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 >

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A Prayer in the Storm: The Reality of the Power of Prayer – Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on January 13, 2017

This article is the conclusion of a story that began in my previous post. You can read part one of that story here. I now pick up where I left off.

I hate to admit it, but it is an unfortunate reality that Christians, myself included, only start “serious” prayer in times of crisis. Once the crisis passes the tendency is to not give much thought to it afterwards. I don’t think that necessarily means we have an unthankful heart. Perhaps it is the way we are naturally wired to just keep on living life as normal. Once God answered my prayer dealing with my own personal crisis, I didn’t give much thought about it either after that…until the very next day.

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My concession trailer with the mechanic’s shop in the background

Ashley, Ohio is a small village of about 1,200 people, located about 30 miles north of Columbus.  At the time of that storm in 2013, I was operating my concession trailer in front of a mechanic’s shop. The mechanic shared the building with his son who operated a tattoo shop. It was not unusual for me to serve lunch on a regular basis to the guys who worked there.

If you recall from part one of my story, I had prayed something very specific the night before:

With your mighty hand right now, please reach down and move this tornado away to a safe area where it won’t bring any destruction to anyone.”

Thursday afternoon the guys in the tattoo shop came out to get lunch, and naturally we were talking about the storm from the pervious night. It had been a slow evening for them that night, so they had been outside taking a break and watching the storm as it approached. They saw those same ominous clouds I had seen, and those same clouds were now coming straight towards them. The one who was recalling the events to me said they were just getting ready to head for cover inside the building when something happened. He said that all of a sudden the cloud stopped moving towards them, changed direction, and then headed north and went around Ashley. He told me, “It was as if someone had reached down and moved it.”

Those were his exact words!

I was incredulous. The man from the tattoo shop had used the very same words to describe what had happened that I had used when I prayed to God the night before. Not only did God answer my prayer, but He answered it specifically as I had asked! I stood there dumbfounded. I had never had a prayer answered in this manner before. Immediately I thanked God for not only answering prayer but also for the way that He did it.

To this day I still do not know what to make of all this. How many times have we as believers prayed and asked God for things only to not have them work out favorably, if He even answers at all, whether it be healing for a sickness, financial situation, a choice of career, or some other life-changing event? To me, after having an experience such as the one I’ve just told you, I think it raises more questions than it answers.

We are coming out of a Protestant dark age. What we know about prayer is limited to only what we have been told according to orthodoxy. We read in our New Testaments about the great and mighty works accomplished by the apostles and others and how mightily their prayers were answered, and one should ask the question, “Why don’t those things still happen today?” Is it because, as we are told by pastors and elders, that was just a special time in church history? That God doesn’t work that way any more? Or is it because that we have bought into the notion that asking for such things is “selfish” and outside of the realm of “God’s will”.

With much boldness I will stand and pose this question here and now: Why is it so presumptuous of us to simply ask God for the things we want?

If, as Protestantism asserts, the metaphysical assumption of reality is a deterministic construct, then I will state right now that prayer is pointless, regardless of how much preaching on the power of prayer is done from the pulpit. But what if, as I believe, reality is not deterministic? What if our understanding of what is meant by “God’s will” is not what Protestant orthodoxy has told us? What if we have much more power at our disposal than we realize? What if it is as simple as the apostle James says, “you have not because you ask not?”

Does a loved one have to die of cancer simply because we were never bold enough to ask God, in the name of Jesus, to take away their cancer? Does a close friend have to suffer the remainder of his life with diminished mental capacity due to a traumatic brain injury suffered in a fall? Why do we always couch our prayers with, “…if it be Your will”? Will God actually NOT answer the desires of our heart simply because we didn’t ask for them? Do we limit the potential blessings that could be ours simply because we think it’s wrong to even ask? Are our prayers ineffective because we fail to make them specific and with the boldness of an expectation of getting what we ask for?  What about the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? Doesn’t God sometimes want us to rely on the “sufficiency of His grace?”

