Paul's Passing Thoughts

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 >

Christmas, Family, Life, and Church According to the Dohses

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on December 17, 2013

ppt-jpeg4Most people who read here know me simply as “paul,” but I am Paul Dohse, one of the “Dohse” family. In case anybody hasn’t noticed, the world is a crazy place, and mostly perplexing to the reasonable soul. This week, amongst the craziness that is unavoidable in this world, the word “family” came up often.

Perhaps there is not a word that is used more loosely. The usage found most incredulous is employee as “family.” The Olive Garden restaurant used to have a commercial that said you are family while you are eating there: “When you’re here, you’re family.” Motorcycle gangs are often touted as family also. Many claim that the mob or some street gang is the “family I never had.”

So, is “family” a company, an Italian gathering of gluttony, or a criminal enterprise? I think it is something much deeper. I think God wires family within us. Family must be defined by watching it over time. Family is a mystery—something deep, it can only be defined by what it does.

However, some elements of family are evident, and that’s where the confusion comes in. Families supply a need, or a perceived need; for example, money which leads to confusing a job with family. A residual need supplied by an entity does not make a family. A family is a refuge that enables one to stand against the world.

And, I have learned something about families by examining the Dohses. We have something to add to the conversation. I have noticed that some families act different from our family, and I wondered, “why?”

Many things make up the Dohses, but I think since I do not have the rest of my life to fully evaluate us, as would be the necessary discipline to evaluate any family comprehensively, I will choose the most prominent place in view at this time. I think what primarily makes the Dohses the Dohses is the Whistmans, my grandparents. A family forged by an orphan named Elwood who had little family.

Now, I will describe their motif, but we must go deeper; what forged this motif? They were just simply always there. Their little plot of land in a secluded area of southern Ohio was a refuge away from the world—if family, no reservations required. And though counseling was always available from my grandmother—no qualifications required. My grandmother was a woman of deep convictions; God is a Democrat and she would never back down from that fact, but if you were family, you could be a Republican, and many of us are. Really, she set that standard for the Dohses; you make your position known and then you get on with being family. Besides, the hope of “I told you so” always lingered in the future.

No qualifications, only hope of a better future. As a young person, I often lost touch with my grandparents, but sometimes needed a refuge, a time away from the world. I would simply pack a bag and throw it in whatever I was driving at the time. Arrival time had to be planned for 7pm, this set the scene that was as sure as the setting and rising of the sun. The clanging of the gravel driveway aroused my grandmother from her chair in front of the TV, on channel 3, and my grandfather would remove the pipe from his mouth and ask, “Who is it?” My grandmother would stand at the door and announce who was arriving. Upon walking in the door, the conversation was a continuation of the day before, whenever that was. It was 25 steps to the guest room with the suitcase, and then 15 steps to the leftovers being placed on the table: rabbit, fried potatoes, beans, marinated cucumbers, chicken, and without fail, “I’m sorry that there isn’t much to eat.” No reservations needed.

Importance of family was forged into my grandparents by life itself. My grandfather was an orphan, and married into my grandmother’s family of seventeen siblings. During those times, the formation of a large family required the courage of love. They laughed together, worked together, supported each other, and mourned together when one of their own was struck down by the world. Their family, our family, was spared no category of tragedy. My mother, as a young girl, would go to the post office daily to check the posted list of fallen soldiers during WWII. Our family members were on that list too many times. My grandparents were a perfect symphony of one rescued from loneliness into the different seasons that come part and parcel with family. Hence, family was invaluable to them.

What good is any narrative about family without a juicy confession? This isn’t off-topic, and I will explain. Being a Dohse has taught me about another entity that uses the word, “family” loosely. That entity is the church. It shouldn’t be that way, that’s not what God intends, but it is. Since becoming a Christian in 1983, the church has taught me life’s most important truths, but it has never been my family. I have observed this mystery called “family” over the years and drawn a conclusion: The Dohses are a family, not the institutional church.

Why is this? It’s because Christians are not thinkers. This problem started in the Garden. God created Adam and Eve, and they talked with God face to face. Then the serpent came along and convinced Eve that thinking for herself was a bad idea.  And the institutional church also thinks the same. You are not able to reason directly with God, you need a spiritual expert. The key to revival in the American church is the thinking Christian. When God said, “Come, let us reason together,” that wasn’t a memo given to the institutional church—He is talking to you. Until Christians figure that out, the claim on family is no more relevant than the same claim posited by Wal-Mart. As a Christian, and in the darkest hours when the world sought my life, it was the Dohses that spared no sacrifice in giving me refuge. It was the Dohses who did all they could, it was the Dohses who left everything on the field except that look that said, “if only I could do more.”

