this phrase at the end, “salvation is of the Jews” because that can be a whole other study on its own, and if you want to discuss this later we can do that. But I want to stay focused on this idea of what is worship.   Jesus says you are all preoccupied with “where” to worship you don’t even know “what” you are worshipping. “Ye know not what.”  The Greek word is “iedo” and it means to perceive, or “to see”, in this sense “see” meaning “to understand”.

Jesus says we5* understand worship because we know what salvation means. Or perhaps Jesus is really saying, to understand salvation is to understand worship. Look at the next verse:

“23But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. 24God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
~ John 4:19-24

So worship doesn’t happen at a place. It is not the fulfillment of some ritualistic requirement of your favorite deity. It doesn’t matter if you worship in this mountain or at Jerusalem. There is coming a time (in fact, it’s already here, it NOW IS) when true worshippers worship in spirit and in truth. Worship doesn’t happen at a place. Worship happens in spirit and in truth. Now what does that mean?

Well let’s consider this. What did Jesus come to do? He came to die on the cross to end the law. That OT covenant that was the last will and testament of Jesus Christ; that OT law that imprisoned sin. It acted as a guardian to all those who believed God. Their sins were imputed to that Law. There was a promise of a new birth. Jesus died, He ended that testament, and not only did He take away all sin with Him when he ended that testament, but the promises that were in that testament could now be realized. A will cannot be executed until the testator dies. What’s in a will? It’s a promise to the people mentioned in it that they will receive some benefit upon the death of the testator.

So now, all those OT saints who died under the old covenant, who are waiting in Sheol, who were under the protective custody of the Law, now the law is taken away, and the promise of the New Birth is realized. Anyone who understood the OT scriptures should have understood this.   This is why Jesus was so incredulous at Nicodemus – he was a teacher of Israel and he had no clue what it meant to be born again.

The New Birth makes us God’s literal offspring. We are born of the spirit. And as such we are no longer under condemnation. Now we are free to go and live lives pleasing to our Father. We can aggressively pursue obedience to the Law and thus show love to God and to others. What did the apostle Paul have to say about that?

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
~ Romans 12:1

This is where Paul makes the transition from justification to sanctification. At the conference last year, John Immel spoke about sacrifice as the highest moral ideal and how this notion of sacrifice permeated everything in the culture, and still does as a matter of fact. In fact it’s gotten even more insidious. Now you take that cultural expectation of sacrifice, and you overlay it on top of what Paul is talking about in Romans, and what you see is that Paul loves to take jabs at current cultural norms.

Paul’s audience was familiar with the concept of sacrifice. Now he takes that concept and turns it on its head and talks about being a “living sacrifice”. What impression must that have made to the people in that time? Paul, sacrifice means death. How can you sacrifice yourself and still be alive? And the answer is you can’t, and that is the irony that Paul uses so effectively here. To them sacrifice was their idea of worship. Sacrifice was something that was expected of the gods. But you have to get rid of this notion that worship means you have to sacrifice something to your god – big “G” or little “G” god. That’s not worship.

Paul says that as a believer, to be a living sacrifice is your reasonable service. Now the word there for service is the word “latria”, and the root word is used to refer a hired menial servant. Not a “doulos,” that is a bond servant. This is a “latria,” a menial servant. In fact I would not be surprised if this is where we get the word “latrine.” They had public toilets in the Roman empire, so cleaning one of these public facilities would be considered a menial job.

What’s interesting is that this word can also imply worship. Guess what. When you go around and demonstrate love to God and to other through aggressive obedience to the law, you are being a living sacrifice. Every time you show love to God and others, you are worshipping. Paul said this is reasonable. The word there means logical. This is the logical conclusion of what it means to be a child of God. As God’s child the least you can do is be a living sacrifice. The least you can do is show love to God and others, and when you do that you are worshipping. That is what it means to worship in spirit and in truth. That is the kind of people that the Father seeks to worship Him.

Now before I conclude this lesson, let me make one other little side note here. If worship then is defined as the result of showing love to God and others, do you have to be a believer to worship God? Think about the answer to that and we can discuss that afterwards.

I think it should be obvious at this point, that worship is not something that happens at a place. Yet institutional religion tells us that we must go to a place to worship. Not only are they wrong about salvation, and justification, and a myriad of other doctrines, they don’t even understand the true meaning of worship. They are like this woman at the well to whom Jesus said, “You don’t even know who or what you worship.”

Notice how much today’s modern institutional church mirrors the culture of the 1st century Jewish synagogue. Jesus didn’t intend for His Body to be an institution that follows adherence to a strict religious code of conduct, feigning some obscure notion of worship and thinking that will somehow earn them points with the elder and keep the salvation train rolling along. He intended for His Body to operate as a family under the idea of love; fellowshipping together, encouraging each other, building each other up, using their gifts. This is the least we can do. This is being a living sacrifice.   This is worship. This does not, this CANNOT happen in an institution.

In my next sessions, I am going to spend some time looking at what happened in a typical 1st century assembly, what they did, and contrast that with what’s going on today in institutional religion.

To be continued…


Part Two  •  Part Three >

2017 TANC Conference Archives

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on August 25, 2017

Videos from all sessions are now available!!!
(Updated 8/27/2017)

Conference Wrap-Up Video (YouTube)

Susan Dohse – “In Search of the Biblical Eve”

Session 1
Session 2
Session 3
Video (YouTube)
Video (YouTube)
Video (YouTube)


Paul Dohse – “Protestantism’s Redefinition of Reality”

Session 1
Session 2
Session 3
Video (YouTube)
Video (YouTube)
Video (YouTube)


Andy Young – “A Historical Survey of the First Century Christian Assembly”

Session 1
Session 2
Session 3
Session 4
Video (YouTube)
Video (YouTube)

Video (YouTube)
Video (YouTube)


John Immel – “How To Debate a Calvinist”

Session 1
Session 2
Session 3
Session 4
Video (YouTube)
Video (YouTube)
Video (YouTube)
Video (YouTube)

 

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