These are very hard questions, and unfortunately I don’t have the answers. I do, however, believe that the answers are knowable, but it is going to take the collective effort of all of God’s people set free from the slavery of religious institutionalism who set out on a journey of discovering the answers for themselves and sharing with others what they have learned. Each one is a piece to the puzzle.

What have I learned? I know that as God’s own righteous offspring, we have a Father who wants to give good gifts to His children. I know that if we ask God for a piece of bread, He won’t give us a stone. I know that if we ask God for a fish, He won’t give us a serpent. He will give us specifically what we ask for. O that we may have the courage to ask it! Amen.

~ Andy

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A Prayer in the Storm: The Reality of the Power of Prayer – Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on January 13, 2017

To this day I’m still not quite sure what to make of the events that transpired almost 4 years ago. Perhaps that I’m committing it to words is simply my way of trying to make sense of it all. There is nothing dogmatic in what I am about to tell you. I can only share with you what my own experience was. But I think there is a lesson to be learned in it all.

It was late spring of 2013. My wife and children were spending the week in Pennsylvania visiting family. This had been an annual occurrence for us since our oldest had been a toddler. The church in which my wife grew up held vacation Bible school each year at this time, and the kids looked forward to it every year. I, however, had to stay home alone for the week since I had a business to run. For the self-employed there are no such luxuries like vacations and “sick days”.

Of course this was also before we had made the decision to leave the institutional church once and for all. Having left a church in Columbus that had been taken over by New Calvinists, we were currently attending a small country church about 20 minutes from our house. Granted, it was half-pregnant with authentic Protestantism (yes, I borrowed that expression from Paul), but it seemed to us to be a reasonable alternative at the time.

Like most loyal church-goers, we tried to be there any time the doors were open, and that included the mid-week prayer meeting. On this particular Wednesday evening in June the forecast called for unstable weather. When you live in the mid-west that translates to severe thunderstorms and the risk of tornadoes. It’s a reality you learn to live with, and so you just go about your life without giving much thought to it. Skipping prayer meeting that night never crossed my mind as an option.

The “service” started out pretty uneventful, but around 7:30 when we broke up into groups for prayer it began storming heavily outside. By the time we were dismissed around 8, the storminess and heavy rain had passed, and it looked like it was starting to clear up. But that was just the beginning.

I am an avid listener of talk radio, and consequently the radio in my car is permanently tuned to the local Columbus conservative radio station. I started my car, and as the radio came to life, since I usually just leave it on all the time, I immediately heard the repeating beeping tone every 5 seconds over the broadcast. That meant only one thing: a serious weather warning was in effect.

When the national weather service issues a “tornado warning” that means an actual tornado has been spotted. So when I heard the radio announcer say that a tornado was spotted near Ashley, Ohio, my heart must have stopped twice. Not only was Ashley about ten minutes from my house, but Ashley was where I operated my business, and my concession trailer was currently parked there. All in one instance both my home and my livelihood were at risk of destruction! It was the most helpless feeling in the world. What can you do in a situation like that where everything is completely out of your control?

I did the only thing anyone can do in that situation: I prayed…HARD!

That twenty-minute drive home was probably the longest twenty minutes ever. As I listened intently to the radio report, I kept one eye on the road and one eye to the sky straining to see through breaks in the trees for any signs of a funnel cloud in the general direction of home. Unfortunately, the skies in that direction did not look promising. But I remembered a promise that Jesus gave to His disciples during His ministry on earth.

“And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” ~ John 14:13-14

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” ~ Matthew 7:7-11

The reality of those words had a powerful impact on me. As a little child I would never have hesitated to ask my dad for something I wanted, and unless my dad decided that it was not something that was good for me, he would not have hesitated to give me what I asked so long as it was in his power to provide it.

As a child of the Heavenly Father, why would it be any different?

So I claimed those promises right then and there. As the radio blared, I prayed out loud:

“Father, you have promised us in your word that you would give us anything that we asked for in Jesus’ name. I claim that promise right now. I ask in Jesus’ name that you would please help to spare my house and spare my business from damage. With your mighty hand right now, please reach down and move this tornado away to a safe area where it won’t bring any destruction to anyone.”