Church is a family as long as you agree with them. Yes, truth is important; the love of truth defines a Christian for God is truth, but Christian truth in our culture is defined by the traditions of ecclesiastical experts and parroted by lazy thinkers obeying the commandment that supposedly thunders from Mt. Sinai: “THOU SHALT NOT THINK FOR YOURSELF!” The gospel of oligarchy produces a family that is best defined by a used car salesmen—you are family while you are buying a car from him.

The Dohses also hold forth some valuable examples that are residual. It is a family of people who have always sought to focus on something bigger than themselves. This is helpful. Failure seems to be somewhat irrelevant; the goal is what is relevant. This eliminates a lot of pettiness. Yet, I must confess, the loyalty motif among those of different religions, politics, race, and sexual preference, in essence, the Dohses, is still a mystery to me.

Recently, my wife of three years, Susan, and I have endeavored to blend her family with the Dohses. And that’s who we are, at least to the degree that I can make sense of it. We are opinionated because we think for ourselves, we are diverse, at times very annoying, but always there. No reservations needed.

So, this Christmas is a major holiday, an opportunity to recognize family, not cheap substitutes that don’t have to live with you. This is the day we raise our glasses for a toast, and say, “Us against the world.” And somewhere grandmother is with us in a spirit born of a time when the world launched a blitzkrieg against her family. And she approves.

And this is my vision for my family: that we will all live together in eternity—you know where I stand. And this is my vision for what people in our day call church: that thinking Christians would stand, and these two would kiss: family and truth.

In both, the hope of a better future, Christ in us, the hope of glory.


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Matthew 18 and Family Harmony

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on June 30, 2012

As I have said before and will say again: Matthew 18 is not about so-called “church discipline.” Matthew 18 is about reconciliation and keeping the peace in ALL relationships. These are principles set forth by Christ that make us successful in our Christian endeavor for peace and harmony at work, home, and church. The only instruction regarding the church performing THE actual discipline on a believer is when an elder sins. The church is to rebuke him before all so that the other elders will fear. Other than that, there is self-discipline, and the Lord’s discipline which takes place within the church; and when a congregation breaks fellowship with a professing believer that is committing blatant public sin and is obstinate about it—outside of the church where Satan is used to destroy the flesh so the soul can be saved on the day of redemption.

This letter is posted with permission because I think it can be helpful to others. It is a letter to a son by a (step) father who is using the wisdom of Matthew 18 to resolve family conflict. Other spiritual issues that often occur in mixed families are addressed as well. This is from an actual real-life situation, and I suspect, not all that unfamiliar to many.


Though you profess to be a Christian, you continue to display an utter indifference to godly counsel. This is at the root of many problems in your life right now, and affects the lives of others as well. The Scriptures not only distinguish believers and unbelievers by what they profess/believe, but also by what they do. James challenges Christians to show their faith by what they do, and I would like to follow James’ example and challenge you in the same way.

Not only do you show an indifference to the finer details of biblical counsel, you become agitated when confronted, and make the imperfections of the messenger the issue—complete with a long list of how your fragile sensitivities have been violated. Your problem is with God. He tells you many things that you do not want to hear or follow. We all struggle with this at times, but you continually throw the gauntlet down at God’s feet as a lifestyle.

The latest episode is no exception, and we must now address it accordingly. You sat at more than one family devotion here where Matthew 18 was taught. You know the procedure and God’s wisdom behind it. Yet, when you had a problem with your mother and me, you did not come to us “alone,” you went to your brother who was in no wise involved. The Bible calls this, “gossip.” Furthermore, you later went to your mother without me present when you clearly had ought with both of us. This propagated further sin, as your mother entertained the conversation without me present. Again, your problem was with both of us.

Your assumption is that God winks at such things. I assure you that he doesn’t, and the results of not doing things God’s way continues to wreak havoc in your own life coupled with a refusal to recognize how it affects others. In regard to others, you are astonished that they protest this reality; apparently, because you are worth the trouble in your own eyes. Though the mother of your child has issues to say the least, this is even the case in regard to her at times, and I implore you to consider that in her case—God has a purpose for her being involved in your life. We all need to remember this. She is NOT the enemy! I say this to my own indictment: she is a ministry.  Where has the gospel been shown to her in all of this?

Moreover, after doing everything in this latest situation your way, and not God’s way, what you did do at the end was also anti-biblical. Unbelievable. If I didn’t know better, I would say that you actually make an effort to do things the wrong way. But I do not think this is the case; I believe you unwittingly think that you know better than God. Though you would say that is ridiculous, your life states a contrary claim.