I emphasized that last sentence because it will become important later.

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The view across the road from my house, June 12, 2013

As I got closer to home I could tell that my house was not in the path of the ominous clouds I had seen on the horizon. As my home came into view I gave thanks to God that everything there was safe. I still wasn’t sure about my business in Ashley. I turned my gaze in that direction and saw those same ominous clouds on the horizon. At right is a picture I took from my front porch. Watching that cloud move on, I thought about people I knew who lived in that direction or who might be in the path of that storm. I prayed for them as well, claiming the same promises as before and asking in Jesus’ name that our Father please protect them and their property from harm.

Yet I still had unanswered questions. What had happened in Ashley? Was there any damage there? Do I still have a business left? The nagging uncertainty prompted me to get back into my car and drive to Ashley to survey the aftermath.

As I headed to Ashley I remember asking God to help me to be at peace with whatever damage there might be. I asked Him to help me trust Him to provide for us as He always had, to help us get through picking up the pieces and finding a way to start over. I remember noticing on the way how little damage there actually was, not so much as a tree limb fallen. Driving through the village I saw that all looked the same as it had. The power was even on still. And there was my trailer safe and sound, not a scratch on it.

I praised God right then and there for His answer to my prayer! But that is not yet the end of my story, for HOW God answered my prayer is even more incredible.

…To be continued

~ Andy

James 2:14-17: Prayer Without Works; That Was Easy!

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on September 21, 2010

A typical Christian prayer meeting is scary these days: “Pray for Molly, she’s afraid to leave her house.” “Pray for Bob and Darcy, they are going through a divorce.” “Pray for Joe, a guy I work with, the doctor just told him he has 2 weeks to live.” And my all-time favorite, the “unspoken” prayer request. A revealed list of those would be interesting.

James said the following in 2:14-17;

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Whenever I read this verse, I am reminded of a married couple who went to their pastor for counseling because their marriage was on the rocks. The pastor told them the following: “We are going to pray about this, and after one week if you still think you need counseling, I will counsel you.” And shazaam! God answered their prayer! The marriage was healed! Not really, the spouse who didn’t want counseling became a super-spouse to avert the counseling. Eventually, they divorced.

In regard to Molly, if we only pray for her and do not also meet her needs with the word of God, is that like pronouncing a blessing on someone who needs food and warm clothing without meeting their physical needs? Absolutely. James used this as an example to illustrate faith that is worthless. By the same token, to only pray for a person to whom something can be done is also worthless.

Undoubtedly, this mentality comes from inept leadership, ignorance in regard to the sufficiency of Scripture, and spiritual laziness; getting involved in people’s lives can be hard work and very messy. Therefore, in many cases, prayer has become the sanctified Staples’ easy button. Just pray for ’em; “that was easy!” (and plus, it makes us feel like we really care). It is also indicative of the huge disconnect between what we claim to believe in Scripture and our willingness to apply it to life. Matthew 4:4 says that man only finds true life in every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. Ephesians 1:19,20 says we have the same power from God that raised Christ from the grave, but yet, we think the only thing we can do is pray for Molly.

But leadership is probably the primary problem. I have been to pastor’s conferences and listened to leaders brag about “not being distracted from the ‘gospel’ by counseling.” Gag me, gag me, gag me, as if the world is going to be interested in a god that doesn’t have anymore answers for living life than Opera Winfrey. 1Peter 3:15 says to always be prepared to give an answer to those who ask about the hope we have as Christians. The implication by Peter is that they see something in our lives that provoke them to ask. Whatever it is that they see, it doesn’t come from pushing our way through life with a spiritual easy-button.

paul

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James 4:1-4; You Do Not Have, Because You Do Not Ask

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on May 11, 2009

A pattern throughout the book of James is the author’s pattern of stating a problem, explaining the source or reason for the problem, and then pronouncing the necessary correction. Chapter 4 begins with the problem of “quarrels” and “fights” among the Jewish believers he is addressing [By the way, the fact that Bible writers address Jewish believers separately in the New Testament without any encouragement to assimilate into a church melting pot does not fair well for New Covenant Theology or Amillennialism].

 

James states the problem, quarrels. Then he states the cause, desires. Then he sites 3 corrections that also revisit the causes and further qualifies them.

 

The first correction seems brutally pragmatic, but remember, this is James writing. They don’t have because they don’t ask God and not having incites the desires within them. Lack of want always creates temptation, but if your needs are met, the temptation isn’t there, pretty basic. Do you think the Bible is void of these kinds of raw, practical applications? Granted, James is going to go much deeper than this, but remember what Paul’s counsel is to singles who struggle with lust: Get married! [1Cor 7:8,9]. Likewise, let’s say the Holy Spirit convicts you that you like to pray in public to show everybody how spiritual you are. Christ said to fix the problem by praying alone more than you pray in public, knowing that the private prayer is what you will be rewarded for in this life and the life to come [Matt 6:5,6]. And by the way, he encourages you to do it in order to get a reward. Oh my!!! Christ does however, put his finger on the problem. The motive thats driving this sin is the desire to be rewarded by men rather than God. More could be said about that but I digress.

 

James seems to be developing his instruction in a progression of cause and effect. At it’s most basic, individuals are trying to obtain their desires by their own means and God is not cooperating. They are totally dependent on self and not mindful of God. In other words, good old fashioned pride. They want to obtain their desires by their own strength so they can keep all the credit and glory for themselves as a self-esteem booster. They will fight others to get their way and the prize they seek, the supposed right to boast and feel superior to others.

 

Remember, James is dealing with religious people. So when all of the fighting and frustration leads to a total dead end, then they pray. We have all partaken in this kind of dead, drab, lifeless prayer time. It is this way because our life is marked by “you do not ask” [usually, you do not pray], then when you do pray, it is not a bold partaking at the throne, crying “abba, Father!”,it is a “double minded” faithless prayer driven by selfish “desire.” Along with this prayer comes the feeling we get when we only call our earthly parents when we want something.“Ya, I’m at a real dead end. All that’s left now is prayer, who knows, maybe God will give me what I want.” 3 words: ain’t gunna happen.

 

Where does this selfish desire come from that is “warring” within you, and causing all of this mess? That’s verse 4, friendship with the world. Friendship with the world trashes our communion [prayer]

with God in three way’s according to James in verse 4. First, friendship with the world feeds and gives provision to the fleshly desires James speaks of in verse 1 [Rom 13:14]. Sinful desires reside in the flesh and will be there till the Lord comes for us. Friendship with the world inflames this lust and empowers it to wage war within us [Gal 5:17]. As Christians, we keep the sinful desires dummed down and weak for lack of provision.

 

Secondly, friendship with the world makes us an enemy of God and then we expect to be able to go to God in prayer and get something while feeling the love. Again, 3 words: ain’t, gunna, and happen.

Thirdly, friendship with the world saps our desire to pray. This brings us full circle back to “you do not ask.” In turn, not praying according to the will of God feeds our propensity to fellowship with the world and fulfill the lust of the flesh. We are only then driven to cry out to God in the desperate result from a barren land, and without understanding of how we got there in the first place. If all of that is not enough, this whole nasty downward spiral gives Satan a foothold in our life [verse 7].

 

Friendship with the world is a subtle affair that creeps in unaware through attitude, beliefs, and influence. It also rushes in quickly to fill every void in our lack of spiritual duty and discipline, and the forces of darkness stand by to help with eagerness.

 

How friendly are you with the world? The answer can be found in another question: How often do you pray, and what kind of prayer is it?

 

Let it not be so with us. Let us instead rush the throne of God boldly with every want for ourselves and others, with every concern and deep desire according to the Spirit. We do not have because we do not ask. Christ came that we could have life and have it more abundantly, let us pray accordingly.

 

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