So what did you do wrong when you finally got done with your wrong procedure? Four things, lest it only be one more. First, you failed to remove the log from your own eye before you removed the splinter from your mother’s eye. The events surrounding this situation alone, starting back at the hospital when your son was born, supply ample data alone without mentioning the rest of your life.

Secondly, disregarding all of the time and money that your mother has invested in your son, and for that matter, you as well, you harshly disregarded all of it and judged her on one event. The Apostle Paul angrily addresses this kind of judgment towards others in the second chapter of Romans.

Thirdly, you have always expected a full investment of emotional capital into your son regardless of the uncertain future that you have created in this situation that would prevent such investment from ending in heartbreak. I have watched from afar as your mother has poured her heart into this child, while your indifference to the possible discontinuance of that and her subsequent heartbreak looms on the horizon like an ugly beast.

Fourthly, because you know more about raising children than God, your son throws temper tantrums and screams/cries/yells at will, and at the behest of every environmental change that he is able to detect. Regarding your son’s mother, it’s not all her fault—own your part. In this case, your mother and I driving away to make an appointment prompted such response, and you used that to accuse your mother and I of heartlessly driving away from your son after supposedly refusing to say goodbye to him while he cried in the street. In light of what your mother has done for that child, I find this accusation disgusting, deplorable, and evil. Let there be no doubt in your mind—I will not tolerate your heartless/ evil manipulation in our household.

The Scriptures make it clear; we will all have a propensity to not honor our parents. Even at my age, I confess that I struggle with this in my relationship with my own mother. Though I love her, I often make other things a higher priority that shouldn’t be. With the exception of your younger brother of  late, you and your older brother do not recognize this biblical warning in the least. Your older brother I understand, his honestly in regard to rejecting God’s counsel is worrisome, but more honorable than your profession of Christ and subsequent disregard for His lordship in your life—further rejecting His name of “Savior AND LORD.”

Your mother has endured this dishonor in many ways, and for many years for fear that she would lose the closeness she so longs for with her sons. She loves you so much, that your dishonor is a small price to pay for the privilege of relating to you which you hold over her head as a ransom for getting your own way with her. She is not stupid, she knows this is the case, but again, sees it as a small price. But the price is much larger than she realizes. People who love to the degree that your mother does— have difficulty assessing such cost. Let me be brutally honest; I do not have her gift of love to that degree, and as her lover and protector, the cost to her is easy for me to assess.

Your mother has laid her very life on the alter for you boys, and it is high time that all of us contribute to a blessed, peaceful, happy, environment for her in these latter years that should be a retirement from the 20+ year (brutal) war she has fought to hold this family together.

But no, in your book, all bets are off because she was less than perfect in her utter emptying of herself for you. How dare her not serve your “needs” perfectly! While right now I am fairly disgusted with you, I see your gargantuan selfism as an opportunity for God to be abundantly glorified. I see a hope for a time when you and I are closer than true brothers in the unity of Christ. But unless you awaken to reality, this will not be possible, and I refuse to let your mother continue to pay the price.

Lastly, this is where we are at. You have been confronted, and we are not obligated to grant forgiveness if it hasn’t been requested along with a commitment to change. You are unreconciled to your family. This by no means states that you will be ostracized, for our intentions towards you have always been, and always will be love, but it does mean that this unresolved issue may come up in every conversation that we have with you in the future if we do not choose to cover your offence with love.

Nevertheless, let me clarify what is expected beyond a case where you fail to see the need to ask our forgiveness resulting in reconciliation. As an emancipated “adult,” you will honor our commitment (though at times lame) to do things God’s way in this household, and you will not hinder those efforts via your disregard for God’s ways of doing things. You will not display your unwillingness to honor your mother in this household or by other means of communication outside of this household. If you will not at least respect the direction that this family has chosen, recognizing in the very least that we have a right to do so, separation may indeed be necessary.

Life is a gift from God. Christians are called to peace. Though we have allowed your poor choices to constitute emergencies on our part, even emergencies that were predicted, your disregard for us choosing to accept that with little confrontation, and your expectation for more of the same, with no remembrance of the former or thankfulness thereof, will no longer take place.

Make an appointment for purposes of reconciliation, or duly note the last two paragraphs. Your response or non-response will be applicable. I have received word that you are “sorry” for what happened, and I don’t doubt that, but the past 20 years  are fraught with “I’m sorry” with little result or change of behavior. Why is that? Again, go figure, God has the answer: mere “I’m sorry” without repentance is what the bible calls “worldly sorrow.” Repentance shown forth by a determination to change for the sake of the gospel is what pleases God and yields results. This requires a renovation of how we think, as well as what we do.